Graffiti article lacked context, say York anti-racism profs

Your March 6 issue contained two articles about events at York University, wrote Michael Brown and Mark Webber, professors in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, in a letter to the Canadian Jewish News March 20. Both, unfortunately, lacked any context that might have helped readers understand the issues at York and in the community at large.

“Anti-Semitic graffiti discovered at York U” reported the discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti in Scott Library. Unfortunate as such graffiti are, they are not unique to York, and they are not unique to Jews. Anti-black and anti-Italian graffiti have also been found recently at the University, and anti-Indian and anti-Pakistani graffiti are present there and elsewhere. University students should be immune to the ideas and expressions of the kinds of prejudice the graffiti manifest. Sadly, they are not, but it is important to situate the CJN’s reporting in the larger context, to ensure an adequate understanding of the world in which we live and of the ways in which we can combat hatred and prejudice, whether they are directed at Jews or at others.

York takes very seriously its obligation to promote understanding. That might have been clear to readers if the second article, “Educators discuss challenges of Holocaust education,” which reported on a panel discussion at York about teaching the Holocaust in settings that might not be expected to be receptive to it, had received proper contextualization.

The article did not note that the panel was presented by the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Anti-Racism Education at York University. That program, coordinated by the writers of this letter, is a unique initiative by York to fight prejudice at home and abroad by equipping future educators from Canada, Germany and Poland with the knowledge and skills to teach about the Holocaust and against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and prejudice. It has been supported by the Appels and other individuals, as well as by governments, universities and charitable foundations in Canada, Poland and Germany since 2001. Almost all of its participants are non-Jews. The program is evidence of the strong, ongoing commitment of York to fighting all manifestations of prejudice, which is worthy of note.

Bullies tend to relate poorly with parents

About 10 per cent of children bully persistently through adolescence, and many bullies have troubled relationships with their parents and friends, according to new research, wrote The Globe and Mail March 25 in a story about the results of new study led by Debra Pepler, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health. The study is the first to follow the development of bullying patterns from late elementary to the end of high school, the researchers say.

"These are the highest-risk youths in our society. They haven’t learned the essential lesson of how to get along with others in relationships. They persistently use power and aggression to control and distress others," said Pepler. The study also found that children who consistently bully tend to be morally disengaged and lack compassion for their victims and guilt for their actions.

  • Childhood bullies frequently fight with their parents, feel they can’t count on them and aren’t closely supervised a Toronto-based study shows, wrote the Toronto Star March 25.

That means bullies not only require counselling on how to relate to peers, but also parents – and their parents need to take part, says lead author Debra Pepler, a York University professor and scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children, considered one of the country’s leading experts in the field.

"Focusing on the child alone is not enough," she said. "You can’t just provide support at school and hope that the behaviour changes or that the learning transfers to other contexts. These are problems parents need to deal with."

While not blaming parents for bullying, Pepler said that as adults, "we are all in positions of power over children and youth. One of the most important lessons is to look at if we, as individuals or adults, are using it aggressively; we are modelling it for children."

Pepler said the study is among the first "to confirm that children who use power and aggression in their relationships have relationship problems and need relationship solutions. "Let’s not have them sit on a bench for an hour to teach them not to bully. An hour on the bench is not going to teach them how to relate better next time."

Pepler said while bullying might start in the home, it can also "start in the peer group – youth get a lot of power by victimizing each other. That’s one of the ways of increasing their status."

  • A study on the development of bullying patterns from late elementary to the end of high school has found that many bullies have troubled relationships with their parents and friends, wrote The Canadian Press March 25.

The study’s lead author Debra Pepler, a psychology professor in York’s’ Faculty of Health, says that bullies are the highest-risk youths in our society. She says they haven’t learned the essential lesson of how to get along with others in relationships and persistently use power and aggression to control and distress others.

Human rights tribunals have mandate to curb hate speech

Should human rights commissions judge what is, or is not, hate literature? It’s an old question, being asked again after a Muslim group filed complaints against Maclean’s magazine before the federal as well as the Ontario and British Columbia human rights commissions, wrote Haroon Siddiqui in a Toronto Star opinion piece March 23. The complainants cited a 4,800-word article, "The future belongs to Islam," an excerpt from a Mark Steyn book, America Alone. It said Muslims, including those in Canada, pose a demographic, ideological and security threat to the West. The article incensed many Canadians, including Osgoode Hall Law School graduates Naseem Mithoowani (LLB ’07), Khurrum Awan (LLB ’07), Muneeza Sheikh (BA ’03, BA ’04, LLB ’07) and York student Ali Ahmed, who had already counted 18 other articles in Maclean’s they perceived to be anti-Muslim, including some by Barbara Amiel.

