Prohibiting eviction through fraud

One of the reasons why Toronto’s housing market is such a disaster is that landlords are basically immune from any mechanism for punishing them for misconduct.

They can abuse the ambiguity of the Residential Tenancy Act to baselessly refuse to assign someone new to a lease, as a way of forcing existing residents to leave or accept an illegal rent increase.

There is also widespread reporting on abuse of mechanisms that let a landlord evict a tenant for their own use of the space or similar reasons. I have personally — and had friends — threatened with eviction for a wide range of trivial or invented reasons, all as a pressure tactic to add stress and try to illegally force people from their homes.

The Landlord and Tenant Board system is completely jammed up, with even the most urgent hearings taking 8-9 months to happen (and then they may be inconclusive, leaving everyone waiting again).

One remedy that could improve things would be a criminal offence for evicting a tenant through fraud or abuse of process. Theoretically a mistreated tenant could sue for damages, but it’s hardly likely that someone scrambling for a place to survive would accept those legal fees and risks. Having a criminal offence would create a real stick to discourage and prevent landlord misconduct, slightly rebalancing power relations in order to make the law work more as written and less as words to be ignored and misused by those driven only be the desire to collect as much rent as possible.

Creating a criminal offence is justified for at least three reasons. Even good tenants who follow the law and pay their rent may face daily and severe stress from the knowledge their landlords are trying to get rid of them illegally. I have been personally and seriously stressed about housing, often to the point of losing sleep, almost every day since the crisis with my flatmate at my old place began years ago. Even with the extreme stress of a PhD program to compare with, Toronto’s housing market is worse.

Taking away someone’s home is a very serious matter, which is why we regulate housing so much in the first place. If the existing system cannot contain landlord misconduct, there must be one with more coercive power against them. Secondly, there is extensive evidence that this misconduct is widespread, if not routine. A significant change is needed to disrupt a rotten status quo. Finally, the potential monetary rewards for landlord misconduct are huge, especially when it has become normalized throughout the system. Only a strong counterbalance has a chance of blunting the incentive for landlords to profit through illegality and misconduct.

Two sectors excluded from the job search

Looking for some temporary stability, the chance to get back to secure paycheques for the first time since I left the federal government in 2012, and the ability to repair the countless things that have been worn down and damaged during the PhD — I am casting a net wide for jobs I can start at soon.

Based on my own experiences and discussions with others, however, I am excluding two fields which might seem among the most obvious for me: the academic precariat and the environmental NGO precariat. I know plenty of people caught up in the low pay, overwork, and stress of postdoc positions, lecturing, adjunct professorships, and similar. The common theme seems to be coldhearted skinflint employers, intolerable working conditions, and jobs where you spend half your time fundraising for the grants to pay your own salary. I feel much the same about the eNGO sector, which is even more poorly paid and insecure, even more a game of always working to win the grant to pay your salary for the next month of grant applications, and a social culture that broadly demands ideological conformity to a theory of change and set of objectives that I do not see as very likely to produce the public policy wins sought. (Believing this, or at least pointing it out, tends to risk making one unemployable in the sector.)

I feel like the common pattern in both the junior academic and the eNGO world is to demand that employees give more than they can sustainably, provide them less material and moral support than they need to keep going long term, and then condemn them for insufficient loyalty when this combination pushes them out into other employment. I suspect I can get more done on the environmental file by getting a decent job that provides genuine time off and working as a volunteer for groups that seem to have a sound strategy.

Air pollution co-benefits to fossil fuel abolition

When we think about fossil fuels, we often fixate on the trade-offs between their economic and energy utility and their damage to the climate. The case in their favour gets a whole lot weaker when you factor in toxic pollution and its effects on health.

For example, while they may have been effectively marketed as glamorous and gourmet, gas stoves can create “indoor pollution worse than car traffic” and a recent study found them linked to 1/8 US asthma cases.


Free dissertation release

Official versions are forthcoming on the University of Toronto’s TSpace thesis hosting platform and on paper from the Asquith Press at the Toronto Reference Library, but I see no reason not to make my PhD dissertation available as a free PDF to anyone who is interested:

Persuasion Strategies: Canadian Campus Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns and the Development of Activists, 2012–20

I have been fighting for years to get this out into the world, so it makes no sense to wait for an arbitrary convocation date and then through further administrative delays.

If you are studying the fossil fuel divestment movement at universities or climate change activism generally in Canada, the US, and UK you may find the extended bibliography useful.

Resisting fossil fuel recruitment at universities

A tactic that has developed in parallel to campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns has been activists resisting on-campus recruitment by fossil fuel corporations. With an industry that needs to be rapidly phased out to avoid climatic catastrophe, it doesn’t make sense to be training new people to join.

The UK eNGO People & Planet has a fossil free careers campaign. Birkbeck, University of London has banned fossil fuel firms from its career service. This month, three other UK universities did the same.

UN secretary general António Guterres recently said: “My message to you is simple: don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”

Podcast episode about the early U of T fossil fuel divestment campaign

The first episode of Amanda Harvey-Sánchez and Julia DaSilva’s podcast about the / divestment campaign at the University of Toronto is online. This one features three organizers from the early campaign in 2012: me, Stu Basden, and Monica Resendes.

Podcast series on fossil fuel divestment at the University of Toronto

Amanda Harvey-Sánchez and Julia DaSilva are making a five-episode series on the U of T campaign, and an intro episode is online already.

All along one of the challenges with volunteer-driven student organizing is that few people can stick around to maintain the group’s memory across the years. Efforts like this podcast series, to document and analyze what took place, will be valuable for the people setting up the next iteration of the climate fight.

Considering student coaching

To further develop the student coaching idea:

It would be student-driven, not curriculum-driven. The starting point would be who they are, why they’re at university, and what they aspire to do in the medium- and long-term. That’s the basis for helping them find worthwhile extracurriculars and networks, as well as thinking about course planning and major selection from a holistic perspective.

I would work for the student, not the university. As a TA I have spent many hours with students one-on-one reviewing their written work either before or after submission and grading. This has all been essentially unpaid, as I didn’t have so many hours of student contact in my TA contract. I enjoyed doing it though because it felt like the only time when I was really teaching. Up in front of a tutorial I am doing am improv act, trying to weave together my prepared material with the organic discussion of the students willing to talk. One-on-one we can take our time and establish that the student is really following along. It becomes possible to see if they can repeat back the salient idea to you.

As a TA, I was chiefly paid for grading and administrative hours like keeping track of attendance. Neither is an activity that much serves to educate. They are part of the university’s sorting function rather than its residual educational capabilities. Switching sides to serve rather than sort the students is appealing.

All the student support they get at U of T is a bit like going to an emergency room doctor. Their only priority is to deal with the narrow issue in front of them, because they have no long-term relationship to any patient’s health and need to triage patients by degree of need. This student coaching service would be like a family doctor, reminding you of things it will be important to to before you’ve missed a deadline and it’s not possible, and when to get started in researching each batch of papers.

Personally, rather than pedagogically, I see great appeal in employment where I need to maintain clients but not to report to any bosses.