Why did the jury choose second-degree murder?

There is confusion over the verdict finding Robert William Pickton guilty of six counts of second-degree murder, rather than of first-degree murder, reported the Toronto Star and Canadian Press Dec. 10. "Ultimately, it’s not that surprising," said Alan Young, a law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Young said that perhaps the jury had difficulty being convinced the murders were planned and deliberate – an essential element to find a person guilty of first-degree murder "even though in all likelihood they were (planned and deliberate)." He said jurors might have been stymied by a lack of direct evidence on the mode of death.

Three of the victims’ heads were found in buckets with gunshot wounds but the jurors never heard conclusive evidence of who fired the gun. Both Young and Vancouver defence lawyer Mark Jette believe there is no chance that Pickton will ever be paroled. "You don’t need first-degree when you have six second-degree murder convictions," said Young.

  • In a Dec. 9 sketch of Peter Ritchie (LLB ’69), the lead lawyer for serial killer Robert Pickton, Canadian Press reported that he earned a law degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1970.

An architect of ABCP

Pundits tell us that the crisis that has reverberated in global markets since summer was sparked by overextended borrowers. It’s plausible, but dead wrong, reported the National Post Dec. 8. Sure, consumers went out and bought homes, cars and plasma TVs, but the problem was it wasn’t enough debt. Not enough to satisfy investors that, in recent years, have been gobbling up all kinds of debt by means of an innovation called asset-backed commercial paper. So the issuers of ABCP turned to complicated new products that few investors understood and that, when the credit crunch hit, behaved in ways that not even their makers predicted. As a result, $35-billion of ABCP may have lost a chunk of its value and Canada faces one of the biggest financial crises in recent history.

The Financial Post identified Mark Adams (LLB ’89, LLM ’02) as a middle man who was not only instrumental in creating but also in filling the demand for ABCP. In 2005, still in his early 40s, Adams had left a prestigious job at a rating agency to start a company that would make something called asset-backed commercial paper. Back then, few people knew much about the arcane world of ABCP, except that it could be profitable. Fast-forward to 2007 and Adams is at the centre of the storm over $35-billion of seized-up ABCP. Not only is his Skeena Capital Trust one of the biggest issuers of frozen notes, but Adams himself is now widely regarded as a key architect of building a market that is now in limbo, thanks to his role in bringing to Canada some of the riskiest forms of ABCP.

Law prof suggests ways to improve securities regulation

In the last of a series of articles on market regulation Dec. 8, the Toronto Star listed six inherent problems in the system and possible solutions.

Problem: Legal Talent. Unlike the US, where white-collar crime cases can be major career builders for prosecutors, law students and lawyers here don’t have securities regulation on their radar, says Marilyn Pilkington, a professor of law and former dean at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. There’s no incentive for law professionals to specialize in white-collar crime. Solution: Create a team of expert prosecutors focused on market crimes, to work in a special court. A separate "capital markets" court could handle all cases involving securities offences, regardless of jurisdiction, says Pilkington.

Problem: Deterrence. There’s a perception within the courts that illegal insider trading, selling fake stock and misleading investors doesn’t cause much harm relative to other wrongdoings. "Used to dealing with crimes of violence, judges look at well-dressed people and think, this is someone who’s employed, looks like a decent person, and it’s not the most egregious crime," says Osgoode’s Pilkington. Solution: "Shift the mindset," says Pilkington, and send a message.

Tell the truth, Monahan advises Mulroney

Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, discussed what to expect when Brian Mulroney appears before the House of Commons’ Ethics Committee to answer questions about dealings with Kalrheinz Schreiber, on CBC Radio’s “The House” Dec. 8. Asked how he would advise Mulroney, Monahan said: “I think the first thing is, you’ve got to tell the truth. That’s the number one rule, the number one principle here. I think also he has to shy away from rhetoric, any kind of attack on the committee. I think he has to be respectful of the members of the committee, even if they are not necessarily respectful to him.” Monahan also said: “The committee members should not try to grandstand or try to play Perry Mason in terms of cross-examining Mr. Mulroney, because I don’t think they’ll be very effective at it and I think it may end up derailing the proceedings.”