The students met Maclean’s editor Ken Whyte and deputy editor Mark Stevenson who refused their request for equal space to respond. The students – since joined by another, Daniel Simard – went to the human rights commissions, with the backing of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "It was our initiative all along," said Awan, not the Congress’s. "We did all the legal research, all the drafting of the documents. We wanted an institutional backer," and the Congress came on board. The commission in BC has set June 2 for a hearing. The other two are still at the investigative stage, which is where Maclean’s’ defenders want to kill off the complaints. They argue that human rights commissions have no business limiting free speech. But by law it is the business of several of these tribunals to assess and curb hate speech.

The problem with HRCs

Recent bad publicity has put those who have long championed the speech suppressive powers of human rights commissions in something of a bind, wrote Terry Heinrichs, political science professor at York’s Glendon campus, in a letter to the National Post March 25. As long as commission efforts were directed only against the far right, they were of great benefit – convictions were assured, the process had low visibility and the costs to defend were high. However, when commissions began to proceed with complaints against mainstream publications, things changed; the respectability and deep pockets of the targets meant that low visibility was no longer possible, high costs would not be a deterrent and complaints would likely be decided ultimately by courts, not the commissions.

Now that the commissions have been exposed as modern day Star Chambers, what strategy should be adopted by those who want the benefits of speech regulation without its costs? The suggestion by Irwin Cotler that such complaints should require authorization by the attorney-general is no real answer, since all of the myriad injustices inherent in the prosecution of such complaints would still be present. The same is true of Professor Darren Lund’s suggestion that commissions be given "more resources" so that they could weed out "nuisance cases." More resources poured into a faulty process would produce more, rather than less, injustice.

David Matas’s suggested remedy – retaining the speech suppressive program of the commissions, but preventing people from using the commissions to promote a non-human rights agenda – is bizarre. By suppressing expression deemed offensive to some protected group, these commissions would be promoting an anti-human rights agenda. "If somebody tries to hit you with a chair," Matas says, "you don’t blame the chair." Exactly – you take the chair away from them. And that is precisely what should be done with the commissions’ speech suppressive powers.

‘Sorry’ speech marks birth of a new Australia

The "Sorry" speech began at 9am on Wednesday, Feb. 13, the first day of Australia’s newly elected Labor government’s first Parliament, wrote Carla Lipsig-Mumme, coordinator of the Labour Studies Program at York University, in a Toronto Star opinion piece March 23. The previous day, hundreds and hundreds of indigenous people – individuals, leaders, members of all the stolen generations – had flooded into Canberra.

The day was like no other. People phoned each other, talked in the street. Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s "Sorry" speech was superb. It was direct, short, powerful, eschewing pretentiousness. Its moral voice is unmistakable. After the "Sorry," Rudd called for a move beyond partisan politics for "this one issue." His government will set up a kind of war cabinet to tackle the issues of aboriginal inequality, starting with housing and education.

It would be good to bring some Canadian experiences, good and bad, regarding the role of government in revivifying the economic life of remote communities, to the attention of this astonishingly energetic new government, wrote Lipsig-Mumme. It would be good to link the Labor government’s forceful commitment to transforming the culture of energy use, to new divisions of labour in industrial production and new incentives for business to outsource their production to the remote communities. Here too, Australian-Canadian exchanges would be valuable, in both directions.

Still on the wrong track

Canada’s finance minister, Jim Flaherty, sat across the table from us last week during a Sun editorial board meeting and talked extensively about public transit and moving people around in this city, wrote Rob Granatstein in The Toronto Sun March 23. And the more he talked, the more he proved he didn’t understand what he was talking about. I have no qualms with Flaherty making progress on Union Station a priority, wrote Granatstein. But we’re not on the same track when it comes to the feds’ funding of infrastructure in Toronto, both for transit and roads.

