Pro-life vs. pro-choice: the debate goes on

Twenty years ago Monday, when the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalized abortion, both Shelley Gavigan and Denise Mountenay had tears in their eyes, but for wildly different reasons, reported the National Post Jan. 26. Gavigan, then a young feminist activist, was elated that Canadian women would no longer have to be in mortal danger in order to end an unwanted pregnancy, nor plead their case before a tribunal of skeptical doctors. To celebrate the occasion, she brought her young daughter to a rally on a frigid night outside the Toronto clinic of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the abortion provider who had brought about the change by flagrantly breaking the old law.

Mountenay, who would later be sued by Morgentaler for offering "sidewalk counselling" to patients outside this same clinic, was crushed. Having aborted two pregnancies of her own, to her profound regret, she wept at the thought that more women would see abortion as a "quick and easy fix," and wind up as she was, mourning her unborn children, cursing her naivete.

In the years since, as Gavigan became a law professor at York University and Mountenay a pro-life campaigner in Alberta, Canada’s abortion policy has remained in an internationally unique legal limbo, legal but unlegislated, said the Post. Far from a resolution, R. versus Morgentaler 1988 (there were several others, before and after) marked a new beginning in a perennially bitter debate.

Gavigan, in her lecture Friday at a commemorative legal conference at the University of Toronto, described the "fragile, incomplete and contradictory nature" of Dr. Morgentaler’s legal victory. "After Morgentaler, the discourse of the unborn child started appearing in [legal] judgments and it is now ubiquitous," she said, calling this "the dominant ideology of our time," that all women are hostile and potentially dangerous to their fetuses. "We must reinsert the ‘unborn’ into the societal vernacular," she urged the audience. "And realize that the pair speak with one voice, and that voice is hers." This view of the fetus, as something to be spoken for by the mother, with no rights separate from her, is a common target for pro-life campaigners, said the Post.

Schulich edges up in Financial Times ranking

The University of Alberta’s business school rose strongly in global standings of MBA faculties this year, bucking the generally downward trend for top Canadian schools in the closely watched Financial Times standings, reported The Globe and Mail Jan. 28. The Alberta School of Business rose 13 places in the rankings, putting it in a tie for 88th among the world’s leading MBA programs, according to the 2008 FT report.

Among other Canadian schools in the top 100, only the Schulich School of Business at York University registered an increase this year. It edged up to No. 48 from No. 49 in the annual comparison, which was to be released Monday.

  • The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania placed first for the third consecutive year, followed by London, Columbia, Stanford and Harvard. Among Canadian schools of business, University of Toronto led, ranked 40th, followed by York University, ranked 48th, University of Western Ontario, ranked 53rd, then the U of A, reported the Edmonton Journal Jan. 28.

Uncompromising, transformative professor nurtured students and grudges

Pomp, circumstance and hooded academic gowns were the order of the day when York University celebrated its 40th anniversary in March, 1999. Among the invited guests was John R. Seeley, the University’s first professor of sociology, and a former friend and colleague of inaugural president Murray Ross, began a Globe and Mail obituary for Prof. Seeley Jan. 26. "What are you doing here?" a clearly affronted Ross demanded when Seeley, who had travelled from his home in California, arrived at the reception. "I was invited," Seeley replied. Enraged, Ross threw his gown across the room and stomped out and had to be persuaded to return, according to some of the other guests in attendance.

Ross was not alone in his antipathy to Seeley, an elfin-like man of diminutive stature (5 foot 4 at a stretch) but outsized moral and intellectual presence. His maddening refusal to compromise personal ethical standards led to his abrupt departure from teaching positions at several universities. Senior bureaucrats at two Ontario universities vetoed decisions to hire him despite his reputation as a top sociologist who eventually had more than 400 publications, including Crestwood Heights: A North American Suburb, Community Chest: A Case Study in Philanthropy, and a collection of psychological essays, The Americanization of the Unconscious.

But the same qualities that frightened administrators and branded him a troublemaker often made him a transformative influence. His capacity for listening, his respect for the individual and his ability to nurture ideas and people, especially children and young adults, made him a moral beacon for many. "He was more important in my life than either of my parents," criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby (BA ’63) said in an interview.

"He picked up everything I was concerned about before I’d finished the sentence and replied, as always, with astute, sensitive advice," said journalist Rick Salutin, who, like Ruby, was a student at York in the early 1960s. "I have no idea what I’ll do for advice without him."

Mortgage: To fix or to float?

Given the shrinking discount and the uncertainty of the banks going along with future rate cuts, does it make sense to continue to have a floating interest rate on your mortgage? asked a National Post financial columnist Jan. 26. Moshe Milvesky, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, wrote the now widely disseminated study on whether it made sense to lock in your mortgage rate. In the study which looked at decades of interest data, he found consumers did better 88 per cent of the time with a floating rate mortgage. "It’s the other direction that worries me. If the Bank of Canada lowers rates and they raise prime or the banks arbitrarily raise prime…that’s more worrisome because of unpredictability," says Milvesky. He predicts the banks will probably just get stingier with the discounts they offer rather than not passing along Bank of Canada rate cuts.

Curator shows photographer’s manufactured landscapes

There’s nothing like a friendship with a famous fellow to make a gal’s job a little easier. Just ask Mary Reid (MA ’99), the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s curator of contemporary art and photography, reported the Winnipeg Free Press Jan. 26. Half a dozen years ago, while working for the McLaren Art Centre in Barrie, she was introduced to photographer Edward Burtynsky by his Toronto dealer. Burtynsky was already extremely well-known within the art world for his ironically beautiful images of industrial wastelands. But the acclaim last year accorded the 2006 documentary film about him, Manufactured Landscapes, has turned the 52-year-old artist into a world- renowned figure, a kind of visual poet of ecological degradation.

