Investing in literacy has a financial payoff

Taking budgetary surpluses and applying them against Canada’s debt is laudable, wrote Alan Middleton, Chair of the ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation and a professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, in an opinion piece that appeared in Moncton’s Times & Transcript and The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon) Sept. 29. However the federal government’s zeal to do so in its latest round of spending cuts inadvertently diminishes the ability of some nine million adult Canadians struggling with low literacy to improve their lot as fully realized citizens and employees.

With these cuts, the federal government plans to take away $17.7 million over the next two years from the numerous literacy organizations across the country that attend to the literacy needs of adult Canadians, wrote Middleton. The beneficiaries of these programs are working-age citizens whose low literacy effectively holds them back from realizing their full potential as members of the community and as people who can get jobs, seek promotion, and contribute fully to the Canadian economy.

An investment in their welfare is a direct investment in Canada’s productivity – something that should be on our radar when, as one indicator of Canada’s performance, the World Economic Forum in Geneva has, once again, downgraded Canada’s global competitiveness ranking to 16th from 13th last year.

Statistics Canada research indicates that a rise of one per cent in literacy scores relative to the international average is associated with an eventual 2.5-per-cent relative rise in labour productivity and a 1.5-per-cent rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person. 2005 statistics revealed that there are an astounding nine million adult Canadians who struggle with low literacy. This is a hard fact that isn’t going away. We can acknowledge the problem and invest in rectifying it. Or we can pull funding. The federal government, wrote Middleton, seems to have chosen the latter course.

Osgoode faculty members ask justice minister to restore Law Commission funding

A number of professors at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School were among those who signed a letter to Federal Justice Minister Vic Toews, published in the Toronto Star Sept. 29. Below is the text of the letter.

As part of a package of program and spending cuts announced on Sept. 25, the government of Canada has decided to close the Law Commission of Canada. As former and present members of the commission’s Citizens’ Advisory Council, researchers who have contributed to the commission’s work, and citizens who recognize the importance of its contributions to justice in Canada, we ask that you reconsider this action and restore funding to this vital and important agency.

In 1992, a previous government abolished Canada’s path-breaking Law Reform Commission. It took five years before the federal government realized the value of what had been lost, and established the new commission in 1997. We urge you to avoid making this mistake again.

The mission of the law commission is to engage Canadians in the renewal of the law to ensure that it is relevant, responsive, effective, equally accessible to all and just.

Its mandate is to provide independent, non-partisan advice to the government to ensure that our laws and legal system meet the changing needs of Canadian society and its citizens. It also stands ready to advise the government on specific questions referred to it by your office.

The social issues Canadians face in their communities are complex and dynamic. The law commission facilitates an approach to law reform that recognizes this complexity and is equal both to Canada’s diversity and to its common commitments to justice, equality, fairness and accountability.

Since its inception, the commission has addressed a range of difficult questions. How can the law be used to restore the dignity of those who have suffered institutional child abuse? How can law better support close adult personal relationships? What should the relationship be between public and private law enforcement?

The letter was signed by law professors and others from across Canada, including Osgoode professors Bruce Ryder, director of Osgoode’s Centre for Public Law & Public Policy, Chantal Morton, academic director of Osgoode’s Intensive Program in Poverty Law, Janet Mosher, Roxanne Mykitiuk and Margaret Beare, who is also a sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts.

York Middle East analyst qualifies Shia support for Iran

In an article in the Oct. 9 issue of Maclean’s about rising tensions in the Muslim world between Shias and Sunnis, writer Michael Petrou interviewed several Middle East analysts, including Saeed Rahnema, political scientist in York’s Faculty of Arts and the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. Petrou wrote: The problem with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s warning that Shia Muslims are Iranian stooges, more loyal to Iran than to their own countries, many analysts say, is that there is no such thing as a united Shia community that stretches across the Middle East. Ethnic, national and local politics often trump religious loyalty. Some Shias outside Iran may look to the country with some admiration because it is one of the few places in the world where Shias have not been suppressed. “But this doesn’t mean they are in the service of Iran,” says Saeed Rahnema, a political scientist and Middle East specialist at York University who grew up in Iran.

In Spain, old divisions are reopening

In an article on political divisions in Spain, Maclean’s Oct. 9 turned to a York analyst for another perspective on the suggestion by one commentator that there are “two Spains”, reflecting divisions that date back to the Spanish Civil War. “I think the two Spains argument is simplistic,” said York’s Associate Vice-President International Adrian Shubert, a historian in the Faculty of Arts and an expert on modern Spain. “There were many Spains in the civil war, and there are many Spains today.”

Talk of enabling sex for disabled moves forward

Inch by inch, the world is waking up to the idea that people with disabilities are sexual beings, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 29. But the obvious question remains: How does someone who requires help performing tasks such as showering or getting in and out of bed manage masturbation or sex?

