How safe are Canadian drugs?

Following a US Food and Drug Administration warning that Naproxin, a popular over-the-counter pain reliever, might cause heart attacks, news media sought the opinion of Dr. Joel Lexchin, a Toronto emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at York, about the drug approval process in Canada.

In a Global TV news item aired across Canada Dec. 21, Lexchin said that in the ’70s and ’80s Health Canada pulled about seven or eight drugs per decade off the market for safety reasons. But since the early 1990s, that number has about doubled. And studies about new drugs submitted by pharmaceutical companies are confidential. “Nobody can make independent judgments. Nobody sees what the quality of the evidence was to begin with,” said Lexchin.

In a Dec. 31 CanWest News Service story about Depo-Provera, a controversial contraceptive that may cause permanent bone loss, Lexchin said Health Canada isn’t doing enough to systematically collect information about the safety of drugs once they’re approved. The 2003 federal budget called for $190 million in new funding over five years to improve the drug approvals process. “The money is not in monitoring safety. The money is in making sure that drugs get on the market quickly, and that’s a reflection of the fact the companies are paying for about half the cost of running the [drug approval] agency,” said Lexchin,

MBA students tackle business cases in competition

Montreal’s Gazette zeroed in Jan. 4 on the MBA students – including a team from York’s Schulich School of Business – who compete in the annual John Molson MBA International Case Competition in Montreal. The business-strategy pressure-cooker is said to be where the rubber meets the road for aspiring business leaders, reported The Gazette. “Two years of MBA education costs a lot of money and it’s great but I believe the experience of going through this competition alone is worth more than two years of education,” said Shakeel Adam, who graduated in 2004 with an MBA from Schulich and was among the scores of MBA students who competed last year. This year Adam, a consultant whose pursuits recently took him to Russia to set up a company, is a volunteer assistant coach for York’s team . York plans to compete in five competitions this year, Adam said.

The competition is set up in a round-robin format over four days. Teams of four students analyze unpublished business problems devised by academics. The final challenge is a “live” case which challenges students to consider an existing problem. At university, students might have a week to analyze a problem and present a solution, Adam said. That doesn’t often happen in the business world. The case competition requires a response within three hours “and it has to be completely doable,” he noted.

Wish list for 2005 includes subway announcement

The Globe and Mail’s Inside City Hall asked Peter Li Preti, the city councillor representing York West, what he wished for in 2005: “I hope to see a major announcement from Ontario and the federal government for a subway to York University.”

No time to rumble

The Globe and Mail’s Dear Corporate Governess columnist consulted Mark Schwartz, acting director of the business ethics program at York’s Schulich School of Business, about how to handle a feud between sales managers. “There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a healthy feud,” he said in advice printed Dec. 24. “But it can become destructive if the managers are so driven that they cross a legal or ethical line.” The resulting devastation or scandal could far outweigh any short-term gain in revenue. “It’s the head’s responsibility to find out what his managers are doing. If there’s inappropriate behaviour, it will reflect on both him and the company,” said Schwartz.

Spotlighting the book that got away

The Globe and Mail’s books editor Martin Levin fretted Dec. 24 over the books he overlooked in 2004. These included The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, and Intelligence Evolved from Our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans, by Stanley I. Greenspan and Stuart G. Shanker. The authors (Shanker is Distinguished Research Professor of psychology/philosophy in Atkinson’s Department of Psychology) offer what seems to be a fairly radical new theory about how symbols were first devised, how they evolved and how they were transmitted.

York’s dancers go digital

York University faculty Don Sinclair and Holly Small are pioneering an interdisciplinary teaching environment that bridges the gap between backstage and centre stage, reported The Globe and Mail Dec. 23. The two are bringing together students with backgrounds in new media and dance in an interactive dance studio, complete with motion sensors, lighting touch pads, and computer-generated commands that respond to dancers’ movements. “Basically, what we’ve done is create a computer-mediated performance space,” said Sinclair, a new media professor in York’s Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program, who has a background in both computer science and music.

