Osgoode professor advises against laying polygamy charges

There is a general rumbling afoot in Canada about laying polygamy charges against individuals within certain religious communities across Canada, wrote Susan Drummond, professor of family law in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in The Globe and Mail Aug. 5. But there are some things Canadians need to know about our Criminal Code’s “Offences Against Conjugal Rights” before we can be sure we really want to open that particular Pandora’s box. One thing to ask may be whether you, or anyone you care about, has committed one of these indictable offences carrying liability of up to five years in prison. 

How is it that a Canadian professor of family law violated a very grave criminal prohibition – and yet remains on the lam; teaching the law, no less? 

Where I, and countless other Canadians, unwittingly committed polygamy derives from the inclusion of “any kind of conjugal union” in the definition of polygamy. Like 38 per cent of Canadians, I both married and divorced. Without going into details, two years after my separation, I entered another “conjugal union” with my partner of the last seven years. This was not hard to do. The definition of “conjugal union” in Canadian law is broad enough that just about any kind of detail has the potential to be simultaneously sordid and banal. 

What is “any kind” of conjugal union? On this point, the criminal law is silent. In family law, the definition of conjugal union used to include things such as the sharing of meals, sexual exchange, watching TV together (I kid you not) and the delivery of domestic services. With sexual and domestic services sitting uncomfortably with the obligations of conjugality, eating pizza with someone, while watching Sopranos reruns, could catch quite a few of us off guard. 

In all fairness, I might call myself in to Crime Stoppers. If I am free to go, then with the current gapingly broad definition of an Offence Against Conjugal Rights, doesn’t the state have an unfettered discretion to indiscriminately go after religious communities and individuals? 

Alumna to take reins at the Bay

The new US owner of the Hudson’s Bay Co. is set to announce Wednesday that York alumna Bonnie Brooks (MBA ’93), a Canadian with prominent international retail experience, will be the next chief executive of its flagship Bay division as the company moves quickly to build a star leadership team and breathe new life into the tired merchant, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 4. 

The appointment of Brooks, a former executive at tony Holt Renfrew and now president of a fashion powerhouse in Hong Kong, is the third high-profile candidate named to fill top positions at HBC since it was acquired on July 16. The moves signal that the new owner, US real estate magnate Richard Baker, is serious about reviving the storied company, industry watchers said. 

Brooks, described by industry observers as a go-getter with a sharp eye for spotting up-and-coming brands, will begin her new job next month, a source familiar with the company said. She is believed to be the first woman CEO at HBC. Her perspective will help serve the Bay’s mostly female customers, observers said. 

High oil prices are crippling airlines and travellers alike

In Europe’s late medieval period, the labouring masses rarely travelled further than a few dozen miles from where they were born, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 2. For Steven Flusty, a professor of geography in York University’s Faculty of Arts, this is what society could once again look like if predictions that the lower-middle classes will no longer be able to afford to fly in just a few years come true. It would be tremendously debilitating and could wind up “breaking down everything below a certain class level, where they are being held in space as if it’s some kind of a container,” he says. 

Prof crusades to change hooker laws

For nearly a year-and-a-half, a very quiet war has been fought over the sex trade across Canada, wrote The Edmonton Sun Aug. 2. Last week the battlefield shifted to right here in Edmonton. 

The drama played out downtown in a highrise’s private boardroom, where federal government lawyers squared off with Osgoode Hall Law School crusader Alan Young. He’s challenging the constitutionality of Criminal Code sections outlawing common bawdy houses and living off the avails of prostitution. 

Young argues the current, Byzantine regime – where selling sex is legal, but the rules governing prostitution make it almost impossible to do so safely – is actually more dangerous than if brothels were simply legal, licensed and regulated. 

He began the Supreme Court application back in March 2007 and has gathered testimony and affidavits across Canada. Young admits he was a taken aback with how hard the feds are opposing him. “They really took this very seriously,” he says. “They’ve made a very simple case into a very complex one.” As a result, it’s going to take years to get resolved. 

Young has made a career challenging “state authority to criminalize what is consensual”. He’s fought against gambling, obscenity and drug laws he feels needlessly restrict personal freedom. His biggest claim to fame was fighting laws prohibiting medical marijuana. 

