China mission brings tangible results, says York prof

David Lumsden, an anthropologist in York’s Faculty of Arts who is finishing up a sabbatical in Chongqing, dismissed skeptics who question the value of trade missions and sister-city relationships, reported the Toronto Star April 20, as Toronto Mayor David Miller wound up his seven-day trade mission to China. "It’s not about junkets and never has been about junkets," Lumsden said. "It’s about talking to each other, learning from each other and bringing home tangible results. Do you value international understanding? Do you believe that China is important to the future of the world? If you do, then of course these missions are worth it."  

  • In a related Star portrait of Chongqing, Toronto’s sister city on the Yangtze and the fastest growing city in the world, Lumsden said the government has committed itself to closing the growing gap between urban rich and rural poor. And it has launched experimental reforms right here in Chongqing to close it. If they work, Chongqing would be known for more than just its booming economy. "Chongqing could be a beacon for the rest of the country," says Lumsden.  

A chance encounter that might rewrite the rules of evidence

A team of Toronto police officers grew suspicious one late autumn afternoon in 2003, as it watched 18-year-old Donnohue Grant amble along a sidewalk in Toronto’s east end, not far from several schools, wrote The Globe and Mail April 21. His baggy jeans riding fashionably low on his hips, Grant appeared nervous and twitchy. As it turned out, he had much to be edgy about – a bag of marijuana and a loaded gun were stuffed in his pants.

Following a six-minute discussion with the officers, Grant blurted: "I have a firearm." Whether acting out of fear, intimidation or simple honesty, Grant emptied his pockets. That chance encounter may be about to turn the world of criminal law on its head. 

Betting is strong in legal circles that the Supreme Court of Canada will use Grant’s appeal of his subsequent marijuana and weapons convictions to rewrite the rules for tossing out evidence obtained through self-incrimination. Specifically, the Court will be faced with the prospect of rolling back a revolutionary 1997 ruling in the case of R v. Stillman. The Court ruled in Stillman that virtually any evidence obtained by police as a result of "conscripting" an individual to incriminate himself cannot be used against him at trial. 

James Stribopoulos, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, predicted that, should Grant lose the appeal, police will feel free to stop citizens at whim. More often than not, he added, those who are stopped will belong to minority groups. Stribopoulos said that overturning Stillman would also cause people to question the permanency of all Supreme Court rulings, since it would serve as a signal to lower court judges "that the due process revolution occasioned by the Charter has now come to an end – and that our concern for civil liberties must be increasingly tempered by more pressing and less idealistic concerns about combatting gun violence. 

“This would be a real tragedy, especially given that such a shift would not be based in fact," Stribopoulos added. "In reality, violent crime is actually down. The perception that we are in a crisis has very much been fuelled by sensationalistic media reporting and opportunism by our politicians. It is exactly at times like these that the court serves us best by staying true to important and established constitutional principles."  

BCE deal could mean a bonus for charities

The largest corporate takeover in Canadian history could prove a jackpot for charities, which are beginning to spread the word – give them your Bell Canada shares and cut your capital gains tax, reported the National Post April 19. More than 800 million BCE Inc. shares worth about $34 billion are set to expire before the end of June, when the telecommunications giant is bought by an Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan-led group.  

Susan Mullin, vice-president of development at the York University Foundation, says the foundation has received twice as many gifts of securities since capital gains tax was eliminated in 2006, even though recent volatility in the stock market has impaired capital gains. "Donation size increased dramatically after the complete elimination of capital gains. In fact, we had a couple of gifts of securities in excess of $1 million and one of $2 million the year that it came in," says Mullin, who oversees the development of the University’s $303-million endowment fund, which has grown 450 per cent since 1997.  

Owen Charters (MBA ’01), executive director of online donations portal CanadaHelps, says some smaller charities were shying away from gifts of securities. As a result, CanadaHelps began to process securities donations on behalf of charities through its Web site in October, making it an easier process for both charities and donors. The Web site is a one-stop charity that facilitates more than $10 million in donations a year to about 80,000 organizations across Canada. Charters, who started the charity in 2000, obtained an MBA from York University to increase the effectiveness of his work as the sector became more competitive and professionalized.  

Nuclear power not viable in northern Alberta, says prof

Duncan Hawthorne wants to build Alberta’s first nuclear power plant 30 kilometres west of the town of Peace River, reported the Edmonton Journal April 20. At an open house in Peace River last Monday, Hawthorne, CEO of Bruce Power, managed to win over most of the crowd with humour. It’s doubtful that he finds the growing resistance to nuclear power in Alberta humourous, though. Anti-nuclear organizations like Nuclear Free Alberta and Citizens Against Nuclear Development are coalescing and stepping up their campaigns. 

Mark Winfield, a York professor of environmental studies, says the nuclear plant is simply not viable in Alberta. "It takes a long time, it absorbs a lot of capital and basically private capital isn’t interested in tying up that kind of money for that long unless it’s guaranteed a return on investment, and a market and a price, which you can’t do in Alberta’s system." Winfield says cost overruns and delays are endemic in the nuclear industry.  

What does it mean to be poor in Ontario today?

