Top court takes right turn after years of activism

At a law conference Friday, Supreme Court analysts painted a picture of a bench in retreat after years of being accused of “judicial activism” by critics who say judges should not be writing laws, reported CanWest News April 29, on an event organized by York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “The dominant message sent by the court was: ‘To those of you contemplating constitutional litigation, hold on, don’t ask too much of us. Seek political decisions without involving us. Our role is modest’,'” said Bruce Ryder, a law professor at Osgoode, as he opened debate. “There was a remarkable degree of consensus on the court around this turn to a minimalist view of its role,” Ryder said.

A striking and significant exception to the court’s pattern in 2005 was the case known as the Chaoulli ruling, in which the majority on the divided bench declared that provinces may not ban the purchase of private health insurance if medically necessary services are not available in a timely fashion in the public system. It is arguably one of the “most activist rulings ever,” said Patrick Monahan, Osgoode dean. But overall, “the court has taken a restrained view in its approach,” he said, noting there was “very little fodder for critics of judicial activism” in most of the court’s less-noticed cases in 2005.

Seymour Schulich Building wins a Governor General’s award in architecture

In a pre-annoucement story in the Ottawa Citizen April 30 about Quebec architects winning a majority of this year’s Governor General’s awards in architecture, it was noted that York’s $100-million new home for the Schulich School of Business, by Robbie/Young and Wright, was one of two award-winning designs by Toronto firms. The awards, later confirmed by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts in a news release, will be presented Sept. 20 in Montreal.

 McLuhan, Frye and the falling towers

Decades after their death, Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye still haunt academia, despite every attempt to exorcize them, wrote Philip Marchand in the Toronto Star April 30. These two University of Toronto English professors were regarded with skepticism by their colleagues even at the height of their fame in the 1960s. Acting on one of the most unusual invitations I’ve ever received, I was recently a judge in a debate held by the students of B.W. Powe‘s class in McLuhan and Frye at York University. It was a McLuhan versus Frye smackdown. Powe is a lecturer in York’s Department of English, Faculty of Arts.

I thought it was a brave idea for Powe, a novelist and critic who has written brilliantly about both Frye and McLuhan in his books A Climate Charged and The Solitary Outlaw, to stage such a debate. But the class of undergraduates, evenly divided into McLuhanites and Frygians for the event, rose to the occasion. What to make of 9/11, for example? The McLuhan adherents viewed the attacks on the World Trade Center as attacks on an image, a contemporary form of warfare. (McLuhan once predicted – years before Reagan – that the image of a politician would be far more powerful than the politician himself.) For the Frye adherents, on the other hand, the burning skyscrapers were properly understood as an embodiment of a literary archetype, a recurrence of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament, or Saruman’s tower in The Lord of the Rings. As one student referred to the event, “It did take place, but it is also the kind of thing that always takes place.”

At the end of the debate, I disappointed everybody by not pronouncing a winner. But both sides were equally serious, well prepared, articulate and understanding of their subject. It was wonderful to see. 

Stan Douglas will attract a ‘spring migration’ to AGYU

A new work by Stan Douglas is always big news, so Canadian contemporary-art lovers will no doubt make a spring migration to the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) over the next few months, where Douglas’s latest is on show, reported writer Sarah Milroy in The Globe and Mail April 29. It’s worth the schlep. Over the past 20 years, Douglas has produced some of the most intriguing and intelligent contemporary work going, wringing from the medium of film and DVD projection a rich variety of effects and meanings. With each work, he has improvised new strategies for marrying form with content. Stan Douglas: Inconsolable Memories continues at Toronto’s Art Gallery at York University until June 25.

