Expect immigration impact from climate change, says York prof

Canada and other rich nations should soon expect waves of “climate change refugees” to appear on their shores as a result of being forced out of their homes by environmental disasters, wrote The Toronto Sun June 22.

“We can expect some immigration impact from climate change,” warned Professor Peter Penz of York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. “All these people who were displaced in Myanmar are refugees somewhere.”

Penz told a York University immigration conference that catastrophes such as May’s cyclone Nargis that rocked Myanmar, killing 90,000 and leaving 56,000 missing, or 2004’s Asian tsunami that killed 225,000 people in 11 countries, can displace refugees to countries worldwide.

“These are climate change events and I don’t expect flotillas of refugees arriving at our shores and making refugee claims,” he told the immigration and refugee workers, adding areas closest to the disaster will receive the most claimants.

Penz was among 130 delegates from across the country at the four-day conference at York that wrapped up on Wednesday. Much of the discussion highlighted the plight of refugees and the celebration of World Refugee Day.

  • In light of increasing numbers of people displaced by natural disasters linked to climate change, the United Nations would have to re-examine the definition of refugee, which literally refers to victims of political persecution, wrote the National Post June 21, in its report on the “Refugees and the Insecure Nation: Managing Forced Migration in Canada 2008" conference, held at York’s Keele campus June 15-18.

York environmental studies Professor Peter Penz believes the meaning should be broadened. “The definition is too narrow,” said Penz, who lectured on the topic at York’s conference on refugees. “The meaning really exists somewhere between the conventional and the colloquial.”

A slight, bearded man whose expertise is in forced migration and land development, Penz delivered what he called a think piece on obligations to climate-change refugees, concluding that industrialized countries, including Canada, should immediately set up what he called a “Global Restitution Fund” to offset the damage done by greenhouse gases.

Penz explained that countries would contribute to the fund on a pay-as-you-pollute basis. “Because Canada is part of a global system, both political and economical, from which it benefits, it has obligations to those people who get hurt by the system,” he explained. “It’s also part of an environmental system into which it spews its greenhouse gases as part of its economic prosperity.”

Yet one questionable beneficiary could be Darfur. Many attribute the conflict to ancient tribal antipathy between Arab and black Muslims, and insist that the Sudanese government is complicit in human rights violations. But others, including Penz, say it is the first war precipitated by the ravages of climate change. An estimated 2.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict in the drought-parched region, a fifth of whom have left the country.

  • Penz’s comments also appeared in the Digital Journal June 22.

York hires Myers as director of sport & recreation

York alumna Jennifer Myers (BA ’91), athletic director at St. Thomas University, is heading back to the university where she received her honours degree in kinesiology and certification in sports administration to put them to work, wrote Fredericton, NB’s The Daily Gleaner June 21.

She’s the new director of sport & recreation at York University. Myers starts in her new post Aug. 1. She called leaving Fredericton and the athletic director’s role at STU “a pretty gut-wrenching decision.” “But I’m young and I have to do this,” she said. “It’s a huge step up,” she said. “It’s my alma mater, and it’s a position that might not come up for another 10 years.”

BCE sale moves ahead after high court ruling

The Supreme Court removed a major hurdle that threatened the world’s largest leveraged buyout, giving a unanimous go ahead Friday to the $52-billion sale of Bell Canada parent BCE Inc., wrote The Canadian Press June 21.

The losing bondholders are believed to still have legal options open to them, including challenging the arrangement allowing the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to own more than 30 per cent of a company’s shares.

But Theo Peridis, professor of strategic management at York’s Schulich School of Business, said that case would be difficult for bondholders to make in court and that he saw little more they could do to legally challenge the deal. “I’m sure the bondholders are disappointed, but I’m not sure what else they can do.”

  • Legal experts hailed the decision for putting the rights of shareholders above those of bondholders in the takeover, wrote the National Post June 21. “The decision for bondholders means that they can’t rely on anything more than they bargained for” in the trust indentures that govern the debt, said Poonam Puri, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “But it seems as though the court is saying that, in this context of the sale of the company, the directors have a clear duty to maximize value for the shareholders and they don’t have to consider the interests, rights or expectations of creditors beyond those that have been negotiated.”

