Features

2020
Here's a look back at one of the worst years in recent memory. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum.
Reading Time: 10 minutes

A flashback to an eventful year, to say the least

Content warning: Sexual assault, suicide

As a turbulent year at the University of Ottawa — and around the world — comes to a close, let’s reflect on the highs and lows reported in 2020.

January

Jan. 6: U of O gives notice of potential privacy breach impacting 188 people

The U of O gave notice of a potential breach in privacy to 188 people, including elementary and secondary school students who attended a summer program on campus. The breach stemmed from an incident in late November 2019 when a password-protected laptop was stolen from a university employee’s vehicle.

Jan. 8: Ukrainian plane crash

A Ukraine International Airlines flight headed for Kyiv, Ukraine was shot down by Iranian strike missiles moments after it took off from Tehran, Iran. 

All 176 people on board were killed, including 3 U of O students. Canada’s Emergency Watch and Response Centre offered emergency assistance to the families of the victims

Jan. 17: UOSU revokes club status of anti-abortion group

After a semester-long debate, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) came to the decision of revoking anti-abortion group University of Ottawa Students for Life’s club status.

The decision followed the UOSU’s adoption of a pro-choice stance on abortion and subsequent amendment of its club code to block any group that advocates against access to legal abortion from union funds.

Jan. 26: Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna, and six others killed in helicopter crash

Basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among eight killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Memorials and global tributes were offered in the wake of the accident and acknowledged Bryant’s 20-year career. 

Jan. 29: Students protest against anti-psychiatry Scientology-linked exhibit

Dozens of U of O students gathered outside of a Scientology-linked exhibit in protest where The Citizens Commission of Human Rights (CCHR), an organization established by the Church of Scientology, presented anti-psychiatry content.

Despite condemnation from both students and faculty, U of O president Jacques Frémont allowed the exhibit to run for the remainder of the week; many declared it insensitive to the university’s ongoing mental health crisis.

Jan. 31: Brexit

The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on Jan. 31 after an almost five-decade long membership, following a referendum in 2016. 

Though discussions of trade and security negotiations and policies have occurred between the U.K. and European Union for months, their 11-month grace period expires on Dec. 31.

February

Feb. 5: U.S. Senate acquits President Trump of impeachment charges

The United States Senate voted 52-48 to acquit President Trump of two impeachment charges, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump was initially accused in December 2019 of pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into matters concerning former vice president Joe Biden and his son.

Feb. 7: Hundreds rally in Ottawa in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en First Nation

Hundreds of people rallied and marched through the streets of downtown Ottawa on the afternoon of Feb. 7. The rally was to show solidarity for several members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation who were arrested the week prior for protesting the construction of a natural gas pipeline on their ancestral land in northern B.C.

Feb.11: U of O president acknowledges mental health ‘crisis’ in wake of student death

University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont acknowledged on Feb. 11 that the school is facing a mental health ‘crisis’ while responding to the death of a student that occurred the previous weekend, at that point the fifth in the past 10 months. 

“Having worked with students my entire career, and as a parent myself, this news is heartbreaking. Today, we grieve side-by-side,” said Frémont. “The U of O is committed —  and I am committed — to ensuring that the mental health needs of our students are addressed as comprehensively as possible on campus.”

Feb. 12: Students protest outside U of O president’s office for better mental health services

The next day about a dozen protesters sat outside of University of Ottawa president and vice-chancellor Jacques Frémont’s office for hours to demand change and better access to mental health services on campus. 

Feb. 24: Weinstein found guilty of sexual assault

Former Hollywoodd producer Harvey Weinstein was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault, but was acquitted of charges concerning predatory sexual assault.

The allegations against Weinstein triggered the #MeToo movement, which brought to light the effects of sexual assault.

Feb. 25: Frémont reappointed for second term

University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont has been reappointed for a second term, meaning he’ll lead the school until July 2026. The decision was approved at a Board of Governors meeting on Feb. 23.

Feb. 27: Mental health town hall

Students, professors, and staff members congregated at a town hall at Tabaret Hall to talk about the ongoing mental health crisis that was acknowledged by president Fremont. 

Among the topics discussed was the lack of diversity within mental health resources, the Scientology-linked exhibit, difficult working conditions for professors, and an overall need for change.

Feb. 29: U.S. and Taliban sign deal to end 18-year war

The United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal, concluding an 18-year war between the two parties. The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. 

The deal calls for a full withdrawal of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops within 14 months of its signature. 

March

March 7: UOSU advocacy commissioner resigns

Sam Schroeder resigned from his role as the advocacy commissioner of the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU), citing concerns over the executive committee’s appointment of a former Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) manager as director of services.

