School bags packed full of history

Scanning the faces of those in his night-school class, Chris Searle, visiting professor at York’s Atkinson School of Social Sciences, realized how Toronto had changed since his last visit, wrote the Toronto Star March 22 in a feature and pictorial splashed across the front of its GTA section. That change gave Searle an idea. Teaching students from all over the world – at least 32 countries of origin represented in three classes – in courses entitled "Childhood and Society" and "The School and Fiction," he asked them to write about their youth and their early educational experiences.

The result is Cosmopolis, Toronto, an anthology of autobiographical writings, fiction, poems and plays. "This shows Toronto is a genuine city of the world," says Searle, who edited the book, which features the work of more than 50 women and men who studied at York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Canadian Red Cross to help rebuild schools and provide educational resources for Southeast Asian communities that were ravaged by the 2004 tsunami. It struck as the York students were writing their stories. The Star noted that it’s available through the York bookstore – – for $14.95.

  • A current York student’s story was included in the Star’s feature on Cosmopolis, Toronto March 22. Annie Yuan, 23, who is in her final year of a BA in psychology, said of her early school years in China: “I remember I used to have tons of homework every night after school. It usually took me about five to six hours to do my homework, and I wasn’t allowed to watch TV…. The workload and pressure the students have in Asia is really intolerable. It is not surprising that there are so many cases of suicide in Asian countries. It is sad, and I am glad that I am who I am; otherwise, I might fall into that category."  The Star also excerpted a story by alumna Tracy Johnson (BA ’06), who is now working on a master’s in education at Canisius College in Buffalo.

His lab secret: never give up

An intrinsic interest in science and a working-class upbringing in a home where television was banned helped steer Michael Siu to a career as a distinguished chemist in Canada, wrote the Toronto Star March 22. “There are many more opportunities in Canada,” says the recipient of the 2007 New Pioneers Science and Technology Award about his decision to remain here. The story was the last of six profiles of winners of New Pioneers Awards, presented by the non-profit agency Skills for Change and sponsored by the Star, recognizing the achievements and contributions of immigrants.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Siu survived the rat race of the colonial education system to gain entry to the prestigious University of Hong Kong, one of only three universities in the densely populated island in the 1970s, said the Star. Later Siu was hired as a research associate by the National Research Council in Ottawa, where he rose through the ranks before becoming a chemistry professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering. “I always wanted to be an academic scholar,” says Siu, 53, who is now director of the Centre for Research in Mass Spectrometry established at York in 2000. Siu says his New Pioneers award is special because it honours not only professional achievement, but also his contributions to this country as an immigrant.

Prostitutes launch constitutional challenge

A group of current and former prostitutes and a professor from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School joined forces yesterday to launch a constitutional challenge aimed at striking down three provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with the sex trade, wrote The Globe and Mail March 22. The challenge effectively amounts to a call for decriminalization.

"Some people may find this controversial," law Professor Alan Young said at a news conference in Toronto, "I don’t." Although the challenge, filed on Tuesday with the Ontario Superior Court, is in the name of three current or former prostitutes, it is being fought by about half a dozen lawyers and some of Young’s students, all of whom are working free.

Currently, prostitution is not illegal. However, communicating for the purposes of prostitution is against the law. That’s one of the three sections being challenged by Young and his supporters, who say the law keeps women from ensuring their clients aren’t likely to harm them. The team is also challenging the provisions on "bawdy houses" and living off the avails of prostitution, saying the two laws force prostitutes onto the street and keep them from hiring security and support staff in the same way other businesses do.

  • Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young and his motley crew of crusaders are challenging our silly and dangerous laws on prostitution, wrote The Toronto Sun March 22. Says Young: "When you get into a car, how do you tell if you’re being picked up by the Green River Killer or a customer who will show you respect?" Living on the avails is illegal, wrote the Sun. Pimps, sure, but also drivers, bodyguards, roommates. The cat? "Even Mary Poppins couldn’t work for a sex trade worker," says Young.
  • The story got wide coverage in other outlets, including the National Post, the Toronto Star and CanWest News Service. Amit Thakore, a student in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, was interviewed about the legal challenge on CBC Radio (Windsor) March 21.

Psychosis studies are old news, says Young

Britain’s The Independent on Sunday newspaper has reversed its stance on legalizing marijuana, citing research showing the drug’s harmful effects and figures reflecting an increase in those undergoing drug treatment, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 22. "The psychosis or mental illness has probably been a claim that has been repeatedly made since the 1950s," said Alan Young, a criminal law expert at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "The political question is: Does the state have the right to deprive 95 per cent of the population of an activity that is harmless to them? I don’t understand what the fuss is all about," he said. "It’s all a panic response on the part of the newspaper."

Wolf gives federal budget a ‘B’

Bernie Wolf, professor of economics and international business at York’s Schulich School of Business and director of its International MBA Program, was interviewed by the Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner March 22 for his reaction to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s federal budget. Asked what grade he would give the budget, he responded: "B. A patchwork quilt of adjustments and goodies, even gimmicks, for a variety of groups."