Small’s dance students will learn to use the software that acts as the system’s hub. With the digital studio, Small said, “you have a far more profound insight into the creative process if you understand what’s going on behind the scenes. When you understand the technology, suddenly you’re not just a dancer — you’re a co-creator.”

Archeology map will protect sites

A large Iroquoian village near York University dating between 1450 and 1500 will likely be included in an archeological survey of Toronto commissioned by city council, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 1. The map will identify such sites to protect them from destruction by future development. The Iroquois village was excavated decades ago and is near an undisturbed 2.4-hectare site that remains to be explored.

Playwright turns to acting when muse silent

The Globe and Mail’s Michael Posner profiled playwright and York theatre graduate David Gow Jan. 4. When the Muse goes silent, the Montreal-based author of Cherry Docs, Bea’s Niece and Friedman Family Fortune earns a living as an actor. He’s appeared in more than a dozen films, including Robert Altman’s Mrs. Parker & The Vicious Circle (as author Donald Ogden Stewart), and stars as the mathematics teacher, Mr. Potter, in the children’s TV series My Hometown. Gow studied performance at Montreal’s Concordia University and earned an MFA in playwriting at York University in 1998. After earning his degree from York, Gow spent a decade in Toronto, but eventually returned to Montreal, “a city I just love.”

Singer stays True to her dream

York music grad Stephanie True is well on her way to career as a Baroque soloist, reported Cornwall’s Standard-Freeholder Jan. 4. Since September, the former St. Andrews West resident has been studying in The Hague, Netherlands, at the prestigious Royal Conservatory, in master classes with some of the world’s best vocal teachers. True graduated with top honours from York’s music program in 2003. During her third year at York, she joined the 100-voice Amadeus Choir in Toronto and in her final year performed with the esteemed Elmer Iseler Singers, which hired her full time as a soprano after she graduated.

Lives lived and culture lost

In a Jan. 3 story about cultural treasures lost in 2004, the Ottawa Citizen included Angela Leigh, founding member of and principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and founding member of and dance teacher with York’s Dance Department in the 1970s. Leigh died Nov. 30 at 78. Leigh trained with the Royal Ballet in London, England. In addition to dancing most of the leading roles in the classical and modern repertoires with the National Ballet, Leigh also choreographed works for the Canadian Opera Company and the Ontario Ballet Theatre, and staged revues.

Kantor’s art in a revolutionary vein

The Toronto Star reported Jan. 4 that work by the controversial Istvan Kantor, the 55-year-old self-described revolutionary has spent much of his 25-year career getting arrested, manhandled and banned from some of the most significant art museums in the world, will be on exhibit at the Art Gallery of York University. Since 1979, Kantor’s Blood Campaign – in which he draws vials of blood from his own arm to be splattered in a crude X on galleries’ crisp white walls – has hit New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Ottawa’s National Gallery and the Power Plant and the Art Gallery of Ontario here in Toronto, among many others. His installation “Remains of a Revolution,” opens at the AGYU on Feb. 9.

Let’s give small hydro a green light

Fred Schwartz, manager of renewables and advanced generation for the City of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Chair of the York University Faculty of Environmental Studies alumni drive, suggested ways to combat global warming in a Globe and Mail opinion piece Dec. 29. “Despite Washington’s intransigence, more and more US states, local governments and businesses accept that the faster we generate power that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, the better,” he wrote. San Francisco “may be foggy, but our first major solar project put more than 3,000 solar panels atop the Moscone Convention Center – enough to generate more than 600 kilowatts when there’s full sun,” wrote Schwartz, who graduated from York in 1973 with a master’s in environmental science. “With wind, biomass and biogas, and renewable-fuels projects under way, San Francisco is committed to acquiring all its electricity through renewable generation.”

On air

  • Reality shows like “Trading Spouses” only focus on moms and are a step backward for the validation of the women’s work in the home, York women’s studies Professor Andrea O’Reilly told CHQR’s “Calgary Today” Dec. 21.