Osgoode experts comment on Tories’ Québécois motion

The Conservative government shut the door on any constitutional recognition of Quebeckers as a nation, saying its resolution before the House of Commons would carry no legal weight, reported The Globe and Mail Nov. 24. Legal experts agreed that the motion doesn’t open the door to transfers of power to Quebec. “Unless further steps are taken, it won’t have any impact on the Constitution,” said Peter Hogg, a leading constitutional law scholar and former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Hogg noted that just after the close 1995 Quebec referendum, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government passed a Commons resolution to recognize Quebec as a “distinct society,” saying the government would be “guided by that reality.” He said it has had no discernible effect on legal matters since. “As far as I know, nobody has ever referred to that again,” he said. Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan, said the motion is “largely innocuous” because it refers to Quebeckers, not Quebec. “The Québécois have no legal standing, so there is no real way the resolution can be operationalized,” he said. “It skates by the issue and puts it behind us.”

  • The Conservative government has concocted a nationalist placebo, not a constitutional prescription for the federation, according to legal experts, wrote Canadian Press Nov. 24. Quebec Premier Jean Charest lauded the motion as historic and asserted that it will have significance, both in domestic law and on the international stage. But constitutional expert Patrick Monahan, dean of Osgoode Hall law school, dismissed Charest’s interpretation. “A resolution of the House of Commons is not legally binding,” he noted.  Furthermore, Monahan pointed out that the last parliamentary resolution on Quebec’s distinctiveness – passed with great fanfare immediately after the razor-thin federalist victory in the 1995 referendum – has disappeared without a trace, even though it was theoretically a stronger motion.
  • Marcel Martel, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the Conservative motion on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here and Now” on Nov. 23.

Funny Boy takes to the air

With the gentle crashing of ocean waves and the chirping of parakeets, warblers and mina birds intermixed with live Indian classical music, you might believe you were on the island nation of Sri Lanka if you closed your eyes, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 24. Such is the power and intimacy of the live radio play, a genre the CBC is resurrecting for the first time in a decade this Sunday [Nov. 26] with Funny Boy, a live-to-air performance based on the powerful novel of the same name by Toronto author and York alumnus Shyam Selvadurai (BFA ‘89), and now an instructor in York’s Department of Humanities, Faculty of Arts.

Directed by filmmaker Deepa Mehta, the drama features an all-South Asian cast from Toronto and live music by percussionist/vocalist and York alumna Suba Sankaran (BFA ’97, MFA ’02), of the group Autorickshaw. Set in Colombo, Funny Boy is the poignant coming-of-age story of Arjie as he grapples with his sexual identity and family dynamics, against a backdrop of communal tensions in the years leading to the 1983 Sinhalese-Tamil riots. “It’s not a memoir or strictly autobiographical, but it certainly has elements of my life. I grew up in Sri Lanka during that period. I went through the communal riots and I’m gay,” says Selvadurai, 41, who fled Sri Lanka with his family at 19. Parts of the story depart from his own, “because one’s life is often not as interesting as fiction,” he adds with a chuckle.

New anti-gun bill ‘a shot in the dark’

Rewriting Canada’s bail laws in an attempt to curb gun crime is “a complete shot in the dark,” legal experts say. Bail hasn’t been researched as extensively as other areas of the criminal justice system and some of the most basic questions appear to remain unanswered, including how often people currently charged with gun crimes are granted bail, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 24.

“It’s a part of the criminal justice process that’s remained largely invisible to empirical research,” said Alan Young, a criminal law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. “Proposing reverse onus (provisions) is a complete shot in the dark, because we don’t know if the current regime is effective,” he said. “We don’t have any real sense of compliance rates or the recurrence of violence while out on bail.”

  • Young also spoke about the proposed changes on CBC Television’s “The World at Six” Nov. 23.

Protestors target Flaherty for axing court challenges program

Armed with signs demanding “Access to Justice,” protestors attempted to disrupt Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s visit to the National Club, decrying his axing of the Court Challenges Program, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 24. The federal government calls the $2.85 million-a-year program an “inefficient” use of tax dollars. But protestors said it helped open a highly expensive justice system to disadvantaged Canadians and minorities. “We’re really treating this as an access-to-justice issue,” said Estair Van Wagner, 28, a second-year student at Osgoode Hall Law School, who helped organize the demonstration.