Curing rats is no guarantee drug will cure humans, says Lexchin

The Canadian Cancer Society is urging people with cancer not to use a drug called dichloroacetate, or DCA, which has shown promise in studies in rats but has never been tested in human cancer patients, wrote Canadian Press March 21. Research that seems hugely promising in animals often does not pan out when the mammal being tested is a human, experts say. “We’ve cured a lot of rats,” noted Dr. Joel Lexchin, Toronto emergency room physician and professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health.

Lexchin noted other concerns about use of the drug, which has not been approved. “If people are already getting access to it and using it in unapproved ways, it could become very difficult to get people to agree to enrol in a clinical trial,” he said. “Because if you are in a clinical trial, you may or may not be getting it (DCA). So why enrol in a clinical trial and take that chance when you can just buy it over the Internet?”

York student wins CBC’s Prime Minister search

Nothing like starting at the top. Joseph Lavoie, 23, a self-confessed political junkie who hopes to one day be an MP, has won his first vote – a CBC Television national search for Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister, noted the Toronto Star March 22. Lavoie, a bilingual political science student at York University’s Glendon College, received a $50,000 prize and a six-month internship with the contest sponsors: Magna International, the Dominion Institute and the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program. Married to a full-time music student, Lavoie said the winnings will help pay off their debts. After his internships are over, he said he may return to school and then launch a political career for real.  

British Muslim leaders to meet with York researchers

Canadian Muslims can counteract home-grown extremism by steering young people away from a radical political interpretation of Islam, a delegation of British Muslim leaders told a round-table discussion yesterday, wrote the National Post March 22. The five British speakers were in Mississauga as part of a week-long Canadian tour to share lessons they learned combatting extremism, particularly after the July 2005 transit bombings in London, and to absorb ideas from their Canadian counterparts. The delegation, whose visit was sponsored by the British government, is scheduled to meet with Toronto police chief Bill Blair and academics at York University.

York’s inter-faith centre accommodates Muslims

In a story about Muslims seeking religious accommodation in the Toronto Star March 22, Mohamed Sheibani, president of the Muslim Students Association of the US and Canada, cited some recent examples of accommodations made for Muslims on Ontario campuses, including the inter-faith centre at York University.

A flower child’s VW beetle

When I was a student at York University in Toronto in the 1960s, I had a part-time job pumping gas at Harold Lehman’s Esso station at Bayview and Broadway, wrote old car columnist Bill Sherk, who is also a former writing instructor at York, in the Brantford Expositor March 22. One of my favourite cars to fill up was the Volkswagen Beetle because, with its rear-mounted air-cooled engine, I never had to check the water in the rad.

Weighed down on the corporate ladder

Weight discrimination or "looksism" is a practice to which few employers would admit, but that doesn’t mean unfair treatment of the heavy set isn’t being swept under the rug, wrote Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner March 17. Research has shown how you look can directly impact how well you do at work, said Ronald Burke, a professor of organizational behaviour at York’s Schulich School of Business. "Attractive people do better and are more often hired," Burke said. "The reality is about four minutes into a (job) interview the die has been cast, based in large part on your appearance."

Speaking for victims of violence

After immigrating to Canada and working as a lottery ticket sales person, Latha Sukumar (MA ‘90, LLB ‘94) ended up pursuing her education at York University, where she earned a masters degree in social psychology and later a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun March 20. Sukumar started her law career believing she would work in the Crown’s office but changed her mind when, during a summer job placement at the Ministry of the Attorney General, she saw many cases involving the sexual abuse of children and the abuse of women. "It opened my eyes to access issues to the legal system," she said.

Playwright set to produce

It’s a quiet afternoon in the suburbs, but within the walls of Theatre Aurora the stage lights are on, actors are auditioning and a new festival is coming to life, wrote the Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner March 20. Playwrights of Spring is a first-of-its-kind festival highlighting the works of writers from across the province. Festival producer Alex Karolyi, who has been finding success with her own playwriting, is excited about the opportunities the festival portends. Karolyi grew up in Newmarket and migrated to Toronto for studies at York University and the prestigious Randolph Academy.

Yoga keeps actor grounded

Rishma Malik‘s eyes light up as she describes the balance she has attained between her enthusiasm for acting and singing and her other careers as a model, media personality and yoga teacher, wrote the Richmond Hill Liberal March 20. Acting was the former York student’s first love. "It was my absolute first dream until I went to Grade 3 and realized…I was the only Indian person in the school – it was impossible." Those insecurities resurfaced when Malik, then a mass communications student at York University, decided to enter – and then won – the Miss India Canada pageant in 1996.

The pageant brought up all sorts of inner demons for the young woman who grew up feeling different and occasionally isolated from her peers. A mentor helped her turn her fears inside out and lifted the burden from her shoulders, however. "It made me have to turn to an inner faith. I was so beaten up by life, by being different from everyone else," she recalls.

On air

  • Miroslaw Polatynski, graduate theatre student and director of Theatre @ York’s Les Belles-Soeurs, spoke about the production and his acting/directing career on OMNI 1 TV’s Na Luzie (Polish program) March 17.