Charting the impact of the charter

Constitutional experts at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School weighed in on the impact of Canada’s Charter of Rights & Freedoms 25 years after it became law.

  • If polls can be believed, most Canadians are delighted with the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, which became Canada’s supreme law on a stormy spring Ottawa day 25 years ago this Tuesday, reported the Ottawa Citizen April 15. Patrick Monahan, the dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, has no qualms about saying the charter has made Canada a better place. "It’s a fairer society," he says. "It’s a society that treats individuals with greater concern and respect, and I think it’s a society that provides for checks and balances on the exercise of political power."
  • Since 1982, somewhere between 450 and 500 cases based on the charter have climbed the judicial ladder to the Supreme Court of Canada, reported Canadian Press April 14. Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan has tracked them and found the challengers were successful just 35 per cent of the time. And not all those rulings resulted in laws being struck down, since many cases focused on procedural issues such as the need for police to warn suspects of their rights or be more careful about searches and wiretaps. It may have been those criminal cases that prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to conclude the country needs more law-and-order judges, but Monahan disputes the notion that the current bench has been soft on crime. "I don’t see a case that can be made that the courts, in their interpretation of the charter, have been frustrating the efforts of the police," he says. "Typically, what has happened [after adverse rulings] is that Parliament goes back and comes up with a new procedure."
  • Not everyone agrees that the charter has been the unmitigated success that many promised or hoped, wrote York Distinguished Research Professor Allan Hutchinson in a Globe and Mail book review April 14. In particular, he wrote, there is striking disagreement over whether its interpretation and implementation by the Supreme Court of Canada has worked to the benefit of the less advantaged members of society: Have Canadians been gifted a people’s package or sold an elitist bill of goods?

City threatens to raid subway fund to balance budget

Fed up with relying on polite pressure and good intentions voiced by others, politicians on Toronto’s budget committee have opted to strike a blow against Queen’s Park, said the Toronto Star in a commentary April 14. They have voted unanimously in favour of launching a judicial review, hoping that a court will force the province to pay a $71 million bill for welfare, shelter and child-care costs unfairly loaded onto city residents. Regardless of its chances of success, this lawsuit should proceed, said the Star. If the province fails to step forward to fill the $71 million gap in Toronto’s budget, city officials say they will have to balance their books with $41 million taken from a reserve account plus $30 million drawn from a fund meant to cover cost overruns on subway construction out to York University and into Vaughan. While there is real need for the subway, it is also one of Finance Minister Greg Sorbara’s pet projects. Drawing money from here is another way to show provincial leaders that Toronto will no longer be passive, or quiet, or patient when it comes to receiving fair treatment.

  • "Global News Morning" mentioned city council’s threat to dip into funds earmarked to a subway to York, on its April 13 newcast.

Chemicals and destroyed habitat continue to threaten birds, says biologist

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, the gutsy American scientist whose 1962 bestseller Silent Spring launched the environmental movement, began a Winnipeg Free Press review April 14 of York biologist Bridget Stutchbury’s book Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World’s Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them. Thanks to Carson, DDT was banned, and endangered species of birds like the American eagle and peregrine falcon were brought back from the knife-edge of extinction. But don’t be fooled. All is not well in the world of birds. In Silence of the Songbirds, Stutchbury updates Carson, spelling out the many ways that birds are in much greater danger now than ever before and speculating about the possible consequences of their collective demise. She also indicates some of the measures that can reverse this scary trend.

Stutchbury teaches at York University, and one of the strengths of her book is her reliance on scientific studies presented in an accessible manner, writes reviewer Gene Walz. She is also a knowledgeable birder whose argument is punctuated by personal encounters with birds on her woodlot farm or research trips. Silence of the Songbirds is not just another doom-and-gloom warning. It’s a fascinating treasure trove of information about birds and their migratory efforts. It also includes useful suggestions for action by ordinary citizens.

  • Stutchbury talked about her book with host Bob McDonald on CBC Radio’s "Quirks And Quarks" April 14, as migrating song birds return in droves from their wintering grounds in the tropics and begin to procreate. But Stutchbury, Canada Research Chair in Ecology and Conservation Biology, paints a bleaker picture of these feathered migrants, comments McDonald. She says the landscape these birds depend on is changing.

