Black and Indigenous speakers were invited to share their work maintaining health and building resilience within their communities

By: Natalie Chen, Contributor

C/O Georgia Krikos

A virtual panel discussion titled Celebrating Black & Indigenous Health was hosted by McMaster Indigenous Health Movement, Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster and McMaster Students Union Diversity Services on March 15. The panel featured four speakers from Black and Indigenous communities, including Professor Juliet Daniel, Dr. Amy Montour, Andréa Williams and Chantal Phillips. The event also held a question-and-answer discussion for all participants.

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Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster is a youth organization that aims to increase diversity within the Canadian healthcare system by empowering Black students who are interested in medicine. MSU Diversity Services works to unite and promote student groups on campus by celebrating diverse races, ethnicities, cultures, faiths and Indigenous affairs.

McMaster Indigenous Health Movement is a student-run organization that focuses on educating and raising awareness about Indigenous health, with the hope of initiating reconciliation within healthcare.

Abarnaa Illango, a health science faculty liaison of McMaster IHM, explained why the Celebrating Black & Indigenous Health panel was created.

While one aspect of the event focused on discussing healthcare disparities affecting Black and Indigenous peoples, the planning organizations also worked together to foster important conversations surrounding unity, perseverance and moving forward.

“Recently, there’s been a focus on solidarity and resilience within both of these communities, so we thought it would be really important to have a conversation with both groups involved and combine our audiences,” said Illango.

“Recently, there’s been a focus on solidarity and resilience within both of these communities, so we thought it would be really important to have a conversation with both groups involved and combine our audiences."

Abarnaa Illango, health science faculty liaison of McMaster IHM

The panel featured Black and Indigenous speakers from various backgrounds and communities.  One panellist was Professor Juliet Daniel, a prominent cancer researcher and the acting associate dean of research and external relations at McMaster University.

Known for her work in cancer biology, Daniel was inspired to pursue this field because of her own experiences.

“My next-door neighbour in Barbados died of breast cancer. I had known she had cancer, but she died in October of 1986. Then, about a month after she died, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Then, the same semester or a few months after, one of my professors Dr. Leda Raptis came to class excited about a type of gene called oncogenes,” said Daniel.

Oncogenes are a type of gene that when mutated can lead to the development of cancer. Their discovery allowed scientists to better understand the biology of cancer and create targeted treatments.

“Being very raw with the death of my neighbour and the diagnosis of my mother, I decided I should do cancer research,” Daniel explained.

“Being very raw with the death of my neighbour and the diagnosis of my mother, I decided I should do cancer research.”

Professor Juliet Daniel, McMaster University

Daniel’s research exploring triple-negative breast cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects young women of African ancestry and Hispanic women at a higher rate, was inspired by her desire to give back to communities within the Caribbean and her interest in addressing health disparities affecting marginalized populations.

The opportunity to learn about these experiences and listen to unique perspectives from all the speakers was a highlight of the event for many participants.

“There were so many great moments and each of the speakers talked about very different topics, but they all were very connected, which was great. A lot of [the speakers] shared their personal stories, which was very impactful,” explained Illango.

In addition to expressing her gratitude for hearing others’ stories of resilience, Daniel also shared her desire for more individuals to attend these events and for similar panels to be held in the future.

“I wish more people had been there to understand how Black, Indigenous and racialized people are impacted by these colonial systems in healthcare, in particular, and how people are so traumatized. But we still keep on working, we keep on doing what we do as best as we can, despite the trauma,” said Daniel.

Correction: April 13, 2021

An earlier version of this article misstated an explanation of oncogenes. This has now been corrected.

A team at McMaster University is working on a second-generation vaccine, which are designed to protect against viral variants

C/O Brian Lichty

By: Natalie Chen, Contributor

As of March 6, 2021, approximately six out of every 100 Canadians have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 26 out of every 100 Americans.

While Canada has approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, researchers have also been hard at work at McMaster University’s Robert E. Fitzhenry Vector Laboratory to develop two second-generation COVID-19 vaccines.

Brian Lichty, a principal investigator of the vaccine development project and an associate professor at McMaster’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, explained the novelty behind these vaccines.

