Fighting for youth on mayor’s advisory group

One is known as the “hood” politician. The other, the activist lawyer. Kehinde Bah and Osgoode Hall Law School student Ryan Teschner are the youngest members of Mayor David Miller’s community safety advisory committee, reported Toronto’s Sunday Star April 18. But they aren’t overwhelmed by their newfound company, which includes Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, Attorney-General Michael Bryant and federal cabinet minister Jean Augustine. They may be only in their early 20s, but when it comes to youth justice, Bah and Teschner have likely the most impressive credentials of the group. “They can hold their own,” chuckles Olivia Chow, Toronto’s youth advocate. “They’ve been through the training ground. They’ve seen it all. They’re a really powerful couple.” At 24 and 23, Bah and Teschner are veteran members of Toronto’s Youth Cabinet. They’ve spent the past four years fighting for the backbone of Miller’s recently approved crime prevention plan — more recreational and job opportunities for youth from disadvantaged areas of the city.

The duo have become fixtures at city hall, lobbying politicians to support their proposals for community outreach workers, hosting news conferences on skates to demonstrate the “thin ice” under youth programs, and launching into speeches at meetings over the effect of city budgets on those programs. Teschner grew up in North York in a middle-class Jewish family. He landed a summer job with famed criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan after his first year of university. He’s now on a scholarship studying law at Osgoode Hall. Bah, on the other hand, lives in a subsidized housing project off the Danforth. His mother, an immigrant from Nigeria, raised him and his twin brother, Tai, alone on her slim earnings as a seamstress.

Together, the duo is invincible, says Chow, who formed the Youth Cabinet in 1998 and mentored both closely. One speaks the polished language of city council and can draft memos. The other talks like people on the street and reminds everyone what they are fighting for. “It’s just a perfect connection. No one would have both. The fact they can work together so well, it’s quite amazing,” Chow says. She wasn’t surprised that after the community safety advisory’s inaugural two-hour meeting, all the high-powered adults left buzzing about the two young people on the board. Emerging from the boardroom flanked by the duo, McMurtry directed media to speak to his “two esteemed colleagues.” It seems, after years of trying to be heard by a conservative provincial government and city hall, the two boy wonders have broken through. “Finally, somebody actually listened to what we’ve been saying for years and years and years …” said Teschner. “And it’s the mayor’s office.”

Bar owners and servers have a duty to ensure customers drink safely

A Scarborough bar owner faces a criminal charge after a man who was found on the ground outside his establishment on Easter weekend died, reported the Toronto Star April 17. George Nikolovski, 68, who owns Papa George Restaurant & Bar, is charged with criminal negligence causing death and was in custody yesterday awaiting a bail hearing. Dianne Martin, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, said that in some cases bar owners have been successfully sued by people who became intoxicated and then got into car accidents. “Those civil cases establish that there is a duty on bar owners and servers of alcohol toward their customers. Negligence, whether civil or criminal, arises when someone comes to harm that another had a duty to prevent – or at least not cause.” Martin said the degree of “recklessness” required for a criminal negligence conviction is “quite significant.” A conviction can result in a life sentence.

Ontario key to Liberal win

Pollsters and pundits call it the Broad Blue Band: a swath of rural and wealthy suburban Ontario where discontent with the governing party threatens to stand between Prime Minister Paul Martin and a fourth straight Liberal majority, reported The Globe and Mail April 17. The Liberal majorities have been “dependent on winning all of Ontario,” said James Laxer, a political scientist at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. A Globe poll in small communities around Toronto this week makes it “clear that the Liberals have a long way to go to…win as many seats as they now have in Quebec,” Laxer said. “And the hopes of winning more seats than they have in the West seems to be out the window. So, when you put all that together, the 106 seats that there are in Ontario are the key to the whole thing.”

Homosexuality in sport still a taboo issue

A Toronto Sun April 18 story on homosexuality in sport opens with a quote from Greg Malzsecki, sports sociologist with York’s Department of Kinesiology: “Everyone who has played a team sport has played with someone who is homosexual. The truth is the gays are afraid to tell.” The world of sports is the last frontier, stated the Sun. “In the general population, between five to 10 per cent of people are exclusively gay or lesbian,” said Malszecki, professor at York and associate of York’s Lamarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution. “So it makes sense that something like seven per cent of athletes would be gay.” The Winnipeg Sun carried the same story April 19.