Bluntly, the money isn’t moving fast enough. Flaherty, federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, Toronto Mayor David Miller and TTC Chairman Adam Giambrone, were together Tuesday to announce money for buses for Toronto – cash first promised in 2004. The subway to York University and beyond fell a year behind schedule because the city can’t get going until it gets money from the feds, and the feds won’t pay until the receipts from jobs now underway start flowing in. Hey Abbott, Costello, who’s on first? If we can’t get these little things figured out, how are we ever supposed to have a decent transportation system?

Two business students win Ontario championship

When Lawrence Krimker was 15 years old he started a small business that grossed $20,000 in revenue and netted him $10,000 in profit, reported The Toronto Sun March 24. It was a home service directory that listed businesses in his Richmond Hill community. Krimker’s next venture was an office calendar filled with advertisements that he distributed to local businesses. It netted him a tidy profit as well. But it was his third small business that opened up Krimker’s eyes to his potential as a businessperson. "I started this cleaning company that has grown into the fourth-largest window-cleaning business in North York," says Krimker, a full-time student at York University.

With his window-cleaning business under control and school going well, Krimker decided to start a fourth business venture in January 2007 called CG Media Inc. CG Media provides a platform for aspiring models who balance a full-time course load at university or college and want to break into the Canadian modelling industry. The company provides clients with the contacts, industry knowledge and exposure necessary to be competitive in the modelling world.

Krimker entered his CG Media business plan in the Student Entrepreneur category at the 2008 ACE Regional Exposition for Central Canada that took place last week in Toronto. After three days of competition, Krimker and fellow York student Joseph Moncada were named the Ontario Student Entrepreneur Champions. They each received $1,000 and move on to the national competition, also being held in Toronto, on May 14.

Krimker also has some advice for other young people thinking about becoming entrepreneurs. "Just do it. The only thing that breeds opportunity is effort. If you don’t make an effort nothing will happen."

U of T student protest is nothing like York’s

A group of about 35 students staged a sit-in last Thursday at a University of Toronto administration building to protest proposed residence fee increases, reported The Toronto Sun March 24. The demonstration ended four hours later when campus police officers removed the students from the building. Farshad Azadian, one of the protest organizers, said the U of T sit-in is in stark contrast with a 45-hour protest at York University earlier this month which ended when administrators agreed to establish a "no-sweatshop" policy for university apparel. "Clearly, students’ voices haven’t been heard," said Azadian, 19, a first-year student.

Local pitcher takes memory of killed sisters into heart of Texas

It would have been easy for Gianfranco DiCeglie to never pick up a baseball again. He had lost his two oldest sisters and best friends, Isabel and Vanessa DiCeglie, in a car accident last September, reported The Toronto Sun March 24.

Like hundreds of other dream chasers across southern Ontario sandlots looking for a college scholarship, Gianfranco kept pitching. "They wanted me to go on with baseball, I never considered quitting," Gianfranco said. His sisters and their memory will travel deep into the heart of Texas with him. He has a tattoo on his left shoulder with the names of each sister in a scroll. Isabel was in her final year at York University, majoring in French and planning on entering the business world. Vanessa was a second-year French major, destined to be a French teacher.

The anemic state of Canadian English-language cinema

One of the Canadian Filmmakers’ Festival’s "world premieres" this year is a 46-minute documentary titled Maple Flavour Films, wrote The Globe and Mail March 24. It’s the tale of a cross-country screening tour that Toronto screenwriter/producer/director Michael Sparaga (BFA ’96) undertook by car in April 2006, on behalf of his low-budget feature Sidekick. It also functions as an anatomy of the anemic state of Canadian English-language cinema, with Sparaga eliciting risible answers from ordinary Canadians in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver to questions such as "What is the name of Canada’s annual movie awards show?" "Do you know any Genie winners from the past decade?" and "What was the last Canadian movie you saw?"

Sparaga, who graduated 12 years ago from the film production and screenwriting program at York University, originally conceived Maple Flavour Films simply as an extra for the DVD release of Sidekick, not a standalone documentary. But after completing the screening tour and looking at the video that he and his pals shot during "the great Canadian road trip," he realized the footage could serve as the basis for something larger.

On air

  • Stansislav Kirschbaum, professor of international studies at York’s Glendon campus, spoke about Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence, on Radio Canada’s “Radiojournal” March 20.
  • Patrick Solomon, professor in York’s Faculty of Education, who was instrumental in developing the Urban Diversity Initiative 14 years ago, talked about what is now set to become a formal program for teachers-in-training at the University, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” March 20.