Student project takes aim at police misconduct via small claims court

Being manhandled by police, falsely arrested and subjected to undercover surveillance were one thing, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 21. But when Davin Charney was thrown in jail for eight days awaiting bail on a charge of “obstructing police”, it pushed him over the edge. Charney, an advocate for homeless youth, was determined to make the Waterloo Regional Police accountable for what he saw as the latest chapter in a long-running campaign of harassment against social activists.




A third-year law student at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Charney fought back with the tool he knew best: the law, said the Globe. He launched a $10,000 lawsuit against the Waterloo force in small claims court. On the eve of his trial in June – legal arguments finely honed and 20 witnesses lined up to testify – Charney, 34, rolled up his sleeves to play hardball with police lawyers. “They offered me $3,000,” he says. “I laughed at that. I said, basically, ‘It’s $9,000 or nothing.'” The police ponied up. It was a capitulation that both the Waterloo and other local police forces will soon come to rue, since it convinced Charney and a handful of fellow law students that they had stumbled across an ideal vehicle to keep police misconduct in check. The Police Accountability Small Claims Collective was born.




The group wasted no time distributing posters and approaching community groups in Toronto and Kitchener, said the Globe. Four months later, they have filed five formal statements of claim – four against Waterloo Regional Police and one against Toronto police – for alleged assault, false arrest or negligent investigation. Fourteen more lawsuits are in the works.




“More are coming in every week,” Charney says. “They may involve someone who was just walking along and got beaten or someone who is pepper-sprayed at a protest. It’s a new strategy for police accountability. Slowly, word is spreading about us. These kind of false arrests and illegal searches go on every day, so there won’t be any shortage for our group. We’ll be able to pick the best and strongest cases.”


While their small-claims project has played havoc with the group’s studies at law school, “it’s a priority, I guess,” Charney says. “And we do see value in this as part of our legal education. You get to apply what you learn in class in a very real way.” He says the collective is actively searching for recruits at Osgoode and the University of Toronto’s law school in order to ensure that it lives on after the current members are called to the bar and disperse. “This is definitely the kind of work I want to continue doing,” Charney says. “The more this group is active and has a presence, the more other students are going to come out of law school with an interest in this kind of work. Hopefully, we can play a role in making police more accountable.”


Mothering conference started 10 years ago


Grab the diaper bag, clear the deck at work and prepare to head downtown this week if Mom’s your name or parenting issues are your passion, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 23. There’s a special kind of conference taking place and it touches on just about every issue you can think of related to motherhood. The “Motherlode” conference, sponsored by York University’s Association for Research on Mothering (ARM), was started 10 years ago by Andrea O’Reilly, professor in York’s Atkinson School of Arts & Letters, and Nancy Mandell, sociologist in York’s Faculty of Arts. But O’Reilly says this year’s event takes it to a whole new level. It features 200 speakers from around the world on such diverse topics as teen mothers, raising bi-racial children, post-partum depression, mothering children with disabilities, and mommy blogs.




Mayoral candidates spar over subway


Toronto’s sleepy campaign for the mayor’s chair woke up last night as Mayor David Miller, Councillor Jane Pitfield and challenger Stephen LeDrew took turns pummelling each other about who is best equipped to lead the city, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 23. Pitfield promised not to levy road tolls in the city to raise money for transportation. But her pledge to build two kilometres of new subway line each year for 25 years drew some scepticism. She reiterated her claim that the subways could go in for $100 million a kilometre, although the new subway line to York University will cost more than twice that.


Miller said that Pitfield’s promise to spend on subways while cutting business taxes and freezing residential taxes “doesn’t add up.” He said the city has to look at less expensive solutions such as dedicated lanes for buses and streetcars. That drew a mocking response from LeDrew. “If David Miller had been mayor in 1954 (the year the Yonge Street subway opened) we wouldn’t have any subway at all,” he said.



Raises are high at the top


Top executives in Toronto received pay raises last year of more than twice the inflation rate, and more than half of them were given performance-based bonuses, according to a study released this week. But experts say the trend toward giving CEOs and top executives these kinds of bonuses may have peaked, reported the National Post Oct. 21. Ever-increasing bonuses have become standard fare at companies over the past two decades, says Ron Burke, a professor in York’s Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. “But it has probably reached its peak in terms of the number of companies that are going that way,” he says. “If companies end up giving everyone a bonus, in some ways, the merits of using performance to discriminate tends to get lost.”


The Toronto Board of Trade’s annual Executive Compensation Survey, released on Thursday, found that 68 per cent of Toronto companies offer bonus systems and 88 per cent of their executives received a bonus based on performance in 2005. “It’s hard to believe that every person who got a bonus comes from a company that is doing well and they themselves made a significant contribution to their company’s success,” says Burke.

Glendon teaching graduates buck downward employment trend


Teaching in public schools is a popular career choice for college and university students. Today’s surplus makes it hard for graduates to find openings, except in some hard-to-fill specialties such as French and science, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 22. What does that mean for young people who want to enter the profession? Frank McIntyre, director of research for the Ontario College of Teachers, has one word of advice: specialize. There’s still demand for French teachers. Those who are certified from Laurentian University, University of Ottawa or Glendon College at York University are all getting regular jobs (since they take their training in French).

