York’s Tubman Institute strives to uncover missing information on African slaves

PhD student Nadine Hunt (BA’02, MA ’04) is one of a number of York University scholars trying to put a face to some of the millions of Africans sold into slavery before England abolished the grisly trade 200 years ago, wrote the Toronto Star March 23. Hunt is part of York’s Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migration of African Peoples, which was to become a full-fledged research institute March 25 with a visit from Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who was to receive an honorary York doctorate of laws the same day.

"Studying slavery helps us understand racism and the true meaning of multiculturalism, that we are a collective," said York history Professor Paul Lovejoy, director of the Tubman Institute and a specialist on the transatlantic slave trade. "We celebrate (white pioneer) Susanna Moodie, but there were blacks in every Canadian village when this country was being settled. Why do we know so little about them?"

The evidence the researchers uncover often stops them cold, said the Star. "You’ll read old ads for runaway slaves and the description might say he has an ‘A’ branded on his arm, which may tell you what shipment he was on from which port in Africa," says Hunt, who is studying the Caribbean slave trade. "We’re only human, so of course it can get to you when you start to get an idea of what their lives were like. I dread the day I find a pamphlet on How to Discipline your Slave, but I know I will."

York PhD student Yacine Daddi Addoun has crossed the Sahara in a pickup truck to Timbuktu to follow the trail many slaves made – on foot – to be shipped abroad, the Star said. "It was horrible to imagine them walking on foot in that heat for hundreds of kilometres on hard, flat ground with no shade at all. Many would have died. If you got sick or weak, they would have left you to die," said Addoun, who is studying the slave trade in Algeria. He also photographs correspondence in which authorities try to justify the slave trade.

Bawdy house battle

Paula Todd, host of CTV’s “The Verdict”, interviewed York law student Ehsan Ghebrai (BA ’05) who is part of the legal team mounting the Safe Haven challenge of three provisions in Canada’s criminal law dealing with prostitution. Ghebrai told Todd: "What we’re really saying with this challenge is that there is Section 7 violation of the charter, right to life, liberty and security of the person, because you’re taking away those things by forcing women out into the streets in vulnerable positions, and taking away their support.

  • When governments are too cowardly to repeal bad laws, the courts inevitably step in, wrote columnist Mindelle Jacobs in The Toronto Sun March 23. Just as judges forced change on the medical marijuana issue, they will hopefully repeal our terrible prostitution laws. Still, the government is too lead-footed to act. So, Alan Young, criminal law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and three former sex-trade workers have launched a constitutional challenge to quash the laws against bawdy houses, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living on the avails.

Just to be clear, Young doesn’t want to strike down the pimping provisions that deal with procuring, exploitation and control, wrote Jacobs. He just wants the section that bans living on the avails of prostitution repealed. Young would like to see the current laws overturned so the provinces and municipalities can step in and regulate what will, hopefully, be a legal activity. “You have murder on one side of the ledger and a big question mark on the government side,” he says. “I’m not saying [the Robert Pickton murder case] wouldn’t happen if these provisions were repealed. But you have to give a sex-trade worker on the street who is exposed to violence…legal options. And there are no legal options.”

  • The Edmonton Sun also carried a story on the Safe Haven initiative March 22.

Police protest TV show targeting predators

In the letter to CTV president Ivan Fecan dated March 14, Tony Warr, Toronto’s deputy police chief, says a planned W-Five broadcast about its investigation exposing sexual predators threatens police investigations and warns that some of the participants may have committed criminal offences, wrote the Toronto Star March 23. York University law professor Alan Young said it’s unclear if any of the men could be charged but if they were, "the entrapment defence doesn’t apply to private action so nothing these people do would necessarily give rise to a defence of entrapment."

However, Young’s not convinced the public interest is served by televised tactics familiar to viewers of American programming, wrote the Star. "What’s the public interest other than good television where, in fact, if the police were doing it we might apprehend real criminals – here we’re just making them into television personalities," he said.

Airlines face transatlantic fare wars

Transatlantic air fares are expected to tumble when an agreement between the European Union and the United States takes effect next spring, posing a fresh challenge to the airline industry, wrote the Toronto Star March 23. It is simply a matter of time before Canada reaches a similar deal with the EU, according to Fred Lazar, economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business. "The EU-US deal should be a good indication of what to expect," he said. But he added any deal would not affect prices. "You are not going to get any dramatic increase in competition. All you’re going to get is a little bit more service between Canadian and European cities," said Lazar.

Suspended student defends cyber talk

Five Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute students have now been suspended between five and 20 days, after posting derogatory comments on the popular social networking Web site Facebook.com, wrote the National Post March 23. Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Jamie Cameron said Internet postings are protected by the Charter, although freedom of expression is subject to “reasonable limits”. “I find it odd that students would be suspended for expressive activities which were undertaken outside of school hours and without using school property,” Cameron wrote in an e-mail yesterday. “I.e., could a student be suspended for participating in a protest on Parliament Hill? I hardly think so.”

Sinicrope seeks federal Tory nod

York alumnus Joe Sinicrope (LLB ’88, BA ‘89), a one-time faithful Liberal who sought to lead the Grits into the 2004 election, is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in the riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming, wrote the North Bay Nugget March 23. "I haven’t changed…the Liberal party has changed," said Sinicrope, a past-president of the Nipissing Liberal Association who now serves as vice-president of the Nipissing-Timiskaming Conservative Association. "The Liberal party has moved away from the things that used to make it palatable."

Oakwood Collegiate student leader intends to study at York

Saeed Selvam, a student at Toronto’s Oakwood Collegiate has been awarded a Lincoln M. Alexander Award, wrote the York Guardian, March 22. "I was ecstatic. When they contacted me, I was caught so off guard," Selvam said at Queen’s Park Wednesday afternoon where he received his scroll signed by Lt.-Gov. of Ontario James Bartleman and Premier Dalton McGuinty along with his $5,000 award. His $5,000 award will most likely go toward his post-secondary education next year at York University where he intends to study political science and international development.

 On air

  • Dawn Bazely, biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, and director of York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability, spoke about southern plant species that might pop up in your garden due to global warming, on CBC Radio (Kingston) March 22.