Former Osgoode Dean recommended decriminalization of marijuana

Gerald Le Dain, the former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School who died [Dec. 18] at 83, was only 44 years old when he was handed the assignment that would make him an improbable counter-culture icon, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) Dec. 26.

In 1969, Canada was grappling with a new and – for those in authority – deeply disturbing phenomenon: young Canadians experimenting with recreational drugs, including marijuana, LSD and speed, wrote The Gazette.

The federal government responded by appointing Le Dain, then dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, to head a five-person commission of inquiry to look at all available knowledge about the non-medical use of "sedative, stimulant, tranquilizing, hallucinogenic and other psychotropic drugs or substances," including their effect on users, why they were becoming popular and what the federal government could do about it.

The Le Dain commission held 46 days of public hearings and heard from 12,000 Canadians. It issued four lengthy reports which, among other things, called for lighter sentences for drug offences, treatment for heroin addicts and warnings about the dangers of nicotine and alcohol. But it was its recommendation to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana that caused the greatest sensation.

The commission concluded the maximum penalties for cannabis offences were disproportionate to any harm marijuana’s use might cause. Many of the recommendations were too explosive for politicians of the day to embrace, but judges soon started moderating sentences and giving offenders absolute discharges for simple possession.

  • Gerald Le Dain had a long and distinguished legal career. But for anyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, Le Dain will be remembered for one thing above all others – his chairmanship of the federal government’s commission of inquiry into the non-medical use of drugs, wrote The Gazette in an editorial Dec. 29.

In 1973, the commissioners stunned the country by recommending, among other things, the decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana. But neither the government nor the country was ready for such a step. And here we are, nearly 35 years later, and the country is still reluctant to make such an eminently sensible change. Le Dain truly was a man ahead of his time.

A jazz giant

Oscar Peterson, who died Dec. 23 of kidney failure at age 82 in his Mississauga, Ont., home, was Canada’s gift to jazz and one of the world’s finest pianists, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) Dec. 26 . His affair with the instrument spanned six decades, resulted in more than 200 recordings and garnered eight Grammys.

Even though Peterson suffered from arthritis, he routinely topped international jazz polls and was named Down Beat magazine’s best jazz pianist 13 times. His memory for notes and lyrics was photographic. He played with such soul, it seemed the piano spoke.

"You can’t just sit down and play the piano. You have to think of phrases, colours, intensities – that’s the only way it can be," said Peterson, who last played the Montreal jazz festival in 2004. "I have to become the piano."

In 1958, Peterson moved to Toronto, where he started the Advanced School of Contemporary Music and taught at York University. His trio disbanded in 1962 when he began to tour solo.

  • Jazz fans and Canadians both home and abroad are mourning the death of Oscar Peterson, the virtuoso known globally as one of the most talented musicians ever to play jazz piano, wrote News Dec. 26.

Renowned for his speed and virtuosity as a pianist, Peterson – who was born in Montreal and later made Toronto his home – made hundreds of recordings in his career, even after a stroke in 1993 disabled his left hand.

"What he was able to achieve [after his stroke], playing with half of what most other pianists had, he was still light years ahead of everyone else," said jazz broadcaster Ross Porter.

Peterson moved to Toronto in 1958 and kept a base in Canada throughout the rest of his career. Peterson has received numerous citations for best jazz pianist from Contemporary Keyboard and Down Beat, was named an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, and served as Chancellor of York University from 1991 to 1994.

  • Few pianists swung as hard or played as fast and with as many grace notes as Oscar Peterson, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 26. The classically trained musician could play it all, from Chopin and Liszt to blues, stride, boogie, bebop and beyond. He led his own jazz trios, performed with such legendary figures as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong – the latter called him "the man with four hands" – recorded more than 200 albums and wrote such memorable works as Hymn to Freedom and the Canadiana Suite. "A virtuoso without peer," concluded his biographer, Gene Lees, in The Will to Swing.

The story of Peterson’s rise from immigrant poverty to world fame is one of popular music’s great inspirational tales. Born in Montreal’s Saint-Henri district, he was the fourth of five children of a Canadian Pacific Railway porter and his wife who came to Canada from the Virgin Islands. His father, Daniel, a self-taught amateur musician and a strict disciplinarian, insisted that his children develop musical skills. Oscar began on piano and trumpet, but dropped the latter after a bout with tuberculosis when he was 7.

He also involved himself in the academic side of music. In 1960, he opened the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto. Peterson’s students included Skip Beckwith, Brian Browne, Wray Downes and Bill King. Although his touring commitments forced the school to close in 1964, Peterson returned to teaching at York’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 1986, when he was appointed as adjunct professor of music in jazz studies. He remained involved with the University afterward, serving as its chancellor from 1991 to 1994.