The first-generation of COVID-19 vaccines contain a spike protein, which will teach our immune system to recognize and protect us from COVID-19. The second-generation vaccines will also use the spike protein but are trivalent, indicating that it is composed of three structures found on the COVID-19 virus SARS-CoV-2.

The two additional components that the second-generation vaccines contain are called the nucleoprotein and the polymerase. As they are less likely to mutate, the second-generation vaccines with these two components of the coronavirus may provide increased immunity against variants of SARS-CoV-2.

“We’re hoping that the broader immunity that our vaccine[s] can generate will help control even the variants. We’ve actually designed [the vaccines] to potentially give some protection against related coronaviruses,” said Lichty.

“We’re hoping that the broader immunity that our vaccine[s] can generate will help control even the variants. We’ve actually designed [the vaccines] to potentially give some protection against related coronaviruses.”

Brian lichty

Another novel aspect of the second-generation vaccines is the provision of the booster dose via inhalation. Similar to using a puffer, the vaccines can be aerosolized and inhaled by the recipient.

The idea and the technology used to create these COVID-19 vaccines stemmed from previous vaccine trials for tuberculosis conducted by Dr. Zhou Xing and Dr. Fiona Smaill, who are principal investigators on the vaccine development project alongside Lichty and Matthew Miller.

There are two main benefits to this approach. Since memory in our immune system tends to remain in the area where the pathogen is last found, targeting the upper airways and the lungs — the primary points of contact for SARS-CoV-2 — would provide greater and longer-lasting protection.

“The other benefit to [this] route is, we actually can get away with a much lower dose than injecting [the vaccine] into the arm. If you think about it, that would allow for more people to be vaccinated with the same starting amount of material, which is important nowadays because we’re struggling to vaccinate all the people that need it,” explained Lichty.

Sam Afkhami, a co-lead researcher working under the principal investigators and a recent Ph.D. graduate from McMaster’s medical sciences program, expressed his hopes regarding the impact of the novel project.

“We’re hoping to show essentially the community and the world that thinking outside the box of traditional vaccine strategies can provide us with avenues of developing vaccines with broader immunity,” said Afkhami.

“We’re hoping to show essentially the community and the world that thinking outside the box of traditional vaccine strategies can provide us with avenues of developing vaccines with broader immunity.”

Sam Afkhami

The Robert E. Fitzhenry Vector Laboratory, the vaccine manufacturer, was created in 2004 and was the first of its kind in Canada. The research conducted within the laboratory is part of Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemic and Biological Threats, a McMaster initiative of interdisciplinary teams of global experts to prepare for future outbreaks. 

As one of Canada’s only institutions equipped to isolate SARS-CoV-2, Canada’s Global Nexus has partnered with the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization to spearhead vaccine development, the creation of new diagnostic tools and to produce clinical trials.

Afkhami and Ph.D. student Michael D’Agostino, another co-lead researcher of vaccine development and a member of the Miller Laboratory at McMaster, have also emphasized the importance of internal collaboration at McMaster that has led to the creation of the vaccines.

“The collaborative environment that we have here is next to none, and I really want to highlight how important the collaboration has been to the rapidity of the work we’ve done so far and getting these vaccines from theory to pre-clinical testing to eventual clinical application,” expressed Afkhami.

“The collaborative environment that we have here is next to none, and I really want to highlight how important the collaboration has been to the rapidity of the work we’ve done so far and getting these vaccines from theory to pre-clinical testing to eventual clinical application.” 

Sam Afkhami

“There are so many people that are involved behind the scenes, and none of this would be possible without them for sure,” added D’Agostino.

For undergraduate students interested in scientific research, D’Agostino and Afkhami also shared advice on how to gain hands-on experience.

“Don’t be afraid to contact the professors that teach your courses. If they give a lesson that’s something you can see yourself interested in or you want to learn more about, I’d suggest reaching out to them,” D’Agostino explained. “Send an email seeing if you could even just hang around the lab [and] help out where you can.”

To those passionate about virology, Afkhami also recommended the McMaster Immunology Research Centre.