Forgers caught with fake York degrees

Displaying an array of confiscated fake degrees from universities from Toronto and Montreal to the Maritimes – plus crisp copies of passports from Canada and China, Ontario driver’s licences and even fake legal stamps from colleges and lawyers – police announced Friday in Markham they have charged five visiting Chinese students with forgery of alarming proportions, reported the Toronto Star April 14. "This was quite a brazen operation. You could create an entire false identity" with the range of documents being pumped out of the high-quality printers in the house once shared by all five accused students, said York Police Chief Armand La Barge.

On display Friday were replicated degrees – sold for $7,000 each – from the University of Toronto, York University, the University of Western Ontario, Carleton, Brock, Concordia, the University of Montreal, Seneca College, George Brown College, Fanshawe College, Cape Breton University, and the seal of Cambrian College. Police said these are merely a sample of the schools whose degrees were copied. Also on display were two high-quality printers confiscated along with five computers and two laptops, said Detective Matthew Ma, an expert in high-tech crime. He pointed to a fake Chinese passport still sitting in the tray of one printer, and said counterfeit transcript forms from York University were also in the machine when it was seized.

York’s Nightingale text goes digital

Top picks from books digitized by the University of Toronto’s Thirteen Scribes include Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not, reported the Toronto Star April 16. The 1860 volume from York University laid the foundations for modern nursing.

Law grad picks up father’s NDP mantle

At 42, labour lawyer Rachel Notley (LLB ’90) is set to replace Raj Pannu as the New Democrat standard bearer for Edmonton-Strathcona, reported the Edmonton Journal April 14. Her chances for success are strong, considering that her near-sainted predecessor won last time in a landslide. She’s knocking on doors nightly, taking nothing for granted. But it seems very likely that the personable mother of two will be the second generation of Notleys to assume a seat in the Alberta legislature. Pere Grant Notley was the first provincial New Democrat to win in a general election. Rachel co-founded an NDP club at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and worked at the Parkdale Poverty Clinic.

Business grad runs Fort McMurray theatre

Keyano Theatre welcomes new general manager Jon-Paul Walden, reported Fort McMurray Today April 14. Walden joined the theatre three weeks ago from Vancouver. He grew up performing but decided to turn his attention to the business side of theatre, receiving his MBA from York University in 2001. Upon receiving his degree, he made his way back to Vancouver where he ran the Vogue Theatre for five years. Waldon also had the opportunity to work in New York for Merchant Ivory Productions where he helped put together their 35-year celebration at Carnegie Hall.

Slain soldier known for intensity

Never, in recent memory, have we seen so many slain Canadian soldiers returned to our soil at one time, reported the Daily Graphic in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, April 14. Six of our own cut down on Easter Sunday: Sgt. Donald Lucas, Master Cpl. Chris Stannix, Cpls Aaron Williams and Brent Poland (BA ’92), and Ptes. David Greenslade and Kevin Kennedy – all killed by a roadside bomb 75 km west of Kandahar city. Poland, of Sarnia, was described by his superiors as the educated veteran at 37 with a history degree from York University and a media arts degree from Ryerson, renowned for his intensity.

Stronach has a history of quitting

Belinda Stronach is now 40 and has a history of leaving a trail of unfinished projects in her wake, noted Kamloops This Week April 13 in an opinion piece about her decision last week to leave politics and return to her father’s auto-parts company, Magna International. She quit York University after one year (1985-86). Her two marriages ended before death did part Stronach and her husbands. She left the Conservative party a mere year after being elected – and despite being one of the key brokers who brought the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance together.

On air

  • York atmospheric scientist Peter Taylor discussed the Canadian Space Agency’s made-in-Canada weather station that will leave for Mars in August on NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander, on "CTV News and Current Affairs"report April 14. The weather station will send back information about the temperature, the clouds and the atmospheric pressure on Mars.
  • York kinesiology Prof. Gamal Abdel-Shehid (PhD ’99) talked about how difficult it was for blacks to break into professional sports 60 years ago when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier, on "CBC News and Current Affairs" April 15.
  • Glendon political science Professor Ian Roberge discussed the possibility of election reform in Ontario, on Radio-Canada’s "Telejournal" broadcast in Montreal and Ottawa April 15.