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World Affairs Conference tackles big issues

Upper Canada College held the 31st session of the annual World Affairs Conference, Feb. 3 and 4. It was a UCC-Branksome Hall collaborative project and the oldest student-run conference on current affairs. In addition to welcoming more than 600 students from 20 schools all over Ontario, WAC also invited world-renown guest speakers to speak at the opening keynote and the morning and closing panels.

The theme for this year’s WAC was “The people’s regime: individual liberties vs: government authority,” based on the decision made by the executives and faculty advisers from both UCC and Branksome Hall earlier this year. Faculty adviser and history teacher Reem Aweida-Parsons is on a leave of absence this year so economics teacher Alan Chan took on the leadership.

This year’s plenaries included controversial, yet domestically or internationally significant issues, such as legalization of organ trade, government surveillance and foreign intervention in Syria.

The opening keynote address featured Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder and executive director of War Child Canada, on the evening of Feb. 3. Dr. Nutt has had firsthand experience of many major conflicts including Darfur, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and most recently, the Syrian civil war. In her speech at WAC, she spoke of the complicated nature of these conflicts, which are often humanitarian crises, and advocated justice and urged WAC delegates to be more aware of global politics.

The morning panel consisted of a debate discussing the pressing current issue of legalization of drugs and in particular, marijuana in Canada. Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Andrew Murie, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada’s chief executive officer and Stefan Molyneux host of the Freedomain Radio. All of these highly respected speakers presented their valuable opinions on the issues. The speakers then engaged in a short rebuttal, and following that, engaged in vehement debate with the delegates during the intense question period.

WAC concluded with a high note. Canadian author, human rights activist and co-founder of Free the Children and Me to We, Mark Kielburger spoke in Laidlaw Hall. Kielburger spoke of his work through Free the Children and Me to We; his brother Craig’s service to India when he was 12; as well as many experiences from his journeys servicing the communities around the world.

Kielburger stressed the importance of social entrepreneurship, socially responsible consumption and youth empowerment. He argued that traditional philanthropy of a one-time big sum of money does not serve well to ensure the sustainable development of the communities in need; instead, social enterprises, like his very own Me to We, can allow the local population to earn a sustainable income by taking part in business. Kielburger’s words inspired many delegates in the audience to take action for the betterment of lives around the world, particularly fundraising in communities and in international service.

Thank you to all of the WAC executive and faculty advisers from UCC and Branksome who worked tirelessly over the past year to plan, prepare and organize for this wonderful conference that has broadened the perspectives of this community. This conference has certainly set a high standard for WAC 2015.

Winston Kwok IB2

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