Congress will help dispel social sciences’ image problem

The social sciences are always seen as the flighty older sister of the academic family, eternally straining to be taken seriously for nailing down ethereal wisps of knowledge when their more serious siblings in the so-called hard sciences are gaining accolades for researching a cancer cure or genome theory, reported the National Post in a front-page story May 20. But when 8,000 PhDs from 80 scholarly associations across Canada get together to swap ideas about everything from the Bonoization of Democracy to the Significance of the Sock, there will be no time for such an inferiority complex.

Among the thousands of academic papers to be delivered during the week-long Congress, which begins a week from now at Toronto’s York University, are titles about education, aboriginal rights, environmental ills, and warfare. There will be lectures from such academic luminaries as David Suzuki, Stephen Lewis and even the federal ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro.

But the annual brains-fest, otherwise known as the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, will also feature papers with titles such as “Cheese as Class Indicator in the Retail Market,” “A Reflection of the Sock in Society,” and “Opening, Closing and Revolving: Studies in Doorology.”

The gathering, billed as “a celebration of intellectual life in Canada,” is unique in pulling together associations ranging from the mainstream, the Canadian Historical Association and the massive Canadian Society for the Study of Education, to the obscure, such as the Canadian Society for the Study of Names and the Canadian Society of Patristic Studies. In other parts of the world, sociologists get together, medievalists have their meetings, and historians assemble in halls, but only the Canadian Congress manages to corral most of the country’s social scientists, with their wide-ranging interests and specialties, in a single place for one remarkably eclectic week, the Post said.

The participants will endure the obligatory media stereotyping about this being a gathering for socially inept academics, let loose from their ivory towers, all aquiver in their elbow-patched tweed jackets and bedraggled dated hairstyles, because they know it is not entirely true.

There are young women talking about sexy dress in schools, famous historians dissecting Canada’s international role and celebrity authors reading from their latest works. Sure, anyone wandering around the sprawling campus in the city’s north end may hear phrases like “civil society,” “modernity” and “discourse” being bandied about a bit more frequently than would be heard in the office buildings a bit further downtown but what they are trying to make sense of, really, is the way we live.

Brazilian Carnival Ball is one hot ticket

Some of the most buxom beauties on Earth pranced through the Metro Toronto Convention Centre last week for the 40th annual Brazilian Carnival Ball. (The male dancers were also quite a treat – talk about shaking your money maker!) An over-the-top wallet-busting bling bender, the Brazilian Ball is an event for the heaviest hitters of Canada’s elite and the ladies certainly dressed the part, dazzling everyone with their drop-dead couture, reported the National Post May 20. Ball co-chairs Maxwell and Heather Gotlieb did a wonderful job of getting the party off to a rousing start and the momentum continued to build as the evening progressed.

Among those attending the champagne-soaked VIP reception were such luminaries as honorary co-chairs Cheryl and Robert McEwan (she’s a stunner and he’s the quintessential golden boy); philanthropists George and Helen Vari; Bell Globemedia president & CEO, and York alumnus, Ivan Fecan with his aptly named wife, Sandra Faire (her skin is like porcelain); Apotex pharma founder Dr. Barry Sherman and his wife, Honey; Cargojet president and CEO Ajay Virmani, with his wife, Monica; and former York student Belinda Stronach, who looked every inch a princess in floor-length Versace.

Over the years, the Brazilian Ball has raised more than $42-million for various causes. The beneficiary of this year’s $2-million-plus will be York University’s Accolade Project, a new performance and exhibition complex for the Faculty of Fine Arts, which will no doubt play a major role in furthering Canadian arts and culture, the Post said. The newspaper also featured a picture of York President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden with Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Phillip Silver.

In its coverage of the ball May 21, the Toronto Sun featured a photograph of Paul Marcus, president and CEO of the York University Foundation, and his wife Pearl. The story also noted that the Accolade Project is a state-of-the-art teaching, exhibition and performance complex, that includes a recital hall with an integrated recording studio, a proscenium theatre with orchestra pit, a cinema/lecture hall, art galleries and finally, a full complement of cutting-edge classrooms, labs and studios.

Stratus’s career breaks out

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, in the darkened corner of a CTV studio, is a Big Television Personality in the making, reported The Globe and Mail May 20. Trish Stratus, a former kinesiology student in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and an international Canadian-born star from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)who will host this year’s Walk of Fame ceremonies in Toronto on June 4 – her big mainstream TV break-out moment – has got everything that job requires.