March 11: World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a global pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic after the reporting of 118,000 cases.  The same day, the U of O shifted the remainder of the semester online

March 14:  U of O confirms student death

A University of Ottawa student was found dead in one of the school’s on-campus residences March 14. The death was not linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was the second death to occur this year.

March 27: Babacar Faye wins first UOSU presidential election

Fourth-year political science and law student Babacar Faye won the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU)’s first presidential election

The former social science Board of Directors representative narrowly beat former student life commissioner Jason Seguya by securing 52.2 per cent of votes.

April

April 2: COVID-19 cases pass 1 million worldwide

Coronavirus cases had reached 1 million, reaching approximately 204 countries and killing about 53,000 people. At that point, the United States accounted for a quarter of these cases while Europe registered for half.

April 18-19: Nova Scotia mass shooting

A gunman killed 22 people in a mass shooting while disguised as an RCMP officer in Portapique, N.S. Many deemed the mass killing as the worst in Canada’s history. 

Evidence described the perpetrator’s motive as misogynistic, while sources deemed him an ‘injustice collector.’

May

May 25: George Floyd dies from police brutality, sparks global protests

George Floyd, a Black man, was killed after a white police officer had knelt on his neck for several minutes during an arrest effort. Floyd was one of the most recent victims of police brutality. 

A video of the killing sparked protests around the world as well as discussions into dismantling systemic racism and defunding the police.

June

June 1: Black U of O student was carded by Protection Services in spring 2019

Ali Mubiru, a Black third-year student at the University of Ottawa, revealed to the Fulcrum on June 1 that he and his friend, who is a person of colour, were carded by Protection Services while waiting inside his parked car outside of the U of O’s 90U residence in April 2019.

June 5: Saada Hussen re-elected as undergraduate student representative on BOG 

Hussen was re-elected to the BOG as student representative by an overwhelming amount of the vote defeating the candidate who finished in second by more than 500 votes in an election where only 1,810 students voted.

June 5: Thousands gather in Ottawa to protest anti-black violence amidst COVID restriction 

Thousands of Ottawans participated in a peaceful march of solidarity in honour of George Floyd. The protest was organized by No Justice No Peace Ottawa, who called for the defunding of police and emphasized the need to fund Black-led community organizations.

June 15: U of O holds first virtual convocation 

The University of Ottawa held its first virtual convocation on the week of June 15 to honour the class of 2020 graduates.

July

July 1: U of O allows faculties to use controversial Respondus Lockdown software to curb academic fraud

The University of Ottawa approved for its professors to use the Respondus Lockdown browser and Respondus monitor, however, the software isn’t mandatory for professors to use.

Students were concerned about their privacy rights surrounding the software and shared a petition, which gathered more than 2,600 signatures. 

July 30: NASA launches Mars rover

Space agency NASA launched their Mars rover ‘Perseverance’ from an air force station in Florida. The rover will land on Feb. 18, 2021 and spend a Mars year (approximately 687 Earth days) travelling the red planet.

August

Aug. 4: Deadly explosion in Beirut

A fuel tank that had caught fire exploded, devastating the city of Beirut. The blast killed over 178 people, injured over 6,500, and left 300,000 people homeless in the aftermath.

Aug. 25: U of O Protections Services officer pictured wearing thin blue line patch

The University of Ottawa had taken down an Instagram post of a Protection Services officer sporting a thin blue line patch following community outrage. 

Online comments pointed out that the patch had been associated with Blue Lives Matter and found the post insensitive to the U of O Black community following previous carding incidents.

September

Sept. 17: Mi’kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia open self-regulated fishery

Sipekne’katik First Nations opened its self-regulated fishery, when the federally regulated fishing season was closed. This came nearly 20 years after a Supreme Court decision that ruled in favour of the Mi’kmaq treaty rights to earn a “moderate livelihood.”

In the following weeks, non-Indigenous fishers had removed Mi’kmaq traps, and burnt their lobster pounds. The events sparked national protests in support of the Mi’kmaq fishers.

Sept. 28: COVID death toll reaches 1 million

Six months after WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the global coronavirus death toll reached 1 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted multiple ways of life, halting education, and devastated the global economy. A second wave in multiple countries, including Canada, begins around this time as well.

October

Oct. 2: Professor faces backlash following use of racial slur

Outrage in the U of O community occurred when Dr. Verushka Lieutenant-Duval, a faculty of art professor, used the ‘N-wor’d during a class discussion. A group of professors had written an open letter to the university in disagreement with the professor’s treatment, arguing the risk of losing “academic expression.” Students started an online petition demanding the professor be reprimanded, it was signed over 12,160 times.

Oct. 3: U of O alum Annamie Paul wins Green Party leadership race

University of Ottawa law alumna Annamie Paul won the Green Party leadership race in the eighth round of voting. Paul is the first Black Canadian and Jewish woman to be elected as the permanent leader of one of the five major federal political parties.