Reviewer says York MFA’s sculpture augurs well for future career

I wouldn’t normally write about a show like this one – an MFA thesis exhibition for York University – unless, like this one, it was really a knockout, wrote reviewer Gary Michael Dault, in The Globe and Mail April 29 of an exhibit that closed that day at the Peak Gallery in Toronto. “This must have really blown your supervisors over,” I suggested last week to Laura Moore, the young artist responsible for this wry but powerful collection of guileful stone carvings. “Yeah,” said Moore, who is a cool customer for one so young, “they liked it all right.” I bet. The exhibition is fresh and exhilarating in a couple of ways at once. First, nobody much carves any more. Second, when they do, it tends to be rearward, art-historical stuff that gets carved (portrait busts or silky-smooth, post-Henry Moore abstractions and so on). But Laura Moore carves technological gizmos, the techno-chachkas of our times – a cellphone, an analog tape, a computer mouse, a USB and a digital voice recorder – all out of soapstone. And AA batteries and a nine-volt battery carved from marble. And big, silky-soft floor sculptures, which look formally anonymous until you realize they are actually marble computer keys wrought large (HOME, RETURN, ESC, END and ENTER).

There are a couple of minor flaws – or at least weak-points – in Moore’s logic here. It makes more sense to use the materials of memorial (i.e. marble) to make dead-tech things – like tape cassettes, and less sense to memorialize things that are still all too present, such as cellphones and batteries. But, on the other hand, making big computer keys out of marble seems to work just fine – probably because, if you scale them up, they look like nothing else except sculpture. Anyhow, it’s a smart show, and augurs well for a brilliant career.

Former Atkinson student remembers witty exchange from the ’70s

Reading about Ken Maxted revived long-distant memories of a tutorial discussion at what was then Atkinson College, York University, in the early 1970s, wrote Michael Graham of Heathbridge Capital Management Ltd. in The Globe and Mail April 29. Maxted’s obituary appeared in the Globe March 25. When the Toronto Stock Exchange somehow entered into a lively exchange on Calvinism and the Protestant work ethic, the Rev. Maxted could contain himself no longer, wrote Graham. I will never forget his passionate outburst on how, on the day of judgment, he would sooner confess to the Lord that he had committed adultery than that he had had anything to do with the Toronto Stock Exchange. It not only left the tutor, then a Canadian investment dealer, pondering, but I also remember my own thoughts. Namely, what of the poor unfortunates who might one day have to confess to both?

Liberal leadership candidate is an Osgoode alumna

Though never holding office, on Feb. 8, 2006, Martha Hall Findlay (LLB ‘87) became the first declared candidate for the federal Liberal leadership, reported The Globe and Mail’s online edition April 29. The mother of three was the silver medalist at the 1979 National Ski Championship before graduating from the University and then from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Ever ambitious, she supported herself throughout university working as a waitress, in construction, and as a ski coach. Hall Findlay, now a successful lawyer, businesswoman, and entrepreneur, failed in her campaign as the Newmarket-Aurora Liberal candidate in 2004 against then-Conservative candidate Belinda Stronach. When Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals, Hall Findlay stepped aside.

Schulich instructor will travel with musicians on mission to Africa

The bass player of a local rock band raised $615 at a concert in Belleville for some heartsick fans on Saturday to help his Christian group’s mission to East Africa. Tyler DeVries, a 17-year-old student from Stirling, organized a show in Belleville to raise money for a trip to Kenya and to say farewell to his band’s legion of passionate fans. The group going to Africa includes 27 people from three local churches, including Parkdale Baptist Church, Grace Bible Chapel, and Picton Free Methodist Church. Mark Norman, professional leadership consultant and trainer with York’s Schulich Executive Education Centre and one of DeVries’ team leaders going with him to Kenya, said the mission will last from July 14 to Aug. 6.

“We will be working with AIDS orphans outside of Nairobi,” said Norman at the show. They will spend five days at Youth With a Mission’s base of operations at Athi River to help with relief work and infrastructure development, and then go to the Ndalani home to help a group called the Mulli Children’s Family, named after the founder, Charles Mulli, a successful Kenyan businessman turned Christian philanthropist. “He adopts children whose parents died from AIDS,” said Norman. “He educates them, feeds them. He has helped 1,100 kids since the 1990s, and there are over 800 kids under his care right now.”

