York loses round on Jewish holiday policy, Star says

An Ontario Human Rights Commission investigation says that York University’s long-standing practice of cancelling classes on Jewish holidays discriminates against students of other religions, reported the Toronto Star March 31.  

The investigator’s report must now go before the commissioners themselves for consideration. York social science Professor David Noble has complained for years it is unfair for today’s diverse multifaith campus to scrap classes for three days and nights each year to honour one group’s religious holy days, but not others. "This is fantastic. It’s just too bad it took four years to have a third party confirm that this is an illegal practice," said Noble, who is a non-observant Jew. 

The University began cancelling classes 34 years ago for the two days of Rosh Hashanah and one day of Yom Kippur, originally because administrators said many professors and students would miss those classes anyway.  

But, the Star said, a recent report prepared by York political science Professor Thomas Klassen paints a highly diverse picture of the 51,000-student campus, with Jewish students estimated to represent about 5.8 per cent of students, Muslim students about 4. 8 per cent, Catholic students 34.9 per cent, Protestant 22.1 per cent, other Christian 7.3 per cent, Hindu 3.6 per cent, Buddhist 2.1 per cent and Sikh 2 per cent. Klassen, who opposes cancelling class on Jewish holidays, estimated this breakdown by cross-referencing the postal codes of students’ home addresses with Statistics Canada data on religious affiliation – a process he said is often used by universities and medical researchers to take demographic snapshots.  

In her report to the Human Rights Commission, which was sent Friday to Noble and University officials, investigator Kim Hanson concludes the practice violates the Ontario Human Rights Code’s protection against discrimination based on a person’s creed, the Star said.

"The University’s practice of not scheduling classes on Jewish high holy days clearly results in differential treatment on the basis of creed, in that individuals of one group, those of Jewish faith, are given preferential treatment over others," the report concludes.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said the University has no comment yet on the confidential report, for which it has 21 days to respond to the commission. York has stressed that students of any religious background can ask to be excused from class for a religious holiday.  

Earth Hour was only meant to be symbolic

What exactly was Earth Hour meant to accomplish? asked the Toronto Star March 29. "It’s obviously a symbolic event, it wasn’t meant to be anything else," said Dawn Bazely, a biology professor and director of the Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability at York University. "Turning the lights off for Earth Hour shouldn’t make you feel virtuous or pious. But, on the other hand, it has gotten everyone thinking about how much energy they use, and how they can reduce their consumption – and that’s what the point was."  

Bazely, who got involved in the environmental movement as a student in the ’70s, isn’t bothered by the commercial nature of Earth Hour. "That’s just how it is in North America. It has to be hip and has to be trendy for people to want to participate. The problem with this kind of event is that it focuses on one hour, when people should be thinking about the larger picture."  

Speed mentoring is the latest way to get a quick dose of career guidance

When the bell rings, dozens of strangers pair off and size each other up. They shake hands and start talking about life goals, past experiences and future dreams, reported The Globe and Mail March 31. A few minutes later, the bell clangs again and they move on to the next potentially life-changing stranger. This is speed mentoring, the new way to jump-start your destiny.  

"At first I was nervous, but they were all such nice people," said Tamara Gordon, a 22-year-old administrative studies student at York University who participated in a speed mentoring session last week with prominent York alumni. An aspiring law student who uses a wheelchair, Gordon felt a definite connection during her five minutes with Lincoln Alexander (LLB ’53, LLD ’90), the first black lieutenant-governor of Ontario, who also uses a wheelchair. "He looked at me and just told me, ‘Don’t let being in a wheelchair stop you from pursuing anything. You can achieve anything.’ I thought that was awesome," Gordon said. From other mentors she received practical advice on applying to law school, making the most of her university experience, and whether to take a gap year after she graduates.  

Student still battles for permanent residency

Immigration officials have cancelled deportation orders for 20-year-old former York student Sarah Leonty and her mother, and granted them two-year work permits, reported The Globe and Mail March 29. Since last September, Leonty has fought government attempts to deport her despite her impressive record of academic achievement and volunteerism in Canada.

Her parents, who are among the estimated 200,000 undocumented foreign workers in Canada, brought her here from their native St. Lucia when she was 11. Without immigration status, Leonty’s situation has been precarious. 

But while Leonty is grateful for this victory, and for the support she received from students and activists who rallied on her behalf at York University on Wednesday, she said another battle lies ahead. Leonty wants to resume her studies at York, but she won’t be able to afford it until she no longer has to pay international student fees. "The fight is not over, because I still don’t want to be here without any status," she said. She has applied for residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. 