Reburbishing Bruce could be a Pickering-style budget fiasco

The $5.2 billion project to fully refurbish four Candu reactors by 2013 is one of the biggest construction projects in Canada and could make or break Canada’s nuclear industry, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 8. Renovating and restarting just two Candu reactors at Pickering A, as taxpayers know, cost publicly owned Ontario Power Generation $2.5 billion – wildly above the initial $800 million estimate to repair all four Pickering units. "The test is, do the (Bruce) units come on line on budget and on time, and how long do they stay on line?" says Mark Winfield, professor of environmental studies at York University. "The record so far does not inspire confidence, to put it mildly."

Ottawa passes buck on funding delay for TTC

Intergovernmental wrangling and red tape are holding up federal funding for Union Station, a fast transit line to the airport and the York University subway project, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 8. But it’s not Ottawa’s fault, federal Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Lawrence Cannon said Friday. In a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade, Cannon said he’s as frustrated as anyone that Union Station continues to crumble, there’s no airport link and funding deals for the subway and TTC rolling stock have yet to be inked.

Meanwhile, no such problems are occurring in nearby regions. Cannon expects to conclude deals next month providing $263 million of federal cash for transit in Brampton, Mississauga and York Region.

Ottawa announced $697 million in funding to extend the subway into York Region earlier this year, but Cannon said a formal deal has yet to be signed with the province, which is to pay one-third of the cost. Meanwhile, Mayor David Miller has accused Ottawa of throwing up roadblocks by insisting the city look at bringing in private partners.

Will the condo market collapse or soar?

The other day I visited the offices of Aria, a new Toronto architectural firm, while researching a story about Toronto’s building boom, and inadvertently sparked a lively debate between two observers of development in Toronto, who happen to be husband and wife, wrote the National Post’s Peter Kuitenbrouwer Dec. 6. He was referring to James McKellar, associate dean of the Schulich School of Business at York University and an investor in Aria, and his wife, Clelia Iori, one of Aria’s two practising architects.

Earlier in his career, McKellar worked as an architect in Philadelphia and Calgary, and was “wiped out,” he says, in that city’s real estate crash of 1983. He then set up a real estate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining Schulich in 1991. Having seen the real estate market ebb and flow over a few decades, in two countries, McKellar believes the recent display of greed among real estate agents fighting in the line to buy condos for the 80-storey tower that Bazis International proposes for One Bloor Street East, was a sign of an overheated market whose end is near.

"I’m not as much of a doom and gloomsayer,” Iori says. “What really hurt business south of the border is the sub-prime lending. We don’t have that here.”

Sunshine linked to stock market performance

If you are worried about the recent volatility in the stock market, perhaps you should let the weather be your guide, suggested the Washington Post Dec. 3 in a story reprinted in the Calgary Herald Dec. 8. Buy cloudy. Sell sunny. Mark Kamstra, a finance professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, argued that seasonal variations in the markets might be linked with a psychological condition known as seasonal affective disorder, which is linked to diminished amounts of sunlight starting in the fall. Kamstra based his argument on a study he conducted that looked at the number of daylight hours and stock market performance in countries located at different latitudes‚ where the amount of sunlight varies naturally. People with seasonal affective disorder tend to become depressed as the days grow shorter.

Policing the police is no easy task

It’s fair to say Toronto Police Services Board chairman Alok Mukherjee (PhD ’03) has mellowed somewhat in the three decades since the stubborn, activist graduate student came to Canada from India, reported The Globe and Mail Dec. 8. For years, the police board suffered from a shattered reputation. It took an outsider – one whose appointment initially drew fierce criticism – to give Torontonians a relatively novel dynamic: a police board and a police department that actually get along. "Civilian oversight cannot be symbolic," says Mukherjee, sitting in his sparsely decorated seventh-floor office at the Toronto Police headquarters – just down the hall from Police Chief Bill Blair’s office. "We are not intended to do [the police force’s] bidding. We must show that we can have meaningful oversight."

Student organizes holiday feast for newcomers

Guess who’s coming to dinner? David and Denise Hutchinson didn’t know – the names of their guests, the country they came from, what language they spoke, but no matter, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 9. The table was set for 10 – there were charger plates, Grandma’s silver and Christmas crackers – and all the good will of the season. The Hutchinsons were one of 45 families hosting a Christmas dinner last night for 120 newcomers to Canada. "They may not understand the new culture and miss their old culture," says Kathy Lewis, a 25-year-old York University student who has organized the dinner for the last three years and lives in the neighbourhood. "It’s a celebration they don’t understand, but everybody else does and they feel on the outside. We want to make them feel they belong and introduce them to people who will love them at Christmas time."