“Overall, it’s a great centre if you’re very interested in research and things like virology, vaccine development or just basic immunology,” Afkhami said. “MIRC is one of the most fantastic places, I think, [where] you can get that type of experience in Ontario.”

Photo C/O Kristin Archer  

Note: This article has been edited to clarify that Marc Lemire has been working for the city of Hamilton since 2005.

cw: homophobia, physical violence, white supremacy, religious extremism

The annual Hamilton Pride event held on June 24, 2006 was interrupted midway by a group of homophobic soccer fans. The soccer fans allegedly swore and spat on those marching in the parade, but the Hamilton police were quick to respond, forming a barrier between the fans and the parade participants. 

At the time, Lyla Miklos, a Hamilton-based activist, creative and journalist, was a board member of the Hamilton Pride committee. She was also one of many who marched in the pride parade—an experience she detailed thirteen years later in a deputation to the Hamilton police services board on July 18, 2019. 

The deputation came a month after a hate group violently interrupted the 2019 Hamilton Pride event. A video from the scene shows a snippet of the commotion, which occurred in the middle of Gage Park and away from Pride festivities. 

Anti-pride demonstrators gathered at the event, shouting homophobic and white nationalist rhetoric. The video appears to show a religious group holding signs with phrases from the Bible and accusing Pride participants of perpetuating “sin”. 

Hamilton Pride 2019 event at Gage Park being disrupted. Photo C/O CBC News

Another group is shown attempting to protect Pride-goers from the anti-pride demonstrators, trying to erect a black curtain to cover the anti-pride group and their signs. 

Eventually, the confrontations escalated to punching, grabbing and choking, with one of the disruptors hitting pride-goers in the face with a motorcycle helmet. 

In the aftermath, the Pride Hamilton board of directors published a statement saying that the situation would not have escalated to such a violent degree had the police responded sooner. 

The statement also discusses Pride Hamilton’s multiple attempts to explain to the police that a similar protest happened during Pride 2018 and that they expected the number of protestors to escalate for 2019. 

Nevertheless, Miklos’ deputation from July 18, 2019 points out the differences in police responsiveness between the 2006 and 2019 Pride events. 

“. . . I am puzzled as to why the [Hamilton] police were unable to mobilize themselves in the same way [they did in the 2006 Pride parade] at Gage Park for Hamilton Pride in 2019, especially since they knew in advance that there was a threat,” she said.  

Pride Hamilton’s statement also touches upon the relationship between the Hamilton Police Services and the local queer community. 

“There have been long-standing issues between the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and Hamilton Police Services that remain unresolved. We feel that this was an opportunity for police to demonstrate that they were there to protect and act in solidarity with the community,” said Pride Hamilton’s statement. 

Hamilton Pride 2019 event at Gage Park being disrupted. Photo C/O CBC News

However, not all members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community believe that increasing police responsiveness is the answer. A June 2019 study from McMaster’s department of labour studies surveyed 900 members of Hamilton’s queer community. Approximately one third of respondents stated that they had been treated unjustly by police, and transgender respondents were more likely to report unfair treatment.

Some recount the events of Hamilton Pride as an example of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community coming together to defend themselves.

Indeed, the protest at the Pride event is only one part of the fraught history between the city of Hamilton and the members of its local queer community. 

Since 2005, Marc Lemire has been working as IT network analyst for the city of Hamilton. From 1995 to 2005, Lemire ran Heritage Front, a now defunct neo-Nazi white supremacist organization. He was also the webmaster of the Freedom Site, which hosted the websites of several Canadian anti-Semitic organizations. 

In an email to CBC News, however, Lemire denied being either a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi. Despite Lemire’s claims, when Lemire’s appointment and history became public knowledge in May 2019, the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory group responded by stating in a motion that with the city allowing Lemire to work for and with them, it had failed to show solidarity with the marginalized communities in Hamilton. According to the LGBTQ advisory group, Lemire’s employment threatens the safety of city staff and volunteers that belong to these communities.

The advisory group is also protesting a police services board appointment from April 2019, which it believes was a missed opportunity to appoint someone who was part of a marginalized community instead of another of the white, straight men that comprise a majority of the current board. 