Trailblazer reveals woman behind the issues

Roberta Jamieson cuts her own path, began a profile of the trailblazing native Canadian leader in the Toronto Star April 19. The 2003 York University honorary degree recipient was the first female elected chief of Canada’s most populous reserve in 2001, the first Aboriginal woman in Canada to graduate from law school and the first to serve as ombudsman in Ontario. The night of April 19 would mark another first for Jamieson, said the Star, when she was to take the stage at Roy Thomson Hall as part of the Unique Lives & Experiences lecture series. She’s never talked about herself, personally, before, reported the newspaper.

1904 fire regenerated Toronto

After the great fire of 1904 that wiped out its core, “Toronto and its leaders were willing to think big . . . and act,” York University historian Christopher Armstrong told The Globe and Mail in a story April 17 on the city’s subsequent transformation. “Work on a real, high-pressure fire hydrant system started almost immediately” and was completed in 1909. “Larger projects took longer, but after decades of inaction it became certain they would be built,” Armstrong said, referring to the construction of the new Union Station, infrastructure for water purification and sewage treatment, the Bloor Street viaduct crossing the Don Valley, and an expanded streetcar network.

A decade still in search of an identity

Five years ago, we were living in the Nineties. In another six years, we’ll be into the Teens. But nearly halfway through it, we still don’t have a name for this decade. And if we can’t put a label on it, can this 10-year span of time be culturally defined? asked The Globe and Mail April 17. Nick Rogers, a historian at York University, pointed out that the defining characteristics of generations rarely match with the start and end of decades. The Sixties, as we think of that period, “is a decade that didn’t start until the mid-1960s,” Rogers said. “Most of the 1970s is part of the Sixties.” If a decade is to be identified with a particular event or style, he added, it has to be a transatlantic experience. “It has to be one that registers in the major industrial countries of Europe and North America. And, second, I think there has to be at least one common theme to the decade,” he said. “The Sixties would be, I suppose, youth rebellion. And it was, in many ways, a reaction to the Fifties that was typified by mom and dad, happy families in suburbia – horrible decade!”

Osgoode underdogs win ‘Olympic Games’ of law mooting

Like any rank underdog, the Osgoode Hall Law School mooting team had not dared to consider the possibility of actually winning an international moot law competition in Vienna last week – at least, until the field miraculously narrowed from 136 to four, reported The Globe and Mail April 19. No Canadian team had ever come close to winning the Vis International Arbitration Moot – a prestigious competition in which top law schools from dozens of countries simulate legal argument in an international commercial dispute. “When they announced we were going through to the final four, we looked at each other, and just said: ‘Wow!’ ” recalled team member Stephen Vander Stoep. “From [then], it wasn’t just a matter of seeing how far we could go. We began to think we might win this thing.”

It was the first time a team from a Canadian law school had made it past the final 16 in the moot, let alone walk away with the championship. It means enormous international exposure in a burgeoning field of law, and enhances job placement prospects for Osgoode graduates. “They were up against schools like Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown and Cornell,” enthused Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan. “This is the biggest mooting competition in the world. I regard it as the Olympic Games of mooting.”

The road to the Vis Moot is an all-consuming one that commences in September, when organizers post a complicated commercial law scenario involving companies located in two fictitious countries: Equatoriana and Mediterraneo. Osgoode Associate Dean Janet Walker unleashed one of her third-year classes on the problem in a gruelling assignment that would last months. Based on their written memoranda, six students from among the class of 13 made the team – Vander Stoep along with Christopher Hickey, Fiona Hickman, Gregory Smith, Jonathan Hood and Tala Zarbafi.

Grad shares Big Fat Wedding star’s story in TV doc

While much has been made of Nia Vardalos’ seemingly overnight success with her hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, York University graduate Melissa DiMarco knew that there’s usually much more behind that kind of success story, wrote Justin Skinner in a profile published on Metroland’s April 14 and North York Mirror April 10. DiMarco has managed to build a successful acting career of her own as the host of entertainment show “Nite Life,” in the hit teen drama “Degrassi: the Next Generation” and in feature films such as Red Green’s Duct Tape Forever. She was well aware of the hard work that goes into virtually every successful acting career and decided to share Vardalos’ story in the TV documentary Dreamseeker: Nia Vardalos. The documentary is the fledgling project of DiMarco’s newest venture, DiMarco Productions. “Everyone thought Nia Vardalos was this huge overnight success, but what no one ever realizes is that My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the result of 20 years of hard work,” DiMarco said. “Anyone who’s gotten anywhere in show business has had people who have helped them out along the way and others who question your ability to succeed.”

