Beware of politicizing top court, Bryant warns

If candidates for the Supreme Court of Canada are put through public questioning, only extroverts and those willing to fit into ideological pigeonholes will apply, Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant warned at a Charter of Rights conference organized by York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, reported the Globe and Mail April 3. Bryant said he is content with a suggestion earlier this week from Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, who said he will reappear before the committee after the government has made its selections for the two vacancies. Cotler also spoke to the conference. He said that while a more visible appointment process is desirable, the Constitution makes it clear that only the Prime Minister can make a final selection. The Toronto Star also covered Bryant’s remarks.

As if to underscore the heated debate over appointments, Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan told the conference that 11 out of 17 Charter challengers succeeded last year. The success rate from 2000 to 2003 was an extraordinary 52 per cent, he said. Only 34 per cent of claims succeeded from 1996 to 1999. “This is not a one-year blip,” Monahan remarked. “The Court, under Chief Justice [Beverley] McLachlin, is giving a robust interpretation of the Charter. The court is not operating on the basis of what we might call a minimalist philosophy.” Monahan said an advisory group of constitutional scholars has chosen a Supreme Court ruling known as Doucet-Boudreau as the most important Charter case of 2003. The ruling gave lower-court judges the right to supervise court orders to ensure government compliance.

Monahan said the two judges who are leaving – Frank Iacobucci and Louise Arbour – co-wrote the 5-4 Doucet-Boudreau ruling, highlighting how profoundly their departure will reshape the court. He also noted that Iacobucci dissented in five rulings last year, while Arbour dissented in 10. In each instance, their dissent was in favour of the Charter challenger, the Globe reported.

“It could mean that the court might move in a somewhat different direction, depending on the replacements,” Monahan, told the Ottawa Citizen in an April 4 story about the conference carried by CanWest News Service.

Let nuclear waste burn up in space

In an April 3 letter to the Toronto Star, Ralph W. Nicholls, director emeritus, York’s Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science, said he “made a suggestion in 1977 in the scientific journal Nature for one possible way to deal with nuclear waste. It was entitled Solar Nuclear Waste Disposal, and proposed that serious engineering consideration be given to the possibilty of launching dedicated spacecraft to transport nuclear waste payloads into the sun, whose gravitational attraction would assist, and where the temperature of its outer atmosphere (the corona) is about a million degrees. Space technology has advanced greatly in the intervening 27 years. Perhaps, it is now time objectively to reconsider all aspects of this suggestion.”

It’s a choice of abuse or welfare, says study

A groundbreaking study paints a grim picture of life on welfare and abuse for women who often have to decide whether they are going to be cut off payments or they’re going to be beaten, the Toronto Star reported April 5. The report, Walking on Eggshells: Abused Women’s Experiences of Ontario Welfare System, also released April 5, is the first Canadian study to examine domestic abuse in the context of social assistance. “What is disturbing in the report is the many parallels that women draw between being on welfare and being in an abusive relationship,” said Janet Mosher, an Osgoode Hall Law School professor and an author of the study. “The expression `walking on eggshells’ is an expression some of the women we interviewed used – having to tread carefully and always being a little apprehensive because you’re going to be cut off or you’re going to be hit.” Mosher said she hopes the study’s findings will act as a wake-up call to Ontario’s new Liberal government about the need for welfare system reform. “There’s a tendency to think that the way to keep women safe is criminal justice reform,” she said. “I actually think that more women will be kept safe by adequate welfare than any of the changes you could make in the criminal justice system.”

If you had to travel by bus…

This week, the National Post went to Downsview subway station to ask its Burning Question: Do you think Prime Minister Paul Martin and Premier Dalton McGuinty would be a little quicker to cough up more dough if they were forced to ride the 60 Steeles West or 106 York University buses every day? On April 3, it printed the answers, including that of fourth-year York psychology student Carly Zaidel. “I actually feel the TTC started to go downhill last year. I go to York. There are days when I’d have to wait for five buses before one stops to pick me up. So yes, I think they would be a little quicker to give money and they would realize what it’s like after they ride the bus themselves.”