"He’s an art star right now," says Reid, 35, who has curated the new WAG exhibition Edward Burtynsky: In the Pursuit of Progress. "And then there’s his content," says Reid, who has an MA in art history from York University. "He has been doing it since the ’80s, when nobody was thinking about the environment."

Commonwealth colleagues

I met Lewis Perinbam (LLD ’84) 52 years ago, when he invited me to join in the important mission of World University Service of Canada, wrote H. Ian Macdonald, president emeritus of York University, in responise to an obituary in The Globe and Mail Jan. 28. In the following year, we worked together to place 182 students, displaced by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, in Canadian universities. Much later, when we were colleagues in the Commonwealth of Learning, I became aware that his feelings for the Commonwealth matched his love of Canada. He was highly sensitive to its unique characteristics, knowledgeable about its operations and, devoted to its purposes. Seen through the eyes of Lewis, I came to understand Canada as never before. Ever since, when I have been asked in various parts of the world: "What is a true Canadian?", I simply replied: "Just meet Lewis Perinbam and you will know."

Sanctuary status sought for temples

Supporters of failed refugee claimant Laibar Singh are mounting a campaign to ensure Sikh temples continue to offer the same sanctuary a church provides, reported The Province in Vancouver Jan. 28. "Violating the sanctuary of a gurudwara [temple] while the sanctuary of churches has largely been respected will set a dangerous double standard," Cynthia Wright, contract faculty in York’s Geography Department, said in a statement.

Singh, who has twice avoided deportation as a result of protests by his supporters, is living in Surrey’s Guru Nanak Sikh temple in the belief the government will not enter and remove him. Singh entered Canada on a false Indian passport, then failed in a bid for refugee status. He is paralyzed due a medical condition that occurred while in Canada.

Homeowners link together for solar savings

Arun Mukherjee can’t wait for the sunny days of spring and summer. That’s because she wants to reap the benefits of new solar panels installed on the roof of her home last month – and grey, gloomy days just don’t produce that much energy, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 28. "We haven’t seen savings. But we haven’t seen many sunny days. It’s the dead of winter," said Mukherjee, a York University literature professor who lives in the Bathurst and St. Clair neighbourhood. She and her husband, Alok (PhD ’04), who chairs the Toronto Police Services Board, are part of a growing grassroots movement toward using renewable energy.

Back in the spring of 2006, a group of homeowners calling themselves the West Toronto Initiative for Solar Energy (WISE) began investigating how easy it would be to install solar panels on roofs in their area. Modelled after a similar project in Riverdale, the group did much of the legwork, including issuing a request for proposals to negotiate a group deal, arranging financing and manoeuvring through government bureaucracy – from getting building permits at city hall to payments from Queen’s Park. To date, more than 150 families have signed up for the program, which offers two types of solar panels – one that generates electricity, another that heats water. "I thought I would go whole hog. I could afford it," said Mukherjee, who elected to put both types of panels on her roof. "I wanted to be part of clean power, and I wanted to do the right thing."

Former counsellor says summer camp was call of the wild

For many, working at camp isn’t just a summer job, but an exciting adventure, a life lesson and the humble beginnings of a promising career, reported the National Post Jan. 26. Estair Van Wagner, 29, loved the outdoors so much she stayed on as a counsellor at Northwaters Wilderness Program in Temagami, a canoe-tripping camp, after her years as a camper were up. "I felt like I grew a lot from the experiences, figuring out who I was in the world," she says.

And her intense relationship with the outdoors hasn’t changed much since. Not only has she led four week-long canoe trips in Northern Ontario with the camp, she’s also taught in northern communities in Manitoba. Last semester, she did an intensive program in Inuvik, NWT, through her program in law and environmental studies at York University. "The joint degree gives me a chance to practise the rigour of law," she says. "The environmental studies show me how law plays out in things and the relationship we have with our environment." As well, her experiences led Van Wagner and colleagues at Northwaters to found Deepwater (, a non-profit that provides scholarships for youth to attend.

Police probe of ‘slushgate’ urged

Recently the Ontario opposition parties requested the OPP (or RCMP) to launch a criminal investigation into the role played by Dalton McGuinty and key cabinet members with regards to the $32-million "slushgate" fund, wrote J.S. Hislop in a letter published Jan. 26 in the Peterborough Examiner. A letter obtained by Prof. David Noble of York University via a freedom of information application would seemingly support finding out if any "criminal activity" was involved. McGuinty denied any role in a $15-million grant to the United Jewish Appeal, but I also recall his past "I won’t raise your taxes" pledge! As NDP MPP Peter Kormos said, the Ontario auditor general’s report already "implied…a whole lot of unanswered questions." From the viewpoint of one of Ontario’s hard-hit taxpayers, I would urge others to pressure for such an investigation to proceed.

On air

  • Annmarie Morais (BFA ’95) talked about writing the screenplay for recently released urban dance movie How She Move, on "CBC News: Sunday Night" Jan. 27, in a feature that followed her back to York’s Keele campus.
  • Brendan Quine, professor of space engineering in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, talked about pollution-detecting technology, on Radio Canada’s “Les Années Lumieres” Jan. 27.
  • Ashwin Joshi, marketing professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed Canadian travelers using credit and reward cards, on CKRD-TV in Red Deer, Alta., Jan. 25.
  • Carl James, York education professor, was quoted about black-focussed schools, on CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” Jan. 27.