Damage Control: It’s on the market, so now what?

Experts say inadequate funding for post-market surveillance of new drugs is part of the problem of unsafe drugs reaching the marketplace, reported the Ottawa Citizen Dec. 22 in its ongoing series on drugs and drug testing. Mary Wiktorowicz, Chair of York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, says chronic under-funding over the years has led Health Canada to its current tight relationship with industry. "I think that’s part of the weakness with Health Canada and why they tend to rely on industry so much, because they haven’t had the resources. They’ve had to find other ways to work with industry, get industry to comply with their standards because they are under-resourced.”

Dr. Joel Lexchin, who also teaches in the School of Health Policy & Management, says we have to make it clear to the public that reporting adverse drug reactions is important, and to make it easier to do so. "You can set up a database whereby you record the names and birth dates of, say, the first 50,000 people who get a drug and you can link with things like hospital visits or hospitalizations or death or cancer or doctor’s visits using other databases, and you can see whether or not these drugs are presenting certain problems," he says.

"I think Health Canada’s approach has been very narrow," said Wiktorowicz. "Canada could be a leader in this area in terms of innovative post-marketing surveillance," she says, a refrain echoed by many researchers.  

  • Dr. Joel Lexchin, emergency room physician and a professor at York University’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, suggests inadequate funding for drug testing creates a situation in which regulators feel obligated to the companies and adopt their point of view, reported the Ottawa Citizen Dec. 21. "Drug approvals are not all science," he says. "There’s always decisions to be made around how much risk are we willing to take in terms of drugs, and I think as the industry takes on a larger role in funding the regulatory bodies that those kinds of decisions tend to be made more in favour of the drug companies."

    Members of Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (or Rx&D) and Health Canada meet regularly to discuss "joint projects." Mary Wiktorowicz, Chair of York’s School of Health Policy & Management, says she hadn’t expected that Health Canada would present the drug industry with draft policy. "I was certainly, as a member of the public, very surprised that you would ask your regulated industry to develop the first draft of a policy that you would revise and work with," says Wiktorowicz.

The Star endorses York as the new home for the Ontario Archives

It is welcome news that the Ontario government has finally struck a deal to move the archives to a new building on the campus of York University in northwest Toronto, wrote the Toronto Star in an editorial Dec. 27. Some wonder if this is the best deal the government could reach. Others, understandably, are concerned that researchers will be deterred by the distance they will have to travel to reach the archives, which will be far from downtown cultural institutions and, at least for the time being, not on a subway line. These concerns cannot be dismissed out of hand. But they also do not outweigh the fact that after being neglected for too long, the province’s historical records will soon be out of harm’s way.
The fallout from Saddam Hussein’s execution
Thabit Abdullah, a Baghdad native and professor of history in York’s Faculty of Arts, took part in a discussion on PBS TV’s “Newshour” program on the reaction to Saddam’s execution. Below are some of his comments to moderator Ray Suarez.
Suarez: Professor Abdullah, does this execution mark the end or the beginning of something in Iraq?
Abullah: Every single change that would occur in Iraq would have to be measured by very small, incremental steps. So with that in mind, yes, I do think that the execution of Saddam marks a very small step…. When I spoke to friends and relatives…their joy was rather subdued, because the real matters at hand were the insecurity, the lack of electricity, the corruption…and these are the issues that will ultimately make or break the government.
I should mention one other thing: It was rather depressing, also, to see the manner and the haste with which the execution took place. The fact that it took place in such haste gave the impression that, in fact, these were Shia militias who were executing this individual who represented the Sunnis. And I think this is a terrible mixing and muddling of the whole legacy of Saddam. This is yet another incident that shows the incompetence of both the American administration and now the Iraqi administration in managing what would certainly have been a very turbulent period, the post-Saddam period.
Suarez: I’d like to get a quick reading…on how this looks in the rest of the Arab world, where Saddam was a big figure for many decades.
Abullah: …right now in the Middle East there is such an intense fear of American imperialism or American neo-imperialism in the region that anyone who stood up to the Americans, even Saddam Hussein…was suddenly transformed into some sort of a champion for the Arabs. This, in my opinion, is a very sad indicator of how confused the Arab world is. To see people mourning such a terrible dictator who harmed the Palestinian cause, who harmed the cause of progress in the region as a whole is a very depressing statement, as to the low levels that the Middle East has sunk.
  • Prof. Adullah also discussed the post-Saddam era on CBC Radio’s “The Current” Jan. 2 and on other CBC Radio programs Dec. 30.