Another criticism from the advisory group is that the city didn’t implement a transgender and gender non-conforming protocol as quickly as they should have. The protocol was established three years after an incident in 2014 that sparked an Ontario Human Rights tribunal settlement. The advisory group also alleged that the committee behind the protocol was chosen by the city arbitrarily, without careful regard of who would best serve the intentions of the protocol. 

In consideration of all this, the advisory group declared that since the city has failed to demonstrate solidarity with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Hamilton, it didn’t want the city to fly flags in honour of Hamilton Pride 2019. However, on May 30, 2019, rather than adhering to the advisory group’s request, city officials still chose to fly flags symbolic of Pride and the transgender community — only without hosting a flag-raising ceremony, in an attempt to reach a compromise between the city’s plans and the advisory group’s request. 

On May 30, 2019, rather than adhering to the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory group’s request, city officials still chose to fly flags symbolic of Pride and the transgender community. Photo C/O CBC News.

In a CBC article from the time, Mayor Fred Eisenberger insisted on flying the flag, citing that one advisory group does not represent the entirety of the LGBTQ community. 

“There’s a much broader audience out there, including our own staff,” he said. 

Cameron Kroetsch, chair of the LGBTQ advisory committee, acknowledges that some 2SLGBTQIA+ residents might have wanted a ceremony and that people would have felt differently about the flag-raising. 

“It’s a powerful symbol, and you can’t perfectly represent everybody,” he said. 

Less than a month after this, on June 15, 2019, the 2019 Hamilton Pride event was interrupted by a hateful protest, and tensions between the city of Hamilton and the local queer community came to a boil.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger tweeted his reaction to the Pride incident, “I am disappointed with the events that transpired at yesterday’s Hamilton’s PRIDE celebration at Gage Park. Hate speech and acts of violence have no place in the City of Hamilton. We are committed to being a Hamilton For All where everyone feels safe and welcome.” 

However, the mayor’s intentions did not bring any positive impact for the remainder of the year.

On June 18, 2019, a community conversation regarding Hamilton’s 2SLGBTQIA+ residents ended in a heated discussion about the lack of effort from Hamilton police in keeping Pride participants safe. 

On June 22, 2019, in an outcry against the arrest of Cedar Hopperton, an anarchist activist charged with alleged parole violations following the Pride incident, protesters marched from the Hamilton police headquarters in Barton Jail, where Hopperton was detained. Hopperton, a prominent member of the Hamilton queer community, was the first arrest made following the Pride protest. This drew questions and criticism, as videos of the June 15 incident also showed at least two alt-right protesters committing violence against participants of Hamilton Pride. Hopperton’s supporters also argued that Hopperton was acting in defense of the community while the Hamilton Police failed to arrive at the scene in a timely manner.

On July 12, 2019, around two dozen members of Hamilton’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community, alongside allies, set up an encampment at Hamilton city hall in protest of the Hamilton police’s alleged failure to stand in support and in assistance to the city’s marginalized communities.

On Aug. 27, 2019, the Hamilton police expressed the desire to improve their relationship with the city’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Jackie Penman, the spokesperson for the Hamilton police, claimed that the police’s goal was to identify what should be done to reestablish communication between the Hamilton queer community and the police. 

Nevertheless, a month after this, on Sept. 10, 2019, Chief Eric Girt of the Hamilton police makes homophobic and transphobic comments on the Bill Kelly show. One month later on Oct. 10, 2019, the police board denied a request from Kroetsch from the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee to provide a deputation to the board, claiming that Kroetsch wanted to speak about city issues and not police ones. 

When asked about where the police should start with repairing its fractured relationship with the Hamilton queer community, Kroetsch points out that the work behind this has already been done by many kinds of groups long before 2019. 

“The chief quite clearly stated that he knew what the issues were. So I think the start has to be … getting a plan from the City of Hamilton, getting a plan from city police to talk about what they’re planning to do now … What can you do, what are you able to do, how are you able to participate in this conversation marginalised communities have been asking you for decades?” said Kroetsch. 