Refugees celebrate new hope and home

York University student Elise Nyirasuku is living her dream by working with refugees as a way of giving back after fleeing to Canada from Rwanda five years ago, wrote The Toronto Sun June 21. Nyirasuku, 26, was among hundreds who celebrated World Refugee Day on Friday at Metro Hall Square.

“I have lost many members of my family to war,” said Nyirasuku. “I have seen people lose their lives.” Nyirasuku,who managed to put herself through York, is graduating with a bachelor of arts degree this month. She works with a group called Neighbours, Friends and Families, working to end violence against refugee women. “This is my dream come true,” she said from her Oasis Womens’ Centre booth. “Canada was good to me and I want to do something to help women.”

Jesus started out Jewish – others made him Christian

More than 2,000 years after his birth, Jesus remains a puzzling and enigmatic personality, wrote Bernard Baskin, Rabbi Emeritus of Hamilton’s Temple Anshe Sholom, in a review of How Jesus Became a Christian, by York Professor Barry Wilson, for the Hamilton Spectator June 21.

This book is a seminal work by a professor of humanities and religious studies at York University, wrote Baskin. It is the product of 20 years of teaching and research. His major thesis is that the teachings and true personality of Jesus – loyal to his people and faith – were altered by Paul and early Christian leaders to create a radically new religion.

The author asserts, “The New Testament is not a neutral collection of early church writings. It was produced, selected and approved by one – but only one – faction of early Christianity. This was the very group that endorsed the ‘cover up’.”

Wilson writes: “We tend to think of Paul’s movement as just another form of early Christianity. It wasn’t. It was a brand new religion entirely.” Wilson says bluntly, “Paul took a popular, charismatic Jewish teacher and transformed him into a universal Saviour.”

Wilson’s basic contention is not new but rarely so plausibly argued and so impressively documented. His style is engaging and meant for a popular audience. This theological detective story deserves wide readership and discussion.

Who ya gonna call when you don’t have time to have a baby?

Andrea O’Reilly, a feminist and the director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University, says all the focus on planning and preparing for a new baby makes her queasy, wrote the Toronto Star June 21 in a story about baby planners.

“Part of this is the commodification, professionalization and commercialization of motherhood and the intensive mothering that has gotten out of control,” says O’Reilly. “I think the whole process has eclipsed the purpose, which is to have a healthy baby. The end now seems to be the means.”

O’Reilly says much of the obsession over planning every detail and preparing the home has to do with fear and lack of control. And the idea of a baby planner risks setting up false security and expectations. “In our culture, we don’t like to be out of control. But you can’t will, and organize, and plan everything by throwing money at it. You’re never ready for motherhood. It’s going to knock you off your feet no matter what.”

New public housing complex caters to single mothers

Each year for the past seven, 23-year-old single mother Kinda Rodriguez, a York student, has been forced – for one reason or another – to pick up her life and move, wrote The Toronto Sun June 21. But she and her daughter Shanielle won’t have to bounce around anymore. Rodriguez and more than two dozen other young moms will finally have a place to call home in the Community for Young Mothers, a public housing complex for single mothers under 25 that opened yesterday.

A product of more than $2 million in federal funding, the centre near Jane Street and Sheppard Avenue West, will open its doors to 27 pregnant women or single mothers who are homeless or at risk of it. Rodriguez, just beginning a double major in history and sociology at York University, will move in July 1 and be able to live in the complex all four years she is in school.

Schulich alum sees himself as a community builder

In 1991, York alumnus Dave Keenan (MBA ’81) travelled to Eastern Europe as part of a Greater Toronto Home Builders’ Association delegation seeking to establish trade relations with a part of the world that was just emerging from decades of socialist rule, wrote BC’s Business Examiner (Fraser Valley Edition) June 20.

For Keenan, Pacific region vice-president for Genstar Development Company and a graduate of York’s Schulich School of Business, witnessing how people lived in Hungary and the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia was a poignant, eye-opening experience.