  • “When somebody has that kind of facility and ease, musicians call this chops,” said David Mott, music professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, in a story about Peterson on “You know, when somebody has those mammoth kinds of chops and there’s a certain kind of way that the music sings.”
  • Word of Peterson’s death at his home in Mississauga, Ont., set off a torrent of international tributes, including a statement from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said “one of the bright lights of jazz has gone out,” wrote the Canadian Press Dec. 24. “He was a regular on the French stage, where the public adored his luminous style,” Sarkozy added. “It is a great loss for us.”
  • Peterson lived in Mississauga since 1972 and is one of only two residents ever to receive the City of Mississauga’s highest honour, the Civic Award of Merit, wrote the Mississauga News Dec. 25.

The first-ever inductee into the Mississauga Arts Hall of Fame, a seven- time Grammy winner and the former chancellor of York University had been in ill health recently and had to cancel concert dates this summer, including a scheduled appearance in the Legends of Jazz series at the Downtown Toronto Jazz Festival.

Councillors could get rude awakening on spending

City councillors voted this month to hand the political hot potato of their own spending to city clerk Ulli Watkiss, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 26 . But the politicians may not like what she finds if she turns for guidance to the rules for federal and provincial representatives. "There needs to be a code put in place as to what constitutes a legitimate public expense," said Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts.

Former York professor inducted into BC entertainment hall of fame

John Juliani was born in Montreal in 1940, wrote The Vancouver Sun Dec. 24 in a story on his induction into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame. He was an actor, writer, producer, director and educator in a career that spanned four decades in a number of different media including radio and film.

Juliani trained at the National Theatre School of Canada and was the first alumnus of that school to serve as a guest teacher. In 1974, he established the graduate studies program in theatre at York University. He died in August 2003 after a short battle with liver cancer. This multi-talented man has his star on the Starwalk along Granville Street for his many artistic contributions.

Flying real deep into the mystic

Literature as a gateway to a higher state of Pierre Trudeau has been accused of many things, but being called a mystic is, as far as I know, a first, wrote reviewer Philip Marchand in the Toronto Star Dec. 23. This hitherto unknown spiritual quality of our 15th prime minister, however, is exactly what Bruce Powe aims to establish in his most recent book Mystic Trudeau: The Fire and the Rose (Thomas Allen Pub., 2007).

Powe, an English professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and the author of a number of highly regarded books on Canadian literature, politics and culture, comes to this uphill battle well armed. He has always had good connections to the Liberal party through his father, the novelist Bruce Allen Powe, a party activist who was an executive assistant to a cabinet minister in the government of Louis St. Laurent.

The young Powe, like so many in English Canada, first laid eyes on Trudeau at the 1968 Liberal leadership convention that made him prime minister. In 1985, the year after Trudeau left Sussex Dr. for the second and final time, Powe had lunch with his hero at a Chinese restaurant in Montreal. The two continued to meet over occasional lunches until 1998. Trudeau died in 2000.

Shine light of hope on Darfur

The word "Kanada" once projected hope to the world, wrote Josh Scheinert, a student at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and his fellow director of STAND Canada (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), Ben Fine, in an editorial for the Toronto Star Dec. 22.

In the Auschwitz concentration camp, there were warehouses for confiscated valuables and other supplies. Prisoners who worked in them often received greater protection and increased rations. The hope associated with these warehouses led the prisoners to nickname the area "Kanada."

In Darfur today we project a different image. It is the image of a nation denying the will of its people, no longer credible as a defender of human rights, weakening the international institutions that give it a voice and rashly throwing money at genocide. Today in Darfur millions are without hope in part because this country has yet to provide any reason for it. For them, there is no hopeful idea of "Kanada”.

It’s time to change that. As a nation that once brought light to hell on earth, we must start to see the necessity of once again projecting ourselves as a light in the darkness. It is time once again to be that beacon of hope. We must not shirk from who we are, as Canadians, and "Kanadians".

Christmas past (way past): An exposé

You don’t have to be religious to recognize the supremacy of consumerism, particularly at this time of year, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 22. It certainly isn’t the Christian component of the celebration that has propelled it into unlikely corners of the planet, making it what one anthropologist has called "the first global consumer holiday."

Merchants have jumped on the Christmas bandwagon in Japan, Hong Kong and northern India, and are increasingly catering to the holiday in Beijing, says Russell Belk, a marketing professor in York’s Schulich School of Business.

The results are sometimes curious, like the Tokyo department store that decorated its Christmas tree with red women’s panties or the one that displayed a crucified Santa Claus. "They put it up for a short time until they were corrected," Belk says of the crucified Santa.

Belk, who has conducted research on Christmas in Asia, says the holiday’s Christian context is lost on most people he’s interviewed there. "They see it as a piece of modernity, as a part of the West," he says.

