Technical expertise should not come with a viewpoint

Last week in Ontario we were reminded daily of the miscarriages of justice caused by forensic pathologist Charles Smith – the many parents and caregivers charged and some found guilty of murdering children, the scores of lives ruined and families destroyed, wrote James C. Morton (LLB ’85), a Toronto litigation lawyer and adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in an Edmonton Journal opinion piece published Feb. 8.

The simple solution, wrote Morton, is to make the expert witness system work the way it purports to work already, to recognize that expert witnesses are expected to offer impartial, unbiased views, and have the Court itself call them in, rather than the parties to a case. The courts could establish a roster of respected experts and either the Crown or the accused could request that the judge appoint one. But the judge would choose.

Experts would be required to know their obligations to the court – to disclose any conflicts of interest, for example, and recuse themselves in such cases. More importantly, they would have to detach themselves from issues of guilt or innocence. (Pathologists already step over the line, for example, when they state that "this was murder"; that is not their conclusion to draw.) Ideally, expert witnesses would not talk to either party in a case outside the courtroom, defence or prosecution, including the police. Certainly they should not know anyone’s "theory of the case."

Canada‘s climate-change policies have been ineffective and irresponsible

It is no surprise that Canada came under withering international criticism at the December United Nations climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia. Despite widespread agreement on the dire prospects, Canada is a long way from facing up to the need for effective action. This is the blunt conclusion reached by York environmental studies Prof. Mark Winfield in an article in the January 2008 issue of Behind the Headlines, published by the Canadian International Council. 

As Winfield concludes in his article, Climate Change and Canadian Energy Policy: Policy Contradiction and Policy Failure, “an effective overall greenhouse gas reduction strategy will require the full engagement of the federal government and all the provinces and territories. Both levels of government will need to reorient their policies related to energy, transportation, land-use, natural resource development and management in fundamental ways. The initiatives we have seen so far have barely begun the process.”  

Winfield points in particular to what he describes as Canada’s de facto energy policy, with its fiscal and other supports for the production and export of energy sources that generate the greatest greenhouse gas emissions, and limited support for the development of alternatives.  

New drug rules pose grave risks

The federal government is about to overhaul the way drugs are regulated in Canada to give consumers faster access to breakthrough treatments, but some medical experts and political critics are worried the changes will turn Canadians into guinea pigs for new drugs that haven’t been adequately tested, reported The Globe and Mail Feb. 8. "I question the need for relaxing premarket standards when currently they’re not catching a significant portion of the drugs with risks," said Mary Wiktorowicz, Chair of the School of Health Policy & Management in York’s Faculty of Health. 

Student applauds endorsement of black-focused school

A dozen groups have thrown their support behind an alternative Africentric school, stressing it would not be segregation, as Premier Dalton McGuinty has charged, but a way to "re-integrate" disengaged kids back into public schooling, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 8. Students, teachers, activists and professors held a news conference yesterday at Queen’s Park to support the controversial proposal adopted last week by the Toronto District School Board.

Krystle Skeete, 24, who is about to graduate from York University’s Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, says she supports the idea because she remembers being inspired by a black teacher who taught her about such African-Canadians as pioneer newspaper publisher Mary Ann Shadd – lessons often not taught in mainstream schools. "I think we should do everything; have anti-racist curriculum in all schools but also try an Africentric alternative school," said Skeete Thursday at the news conference. "Some schools don’t teach black history at all. I know one 17-year-old who doesn’t know who Nelson Mandela is. Yet look at the United States, where Africentric schools and black colleges do really well."

  • The London Free Press also reported Feb. 8 that Krystle Skeete wishes there had been an Africentric curriculum when she was in high school. "I believe the focus right now is very important for a lot of our youth," said Skeete. "They are in dire need of seeing a reflection of themselves within our (black) history.”  

Detecting the differences between Gospels

At the Jan. 27 service at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Port Hope, retired York University professor and St. Mark’s honorary assistant Patrick Gray startled the congregation by giving them a hint of what’s in store for the Lenten study group this year, reported the Port Hope Evening Guide Feb. 8. That day’s Gospel reading from Matthew was about the calling of the disciples. What you would only notice if you put the Gospels side by side, he pointed out, was the fact that Mark says James and John left their father, Zebedee, in the care of the servants. Matthew left that detail out: the sons just up and left their poor old father adrift in the boat – a radical change in just a few words! That little change, he suggested, revealed just how urgent and radical Matthew wanted to say the call of Jesus was. 

CFL assistant coach on short list for York football job, says Star

He’s the son of a Canadian Football League legend and now Ron Lancaster Jr. is a serious candidate to be the next head coach of a struggling York University football program, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 8. Lancaster has been teaching at Westdale Secondary in Hamilton for the past year, but he has an enviable record as an assistant coach in the CFL with five Grey Cup appearances – including wins with Toronto (1991), Hamilton (1999) and Edmonton (2005).  

Also rumoured to be on the short list following York’s national search, which included consultation from former CFL player Neil Lumsden, are a high-school coach, two university coaches and another with pro experience. Paul Forbes, director of athletics and coach at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College, was interviewed, as was York interim coach Andy McEvoy, who took over after Tom Gretes was fired. Sources told the Star that Jamie Barresi, former offensive coordinator with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and last year a coach with the BC Lions, is also being considered, as is Mike McLean, defensive coordinator with the 2007 Vanier Cup finalist Saint Mary’s Huskies.  

Refusing comment on the short list, Pat Murray, York’s director of sport and recreation, did say a new coach would be appointed in the next few weeks.  

York routs hockey Badgers in finale

The Brock men’s hockey team ended the regular season with an 8-1 drubbing at York University Thursday night, reported the St. Catharines Standard Feb. 8. 

On air

  • Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, a political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, participated on a panel about the social effects of globalization on India, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Feb. 7.
  • Michael Jenkin, York computer science & engineering professor, talked about AQUA, the amphibious research robot his team developed, in a documentary about its field test in Barbados, on Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet” Feb. 7.
  • Multicultural Week at York was featured on “Omni News: South Asian Edition” (Toronto) Feb. 7.
  • Richard Weisman, law & society professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about disgraced pathologist Charles Smith’s apology to William Mullins-Johnson, one of the people his testimony helped wrongfully convict, on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Morning” Feb. 4.