She grew up a tom boy, the eldest child in a family of three girls in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto. Her father worked in real estate and her mother helped at the local school with special-needs children. Stratus, whose real name is Trisha Stratigias, headed off to York University to study kinesiology and biology with plans to enter medical school. But in 1997, a teachers’ strike caused her to look for something to fill the time. Muscle Magazine International had approached her to do a photography shoot, and, on a whim, she said yes. That shoot resulted in a cover, and her career as a fitness model was born. She quit university – she had completed her third year – and travelled the world, appearing in various fitness magazines, often on the cover. Then – again on a lark – she appeared on “Off-the-Record”, a TV sports show, when they happened to be featuring wrestling. That’s when the Internet buzz began, she explains. “People were saying this fitness model was going to be on WWE soon, and the rumours were completely false!”

York linebacker Foley joins NFL’s Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League signed York University Lions linebacker Ricky Foley of Courtice, Ont., reported The Globe and Mail May 20

Eyes of ‘Tehranto’ watching Iran include York’s Saeed Rahnema

An implacable opponent of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and of the current regime in Tehran is Saeed Rahnema, a political scientist in York’s Atkinson School of Social Sciences, rported The Globe and Mail May 22 in a feature on the Iranian community in northern Toronto, popularly known as “Tehranto”. He said a US-led military strike against Iran would serve only to shore up the powerful mullahs leading a bankrupt regime that will collapse under its own weight. “I personally think that a regime like Iran should not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon because it is a brutal regime; it’s uncontrollable, you don’t know how it’s going to use it…[But] Iranians themselves will change this regime. The economic situation is in shambles now. There’s no investment, money is leaving, the Iranian brain drain continues and [the government] will collapse,” he said.

At the same time, Rahnema is suspicious of US attempts to force its notions of democracy on countries such as Iran. He said the recently proposed US$75-million congressional program to support democratic forces in Iran and undermine the mullahs’ regime is a misguided strategy that will lead only to more suppression of internal opposition. “I question the intent of the American administration to want real democracy. They want a type of government that is pro-American, and if it’s authoritarian, anti-democratic but pro-American, they couldn’t care less.”

The Whole Shebang 2006 dance show features York talent

The annual The Whole Shebang 2006 is a rich, even heady multi-arts show. Its genesis began in 2003 when choreographer/dancer and York alumna Andrea Nann (BFA ‘88) and poet/novelist and Glendon English professor Michael Ondaatje collaborated on Evocative language, Dance Imagery at the Vancouver Playhouse, reported The Globe and Mail May 20. Together they created two pieces which used Ondaatje’s text as a sound-score for Nann’s movement. The grown-up offspring off this collaboration features dance, songs, literary readings and film – in other words, a celebration of the arts.

Producer Nann formulates the concert around what she calls circles. The Writers’ Circle included readings by poets Stan Dragland, Souvankham Thammavongsa and Ondaatje. The Songwriters’ Circle showcased music by Andrew Cash, Kathleen Edwards, Josh Finlayson, Andy Maize and Suzie Ungerleider. Each half of the program includes two major dance works.

Choreographer/dancer Sarah Chase conceived and directed A Certain Braided History, performed to a cinematic live guitar score by Elkas. The piece, developed jointly by Chase and Nann, features Chase’s signature voice to movement motif. The choreographer has made an international reputation for herself telling personal stories accented by droll physicality.

This time, the piece includes the personal stories of both Chase and Nann, and how they entwine together. The starting point is that they went to the same Vancouver school, a grade apart, when they were young. There are other similarities. They both went on to York University for dance, and they both have troubled brothers.

CanWest kicks off Victoria Day weekend with Greenbaum’s lawn thesis

York University sociologist Allen Greenbaum, whose 600-page PhD thesis was titled “The Lawn as a Site for Environmental Conflict”, believes our lawns say a lot about who we are, reported CanWest News Service May 23. “If you were going to guess whether someone is pro-choice or pro-life, you could probably predict it on the basis of their lawn,” he said. Greenbaum conducted a study of downtown Toronto homeowners, classifying each lawn into one of five groups natural, ornamental, ordinary lawn (some weeds and bare patches), manicured, and devoid of vegetation. A manicured lawn, he says, “symbolizes taking care, and not taking care is associated with abandonment, crime, urban decay. They’re not opposed to using pesticides to control weeds. And manicured lawns tend to be next door to one another. They also tend to be men’s lawn’s.”

Politically, these people, he says, are likely to be conservative (leading one to wonder if we’ve been misled about one of the federal Conservatives’ top five priorities: Instead of getting tough on crime, maybe they’re really talking about Lawn and Order). The owner of a natural lawn, on the other hand, is more likely left-leaning, Greenbaum adds, viewing city restrictions on things like grass height as esthetic authoritarianism. “It’s about artificiality,” he say. “Their value system has to do with freedom, diversity and being interesting.”

