Transit justice coming to the suburbs

The extension of the York subway line is significant in at least two ways, write Roger Keil and Douglas Young, of the City Institute at York University, in an opinion piece published March 14 in the Toronto Star. First, it creates true transit citizens from more than 50,000 students and staff at Canada’s third-largest university. No longer will they have to stand in line in the rain and sleet and be packed in usually crammed buses.

Their neighbours in the richly diverse communities around the university will finally be able to connect with downtown Toronto and other parts of the urban region as if they really lived in an emergent global city and not in the shadow of an underserved auto town from a bygone era, wrote Keil, director of the institute and a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, and Young, contract faculty in the Division of Social Science, Faculty of Arts. It creates the opportunity for more transit justice in a region that not only continues to worship the car and the road but which favours most downtown neighbourhoods over the dynamically growing older suburbs, which have now evolved into intra-metropolitan hubs in their own right.

Second, it makes urban citizens out of the inhabitants of a largely forgotten section of the city between the glamour zones of the downtown and the traditional suburbs, wrote the two York faculty members. The new subway line will go straight to the heart of the "in-between city," the kind of novel urban form in which most Canadians now live, work and play daily. It is a city of variably dense human settlement. The roughly 80 square kilometres around York University, for example, are home to more than 120,000 residents and many thousands of workers. The subway is for them, and will integrate their neighbourhoods more tightly into the fabric of the city, which so often overlooks them.

Remnants of meteorite flame a trail to Earth

On Sunday night between 8pm and 8:30pm rapt observers from here to Milwaukee saw a ball of light, seething white, careening overhead, spitting out dazzling debris, reported the Toronto Star March 13. It probably landed as a rock no bigger than a fist, weighing about a kilogram. "Everything I have heard suggests that it was a bolide – a meteorite that was flaming through our atmosphere," explains Paul Delaney, a physics and astronomy professor at York University. "It probably came to ground somewhere. But where, nobody knows."

What’s certain is that for three or four spine-tingling seconds, people from a massive swath of the continent shared the same slice of burning sky. And everyone imagined that whatever it was had landed in their own backyards. "That is not at all unusual for really bright bolide," Delaney observes. "They have huge distances over which they can travel and therefore be seen." A hurtling meteoroid glows white-hot as it rushes through the Earth’s atmosphere. And, like a red-hot stick waved around at a campfire, it leaves a brief but extremely bright trail. "So it doesn’t have to be very big to be seemingly really bright," Delaney says.

If anyone does manage to find this heavenly visitor, the earthly rewards could be substantial. Museums may pay as much as $3,000 for a meteoroid of that size, Delaney estimates. "These are wonderful laboratories," Delaney says. "It’s a piece of space."

  • In a March 13 story in the Richmond Hill Liberal, Delaney said such objects travel at about 10 kilometres per second as they enter the atmosphere, which makes them glow. A greenish tinge to the flashes suggests chemicals trapped inside the rock are escaping as the object plummets. A rock that actually makes it to the ground is called a meteorite, while one that doesn’t is a meteor, or shooting star.

Green or greenwash?

The compulsion to declare environmental purity these days is so pervasive that greenliness is being claimed by all manner of organizations and events, including some with climate ties that may appear peripheral at best, reported the National Post March 10. At the Oscar ceremony last month, officials at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences declared with considerable pride that this year’s event was "carbon neutral." "You really have to give Al Gore credit," says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich business school. "Putting his status and celebrity behind An Inconvenient Truth has really captured an audience. People are paying attention to the environment." And with polls showing most Canadians are willing to take steps to stop global warming, it’s no surprise that green marketing is now so pervasive, Middleton says. A number of big corporations – including oil producers, car manufacturers and appliance makers – have been accused of greenwashing. As firms tout ever-more tangential green credentials, it may hurt those making genuine strides, Middleton says. "The danger is that what they achieve gets devalued by the overall inflation of everybody saying they’re green," he says.