Controversial Golden Compass is a beautiful story, says TA

Some Hamiltonians were blissfully unaware of the controversy swirling around The Golden Compass movie that opened in theatres Friday, reported the Hamilton Spectator Dec. 8. The movie is based on a children’s book that is part of a trilogy by Philip Pullman about a battle against God. The "Magisterium" in the book is portrayed as an evil force of people, but has the same name the Catholic Church uses for teaching the authority of the pope and bishops. The Halton Catholic School District Board pulled the book from its schools’ shelves in mid-November for a review after it received a request to do so. A "beautiful epic story of very high quality" is how Majero Bouman, a teaching assistant in York’s English Department, describes The Golden Compass.

Dance grad coaches Ojibwa youth for Toronto show

The music of Timbaland is blasting inside the gym of the brand new school on an Ojibwa reserve of just under 400 people. About 20 teens in socks or running shoes are going through the hip-hop routine they’ve been diligently practising for the last few weeks, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 8. In May, they will be doing this routine, and others yet to be created, on the stage of the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto, when a show that is much more than a performance comes to town. It’s called Outside Looking In. Tracee Smith (BA ’06), a 28-year-old dancer, choreographer, manager of aboriginal affairs for a national investment adviser and MBA candidate, is realizing a dream – literally. She studied ballet, jazz and modern dance at York University, then at Ryerson, but outside of school she was attracted to hip hop. She left Toronto to pursue her dream in L.A. But around the time in 2004 when she was realizing she wasn’t suited for the American dance and music industry, Smith woke up from a dream with tears in her eyes. In her dream she had seen a group of native kids. Right then, she said, she knew she should leave L.A. Her career path lay elsewhere.

Small changes can make a difference

Craig Bridges (MES ’99) has thrown out the idea of buying cheap, plastic trinkets for Christmas, reported the North Bay Nugget Dec. 10. "It’s not part of our family. It’s a small change, but it’s a big issue," Bridges said of the disposable toys, preferring to have his children spend time playing outdoors. Bridges is the Green Party candidate for the Nipissing-Timiskaming riding. He joined about 30 people at a rally outside city hall Saturday to draw attention to the small steps individuals can take to combat climate change. Bridges has a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University where he studied corporate management and global finance.

Student finds out zero doesn’t always mean zero

Amanda Boden has discovered that when a product’s packaging says it contains "zero trans fat," it doesn’t necessarily mean it, reported the Belleville Intelligencer Dec. 8. The Tweed native, who is a student at York University, likes to eat healthy and she has been eating Quaker Oatmeal To Go Bars under the assumption that what was stated on the label was true – zero trans fat. She was stunned, she said, to read that the bars contained hydrogenated oil – a sure sign that trans fat is present. She telephoned Quaker and was told each bar contained 0.16 gm of trans fat. But don’t blame Quaker for fudging its packaging claims – Health Canada actually allows food manufacturers to advertise zero trans fat as long as the product contains 0.2 grams or less of trans fat.

Dark day for integrity-based journalism

The world of journalism has been dealt a savage blow with the loss of one of its champions, Byron Christopher, wrote Sherwood Park News Dec. 7. Recently, the award-winning investigative journalist was terminated by his employer. Christopher’s coverage of an Alberta energy company’s accused support of a Sudanese government responsible for genocide was discouraged. While other media groups in Edmonton turned away from the story, Christopher pressed on. His work has also included coverage of the Nicaraguan civil war. Former Nicaraguan charges d’affair for Canada, Pastor Valle-Garay, who teaches in the Faculty of Arts at York University, said the following upon hearing the news: "This is the saddest news I have heard in a long time. People, with rare exception, have neither the moral authority nor the guts to recognize principles in broadcasting."

On air

  • André deCarufel, director, Joint Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA Program, talked about how graduates are the measure of this program, which is the top in Canada and among the world’s best, on “Weekend Business” on 680News (CFTR-AM) in Toronto Dec. 9.