“I saw hundreds and hundreds of people cramped into 400-sq. ft. apartments in 12-storey buildings with no elevator,” says Keenan, who recalls being followed by KGB agents everywhere he went in Prague. “I was with Hungarians who had fled to Canada (decades earlier) and were going back for the first time, and they saw the destruction of community and family values after the country was taken over by socialists.”

This impacted him deeply. The trip not only made Keenan appreciate what he had back in Canada, it also served to reinforce the values that have shaped his approach over a 30-year career. “Fundamentally, my goal in life is to create communities that people of all income levels and age groups can live together in,” he says. “Something they can take pride in.”

Music teacher heads to university on high note

Dressed in blue jeans with neat black rimmed glasses on this day in mid-June during high school exam period, 50-year-old Bill Thomas appears as laid back as a student, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun June 21. Starting July 1, Thomas will teach at a new school in a new arena: university.

For the past two years, he has been working on his master’s of composition at York University. One August, he got a call from the chair of York’s Music Department asking him to conduct a concert band, which he did part-time for about a year. A previous conductor had given the chair a list of potential conductors and Thomas was on the list. He started conducting an orchestra as well and teaching evening classes at York. As a professor, he will teach a band class as well as a class on conducting and one on how to teach brass techniques.

Deer study measures effect on plant regrowth

The number of white-tailed deer in London, Ont.’s Sifton Bog could be slashed if a study shows they’re decimating its plant life, wrote The London Free Press June 23. The city is financing a $36,000 study before considering a deer cull or any other option.

“The deer populations in London are high. They tend to over browse the vegetation,” said Christie Cestra (BSc ’07), a York University graduate student helping to run the two-year study.

The Sifton Bog, for example, holds 59 deer – 20 times the capacity of what’s healthy for an area that size, environmentalists say. The deer eat young saplings and wildflowers, among them trillium. The study aims to determine whether the deer have a negative impact on plant regrowth. “We know there’s a lot of (deer). Now, we need a way of quantifying that,” Cestra said.

York theatre prof was ‘Shanghaied into books’

David Rotenberg, professor in York’s Department of Theatre, Faculty of Fine Arts, has gotten a lot more mileage than most travellers out of a single 13-week visit he made to Shanghai in 1995, wrote the Toronto Star June 23.

So far, that lone Chinese sojourn has yielded a five-book series of crime novels centred on the fictional Shanghai inspector Zhong Fong. And now, Rotenberg has published a sprawling, multi-generational historical novel that bears the name of that burgeoning Chinese metropolis.

Rotenberg’s prodigious productivity becomes all the more impressive when you realize that writing fiction isn’t even his day job. “I can write pretty quickly when I get going,” says Rotenberg, a theatre director and acting teacher in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

Rotenberg is on a sabbatical from his post at York, but maintains his position as artistic director of the Professional Actors Lab, where his students have included York alumna Rachel McAdams (BFA ’01). It was in his capacity as theatre director that Rotenberg originally visited Shanghai, having been invited there to direct the first Canadian play ever produced in the People’s Republic.

The author is working with the CBC on an adaptation of the novels for TV.

Hockey in the desert – cool

Alex Ennaffati, a 21-year-old York University student who plays forward for the Lions men’s hockey team, was a member of the Moroccan hockey team that participated in the first Arab Cup of Ice Hockey, in the United Arab Emirates, June 16 to 20, wrote the National Post June 21. Of Moroccan descent but born and raised in Toronto, he said it has been strange playing his childhood sport in the middle of the desert.

Local performers at fringe festival

York student Ray Godin, a member of Peterborough’s No Time for Metaphors theatre company, will perform at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, wrote the Peterborough Examiner June 21. Godin, 27, is a student at York University and has been playing music for 12 years.

High school senior athletes of the year

Izabela Wozniak achieved her premier goal as an athlete at Holy Trinity High School, helping the Titans to the Halton senior girls’ basketball final for the first time in four years, wrote the Oakville Beaver June 21. Wozniak also played rugby for the Titans this past season. The honour roll student was named MVP of her rugby team three times during her years at Trinity, also earning an MVP award with the junior basketball squad. She will study English and history this fall at York University.

On air

  • Catherine Federico, coordinator at York’s Retirement Planning Centre, spoke about people working past retirement age, on CBC Radio June 23.