Former Osgoode dean a contender for Supreme Court seat?

The upcoming departure of Supreme Court Justice and former Osgoode Hall Law School professor Louise Arbour,  who is set to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has fueled widespread media comment and speculation.

On Feb. 21, the Toronto Star listed Peter Hogg, former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, as a contender for Arbour’s seat on Canada’s top court. Sonia Lawrence, a professor and equality rights expert at Osgoode, said she believes Hogg is a leading candidate. Hogg is probably the most prominent constitutional scholar in the country, said the Star. Lawrence also listed Justice David Doherty of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Arbour’s departure has given additional force to calls for more public scrutiny in how judges are selected, reported Canadian Press Feb. 22. Conservative MP Vic Toews, a former attorney general of Manitoba, favours an all-party process to publicly question high court candidates on their legal, social and other views. But Bruce Ryder, a professor at Osgoode, said that such US-style confirmation hearings tend to become “a bit of a circus.” There’s also a risk that strong candidates will shy away from having to field personal questions in a vetting process that is too easily politicized, he said. “I’m not convinced that questions the Conservative party would want to put to candidates would be appropriate.” Judges are trained to keep an open mind and apply the law case-by-case as objectively as possible, Ryder said. “Nobody can be perfectly objective, but it doesn’t help make them more so by questioning them on their personal beliefs.”

Patrick Monahan, Osgoode’s current dean, also commented on Arbour’s appointment on CBC Radio’s “The World At Six” Feb. 20. News of Arbour’s position with the UN and her Osgoode connection was widely reported across the country and internationally.

Many in Iran voted out of fear, says Rahnema

Hard-line Iranian theocrats appeared to be winning the country’s weekend parliamentary election, but their tactics in neutering the opposition have ensured continuing political and social turmoil, say critics like York political scientist Saeed Rahnema, reported the Globe and Mail Feb. 23. “They are faced with the secular, earthly realities of Iran: a terrible economy, very high unemployment – 65 per cent of the youth have no hope, no jobs and they cannot go to universities – and, at the same time, people are fed up with their Islamic policies,” he said in an interview. Rahnema said many of those who went to polling stations did so out of fear. “The hard-liners can still mobilize large parts of the population, because there are so many people linked to the regime.” Rahnema said that without a reformist presence in parliament, it will be easier for Tehran to shove under the carpet the case of Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, a 54-year-old native of Iran who was arrested last year and died while in custody. And he predicted that reformist President Mohammed Khatami’s inability to stand up to religious conservatives may spell his demise. On Feb. 20, before the election, Rahnema discussed what would likely come out of Iran’s general elections and questioned not only their validity but the survival of the entire Islamic state, on CBC Newsworld.

Barbie for president? Ken gay?

In a reflection of modern times, Mattel Inc. has decided that Barbie no longer needs a boyfriend in order to be happy, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 21. What will most likely happen, said business Professor Alan Middleton, is that Ken’s shelf space will be taken up with new Barbie family members and props. Middleton, who teaches marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, said in an interview following the announcement that Barbie and Ken were “going their separate ways” that Barbie has been successful for 45 years because she keeps changing. Every year there’s a new hobby, outfit and career. Ken, said Middleton, never got to be much more “than a hanger-on. She’s modern, she’s a lawyer. It’s less pertinent, to the way girls see themselves, that she has a boyfriend.”

Middleton is guessing that Ken won’t disappear overnight. “He’ll hang around for a bit, the way old boyfriends do, then quietly go away.” Toy stores only have so much shelf space to display their wares and Ken took away from the rest of Barbie’s family. Recently Midge, Barbie’s pal who is married to Alan, had a baby and another is on the way. Grandparents have also joined the lineup of toys in what Middleton sees as a reflection of the renewed importance of family post-9/11.

Middleton nixed any idea that new boyfriends will be brought onto the scene. “Barbie can’t have a succession of lovers. That is not allowable.” He said his advice to Mattel would be to give Barbie even more fabulous careers, including the top job in the United States. “Barbie can be president,” he said.

As for Ken? Mattel should just admit what we’ve all suspected, that Ken is gay, he said. It is only a matter of time, maybe five years or so, before a gay doll arrives on the scene, Middleton added. “That will happen. In fact, in Canada today, it would be totally acceptable.”

Students welcome move to revamp bar admissions course

When third-year York law student Alexis Levine takes the Law Society of Upper Canada’s bar admission course this summer, he will likely find himself sitting in half-empty classrooms, said the Globe and Mail Feb. 23. A poor attendance rate of under 45 per cent, sometimes dropping to below 30 per cent, is one of the reasons that the Law Society is planning to replace the current bar admission course with a new process for qualifying lawyers, expected to be introduced in 2006. Tuition fees, now at $4,400, will likely be cut by $1,800. Students will still have to complete a 10-month articling program and the task force recommended that the Law Society look for ways of encouraging mentorship and collaboration, particularly among small and rural law firms with fewer resources. Levine, chairman of Osgoode Hall Law School student caucus at York, said these changes will be welcomed by students who feel that the old system “just didn’t make sense any more.” He said students often skip the current non-compulsory classes because they seem to be “reteaching law school.” At the same time, he said, the fees for the course are an added financial hardship for students already burdened by debt and, for many people, the course means a four-month period without paid employment, as well as a delay in entering into articling and embarking on their career. “There are students who feel this process bars their entry to the profession for too long,” he said.

York student pushes for car-free streets in the market

Kelsey Carriere, 23, and Shamez Amlani, co-owner of La Palette bistro, are the leading lights of Streets Are For People, which kicked off in 2002 with a little Sunday street party in Kensington Market, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 22. The group is still very informal – “it’s not like we have board meetings, just lots of volunteers,” says Carriere, who’s in environmental studies – but would like ultimately to see Kensington Market turned largely into a traffic-free zone.

In defence of defence

We should spend more money on our poor pathetic armed forces. This in a nutshell is the argument Toronto military drumbeater Jack Granatstein makes in his latest polemic, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press reviewer of J.L. Granatstein’s Who Killed the Canadian Military? in a piece Feb. 22. A retired York University history professor and ex-director of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Granatstein has written more than 60 books and is an officer of the Order of Canada and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

On air

  • David Shugarman, director of York’s Centre for Practical Ethics, discussed whether the Liberals will clean house after the sponsorship scandals, with host Ann Medina on CBC Radio’s “Cross Country Check-up” Feb. 22.
  • David Reid, psychology professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, discussed his study looking at how married couples cope with problems and achieve long-term happiness in the marriage, on City-tv’s “Breakfast TV” Feb. 20.