Conference looks at lack of loos

The scarcity of public washrooms comes as no news to women waiting in line for the paltry few toilets at the National Arts Centre, reported The Ottawa Citizen Nov. 1. But there’s much more at stake, said Deborah Cowen, a postdoctoral fellow in geography at York’s Atkinson School of Social Sciences, in a story about a conference next March in Chicago addressing the lack of public washrooms. What are we doing for the homeless who need to wash or brush their teeth? Or for gay and transgendered people? Cowen and a good many others say we’re facing a raft of washroom problems. One big part of it is “public” washrooms are becoming increasingly private property. “You can buy something at Starbucks and use the washroom,” said Cowen. “Or you can still use Starbucks and not buy anything, but you have to look like you could buy something.”

Yes, Cowen allows, it is a subject that makes people giggle. Washroom access has always been a problem, she concluded. “It’s not like there was a golden age of great public washrooms and we declined since then. But there’s certainly been a shift from some sort of notion of public space and access to it.”

Tax expert cool to charging GST on food

The Agricultural Institute of Canada, which wants to help Canadian farmers, says the federal goods and services tax should be charged on groceries, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 1. Tax experts, however, were cool to the proposal. Resistance to charging GST on food has always been strong and it would be difficult for any government in Canada to support it, said Neil Brooks, tax law and policy professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. When the then-Conservative government mentioned in 1987 that it was considering a comprehensive tax on all goods, Brooks said, opposition to charging GST on groceries forced Ottawa to narrow the scope of the tax. A low-income earner spends between 30 and 35 per cent of income on food, while a wealthy person might spend between five or six per cent – and the tax increases that disparity, Brooks said.

Ryerson’s new president builds business school

Ryerson’s new president Sheldon Levy is already drawing a road map for the university’s future, complete with a new address, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 1 about the former York vice-president. Levy wants a Yonge Street presence for Ryerson almost as badly as Ryerson wants a new library. “I don’t want to be behind something, I want to be in front,” says Levy, peering up Yonge during a walk to the construction site that will, as of next September, be Ryerson’s new Bay Street business school. Levy believes the new building will help put a Ryerson business degree on the same footing as those from York’s Schulich School of Business and U of T’s Rotman School of Management. Ryerson installs Levy as president and vice-chancellor Nov. 2.

Campbell’s bestseller began as letters to self

Maria Campbell‘s emergence as one of the great aboriginal writers of our time began during a difficult time of stress, reported The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon Nov. 1. “I was doing volunteer work at a crisis centre in Edmonton, working with women and children in crisis,” said Campbell, who received a York honorary degree in 1992. “I met an elderly Quaker woman who understood the stress and pain I was facing. She suggested to me that, if for some reason, I couldn’t talk to anyone about work or how I was feeling, then I should write myself a letter. I did that and several years later, the letters became my first book.” Halfbreed turned into a Canadian best seller and Campbell’s knack for storytelling has turned into more books, plays, documentary films, videos, and a career as an educator.

On air

  • Historian Nick Rogers of York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed how the Christian Right in the US is questioning whether we should take part in Halloween, on a CBC Radio item aired on “Breakaway” in Quebec Oct. 31.