Author’s chapter on violence sparks debate


Since the 1961 publication of The Wretched of the Earth, Martinican clinical psychiatrist Frantz Fanon has been at the centre of a storm of controversy, most of which is based on the first chapter of the book, entitled “On Violence”, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 22. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Fanon is generally read too literally when, as Professor Ato Sekyi-Otu, social science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, and others have argued, he should be read, at least in part, in a literary way. Fanon’s vivid and dramatic prose was influenced by the literary style of the Martinican poet and statesman Aime Cesaire.


Law reform panel making a comeback


While the ruling Conservatives in Ottawa have just axed the federal law reform commission, the Queen’s Park Liberals are about to resurrect its namesake in Ontario, wrote columnist Ian Urqhart in the Toronto Star Oct. 23. The Ontario Law Reform Commission was established in 1964 as an independent legal think-tank, the first of its kind in Canada and, indeed, in the whole Commonwealth. Its founding chair was J.J. McRuer, a judicial giant of his day and his successors included such legal luminaries as John McCamus, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and Rosalie Abella. But the commission was unceremoniously killed a decade ago by the Conservative government under Mike Harris.

Ricky Foley was country before it was cool


Former York Lions football player Ricky Foley (BA ‘05) has put up with a lot of crap in his young life – cow muck, actually, wrote The Vancouver Sun Oct. 21. On a 200-acre family farm east of Toronto, the farm boy who dreamed of a career in professional football had the task of mucking out the barn after the cows had done their business, a chore complicated when the mechanical stable cleaner broke down. Needing $5,000 to repair the machine, at a time of economic difficulty for cattlemen across Canada, the Foleys made do. Ricky grabbed a shovel and a wheelbarrow. “We didn’t have any money to fix it,” says Foley, a rookie defender with the BC Lions. “I told my dad I’d clean it up by hand. I did such a good job, he put off buying a new one. Five years later, I was still cleaning the barn the old-fashioned way.”

Tenor makes time to teach


Standing in his new University of Victoria studio amid packing boxes, hundreds of CDs and scores of opera posters ready for unfurling on the walls, Benjamin Butterfield explains why a piano is the main piece of furniture here and his desk looks like an afterthought, wrote the Times Colonist (Victoria) Oct. 21. “I don’t like desks; I’m a singer,” jokes UVic’s new head of the voice division, adding that another piece of furniture is coming soon. A harpsichord.


The renowned Canadian tenor, whose international career has taken him all over the world, from Europe to New Zealand and Japan to Israel, is putting down slightly reluctant roots for the first time in two decades. Butterfield, 41, has taught for two years part-time at York University and frequently holds master classes – but admits it feels a little bizarre to be back home.

Guaranteed retirement income costly


We will hear a lot more about the risks of running out of savings as more baby boomers near retirement, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 21. Manulife Financial has come up with a type of product that has been accepted rapidly in the United States: guaranteed investment funds with a minimum withdrawal benefit plan. Moshe Milevsky, professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business, participated in research that substantiates the risk of financial ruin if investors do not hedge the risk of poor market returns in the early years of drawing retirement income. He says the fees Manulife charges for its guarantee are reasonable but he acknowledged that the high cost of mutual funds in Canada will detract from the returns investors are likely to earn.



Ungar presents ‘Painting the War’ at museum


York alumna Molly Ungar (PhD ‘03), professor at BC’s University College of the Fraser Valley (UCFV), will deliver a program entitled “Painting the War: Official Art in Wartime Canada” at the MSA Museum Annex as part of its evening program series on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 6:30pm, reported Abbotsford News Oct. 21. Ungar began her career in the field of commercial art, and owned a small graphic design studio in Montreal and Hamilton, Ontario. Last year Ungar and her husband settled in Abbotsford, where she took up a full-time position at UCFV. She teaches courses in Canadian history and Quebec history, with an emphasis on intellectual and cultural history.

Newton’s tree at York makes Bluffers’ apple guide


It may only be legend that the falling apple hit Sir Isaac Newton on the head, wrote The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Oct. 21 in a feature called the Bluffers’ Guide…to apples. What is known is that the tree in question survived for years and parts of it were grafted on to other trees. In 1999 York University in Toronto planted three rootstock trees grafted with cuttings “genetically traceable to the family home of Isaac Newton.” Soon after it had apples, and seeds from the apples were carried into space last month by Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean (BSc ‘77, PhD ‘83).

On air

  • Bernie Wolfe

, an economist in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about the government’s new environmental legislation and the auto industry on CBC Radio Oct. 20.

  • Thabit Abdullah

, professor of history in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the US role in Iraq on TVO’s “The Agenda” Oct. 20.

  • Cameron Graham

, professor of accounting in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about changes to the Aeroplan points program on CBC Newsworld Oct. 22.