As the province grapples with that question, the Toronto Star asked dozens of local experts, including Dennis Raphael, health policy professor in York’s Faculty of Health, and published their answers April 19. Raphael said:

Poverty is the inability – due to lack of financial resources – to participate in the kinds of activities expected of an average Canadian in an advanced industrial society. The currently available measures of low income, the Statistics Canada pre-tax LICOS and Low Income Measure (less than half of the median income), and the Market Basket Measure developed by Human Resources and Development Canada all provide similar estimates of the incidence of poverty. Also, people’s response to the question, "Are you unable to carry out everyday activities that you think you should be able to do due to lack of money?" a variant of what is used in the UK, also gives comparable estimates of the incidence of poverty. This work has all been done – it should not take one year to figure this out.  

Church group stages York prof’s musical

The Company of Saints has been rocking the set to put on That’s Life, a medieval morality play set as a rock musical, which tells the story of the passage from life to death, reported Ontario’s Flamborough Review April 19. Written in 2003 by Peter McKinnon, a theatre professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, That’s Life was first discovered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When speaking with McKinnon about putting together the musical, director Rev. Susan Kerr noted that it was McKinnon who suggested the cast and crew donate the funds to local and international organizations. "The theme of the play is doing good things and making a difference and it seemed to go with the message of the play," she explained.  

Indian music festival has roots at York

Hundreds of musicians, including students from Mississauga and the GTA, gathered Saturday for a popular music festival in honour an Indian saint and composer, reported The Mississauga News April 19. The Thyagaraja Music Festival, celebrated in many places over the world, is in honour of Saint Thyagaraja, a composer of carnatic music – a classical style practised in southern parts of India – and was organized by a GTA organization, Bharathi Kala Manram (BKM). "BKM was started with an intention to preserve and promote the Indian culture and traditions among Indo-Canadians," said Dadu Ramanathan, one of the members of the group. "We were the first organization who, along with York University, began the festival. And now this festival is being celebrated in over 20 cities in North America along the format we developed." The group initiated two scholarships – $750 each to students of Indian music at York University.  

Margo Boyd – policing pioneer, new Edmontonian

When the Edmonton police commission hired Mike Boyd (a former deputy chief in Toronto), few knew there were in fact two dedicated cops in the family, reported the Edmonton Journal April 20. Margo Boyd (BA ’74), 55 this month, and Mike had parallel, high-powered careers for 30 years in Toronto and both played key roles in capturing Scarborough rapist Paul Bernardo. Both ended up working right at the top in the chief’s office. Margo retired from police work the day before the Boyds arrived in Edmonton on Jan. 1, 2006. She was the highest ranking woman in the Toronto police service. Her new job these days is "police chief’s wife, the best job ever," she says with a gracious, friendly smile.  

Business helps young entrepreneurs prosper

Karla Smith-Brown and Anique Jordan are the co-founders of KEYS (Knowledge Equals Youth Success), a youth-owned Toronto business that caters to young entrepreneurs, reported The Toronto Sun April 21. "The young people we are working with are the most creative and driven youths we know," says Jordan, who is majoring in psychology and international development at York University. KEYS advises young entrepreneurs about how to network properly and how to promote and advertise their business in a competitive and professional manner. Jordan and Smith-Brown came up with the idea to start KEYS after participating in a youth trade show in Scarborough last year.  

MASH workshop adds up for parents

A Math at School and Home (MASH) workshop was held at Twin Lakes Secondary School to show parents how math is being taught to their kids in elementary school, reported Ontario’s Orillia Packet and Times April 21. Each of the 35 parents who took part went home with a math kit that included a calculator, as well as blocks and shapes that are used to help with fractions, geometry, multiplication and other math problems.  

"It’s beyond paper and pencil," said guest speaker Trevor Brown, course director of mathematics education at York University. "It’s getting the kids to see where the mathematics come from. What we want the kids to be able to do today is think mathematically." Brown’s goal was to show parents how teaching math has changed and to provide them with the modern tools used in the subject. "Not one of them had a problem," he said of the parents. "In fact, one of them was almost in tears because she realized how easy it is. That’s why they want more."  

Cheaters never prosper

Why do people choose to cheat, especially if it could affect their grades? asked the Barrie Examiner, in Ont., April 19. Melissa Ash knows all about stress at school, and being bogged down with a heavy workload. "It’s borderline nervous breakdown sometimes with all the work we have to do," said Ash, a second-year York University nursing student, studying at Barrie’s Georgian College campus. "There are essays, term papers, tests and research projects to do, and it does get really stressful." But that doesn’t mean she’d risk her grades by cheating to get ahead. "We can’t cheat on tests and assignments, because our teachers watch us like hawks," she said. "Besides, I have the fear of being kicked out of my program for cheating. I’d rather risk getting a crappy mark over being pulled from my program."  

Fellow nursing student Katie Douglas isn’t a cheater, either. But she’s entertained the thought once or twice. "The temptation is always there, but then I have to think about the consequences if I did cheat," Douglas said. "Sometimes you have enough stress on you that you don’t want to add more by worrying about being caught cheating on a project."

Although they’re honest students, Douglas and Ash know full well cheating still happens at their school. "It’s not so much about people looking at other people’s papers in class anymore," Douglas said. "It’s more students telling students what was on a test. You might say, ‘Remember to study this area for the test,’ just to give someone a hint."  

On air

  • Keith Marnoch, York’s associate media relations director, discussed the effect of a possible TTC strike, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” April 18.