Oct. 19-30: PSUO-USSO goes on strike

Approximately 1,300 members of the union representing support and administrative staff (PSUO-USSO) went on strike Oct. 19 after failing to reach a deal with the university. 

Certain university proposals included cutting reimbursements for medication from 100 to 80 per cent, as well as attempting to reduce current parental leave and retirement allowance top-ups. 

The U of O and PSUO-SSUO finally reached a tentative agreement on Oct. 30. 

November

Nov. 7: Joe Biden wins U.S. presidential election

Former vice president Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election, ending four stressful years under the Trump administration.

In a historic election, Biden and Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, secured over 80 million votes and 306 electoral seats.

Nov. 8: U of O alum and ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek passes

U of O alumnus and ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek passed away due to complications with pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old.

The game show host was known for his friendly presence on the show, hosting over 8,000 episodes, as well as his philanthropic work.

Nov. 9: First COVID-19 vaccine announced

Drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech announced their COVID-19 vaccine was 95 per cent effective against infection, becoming the first candidate to provide a vaccine. 

In the following weeks, Moderna and AstraZeneca both announced their vaccine candidates to be 94.1 and 70 per cent effective, respectively.

Nov. 12: UOSU’s first online general assembly takes seven hours to complete

UOSU held its first online Fall General Assembly over Zoom, originally scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. The event lasted seven hours ending at 2 a.m. 

The Assembly was marked by recurring discourses and heavily-debated motions between the student attendees and the UOSU executives, including the rescinding of motion 8.1 — a motion in regards to UOSU’s advocacy for a mandatory anti-racism course — and motion 8.6, which highlights solidarity for Uighur Muslims.   

Nov. 23: UOSU operations commissioner Ines Nour El Huda steps down from position

Ines Nour El Huda, operations commissioner for the UOSU, announced she had stepped down from her position after a two-month absence. El Huda cited differences with other UOSU executives as the focal point of her immediate resignation.

In a three-page resignation letter, El Huda specified a number of alleged incidents which led her to resign including her being allegedly “alienated from the executive committee” as well as allegations of being excluded from meetings and “concerns of misogyny and Islamophobia.”

Nov. 23: U of O announces new action-based anti-racism committee

The University of Ottawa Senate announced the creation of a new anti-racism action committee. The new committee will be an action-based committee replacing the President’s Advisory Committee for an Anti-Racist and Inclusive Campus.

The committee will be tasked with reviewing and accessing university resources, programs, policy practices and processes to understand how they contribute to systemic racism. It will also provide recommendations to help further the inclusion of BIPOC members at the university and eliminate any barriers to the U of O’s diversity and inclusion effort.

December

Dec. 1: Canadian actor Elliot Page comes out as transgender

Oscar-nominated actor Elliot Page came out as transgender in an Instagram post addressed to his social media followers and now uses the pronouns he/they.

The critically-acclaimed actor is known for their roles in Inception, Juno, and The Umbrella Academy. 

Dec. 2: ORCC to close temporarily for six to eight months 

The Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre temporarily closed on Dec. 2 due to “outdated IT infrastructure” as announced by the ORCC Board of Directors (BOD) which “requires a significant overhaul before we can responsibly and ethically integrate secure video platforms and cloud-based recordkeeping systems.”

At the time of the ORCC’s opening in 1974, it became the first of its kind in Ottawa and was the third rape crisis centre in the country.

Dec. 4: uRacism — students stage a sit-in protest at Tabaret Hall

Several students hosted a sit-in as a means of protesting the Action Committee on Anti-Racism and Inclusion, which was recently established by the university. Demonstrators have been occupying Tabaret Hall since Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. with no foreseeable end.

University collectives such as UOSU, the Black Student Leaders Association (BLSA), the University of Ottawa’s Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), and the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa’s BIPOC Caucus (APUO BIPOC Caucus) have all officially not recognized the Action Committee

Dec. 4: Bytowne Cinema to close permanently

Beloved Ottawa landmark, the Bytowne Cinema on Rideau Street, will be closing its doors permanently on Dec. 31. 

“The cinema has been losing money every day since the pandemic hit,” said owner Bruce White.

The Bytowne Cinema has been open since 1947 and has been run by White since 1988. The theatre has long been a favourite spot in Ottawa’s ByWard Market, acting as a crucial venue for independent film screenings.

—With files from Matt Gerygek, Aaron Hemens, Mackenzie Casalino, Charley Dutil, Emily Wilson, Jelena Maric, Leyla Abdollel, Bridget Coady, Anchal Sharma, Karli Zschogner, Aly Murphy and Paige Holland.