Seymour Schulich Building is among the best of 2006

With 2006’s focus on Toronto’s new opera house, the ROM’s crystal addition and the AGO renovation, many new buildings didn’t get the attention they should, wrote Kelvin Browne in the National Post Dec. 20. In fact, this year proved good architecture in Toronto isn’t limited to mega-projects or dependent on star architects from out-of-town. York University had a winner, although I may be stretching it to call it a 2006 project. The new home of the Schulich School of Business is an oasis on campus although it would be inspired architecture anywhere. This $104-million project is a joint venture between Hariri Pontarini Architects and Robbie/ Young + Wright Architects with Siamak Hariri as the lead design architect. English philosopher Alain de Botton says, architecture can make us happy. This does one better, it ennobles its users.

  • Before plunging into 2007, why not cast a backward glance at 2006, wrote Jeffery Simpson in The Globe and Mail Jan. 2. Here’s a little quiz to test your recollection of Canadian events:
Q: The Financial Times ranked which Canadian business school tops in the country?
A: York University’s Schulich School of Business
Feed your head with the best ideas of 2006
The Toronto Star included this item among its best ideas of 2006 in the Dec. 31 edition.
We can’t afford higher taxes. Wrong. Taxes are a burden. Wrong. Taxes restrict freedom. Wrong. In a rare defence of one of the two inevitabilities, Neil Brooks, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, maintained that he likes paying taxes, which aren’t just good for us but crucial to a civil society.
"Taxes have brought us high-quality public schools that remain our democratic treasure," he wrote, "low tuition at world-class universities, freedom from fear of crippling health bills, excellent medical services, public parks and libraries, and liveable cities. None of these things comes cheaply…. To promise, as some politicians are doing, that they are going to cut taxes in order to ‘allow Canadians to keep more of their hard-earned dollars’ is simply a way of saying ‘forget about your moral obligations to one another, to heck with pursuing your most noble aspirations collectively and do not worry about securing the blessings of real freedom.’ These people need a civics lesson. As a famous US jurist noted, taxes are the price we pay for civilization."
York student wrestler works hard for her body
With a sweet, dimpled smile that could melt an iceberg and biceps that could crack walnuts, York student Ohenewa Akuffo is all about crushing stereotypes, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 31. Take the poster this leading Canadian wrestler – a medal prospect for the 2008 Beijing Olympics – just had made up to promote herself and her sport. It features the 27-year-old from Brampton in several wrestling shots, but also includes pictures of her in a bikini and an elegant dress. "You work so hard for this body," says Akuffo. "If you’re going to have the muscles, you might as well dress them up beautifully…. That’s the fun part. I like to challenge people, especially with my sport. They go, ‘Female wrestling. Is she a butch?’ I’m like, ‘Surprise, surprise. No, I’m not.’"
This shapes up as a critical year for Akuffo. She wants to improve her current No. 5 ranking at the 2007 World Championships in Azerbaijan in September. She will also be aiming for gold in July at the Pan-Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, a step-up from the silver she won at the 2003 event.
"She’s got the world to conquer in front of her – and she has the potential to do it," says Daniel Igali, who won Canada’s only Olympic gold in wrestling at the 2000 Sydney Games. Education is pivotal in her life – she’s currently juggling work for a bachelor’s degree in business, an honours degree in marketing and a certificate of sports administration at York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.
Superglitch in space?
A team of crack radio astronomers in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, led by Norbert Bartel, is crossing fingers that troubles plaguing the most expensive space experiment ever can be sorted out, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 31. If not, years of work will go for naught and questions will persist about Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The experiment is a satellite that cost US$700 million called Gravity Probe B. It’s looking for frame dragging, a subtle gravity effect predicted by Einstein’s theory. The result was supposed to be announced this past summer.
But the high-precision gyroscopes aboard the spacecraft wobbled and twisted in unexpected ways, wrote the Star. Unless these deviations can be identified, the main Gravity Probe B research team based at Stanford University in California may not be able to produce a precise enough number of how much frame dragging has apparently shifted the satellite during a year orbiting the Earth. Whether the shift is real depends on equally precise measurements of the position of a guide star already successfully taken by Bartel and colleagues. They and the Stanford-Harvard-Smithsonian team plan to reveal the outcome at an April meeting of the American Physical Society.
Literary look back features York professors
Irving Layton, [who taught literature in York’s Faculty of Arts from 1969 to 1978] and for generations of Canadians the embodiment of Canadian verse, died wrote book critic Philip Marchand in a year-end review of authors and events for the Toronto Star Dec. 31. So did American novelist William Styron, author of such works as Lie Down In Darkness and Sophie’s Choice. The two writers were poles apart in temperament, background, style and genre, but the feisty Montreal Jew and the aristocratic Virginian had one thing in common: both came under political attack in the 1960s. Layton’s mistake was supporting the Americans in the Vietnam War. He once sent a book of his poetry, The Shattered Plinths, to Lyndon Johnson in admiration.