  • In an editorial March 30, Kamloops This Week called the story of Leonty’s travails ridiculous. A poster child of what kind of immigrants Canada should be seeking is being shown the door. She is a student at York University on a federally funded scholarship. She was prime minister of her high school student council. She is a volunteer for various organizations, including a women’s shelter. She won the Herb Carnegie Award and recognition from Ontario’s lieutenant- governor for her community service work. She is a saint, really. But she has to go, of course, because her parents failed to fill out some document or other when she was just a kid. The sad fact is that such obviously wrong decisions by the Canadian Border Services Agency are all too common, concluded the newspaper.  

The hottest word on everyone’s tongue? Upgrade

Upgrade is the newest way of saying "new and improved", reported The Globe and Mail March 29. For a culture that easily suffers from the retail equivalent of attention-deficit disorder, upgrade is loaded with long-term potential. "Most upgrades aren’t totally new systems; they’re evolutions," notes Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University. "And to a population that is getting older, that’s not a bad motivation for sale because the word gets you to look at something afresh but also says, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not something totally new. You don’t have to reload.’ "  

Team playing pays off for Hall Findlay

Last Thursday evening, a rather large and imposing gentleman stopped by a woman’s table after dinner in a downtown restaurant. He scooped her up in a bear hug to wish her luck in her new career as a member of Parliament, reported the Toronto Star March 31.

The man was Karl Littler, former senior aide in the office of Paul Martin when he was prime minister. The woman was Martha Hall Findlay (LLB ‘87), who won Willowdale for the Liberals in the March 17 by-election and debuted Monday on Parliament Hill.  

How perfect the moment. Life comes full circle, perhaps even with a lesson. For it was Littler, accompanied by then-party president Michael Eizenga, who brought the news to Hall Findlay on May 16, 2005, that Conservative MP Belinda Stronach was crossing the floor – and replacing the acclaimed candidate in Newmarket-Aurora. 

Hall Findlay was a rising star, intelligent, bilingual, capable – the person you’d want as a partner in The Amazing Race. She skipped three years of high school, was a champion downhill racer, married and had three children while studying international relations at the University of Toronto and law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, worked as a top executive in the high-tech and communications fields, divorced, founded her own management consulting firm and threw herself into public service.  

Put your career on ice

While chatting up a prospective client on the golf course has become a corporate cliche, participating in sports, especially team sports, can be an ideal way to network, reported the National Post March 29. Earlier this month, the Richard Ivey School of Business hosted the Ivey Cup, an annual hockey tournament that attracts teams of students and alumni from Ivey as well as the University of Chicago Graduate Business School, the Johnson School at Cornell University, Harvard Business School, the Sauder School of Business at UBC, McGill’s Business School and York’s Schulich School of Business, among others.  

York loves eBay

Can you guess which Toronto postal code ranks highest in activity on eBay? It’s M3J 1P3, the postal code of York University, reported the Toronto Star March 31. "We presume it’s students," says Andrew Sloss, manager of eBay Canada. "The top buying category in that postal code is games and the top selling category is shirts and tops."

My Toronto: Karen Burke, choral conductor

A professor in the Music Department at York University, Karen Burke is a singer, music director, choral conductor and composer in the field of African-American vocal music, noted the National Post’s Posted Toronto column March 31. She’s worked with major choral ensembles and organizations including the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Toronto Choral Society and the Ontario Choral Federation. In 1988, she co-founded the Juno Award-winning Toronto Mass Choir. Burke spoke to Dave McGinn about gospel music on the eve of her choir’s two upcoming concerts.  

Concerted efforts: I’m a big lover of jazz and gospel, and those are not necessarily the things that are at the big venues like Massey Hall. So where I see a lot of concerts is at more of the smaller places. The Trane Studio is a great place to see debut artists. It doesn’t seat very many people, but you can eat there and it’s cozy. It’s intimate. It’s a very nice setting for jazz and gospel. There are also a lot of churches that have made themselves open for gospel concerts, like Malvern Christian Assembly and Revival Time Tabernacle.  

What is the limelight?

Nowadays we use “limelight” to refer to someone being the focus of public attention, reported the Toronto Star March 30. But the limelight was an actual type of light, in which calcium oxide (lime) was heated to incandescence. First used at Covent Garden theatre in London in 1837-38, limelight caught on, and soon an industry developed to supply cylinder-shaped lime pieces to fit the lamps for theatres. Compared to previous methods, the "limelight was a relatively safe means of illuminating the stage," says Peter McKinnon, a theatre professor at York University and an expert in theatre design. "But (it) gave off obnoxious fumes. That’s why the limelight wasn’t used in the home, because it would have killed the occupants."  