We work too much compared to Europe

Most Canadian provinces require employers to provide only two weeks of vacation per year, reported the Toronto Star May 23 in a story on how Canadians’ work habits compare with those of Europeans. Canada could easily add another week to the minimum holiday times and the economy would not collapse, said Ron Burke, professor of organizational behaviour at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “Canadians could actually work fewer hours and it wouldn’t make much of a dent in our GDP. And you’d have healthier workers.” One of Burke’s daughters, working for a large German industrial firm in Munich, got six weeks of vacation her first year. Long working hours not only fail to promote efficiency, but may also increase the likelihood of people making mistakes, Burke said. Long workdays “may be in the short-term interest of a shareholder or company president, but it is definitely not in the long-term interest of most Canadians.” Powerful unions deserve much of the credit for bringing down average working hours in Europe, whereas the union movement in Canada and the United States is waning, Burke said.

Osgoode alumna called to the bar and the barbell

Miel McGerrigle (LLB ‘03) is a Brampton lawyer who has not only been called to the bar– but to the barbells, reported the Brampton Guardian May 21. By day, a real estate specialist with Lawrence, Lawrence Stevenson LLP in downtown Brampton, McGerrigle is also one of Canada’s top female weightlifters. Earlier this year she won a bronze medal in the 63 kilograms division at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, but she is also hoping for even more success as she trains to try and earn a spot at the Beijing Olympics. The combination of weightlifting and the practice of law is not common. McGerrigle can safely say she is the only lawyer in Canada’s Olympic Weightlifting Federation. In fact, working in a high-pressure field combined with the demands of training at a world-class level in any sport is tough to do.

McGerrigle might look more like a gymnast than a weightlifter but that’s not surprising because she is, in fact, a former gymnast who competed at the provincial level in her native British Columbia until the age of 16. That’s when her interest in weightlifting started. McGerrigle said she realized that she would not make the Canadian Olympic team in gymnastics. “A weightlifting coach came to me and said women’s weightlifting was going into the Olympics,” she said. “My dream was to go to the Olympics.”

She moved to Ontario because her then coach Peter Macdonald came here, and also to attend school. While she was pursuing her sport, she also chased her other dream of a law career. She graduated from the University of Toronto, Mississauga campus, went to law school at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and articled at Lawrence, Lawrence Stevenson LLP before being hired by the firm about two years ago.

York sociologist says new bill guts Ontario’s human rights system

The bill for a new human rights system for Ontario has been sent forward for a second-reading debate in the House, after Attorney General Michael Bryant offered assurances that he held consultations with numerous community and human rights groups; and also guaranteed that the recommendations are consistent with numerous reports including the Cornish Report; and declared that the legislation, if passed, would modernize and strengthen Ontario’s “40-year-old” system. But Bryant’s statements championing a new and improved human rights system to the House is at complete odds with the substance of Bill 107, wrote Lorne Foster, a sociologist in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a guest column for The Windsor Star May 20.

Bill 107 effectively guts the Ontario Human Rights Commission, eliminating the entire enforcement provision, said Foster. By voiding the investigation and compliance functions of the commission, complainants will be expected to navigate the process on their own or hire a lawyer.

In addition, the bill legally circumscribes the right to a hearing and violates the principles of natural justice that affirm a full and fair inquiry. Hundreds of years of collective experience and acquired knowledge in promoting and protecting human rights is unceremoniously wiped out. All of this purportedly guarantees the public “direct access” to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for adjudication, which is code for “privatizing human rights protections” by off-loading the responsibility for due process and procedural fairness to the victims of discrimination. Foster wrote. This will have a profoundly prohibitive impact on racialized and other economically disenfranchised communities, by narrowing their future options.

For respondents, the allegations against you are immediately made public, wrote Foster. You will be identified as racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, harasser, whether true or not. You think you’ll get your day in court? Think again. Bill 107 gives the tribunal sweeping powers to toss out your complaint and charge you for filing it and other costs. Plus, you have no right of appeal. Ontarians want a strong and effective commission, one that is both comprehensive and flexible; not one that merely achieves a so-called case management efficiency by the slashing and burning of human rights. Bill 107 only benefits the government, which saves administrative costs; and human rights lawyers who will be hired by the government. Expediency at any cost is too high a price to pay.

Osgoode alumnus still employed by Cape Breton Native community

The man credited with transforming a small Cape Breton Mi’kmaq community into one of the most successful and financially sound native communities in the country remains very much on the job. That was the word from Dan Christmas, a senior adviser to the Membertou band council, in reference to the community’s CEO, Osgoode alumnus Bernd Christmas (LLB ‘91), reported the Cape Breton Post May 20. A Halifax newspaper reported that the CEO had been fired by the band council. Dan Christmas said negotiations are continuing to reach a new employment agreement with the CEO.