DiMarco said her own time at York University, where she graduated in 1993 with an honours degree in fine arts and made the Dean’s List, was instrumental in her being able to produce Dreamseeker. “The theatre program there was really instrumental in giving me a strong basis not only as an actor, but in learning how to direct,” she said. “It gave me an opportunity to direct my own showcase pieces and that experience was extremely helpful.” Dreamseeker aired April 18 on the OMNI.1 network.

York student among Toronto’s toughest men

The Toronto Sun included York undergraduate Carlos Newton, an “ultimate fighter”, in its list of Toronto’s 10 toughest men April 18. Before he steps into the caged arena to take on some of the world’s toughest fighters, Newton – nicknamed “The Ronin” – can breathe easier through his mouth-piece, knowing there’s at least no eye gouging and groin attacks. The modern, marketed equivalent of dock-side slug fests – where one tough man would challenge another tough man – Ultimate Fighting is for those who believe boxing is a bit too timid, said the Sun. Newton, a 27-year-old, part-time student pursuing a double major in psychology and multidisciplinary studies at York University, held the UFC Welterweight Championship after winning by submission against the sport’s longest-reigning champ. Training in martial arts since he was 4, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Newton travels from Las Vegas to Tokyo, trying to kick and beat and leg-lock lesser men into the ground. All with a fight style he’s named after a popular Japanese cartoon, Dragon Ball jiu-jitsu. Among devoted fans, Newton – who’s tackled the likes of Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson – is a well-chiselled poster boy for the sport. “People think if you’re a fighter, you don’t have any brains,” he says. “Well, I’ve got brains, but I chose to fight. Because I’m good at it.” A former Canadian martial arts champ, who speaks Japanese and trains six hours each day, he has shed blood and sweat but no tears before a crowd of 45,000 during competitions in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Iraq’s idle youth a potential threat

“It was last fall when I first became aware that the coalition governing Iraq had failed to pay any attention to one of the world’s most dangerous threats,” wrote Doug Saunders in a Globe and Mail story April 17 about Iraq’s idle young males. Among countries that are at war, according to detailed studies by Christian Mesquida, a former research psychologist at York, and Neil Wiener, a psychology professor with York’s Faculty of Arts, the ones with high youth populations experience the most severe violence.

Springtime is open season for stargazers

To mark the opening of the observing season, astronomy clubs have joined with astronomers at the Ontario Science Centre, York University and the University of Toronto to celebrate Astronomy Week, an annual series of displays, talks and telescope viewing sessions open to everyone, reported the Toronto Star April 18. It culminates with Astronomy Day on April 24. York University’s Arboretum Observing Facility is the site for a view of the sun with specially filtered telescopes from 4pm to sundown. At dusk, the telescopes turn to Saturn, Jupiter and the moon.

Degrees of celebration

Most university administrators have their share of stories about the tradition of bestowing honorary degrees, the behind-the-scenes debate over who should be chosen and the memorable award ceremonies, reported the Toronto Star April 17. Canadian universities, said the Star, are perhaps less tied to the cult of celebrity and less focused on benefactors with deep pockets than American ones. Harriet Lewis, secretary of the honorary degrees and ceremonials committee at York University, said, “Just giving money doesn’t do it. You can’t buy a degree here.” Although philanthropy is among the criteria that York’s selection committee considers, the individual must have had a broader community impact to be honoured. York has developed a tradition of trying to recognize deserving individuals who may otherwise be overlooked because they are involved in an obscure field or have toiled quietly in their field. “We look to people who might not otherwise be thought of,” Lewis said. For example, in 2000, the University honoured Felicitas Svejda. Hers may not be a household name, but Canadian gardeners owe a debt of gratitude to the research scientist who discovered a hearty breed of rose bushes, named after Canadian explorers, that can tolerate harsh northern climates. In 2002, York held a special ceremony in Winnipeg to award an honorary degree to Lee Williams, who is credited with unionizing black railway porters several decades ago.

Cantor taught vocals at York

Saul Irving Glick, composer, conductor, radio producer and teacher born in Toronto on Sept. 8, 1934, died April 17, reported The Globe and Mail the same day. The son of a cantor, he wrote much of his religious music for Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto, but he also received commissions from the Toronto Symphony and other groups. He also taught for many years at York University during the 1980s and at the Royal Conservatory of Music. In 1993, he received a Governor-General’s medal and the next year he was named to the Order of Canada.

On air

  • Engin Isin, York’s Canada Research Chair in Citizenship Studies, commented on what citizenship in Canada means in the context of the return of the Al-Qaeda-tied Khadr family to seek medical help for a son wounded in a battle with the Pakistani military, on CBC Radio’s “Cross Country Check-up” April 18 with host Rex Murphy.