In April I visited poet, novelist and culture critic Bruce Powe‘s class at York University on Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye to judge the winner of a debate between two student teams over the titans’ respective merits, wrote Marchand. It was a tough assignment; I more or less chickened out by calling the debate a draw. What’s significant is that these students were interested in McLuhan ("the medium is the message") and Frye in the first place. Even when they were alive and flourishing in the ’60s, the two University of Toronto English professors were regarded with suspicion by their colleagues.
Convicted killer’s case taken up by Osgoode’s Innocence Project
York law student Amit Thakore (BA ‘99), a member of the Innocence Project at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, confirmed the group has been looking into convicted Calgary murderer Timothy Whitwell’s case to see what avenues exist for a potential appeal, reported The Vancouver Sun and The Calgary Herald Dec. 30. "It’s taken almost 18 years so far and I’ve just got doors open now that people are listening to me," Whitwell said when speaking of the glimmer of hope the Innocence Project has brought.
From Toronto, Thakore made clear it is too early to determine if Whitwell is innocent, or even to gauge the strength of the evidence, although he did say the case has elements that were convincing enough to merit consideration. "We get a lot of applications and a lot of them don’t have anything we can really latch onto," he said. "In Tim (Whitwell’s) case clearly there are a couple of things that, if we could work towards and establish (them), there are definitely indications we might be able to do something," he added.
Finding optimism in a year of loss
Every year has its share of passings, some of which hit close to home, wrote columnist Eugene Stickland (MFA ‘84) in the Calgary Herald Dec. 30. It may have gone largely unnoticed by the general public but, last week, Canadian theatre and cultural luminary James Mavor Moore died in Victoria. Mavor was my mentor when I did my master of fine arts degree at York University a million years ago. He was unflappable. Or maybe just around me he was.
I would sit in his office and complain and whine and kvetch about the injustices of the world and the excruciating difficulties involved in learning how to write a play. Mavor, who wrote more than 100 plays in his lifetime, would puff placidly on his pipe and look out the window and say things like, "My, isn’t it a lovely day."
Mavor was a driving force in promoting art that was made here in Canada. He once said, "A fresh start is made by building on what we have here with vigour and honesty, not with borrowed polish. We will never do it by making bad carbons of what is already growing dated in London and New York." He will be missed.
York study looks at women’s anger
Anger is a gift which should be embraced by girls and women rather than denied, reported The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton) Dec. 28. Cheryl van Daalen-Smith is a professor in York’s School of Nursing, Faculty of Health. Her survey of 65 young women told her they felt dismissed, abandoned, judged, disbelieved or were even medicated in response to their anger.
The study found that girls whose anger is dismissed or silenced learn to live as chameleons – changing themselves to blend into a society that denies females their right to feel or express anger. The study, called Living as a Chameleon, A Guide to Understanding Girls’ Anger for Girl-Serving Professionals, took its name from one girl’s description of how she had learned to get along in life.
The message for professionals it contains is simple, van Daalen-Smith says. "Don’t silence angry girls, don’t turn them away, don’t dismiss them, don’t medicate them. Listen to them…. Many people fail to distinguish between anger, which is an emotion, and aggression, which is behaviour, so they put girls on anti-depressants. In fact, anger is a necessary human emotion and must not be denied because of narrow beliefs about femininity," says van Daalen-Smith.
Alumna fiddler releases new recording
Fiddler Anne Lindsay (BFA ‘82) will bring her tour celebrating her newest CD News From Up the Street to Peterborough on Feb. 2, reported the Peterborough Examiner Dec. 28. Considered one of Canada’s finest contemporary fiddlers, Lindsay brings a unique violin/fiddle style. Currently composing, performing and recording with her own band, Lindsay is also a sought after side person, composer, arranger and background vocalist, performing with some of Canada’s top musical acts: Blue Rodeo, Jim Cuddy, John McDermott, Natalie MacMaster – and she played a key role as folk fiddler in The Lord of the Rings stage show.
She’s also played with The Chieftains, Led Zeppelin, Roger Daltry, and Dionne Warwick. Her second CD includes He Shoots, He Scores, composed in the stands of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto while she fiddled the Toronto Maple Leafs to one of their victories. Lindsay spent much of last year in the pit of the Lord of the Rings stage show; she came up for air in the fall and crisscrossed the country in the Jim Cuddy Band.
Cancelling play a shameful act