Student programs robotic wheelchair to see and fetch

Alexander Andreopoulos, a PhD student in York’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, is working on the PlayBot project, adding visual recognition abilities to a robotic wheelchair for people with mobility impairments, reported the Toronto Star 13 in its Deep Thoughts column. Andreopoulos is working on the programming aspect of this project, which also involves a group of students at York. His work will make it possible for children using the PlayBot wheelchair to give commands to a computer, which in turn will direct the wheelchair to where it needs to go.

We judge how good a society is by how it takes care of its weakest segment, Andreopoulos says. Making a child more independent will help improve the quality of life. The robotic and computer technology industry is booming, he adds. Inventions such as this will also aid aging baby boomers who want to continue their independent lifestyles.

Paula Todd hosts new show covering Black trial

Paula Todd has a new TV gig as the host of Canada’s first news series devoted to legal affairs and the criminal justice system, reported The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon March 13. Todd will host "The Verdict" on CTV Newsnet beginning March 14. For its debut, it will broadcast live from Chicago for the first several days of the Conrad Black trial.

Todd, who graduated from York with a BA in 1982 and an LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1988, is a former reporter for the Toronto Star and the former host and co-producer of TVO’s "Person 2 Person with Paula Todd" and TVO’s Gemini Award-winning current-affairs program "Studio 2".

Students band together to fight stigma of mental illness

Geoffrey Reaume was 21 when he headed for the Dominican Republic with a youth group and a secret, reported the Toronto Star March 10. It was the summer of 1983. For seven years, Reaume had been taking chlorpromazine, a drug prescribed to people diagnosed with schizophrenia. For seven years, he had also endured the drug’s side effects. "I was zonked out, tired all the time," he recalls. Silenced by the stigma associated with any diagnosis of mental illness, Reaume, who now teaches at York University in the School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone what he was going through. "I was scared but I wanted to try to wean myself off the drug," he recalls. Slowly but surely he succeeded. 

Reaume’s agonizingly solitary ordeal is typical of most of his generation facing a psychiatric diagnosis, said the Star. But a new century has bred a group of young people openly supporting each other in a bid to consolidate their strengths. They are determined to erase the stigma faced by those branded as mentally ill. And in much the same way as the gay movement gained empowerment by embracing the queer epithet, they are building a growing community and identity.

Psych rights. Nutters with attitude. Welcome to the madness, they say. Embrace it. Learn from it. "I’m proud to identify myself as mad," says Jeremiah Bach, 25, a veteran member of the inter-university Mad Students Society and a community service worker with Sound Times, a Toronto-based group that helps people who use or have used the mental health system. "The queer identity is a good parallel," says Bach, who also is taking a post-graduate course in critical disabilities studies at York University. "We’re reclaiming an identity. It’s empowering for a fragile community."

Law prof enlisted in wrongful conviction case

In 1984, Amina Chaudhary, then a 20-year-old married Sikh woman known as Sarabjit Minhas, was convicted of first degree murder in the strangulation death of the eight-year-old nephew of a Hindu lover who broke off their affair. She was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, reported the Kingston Whig-Standard March 11. After a failed attempt to get early parole at a 1999 faint-hope hearing, Amina was given day parole in 2005 and was recently granted full parole. Amina has enlisted the support of Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young and the Innocence Project to pursue a claim of wrongful conviction. The key to Amina’s claim of being wrongly convicted lies in the fact that she was tried on circumstantial evidence, part of which was given by forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Smith. The Ontario Coroner’s office is conducting a review of 44 autopsies of homicides and criminally suspicious deaths that Smith performed.

Student entrepreneur learned from ‘The Apprentice’

At 20, he started a successful marketing business. At 21, he was an apprentice. Now, at age 26, he is conquering the world of philanthropy – and he’s doing it in style, began a profile of 2002 York grad and entrepreneur Jay Klein in the Richmond Hill Liberal March 13. He did a double major in political science and communications studies and founded his company, Drivertise, when he was still a student. Drivertise helps clients advertise using signs and graphics affixed to a vehicle. Food and beverage companies, auto companies, grocery stores and furniture companies are among his customers. Five years ago, at the urging of friends and family, he put together a video audition to be on the first season of Donald Trump’s hit TV show, The Apprentice". He came in just under the deadline for applications, with a very poor quality video, but the applications team watched it and called him right after viewing it, still laughing. "They said it was the worst quality video they’d ever seen, but they wanted to meet me," he said. While Klein was not chosen to appear on the show, he is grateful for the experience because he learned a lot from it. "It reinforced the way I like to carry myself and represent myself," he said.