Loree Erickson is a PhD student at York University doing work in sex and disability. Due to a condition that has left her muscles weak, she uses a wheelchair and requires attendant care. She also has some attendants – a team of friends and volunteers – who facilitate some of her sexual activity: such as changing the batteries in her vibrator, helping her put on a sexy outfit or facilitating the inclusion of a partner. “In my life, the folks that I have doing my care are fairly sex-positive people, so it’s a lot easier to talk about sex,” she says. “We need to challenge people’s conceptions of what is sexy,” says Erickson. “That would not only help people with disabilities, but all people.”

Social awareness not part of law school

In the last paragraph of his rebuttal to my article, Allan Hutchinson finally tells us the purpose of a law school is to give its students “technical proficiency and social awareness,” wrote Murray Teitel in a reply to the associate dean, research & graduate studies, of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School published in the National Post Sept. 29. OK, so the technical proficiency aspect is a bust, Teitel wrote, but social awareness? Who exactly gave law profs the job of teaching social awareness? The learned dean makes it sound as if, in accepting law students, he is taking charge of a bunch of kindergarten children who need socialization.

When I entered law school, wrote Teitel, I had had 27 years of my parents’ and two years of my wife’s examples of honourable living to guide me. I had worked as a factory worker, farm worker, furniture mover, babysitter, bellboy, bartender, writer and cab driver, devoted countless hours volunteering on behalf of disadvantaged people, lived abroad for a year, backpacked alone through Eastern Europe during the Brezhnev era and spent my undergraduate years browsing till midnight in the stacks. I did not need to be taught social awareness at the knees of Dean Hutchinson and his crew. I expect that if the dean were to spend his next sabbatical driving a cab in Thunder Bay he’d become a lot more socially aware than he would by doing yet more legal research.

City approves its portion of Spadina subway payment

Toronto council has approved its part of a deal to split municipal costs of building the Spadina subway past Steeles with York Region in a unanimous vote this week – to the delight of Toronto Councillor Peter Li Preti (Ward 8, York West), wrote the North York Mirror Sept. 28. Li Preti, who has been a long-time booster of a subway extension through his ward and into Vaughan, took a few moments of council’s time Wednesday to gush about the 60/40 deal that would see York Region pay a portion of the costs of the $2.1-billion subway.

After providing a brief history of his own advocacy of the project – pushing early to have environmental assessments done, meeting with York Region Chair Bill Fisch to talk about cost-sharing, and working with York University – Li Preti said the project will bring immense benefits to the city. “At a personal level, I do not mind being recognized as a one-issue councillor if this brings spin-offs and benefits for all the citizens of this great city,” said Li Preti, before sitting down and adding his vote to council’s unanimous approval of the deal.

Scarborough public school trustee calls it quits

York student Patrick Rutledge will miss the staff and students he’s served for the past six years as a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee. But he won’t miss the ineffective way the board of trustees operates, reported the Scarborough Mirror Sept. 28. “There is no effective decision-making process,” said Rutledge (Ward 22, Scarborough East), who had some choice words for the board’s current “outdated” governance model. Rutledge will not be seeking re-election this November, noting that all politicians have “best-before dates”.

Still, Rutledge said he thoroughly enjoyed his time as trustee. “I do know that I have grown as an individual,” he noted. “And if I wasn’t a trustee I would not be at university today.” Rutledge returned to school and is currently majoring in law & society and minoring in sports administration at York University. Rutledge didn’t rule out a return to politics but also hinted at becoming a teacher in the future.

Successful curator studies art history at York

Toronto-based curator Carla Garnet will lead a walking tour of the Art Gallery of Peterborough’s current exhibition, 18 Illuminations, tonight, wrote the Lindsay Daily Post Sept. 29. Garnet was the director of Toronto’s Garnet Press Gallery from 1984 to 1997. She continues to work as an independent curator, actively supporting contemporary art, culture and artists. Her art reviews have appeared in Mix Magazine, C Magazine, Canadian Art Magazine, and more over her two-decade career. Garnet is currently pursuing a master’s degree in art history at York University.

Schulich-Kellogg EMBA program featured in latest guide

A list in The Globe and Mail Sept. 29 of the best schools in Canada offering Executive MBA programs, included York’s Schulich School of Business. The item on Schulich noted the EMBA program is offered in partnership with the Kellogg School of Management in the US (faculty travels to Toronto to deliver lectures). Students have the opportunity to complete their residency weeks at the Kellogg campus in Chicago. There is also an international study seminar that takes advantage of Schulich’s alliances with schools around the world, including universities in Hong Kong and Israel.

On air

  • The extension of the Spadina subway through York’s Keele campus to York Region was discussed on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” program Sept. 28.