Liberals outspent, out-ate Tories on 2003 campaign

The Ontario Liberal party outborrowed, outspent and out-ate the Tories during their winning election campaign last September, reported the Ottawa Citizen April 3. The election finance figures show the Liberals spent $6.3 million on the campaign, compared to the Tories’ $5.6 million. In a tale of contrasting political fortunes, one particular category sums up two campaigns heading in opposite directions, said York University political science Professor Robert MacDermid. Travel. The Liberals spent nearly $1 million – twice what their chief rivals did – on Dalton McGuinty’s tour of the province. “That’s the image-generating mechanism,” said MacDermid, referring to the large, visible tour buses plastered with party leaders’ faces. The previous day’s filings indicated the Liberals also paid a hefty price for other extravagances, taking out a $7.5-million loan during the campaign period. “That’s a lot to borrow,” said MacDermid. “It’s a high figure for borrowing in an election campaign. They’re usually around $4 [million] to $6 [million].” The Ontario Conservative party borrowed $400,000, a paltry sum by comparison. “Clearly [the Liberals] thought, in this case, they had a chance to win and it’s worth borrowing a lot of money and running a significant deficit,” he said. “The Conservatives may have thought somewhat differently. They realized going in they were behind. They stayed behind. At some point during a campaign you cut your costs.”

Canada, an anti-nationalist nation?

In an April 3 column about what it means to be Canadian, the Globe and Mail’s Ken Wiwa talked about a notion of Canada as the anti-nationalist nation. It’s a theme, he said, that Daniel Drache, associate director of York University’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies takes up in his new book Borders Matter, arguing that “Canadians have not often been nimble or successful in defining, let alone defending, their strategic self-interests.” He advocates a “creative ambiguity” towards the United States – an ambiguity that protects Canadian values and interests.

The war of the queens

The novelty in British biographer Jane Dunn’s double biography of two rival island queens, Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is not in the stories, already often told, but in the strategy of weaving them tightly together, as a dialogue between two proud, arrogant, ambitious women, cousins and rival claimants to the English throne – and who, though they often wrote each other letters, actually never met, wrote Thomas Cohen, a history professor with York University’s Faculty of Arts, in a Globe and Mail book review April 3.

Guarding the Arctic

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick of York University’s Centre for International and Security Studies was cited in a Toronto Star editorial about Arctic sovereignty April 5. “Our military presence in the Arctic is not exactly extensive. It virtually constitutes the largest demilitarized zone in the world,” Shadwick told Parliament’s standing defence committee last June, said the Star.

Will finance professor clean up yet again?

“Shall we just get out the Globe and Mail coffee mug and declare Moshe Milevsky the winner of our 2004 My One and Only stock-picking contest now?” asked the newspaper April 5. The finance professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business and author of financial books got the contest off to one of the strongest starts yet when he picked pharmaceutical company Forbes Medi-Tech Inc. (FMI-TSX), which catapulted 179 per cent in the first quarter of the year. Now the professor – winner of the past two contests – is exercising the until-now never-used option of cashing in his chips at the end of the quarter. “I’m following the optimal strategy to win the contest,” Milevsky said. “If it were real life, I’d hold onto the stock, as you should let your profits run.” Should he win, the professor, who has even written an academic paper on how to win this contest, is considering retiring undefeated like the late heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano. “I may leave academia and open up a hedge fund,” he joked. His tip to other contestants on how to win the coffee mug: Pick a volatile stock that runs counter to the market as a whole and is trading close to the minimum entry level of $1 on the Toronto Stock Exchange – and have luck on your side.

The media friendly professor also commented on rate of return on GICs and said longer-term products should be the focus, on Global TV’s “INVE$TV” April 4.

Ethics begins with individual responsibility

In sector after sector, there has been a moral collapse, wrote Thomas S. Axworthy, in an April 5 National Post editorial on political corruption and participation. The critical issues are why has this happened and what is to be done? To answer these questions, he wrote, a non-partisan ginger group of mostly young progressives joined forces with Seneca College and York University to organize a day-long conference in Toronto recently on ethics and citizen engagement.

Supreme Court appeal bids are as much art as science

Nine out of 10 lawyers discover an unpleasant truth along the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The biggest hurdle they will encounter is the very first: obtaining leave to appeal, wrote the Globe and Mail’s Kirk Makin April 5. After leaving a clerkship at the court several years ago, Lorne Sossin, who has taught at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, summed up the task of obtaining leave in a candid academic paper. “The standard for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court boils down to an exercise in judicial discretion that is premised on what might be termed ‘a smell test,’ ” he wrote. “That process may be beneficial – and it may also be salutary that clerks influence the fragrance of what the justices inhale.”

What turns young men into terrorists?

Christian Mesquida, a former research psychologist at York, and Neil Wiener, a psychology professor with York’s Faculty of Arts, did a study that found that young males are more likely to engage in violent behaviour when the ratio of men between 15 and 29 rises to a high level – between 70 and 80 young men for every 100 men older than 30, reported the Ottawa Citizen April 3 in an article on why young men turn into terrorists? At such levels, too many young men are seeking mates, jobs and recognition, creating unrest and instability, particularly in nations with weak or corrupt governments. Based on changing male age demographics, the authors predicted in 1997 that Northern Ireland would become more peaceful – a prediction that has since been borne out, said the Citizen.