Tears and bullets at memorial for Chantel Dunn

Three people targeted by a drive-by shooting scrambled out of the way yesterday just as a procession of people protesting gun violence to commemorate the Feb. 7 murder of York student Chantel Dunn marched past, reported the Toronto Sun May 1. Police said no one was hurt and none of the three who were targeted have been located. “Our city has become cold,” said Yvonne Bullard, Dunn’s maternal aunt, during a prayer circle Sunday to remember the slain teen on what would have been her 20th birthday. “Strength has been given to people to kill because they have not been weakened by our courage to stand up and say something.” Dunn was a hard-working York University student pursuing her life-long dream of becoming a lawyer when she was killed after picking up her boyfriend after a basketball game. He was also shot but survived. Clutching a picture of Dunn with a handwritten sign that asked: “Who killed Chantel Dunn?” Bullard said the last three months have been unbearable.

Trinidadian author Ramabai Espinet studied at York

Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and William Woodsworth were just a few of the great authors whose classic books lined the shelves of York alumna Ramabai Espinet‘s home while growing up in San Fernando, Trinidad, in the 1950s, reported the Toronto Sun May 1. Around this time there was also an emergence of great Caribbean writers. This exposed Espinet (MA ‘80, BA ’77) to the works of Trinidadian author V.S. Naipaul, St. Lucian author Derek Walcott and many other West Indian writers. These works set the foundation for Espinet’s future. “I related so much to what they were writing about because they were writing about the world around me and the city I was growing up in,” Espinet says. “I knew from back then that I wanted to be a writer.”

But the road to becoming a writer wasn’t a straight one for Espinet. In the late ’60s her family migrated to Canada. They settled in Montreal and soon after Espinet found herself living in a hippie commune in Vancouver with her husband who also wanted to be a writer. Espinet and her husband eventually left the commune and she decided to go to university. She ended up at York where she studied English. To help pay for her education, Espinet drove a cab on weekends. She also worked as a waitress, a shipper, sorted mail at Canada Post, made sandwiches and did proofreading. Espinet graduated from York and then earned her PhD in English at the University of West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad.

Translator busy in two languages

Agnes Whitfield is a Kenner graduate, Kenner Hall of Honour member, and a very busy person, reported the Peterborough Examiner May 1. She is a professor at York’s School of Translation at Glendon, who has edited two books out this year; one in English about anglophone translators, the other in French about francophone translators. As the York University newsletter article [YFile] about her accomplishment states: “In essence, the two volumes are the very embodiment of Canada’s founding cultures, presenting the lives, careers and bibliographies of Canada’s leaders in literary translation, a field that often goes unnoticed.” She was born and raised in Peterborough, and is one of a few translators in Canada that is so fluent she writes and translates in both languages.

E. D. Smith acquisitions are ‘aggressive’ says Middleton

The future is sweet for E. D. Smith, reported the Hamilton Spectator April 29. The Winona business has announced expansions that will double its size and fill the shelves of grocery stores across North America with its products. Under CEO Michael Burrow’s leadership, E. D. Smith is in the midst of acquiring two food companies, Golden Valley Foods Ltd. and Seaforth Creamery Inc. Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, said E. D. Smith’s recent acquisitions are “aggressive” for a smaller company, but have the potential to bring continued success since there has been a recent growth in private-label products. “People, particularly in Canada, now regard private labels as brands,” he said. “The private label is regarded as good quality or certainly good enough quality and most often is priced cheaper than the leading brand.”