He also spotlights the frustration felt by many members of marginalised communities, who have already done a lot of talking and who have to relive traumatic experiences in sharing their accounts with others. Kroetsch says that he does not see a plan coming forward from any civic leaders that truly take into account what marginalised individuals are telling them. 

In a similar vein, Miklos criticizes the constant defensiveness from the mayor and the chief of police. She calls for more compassion and urges the mayor to do something more helpful than simply showing up at cultural events. 

Regarding the future of the city’s relationship with the local 2SLGBTQIA+ community, Kroestch said that it is up to the city, including the police, to listen and engaged with the right folks. 

“There’s a lot of awkwardness there and uncomfortability, and they have to find a way to work through that for themselves, and work through what it means to engage with marginalised communities …  And that’s really the start of the work and I think it’s a long road for that. But the sooner they get down that road, the better,” said Kroetsch. 


This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.


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cw: use of profanity 

McMaster LIVELab houses an endless array of technology on our campus, from active acoustic control to motion capture and electroencephalography. This technology is a necessity, for LIVELab needs it to combine research-based studies with theatrical and musical shows. 

Synaptic Rodeo, a project presented by McMaster LIVELab, seamlessly blends neuroscience, technology and art into a nonlinear show about human consciousness. Synaptic Rodeo is based on the premise that humans often rely on past experiences to inform future predictions. This subconscious activity is constant, we are always trying to hypothesize what will happen next. 

After a two year residency, six diverse interdisciplinary artists have joined forces to put Synaptic Rodeo together and take advantage of all the technology LIVELab has to offer. Julia Aplin (choreographer), Anna Chatterton (playwright/performer), Christopher Stanton (director), John Gzowski (composer), Jim Ruxton (new media) and Lauren Trainor (neuroscientist and professor) have lended their knowledge with the hopes of creating an experience for everyone to enjoy.

We caught up with Stanton, Ruxton and Gzowski for an exclusive Sil Sit Down interview all about Synaptic Rodeo, the interdisciplinary artists involved, and what audiences can expect from this show premiering this Friday Nov. 29 and Saturday Nov. 30. 

How did you get involved with the project?


Stanton: I was welcomed onto this train while it was already chugging along, and it did not slow down for them to let me on . . . they’ve been going for about two years and I’ve been with them for just under one year. 

Ruxton: [LIVELab] put out a call for submissions and I have all these interests in the brain, ideas of consciousness and how the brain works, so I spearheaded that proposal to study those things at LIVELab using their technologies. It was a great opportunity I think.

Gzowski: I was involved from the beginning . . . [Ruxton, Aplin, Chatterton and I] did one show before this called “Yellow Wallpaper” based on an existing short story and it was really a lot of fun. It was really a nice collaboration and outside of the straight theatre, dance and music world. After that when we were talking about what to do next, Jim said he would love to work at the LIVELab, it has been sort of a dream of his. So we looked into it and it was an amazing place. We applied to do a residency there and they happily accepted us.


How would you describe “Synaptic Rodeo”?


Stanton: We play with ideas of identity, we play with ideas of just how slippery our hold on reality is and just notions of reality all together. As [Trainor] mentions in one of her lecture segments, we’re taught to believe our eyes. Seeing is believing and really our experience of the world is shaped by subconscious biases. [With] the way our brain is taught to perceive the world, there’s no way of knowing what reality really is. There’s no core ontological experience, so we’re really playing with the notions of what’s real and what’s not real.

Ruxton: I think it’s a way of taking advantage of a lab and bringing together all the technology that they have available to pull it all together into what may not seem like a cohesive narrative at times, but it’s all tied together by the fact that Trainor, the neuroscientist, does little snippets of talks in between to pull the threads together of what we’re doing and showing. It’s really a blending of all the technologies available at LIVELab and making use of all those to create an interesting, visual, audio synaptic rodeo.

Gzowski: “Synaptic Rodeo” is a journey down the predictive mind. About how the predictive mind works, what happens when you lose it and how our sense of reality is based on predicting where things are gonna go, what’s going to happen next and what we’re gonna see. When those interactions don’t work or when our mind messes with what we expect is going to happen.