The decision of Martin Bragg, artistic producer of CanStage, to cancel My Name is Rachel Corrie is shameful, wrote Stephen K. Levine, York professor emeritus, in a letter to the Toronto Star Dec. 28. Corrie was a brave woman, a supporter of peace and human rights who was killed in a non-violent protest while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian doctor’s house in Gaza by the Israeli army. As a Jew proud of our tradition of social justice, I honour Corrie’s memory. We do no service to Israel by trying to silence those who express criticism of its government’s policies.
Alumnus Flaherty displaces Black as business newsmaker of the year
A Halloween bombshell, a broken promise and the multibillion-dollar stock market fallout that followed have made federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (LLB ‘73) Canada’s Business Newsmaker of the Year, the Canadian Press and Broadcast News wrote Dec. 28. The stocky finance minister, who spooked Bay Street with the Oct. 31 shocker that his Conservative government would change the rules to tax income trusts much like corporations, garnered 51 of 139 votes cast in the annual survey of newspaper and online business editors and broadcasters.
Flaherty displaced former newspaper mogul Conrad Black, whose high-profile racketeering and fraud case in the US helped him hang on to the title for three years straight. Flaherty has become the face of the Conservative government’s first major broken campaign promise, the man who wiped out more than $20 billion in stock-market value overnight.
Complexity theory reveals small things can have a big impact
"There are so many books out there that say, ‘Everything’s going wrong. The world is going to hell.’ It creates this sense of fear and ‘I can’t do anything about it,’" says Brenda Zimmerman, a policy specialist in York’s Schulich School of Business and one of the authors of Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed, in a story in the National Post Dec. 27.
"The world is so complex, and the challenges are so multi-faceted. But that doesn’t mean you throw your hands into the air and say, ‘Why bother?’" She relies on something called complexity theory, which says that because things are so interconnected and complicated, sometimes small actions can have a big impact. Her book, which is one of this year’s treatises on this new smaller-steps form of revolution, begins with a warning: "This book is not for heroes or saints or perfectionists…. This book is for ordinary people."
It may seem a stretch to consider the loonie donation tagged on to the end of an Indigo purchase on a par with such economy-altering tactics, but Zimmerman and her co-authors see it all as part of a continuum. "I teach MBA students and, you know, they care about making a difference…ordinary people, busy people, people in a hurry, they still want to make a difference."
The responsibility of freedom
Two weeks ago, this space condemned the decision of Shiraz Dossa, a political scientist at St. Francis Xavier University, to attend a conference in Iran that turned out to be a front for Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, wrote columnist John Ibbotson in The Globe and Mail Dec. 28. Some university professors, writing in response, asserted that academic freedom meant nothing unless it protected Prof. Dossa’s right to go where he pleased.
Michiel Horn, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, Glendon College, sent along his book Academic Freedom in Canada: A History, which offers a defence of academic freedom and of tenure: the right of a professor to guaranteed employment until retirement, barring egregious misbehaviour.
These rights, Prof. Horn concluded, "may protect people whom others regard as undeserving and who may in fact be so…[who] have turned out to be mediocre or worse in accomplishment, or wanting in some important aspect of their work. But these drawbacks are the price that must be paid to protect the innovative, the outspoken, the unconventional, and the unpopular."
Really? To insist that tenure and academic freedom (for one is impossible without the other) are superlatives, that they must be embraced entirely or not at all, is naive…. Freedom and responsibility necessarily exist on opposite sides of the democratic scale. All of us have a duty to try to keep the scale in balance. That includes newspaper columnists. And it includes professors, too.
AGYU seen as 2006 success story
What has 2006 been about? If you live in Toronto, it has, to some extent, been about waiting, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 27. The high end of the scene feels like a place in suspended animation as the mega-building projects at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum move toward completion. There has been lots of action away from these main stages. The rebirth of the Art Gallery of York University in its new space, under the leadership of Philip Monk, is one of 2006’s success stories, with excellent exhibitions of Stan Douglas, Fiona Tan and Jeremy Deller inaugurating the new gallery.
Soccer Lion impresses at Toronto FC tryout

Toronto FC announced that York Lions defender Jamaal Smith has been invited to join the expansion soccer team at its main training camp in February, reported Canadian Press Dec. 22. The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was the lone survivor of Toronto FC’s open camp this week that saw 1,000 people pay a $110 tryout fee in a bid to make the club. “He’s living the dream”, Toronto coach Mo Johnston said in a statement. “He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s showed us some talent during the past week.”

On air
  • Paul Delaney, professor in York’s Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the space shuttle landing on CTV NewsNet Dec. 22.