York graduate’s crystal clear idea shines in Web market

Crystallize It! laser engraved crystal blocks are a technologically advanced version of the personalization trend, reported the Toronto Star April 29. Launched last fall by 27-year-old York alumnus Riyaz Datoo (BBA ‘01), who conceived of his idea while taking an entrepreneurship course at the Schulich School of Business, Crystallize It! will engrave your favourite photo into the centre of a seamless crystal block. When lit from below by a rotating base, the picture takes on an ethereal, almost mystical quality. And your picture will have a permanence that regular photographs don’t, since crystal doesn’t bend, fade or tear over time.

Milevsky agrees with moving CPP minimum age to 65

The nation’s chief actuary believes the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is overly generous to those who take benefits early, reported “Wealthy Boomer” columnist Jonathan Chevreau in the National Post April 29. The Conference Board of Canada recommends the minimum age for CPP be “gradually” raised to 65. Moshe Milevsky, finance professor at York’s Schulich School of Business “completely agrees” with the Conference Board. At 60, you have a life expectancy between 20 and 30 years, so “there is absolutely no reason to retire from work,” he said. “Age 65 is a relic of the days when life expectancy was in the 50s.” But Milevsky also recognizes the flip side. For those who paid into CPP for 40 years, “it may seem unfair to have to wait yet another three to five years to get anything back.”

AGYU sponsors hair-raising performance

Little barbers are snipping and shaping – all in the name of art, reported the Toronto Sun April 29. The young Edward and Edwina Scissorhands will be taking part in a performance art series that asks consumers to put their faith in the hands of kids by allowing them to lop off their locks for free at selected salons across Toronto. Haircuts By Children is supported the Art Gallery at York University and the Mammalian Diving Reflex, a performance art theatre group dedicated to working with language, ideas and information. Children between the ages of 10 and 12 from Parkdale Public School will be offering free haircuts on May 6 at Cut 4 U, May 13 at Wisdom’s Barber and Beauty Salon, May 20 at Camille Unisex Beauty Lounge, and May 27 and 28 at Queen’s Quay Hair Design and Esthetic. The free haircutting culminates with a two-day performance on May 27 and 28 at the Milk International Children’s Festival of the Arts at Harbourfront.

Mergers and marketing with Hollywood flair

Heather Lotherington is a professor of linguistics and digital literacy in York’s Faculty of Education. She tracks the influences of multilingualism on contemporary language, and can see some parallels between contracted names and 21st-century language trends, reported the Guelph Mercury April 29. She suggests it’s a post-modern trend with characteristics of a digital culture: minimal bits of information that carry much meaning; enough of each name to convey the sense of the name; in the case of TomKat, a medial capital letter that is a digital naming convention (as in WinZip or AntiVirus); and the urgency of abbreviated language (think, text messaging).

Lotherington elaborated on my own suspicion that cute name contractions were a media effort to diminish celebrity status, by making them less human and more abstract (as in “bridezilla”). “It might be an area for cyber studies, to ask where the human ends and where the machine begins. We’re in a time of trading organs and hip and knee replacements, and the limits and sanctity of what was once a human being have gone out the window.” Perhaps, she suggested, the TomKats and Brangelinas are the beginnings of a new definition of human: “Maybe we’ve created a new superhuman entity.”

Former York theatre student produces Milton Players’ Funny Money

The Milton Players Theatre Group’s final show of the season, Funny Money, by Ray Cooney, will take place May 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 at the Milton Seniors’ Activity Centre, reported the Milton Canadian Champion April 28. Newcomer Veronica Hernandez, who joined the Milton Players last year, is producing the show. “I always loved theatre,” said Hernandez, who studied drama in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts (1998-1999). Funny Money has a little something for everyone, she said.”When I first read it, I thought it was very funny. As an English farce, it has a bit of everything – it’s got intrigue, it’s got comedy,” she said.

On air

  • Debra Pepler, professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, and the Lamarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, spoke about bullying and a new national network led by York and Queen’s, on Rogers TV April 29.
  • Assaf Weisz, a second-year student in York’s Faculty of Arts who attended a rally at Queen’s Park about the crisis in Darfur, was interviewed by CTV News April 30.