Can you walk me through the process it takes to create your parts of the show?


Ruxton: I’m using a lot of video processing and we’re also using the motion capture system [at LIVELab]. It’s kind of unique to have access to a motion capture system of that size and quality, because artists would never have [access to] that. For example, one piece [of Synaptic Rodeo] uses motion capture to control the lights in the space. [The lights] emanate from [Chatterton’s] head to look like neurons of her brain. [When Aplin] moves around the space, [she is able] to control different lights based on where she is in the space. That’s something that would only be possible with something like the amazing motion capture system in LIVELab. 

[Aplin] has [also] become a master at taking video [during the performance] and converting it into a kaleidoscopic video and changing it in real time. Depending on the objects she brings into the image, it’ll change the image. It’s kind of mesmerizing, it’s a real trip. It appeals to a certain side of your brain to see those things transform. We’re kind of akin to provide people with a psychedelic trip without having to do the acid. 

Gzowski: Most of the music isn’t really written, it’s been improvised to stick with the show which has been a lot of fun because it sort of changes with what we do as the technology changes. We’d just play around and improvise . . . and it’s really just trying to find that balance of meditative, hypnotic, sound and video that really brings you to that sense of your mind where you can lose your predictive mind. 


How do you think this is different than any other project in Hamilton?

Stanton: The particular blend of music, dance, text and scientific lecture . . . it’s so funny because the only way I can describe it is all my nerdiest loves all in one place. I’ve never been able to indulge the science nerd in me as equally in one project . . . it’s been incredible to be able to roll them up into one ball and have the generosity of all these folks into one room. They all bring something so different into the process and [Trainor] has been so generous with her knowledge and her time, there’s some surprises that will blow some people’s predictive minds. It’s like the most fucked up jazz band that I’ve ever worked with. It’s great and it’s nothing like I’ve ever worked on before. 

Ruxton: I think one of the things that makes it really unique is our different skills and bringing those together. Often you’ll go see a concert, a video artist, a dancer or play but because we bring all those elements together, it makes it pretty unique. John works all over the country in theatres creating sound design for amazing shows. Julia has been a choreographer for many years and has done dance work in Toronto, Anna has been nominated for the Governor General’s award for playwriting and has done a lot of really amazing work all over the world. I think we all at a certain level of our career, we’re all pretty professional. Bringing together these professionals in this way is pretty unique.

Gzowski: It’s different in that it has so much more involvement in tech . . . I haven’t worked on a show that has all this sort of stuff going on at the same time . . . To develop it slowly over such a collaborative workshop has been really a pleasure. 


What message do you hope somebody will walk away with after viewing the show?


Stanton: Two things: One is I hope they enjoy the non-linear, non-narrative expressionistic journey. A lot of this is just great to sit back and come on the trip with us. The truth is that I would love for people to be taking some of [Trainor]’s fascinating points and be curious about that. I hope they learn a thing or two about the human experience.

Ruxton: Well a very rich experience coming out of it. I hope it’s a bit of an altered state feeling coming out of the show. Also, leaving with this idea of the potential of what happens when you bring people together. The LIVELab has typically been used for concerts and things like that but to show other artists in the city, the potential of what that space has and perhaps they can make use of that. It’s world class and it’s right in our city and the potential of that is pretty amazing I think. 

It’s an experiential thing that I want them to have and also academically, [Trainor] does talk throughout the show in different areas and I want people to learn about these ideas of the extended mind and extended cognition the idea that our mind is no longer stuck inside our head but is in our phones, our computers, in the internet and we’ve really extended ourselves through technology and I want people to leave with those concepts that she talks about why music is important to us, she talks about rhythm, there’s a lot of things that she talks about in just a short period and I really want that to sync into people too and maybe go away and think about the mind in new ways.

Gzowski: I think it’s not really a message show but it’s an idea of how you really see the world, how your brain interprets it and how much of what you think of the world is based on how your mind works.


Synaptic Rodeo will be showing on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m., Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. and at 8 p.m. in the McMaster LIVELab (Psychology Complex 202A)


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