York student a finalist in Next Great PM race

Joseph Lavoie, an army brat born in Montreal, is a 23-year-old York University political science student and one of four finalists vying for the CBC’s "The Next Great Prime Minister" contest, reported the Windsor Star March 10. He is active politically and occasionally serves as a political pundit on television.

Region pinpointed for sustainability education

Environmental education and research in the province will soon reach a new level, due to an important designation announced in Saskatoon recently by representatives of the United Nations University, reported the Saskatoon Sun March 11. At a ceremony held at the Meewasin Valley Authority, Charles Hopkins, UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Teacher Education at York University, and David Walden, secretary general of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, designated the Saskatoon-Craik-Regina corridor as a Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development.

Known as RCE Saskatchewan, the corridor is now recognized by the United Nations as a region within which different Saskatchewan organizations will work together to research, develop and deliver educational programs related to environment and sustainable development. "RCE Saskatchewan now joins more than 30 other RCEs around the world, forming one of the largest and indeed most crucial education, public awareness and training experiments ever undertaken," Hopkins said in a news release. "What we learn in these centres on how to successfully engage the public in this enormous learning undertaking may shape our very existence and will certainly have an impact on our quality of life for generations to come."

Bilingualism can delay onset of dementia: York study

A recent study showed that the lifelong use of two languages can help delay the onset of dementia symptoms by four years, reported North Shore News in British Columbia March 11. The study, headed up by York University Professor Ellen Bialystok, was conducted through the Rotman Research Institute, part of the Baycrest Research Centre for Aging and the Brain. The researchers determined that the mean age of onset of dementia symptoms in the monolingual group was 71.4 years, while the bilingual group was 75.5 years. This difference remained even after considering the possible effect of cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and even gender as influencers in the results.

Classic game gets a naked twist

In his March 10 account of Digital Twist at an art opening at SPIN Gallery on Queen Street West, Toronto Star entertainment writer Peter Goddard said it felt like an episode of some new reality TV show where an art history class is held in the midst of a convention of swingers. The brainchild of well-regarded Toronto artist Johannes Zits (BFA 1983), Digital Twist features five nude performers, each painted from top-to-toe in a different, strong, strident colour. Everyone bumped bodies with Zits during a sweaty performance/game of Twister, the body-contact parlour game first marketed in the late ’60s by the games conglomerate Milton Bradley. "Why is everyone naked?" said Zits, before heading out onto the mat. "Well, it’s a classic form of the body. It’s also touching on all other generations of performance art. The Twister game itself has a historical basis." Great, wrote Goddard. Finally, here’s some art theory you want to get your hands on.

Interest reviving in Yiddish

In a March 10 story about a revival in Yiddish language, the Globe and Mail reported that on the academic front, there are Yiddish studies programs at the University of Toronto and York University. Yiddish is also part of the curriculum at Bialik Hebrew Day School, beginning in Grade 3. "Toronto is one of the few places in the world, except for New York maybe, which has such vibrant Yiddish secular life," U of T Yiddish Prof. Anna Shternshis says.

Teacher accused of sex with student

Toronto police have charged Paola Queen, a 35-year-old teacher at Nelson A. Boylen Collegiate Institute, with one count of sexual exploitation after they received a Crime Stoppers tip earlier this month about an alleged inappropriate relationship between a high school teacher and a student, reported the Toronto Star and Canadian Press March 10. Queen became a teacher in June 2005. She has two undergraduate degrees – a 1995 BA in sociology and 2000 bachelor of social work – from York University.

On air

  • Eric Tucker, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, was interviewed about mill workers who got sick while working at a Weyerhaeuser Mill in Dryden, Ont., in a CBC Radio item aired on "New Brunswick News" in Fredericton March 12.