Limelights survived into the 20th century but, along with other gas lights, they were replaced by electric lights, which McKinnon says greatly reduced the number of theatre fires. He remembers viewing the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto, closed in 1928 and still boarded up in the 1970s, to find gas jet relics right on stage. "Footlights," he explains. "Open gas flames at ankle height!"  

Toronto soccer pride hits the road

Some 2,500 Toronto Football Club supporters made the seven-hour trek to Columbus, Ohio, as the road team kicked off its 2008 Major League Soccer campaign in Ohio, reported The Toronto Sun March 30. Soccer analyst and head of the York University soccer program, Paul James isn’t surprised by the enthusiastic support. "It’s going to just get bigger and better." James said. "I can see the day when we’ll end up taking 5,000 fans to stadiums." But on a larger scale, James believes the passion and commitment of TFC fans could revolutionize the way North American sport is followed. "It has got a chance of changing the sports fan. What European and Latin American soccer means in terms of the support is legitimately being replicated here."  

York MBA portfolio team poised for comeback

This year’s Financial Post MBA Portfolio Competition is coming down to the wire and based on February results, the University of Alberta and Laval University are in a dogfight for bragging rights, reported the National Post March 29. Of course, with results still to come for March and market volatility at record highs, it’s really too early to consider this a two-team race. So watch out Alberta and Laval. There are still a few teams – like third-spot Team Degroote from McMaster University and the fourth-ranking squad from York University’s Schulich School of Business – that are poised for a late-round comeback.  

School gallery gave student first show

Catherine Glover played a crucial role in developing Centennial Secondary School as the regional centre for the visual and performing arts, reported the Belleville Intelligencer March 29. The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board honoured the retired Centennial principal this week by agreeing to name the high school’s new art gallery after her. Tara Dorey, a Centennial graduate, wrote she is "extremely appreciative" to have her work displayed in the gallery during her studies. "Most other students are astounded when they hear that I have already had my own art show," said Dorey, who is currently finishing her first year at York University.  

B’nai Brith’s fears about CIC contest are real

It should come as no surprise that the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) is co-sponsoring an Israel-bashing essay contest with cash prizes, wrote York student Jonathan Mackenzie in a letter published March 29 by the National Post. The CIC’s president said in 2004 that all Israeli adults are legitimate targets for suicide bombers. Unfortunately, many of the student participants in this hate-filled exercise will be the future leaders of Israel Apartheid Week on university campuses such as York University, which I attend. The promotion of hate against Israelis through cash incentives will only lead to increased anti-Semitism in Canada; this should be of great concern to all Canadians.  

More views of Jesus simply add to the mystery

Much about the life of Jesus remains a mystery, began an Edmonton Journal review March 30 of How Jesus Became Christian by Barrie Wilson, professor of humanities and religious studies at York University. The quest to recover the Jesus of history involves deciding which parts, among all these ancient sources, preserve genuine recollections of his life and sayings, and which parts were later added to the tradition. For Wilson, Jesus was a traditional, Torah-observant Jew. Wilson contends that the fundamentally Jewish nature of Jesus’ life and message was deliberately erased by the apostle Paul, whose theology transformed the crucified Jesus into the resurrected Christ.

The interconnectedness of all things

Biology can work both ways, wrote Louise Fabiani (MES ’92) in a Globe and Mail book review March 29. It can disregard, say, the hand-paw divide of boy and dog, and focus instead on the myriad characteristics they share, from eyes to hair. In fact, you can play "compare" with just about any animal and come up with astounding similarities. That is precisely what University of Chicago paleontologist and professor of anatomy Neil Shubin asks us to do in his exuberant evolutionary romp, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year-History of the Human Body

Conference debates Maclean’s article

"Freedom of speech doesn’t mean promoting hatred against a particular community," said Hesham Sabry, a writer and radio program host participating at a freedom of speech conference Friday in Kitchener, reported the Waterloo Region Record March 31. He and others were debating The Future Belongs to Islam, an article written by Mark Steyn in Maclean’s Oct. 23, 2006, issue. In December 2007, a group of law grads from Osgoode Law School at York University complained to the Ontario Human Rights Commission that it promoted Islamophobia. There were further complaints to the federal and British Columbia human rights commissions. "We just wanted the right to respond," said Khurrum Awan (LLB ’07), one of the law grads who complained.  

On air

  • A new study by York University researchers on bullying patterns from late elementary school to the end of high school shows a correlation between bullies and a troubled relationship with their parents and friends, reported “Jack News” on CJET-FM in Smiths Falls, Ont., March 25.