Diabetes leaves a crippling legacy

Despite the push for more education teams, more clinics and self-management classes, Dennis Raphael, professor in York’s School of Health Management & Policy, Faculty of Health, says even the best health care won’t help those most at risk of diabetes and its complications, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 22. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has been repeatedly linked to poverty worldwide, as are its complications.

"Even with the best medical care, their living circumstances make it virtually impossible for them to be carrying out the activities we know help manage it," said Raphael. "If people have no material resources they have no lives."

He refers to his ongoing study of 60 people with diabetes who are living on welfare or disability in downtown Toronto. These are people who are more concerned about where they grab their next meal than how that meal will affect their blood sugar.

"They know what they’re supposed to eat," Raphael says. "They take their blood counts, they pull these booklets out that they’ve been given, they know of complications. They intellectually know all this stuff. I say, ‘Well, how do you manage your diet?’ The guy laughs. ‘Manage my diet?’ he says. ‘It depends what they’re serving at All Saints Church for lunch.’"

Court upholds civil rights against religious doctrine

Legal disputes involving religious doctrines should not be beyond the reach of the courts, wrote Osgoode student Michelle Landy and co-author Zvi Halpern in an opinion piece for the Toronto Star Dec. 21. Otherwise, claims of religious freedom would immunize wrongful behaviour from legal consequences.

In its decision published Dec. 14, Bruker v. Marcovitz, the Supreme Court has shown itself willing to scrutinize claims of religious freedom on their own terms, and balance them against questions of public order and democratic values.

This remarkable decision has brought Canadian jurisprudence to an entirely new level of multiculturalism, recognizing that religion plays a crucial role in many Canadians’ lives, and that the law cannot be blind to injuries caused within that sphere.

The basic facts of the case are a familiar story to many Jews. Jewish divorce laws require that the man divorce his wife, not the other way around. If a man refuses to write a divorce document, a get, his wife is unable to remarry.

Most Jewish men divorcing their wives give this get freely, but a small minority do not, and their wives are known as agunot – abandoned, chained women. Any children resulting from a union of the aguna are considered mamzerim – individuals barred from marrying within the Jewish community.

Schreiber’s case was ‘tentative at best’ says Osgoode professor

A judge dismissed Karlheinz Schreiber’s $300,000 lawsuit against Brian Mulroney Dec. 20, ruling that the Ontario Superior Court is the wrong jurisdiction for the action, wrote the National Post Dec. 21. The German-Canadian arms dealer chose Ontario to bring his suit against the former prime minister, but Justice Maurice Cullity decided the only connection being that Mr. Schreiber lives here.

"The Ontario connection was quite tentative at best," said Trevor Farrow, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. He added that a successful appeal is unlikely because Judge Cullity’s decision was "factually based."

A larger-than-life premier

At 37, the youngest Ontario premier ever elected and the only Liberal premier other than Dalton McGuinty to win successive majorities, Mitch Hepburn would probably be unelectable today, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 2 in an historical feature story. Even in the 1930s when Ontario liked its premiers to be old, modest, cautious and calm, Hepburn was an anomaly. As his biographer John Saywell, a retired professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, put it, he was hot, impulsive and a populist, flamboyant and immodest, unrestrained in his ambitions and personal appetites, hyperbolic in speech and behaviour, and living on the edge of physical and emotional disaster.

Yet, as Saywell says in Just Call Me Mitch (1992), the St. Thomas farmer and high school dropout was also a gifted leader, an inspired orator and a formidable political opponent. He was perhaps intoxicated with his fame and power and could be as mean and vindictive as he could be generous and compassionate. Yet his eccentricities made him all the more appealing, and he was elected with a huge majority in 1934 and again in 1937.

York alumnus ordained at St. Mary of the Angels

More than 250 people from as far away as Montreal, Toronto and Boston converged on Perth-Andover, NB, on Dec. 7, 2007, for the first Ordination to the Priesthood ever held at St. Mary of the Angels Church since its founding in 1946 by the Franciscans, wrote the Bugle-Observer Jan. 1.

The man ordained was York alumnus Gilbert Doddatto (BA ’83), who had been ordained a deacon in 1990 and was admitted to the Voluntas Dei Institute in 1995.

Fr. Gilbert was born in 1947 in Toronto. He is a retired Toronto teacher who studied philosophy and history at York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, theology at the University of Toronto (St. Michael’s College) and education at Niagara University in New York.

On air

  • Ananya Mukherjee Reed, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the situation in Pakistan following the assassination of Benezir Bhuto, on CBC Radio, Dec. 30.
  • Heather Lotherington, professor in York’s Faculty of Education, spoke about children and video games on G4Tech TV, Dec. 31.