It was perhaps the first time the words “access to justice” were used as a political rallying cry and one of the few protests to feature placards with the names of famous cases funded by the program. It was also part of a burgeoning social justice movement, fuelled in part by law students, who don’t want to inherit a justice system that revolves around money. “We’re dedicated to entering the legal profession as a venue for creating social change, as a venue for improving access to justice,” Van Wagner said.

  • Van Wagner, also spoke about the proposed cuts to the Courts Challenges Program , on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here and Now” Nov. 23.

No time for Harper-McGuinty subway talks

Sources said Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty did not have time to discuss the fiscal imbalance between surplus-flush Ottawa and deficit-addled Queen’s Park, or the proposed $2-billion extension of the Spadina subway line through York University and into the 905, which is awaiting $670 million in federal funding, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 24. “There just wasn’t time to get into any of that,” said an insider.

The income-splitting nation 

It’s clear from reports earlier this week that full-fledged income splitting is under serious consideration within Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration, wrote the National Post Nov. 24. What’s not yet discernable is whether it would apply only to earned income or also investment income. Moshe Milevsky, finance professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, favours going “all the way towards a system of taxing family income” since limiting the measure to just pension splitting “would be relatively unfair to younger Canadians.” He notes most data from Statistics Canada focuses on family income, or family net worth. “So why isn’t income tax based on family – even if broadly defined – income?”

Reviewer can ‘smell the Muskol’ in York writer’s book

Michael Kohn, a graduate of York University (BA ’88) and Humber College schools of creative writing, has planted trees in six of Canada’s provinces, wrote a reviewer for the Owen Sound Sun Times Nov. 24. In Greener Than Eden (Cormorant, 2006) he takes us to Upsala, Ontario in time to meet Noah Abramson. Noah, who has been booted out of university for protesting the removal of a favourite tree, joins the army of tree-planters that fan out across Canada each summer.

It’s a tough life not meant for romantics. While enduring cold, rain, black flies, repellent burns, bears, aching muscles and ruthless competition, Noah begins to learn not just how to plant trees (you just don’t stick ’em in the ground) but to find life in a world of draw scenery and mind-numbing work. Kohn is a strong writer who employs to the full the jargon of the job. You can smell the Muskol, taste the sweat and feel the pull of carrying pounds of wet seedlings.

New musical horizons on campus radio

The CRTC is considering charging 7.5 per cent of a radio station’s annual earnings for the right to broadcast online, a move that could limit access to campus radio stations, reported the Welland Tribune Nov. 24. Daria Ludwiczak, an indie rock host at York University’s CHRY radio, has been using MySpace to try to get the word out about her show. But the CRTC move could jeopardize her efforts at bringing in a younger audience. If teens end up on her site but don’t have a link to CHRY’s feed, they might not be as keen to tune in.

So Crozier’s advice is to check out campus radio now, while it’s still accessible to everyone. And if you like what you hear, get involved. How? Well, that’s the easy part. Most stations have internship programs set up just for teens. But the best way to get in, says Ludwiczak, is the simplest: just show up.

MBAs for sale, professor charges

An increasing number of Canada’s business schools are literally selling MBAs to generate revenue for their ravenous budgets, according to veteran Concordia University finance professor Alan Hochstein, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) Nov. 24. “I don’t trust any MBA grad any more (who obtained a degree in) under two years,” Hochstein said. “You can’t learn the material (properly that fast).”

Hochstein is also critical of executive MBA programs that place more emphasis on age and experience and Canadian business schools that partner with sister schools in the US to offer two-for-one degrees. Two examples he gave are Queen’s University in Kingston offering a joint program with ivy-league Cornell University in central New York state for $92,000 and York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto twinning with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago for $90,000. Hochstein noted “practically nobody fails and a failure rate less than 10 per cent is suspect.”

On air

  • Lisa Philipps, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about federal government plans to pay down Canada’s debt, on Rogers TV’s “Goldhawk” Nov. 23.