Since his 1991 graduation from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Bernd Christmas has had a meteoric rise up the Canadian corporate ladder and is now a member of several corporate boards as well as serving on several government committees. In addition to lending his expertise to other First Nations bands seeking a negotiator on a host of issues including land claims, Christmas has forged alliances between Membertou and such corporate giants as Georgia Pacific, Clearwater Fine Foods, Lockheed Martin and SNC Lavalin.

Visual artist from Kenora area studies at York

At Lake of the Woods Museum, Beaver Brae art students presented a variety of works exploring different themes and media in a show entitled The Youthful Eye, reported the Kenora Daily Miner & News May 20. Also included in the show are works by graduates of the Beaver Brae art program such as a dragonfly in stain glass with metal filigree wings exquisitely executed by Nathan Goold, a fourth-year visual arts student in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Joyce Blyth, who teaches Grade 9 and 11 art at the school, noted Goold is currently working towards a bachelor of fine arts degree. “It’s interesting for the viewer to see what is done after high school and the career directions some students take,” Blyth said.

Amateur dancers follow moves choreographed by York alumna

In a church hall near St. Clair Avenue West and Bathurst Street, nearly 30 women of varying ages, shapes and sizes (and one lone man) are following York alumna Martha Randall‘s choreographed routines, reported the Toronto Star May 20. They are barefoot and happy, kicking out, breathing rhythmically and moving like real dancers under the tutelage of Randall (BFA ‘79), who teaches six such sessions each week.

Professional dancers attend a dance class every day to keep themselves in shape. They go because they have to. But a growing group of professional dance teachers like Randall are training ordinary stiffs in the rigours of modern dance, ballet and jazz for the pure satisfaction and self-improvement afforded by the art form. Randall teaches a technique called Nia. Offered in classes throughout the GTA, it’s designed to enhance both mental and physical fitness. Nia reveals the way that dance helps mend broken connections between mind and body.

Developed nearly 25 years ago by Debbie and Carlos Rosas, fitness instructors in Portland, Ore., Nia is an acronym for Neuromuscular Integrative Action. It’s also a Swahili word meaning “with purpose.” “Nia is teaching that kind of mindful movement,” says Randall (BFA ‘79), an independent dancer who trained at York’s Department of Dance in the Faculty of Fine Arts. “There’s a balance between form and freedom. Always the invitation is to do it your way, the way your body wants to adapt to the movements. I call it cross-training. There are yin and yang elements in each class, moments of stillness, and then it gets wild and crazy. The martial arts give you a chance to be fierce. The non-linear movement develops your body awareness and emotional awareness. But it’s not too warm and fuzzy. Nia classes really focus the mind, so people can develop some skills.”

Post asks, how Torontonian is McAdams?

In a feature on Toronto’s favouirite celebrity sons and daughters, the National Post May 20 included York theare alumna Rachael McAdams (BFA ‘01), who scored 7 out of 10 on the newspaper’s quiz. The item noted McAdams took theatre at York said she has sworn off LA, saying Toronto makes her feel “grounded.” Whether she’s strolling Avenue Road in a trucker hat or pigging out at Sneaky Dee’s, McAdams sure knows how to set Toronto’s bloggers on fire.

Volunteer power earns teen tuition scholarship to York

When Shire Brandi got a phone call about winning a scholarship he’d applied for months ago, he thought it was one of his friends playing a prank, reported the York Guardian May 18. “At first I didn’t believe it,” admitted the 18-year-old, who skeptically waited for his supposed scholarship package to arrive in the mail. A week and a half later, Brandi discovered it was no joke. The Weston Collegiate student was one of nine Ontario youth, selected from more than 3,500 applicants, to be awarded the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership worth a total of $60,000. That includes full post-secondary tuition, $5,000 a year toward living expenses and an offer of summer employment at TD Canada Trust for up to four years.

“I still don’t think about it,” said Brandi, who will be attending the Schulich School of Business at York University in North York this September. The reality of it only sank in just this past weekend when a ceremony for the scholarship award winners was held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel with keynote speaker Justin Trudeau. Despite growing up in a single-parent home in subsidized housing, Brandi has overcome a number of barriers that many youths living in social housing face daily. But instead of just complaining about his situation, Brandi took action.

On air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at Glendon, spoke about the Liberal leadership race on TFO-TV’s “Panorama” program May 17.
  • Ashwin Joshi, professor of marketing at York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about Air Canada’s changes to its Aeroplan loyalty program on CTV News, May 19.