Properly regulating brothels, Young says, would also eliminate what he refers to as “classic pimping”, the violent, exploitative sugar daddy living like a leech off women’s misery. “You should legally be able to work with and for prostitutes,” Young says. And if it was all legal and licensed, prostitutes would have the same protection as anyone else in a business relationship. “The way things are right now, no sex worker can legally protect herself.” 

New rules for reviewing complaints against police are a year behind schedule

To this day, the parents of a woman killed by a drunk driver still don’t know why the man wasn’t given a Breathalyzer test. They have been unable to get what they consider a clear answer from Toronto police despite hiring lawyer and York Professor Alan Young, who complained to the force shortly after the accident, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 3. 

“As soon as the complaint was filed, the buck-passing began,” Young says. The professor of criminal law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said neither police nor the province properly dealt with the complaint.

“Getting information out of the police is about as difficult as getting information out of Stalinist Russia. Most of the complaints that I’ve brought to the police just disappear,” says Young, lost in “a huge black hole of obfuscation.” The process can take years and Young says it offers police many opportunities to hide information behind a blue wall of secrecy. 

York prof studies payday loans in Australia

Banks should take over the role of payday lenders by offering small, short-term loans in a nationally regulated market, wrote Australia’s Melbourne Age July 25, in a story with comments by a visiting academic from York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

The Age wrote that finance Professor Chris Robinson, from Canada’s York University, said retail banks could be more socially responsible by offering cheap loans to such individuals. He said banks could offer cheaper loans and fees because of their economies of scale. Robinson has done extensive research on the regulation of payday lending in Canada and the US, and is working on an in-depth analysis of the Australian industry.

"I will be recommending that the federal government implement national legislation that will cap the fees and charges loan businesses can charge consumers," Robinson told a seminar at the Australian National University.

New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have regulations that cap interest rates of payday loans. "However, it is very easy for the industry to sneak through regulations by charging extra fees," Robinson said. "A properly-designed national legislation would shut these loopholes down."

  • Robinson also commented on payday loans on Australian Broadcasting Corp Radio July 24 and on Sky News July 29.

York student is on a mission in Peru

York University student Michael O’Neil will be on a mission in Peru, wrote Insidetoronto.com Aug. 1. O’Neil, 23, a resident of East York, will be travelling with 20 other youths from across Canada as youth ambassadors on the Junior Team Canada Economic Mission. The goal is to explore business opportunities on behalf of Canadian companies and industries. “I am very excited,” said O’Neill.

  • O’Neill also spoke about the trade mission on BNN-TV Aug. 1.

Grad turned his family’s story into an epic novel

Joe Kertes (BA ’75), who teaches English at Humber College and still speaks Hungarian, studied literature at the University of Toronto and York University, and credits both Marshall McLuhan and poet Irving Layton, a former professor at York, with encouraging him as a writer, wrote Michael Posner in a review of Kertes’ Holocaust novel Gratitude for The Globe and Mail Aug. 2. “McLuhan was really important to me, a powerful influence. Not thematically, but he took to me for some reason.” One year, the media guru was late returning a paper of Kertes’s, explaining he’d thought it was so good he’d sent it off to be published. 

Alumna writes fictional account of working on freighter

What began as York alumna Sheree-Lee Olson’s gritty summer job has ended as her therapeutic first book, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Aug. 2.

The Picton-born writer and newspaper editor has penned her first book, Sailor Girl. It’s a fictional story of self-discovery and follows Kate, an art student who escapes a violent boyfriend by joining the crew of a grain freighter.

Now the editor of The Globe and Mail’s Style section, Olson (BA ’80, BFA ’93) calls Toronto her hometown. But in 1976, Olson was a 19-year-old York University student who found work as a porter aboard a freighter. 

“I found out that it was great money, and at the time I was really struggling to make money waitressing,” she said. “I had actually never seen a freighter until I got on my first boat. I convinced another friend here in town to go down to the Seafarers International Union hiring hall. Basically you just went in there and stood around for a couple of weeks until somebody needed somebody.” 

Cross-Canada equestrian relies on kindness of strangers

York alumna Kimber Sider (BA Hons ‘06) has a theory; her mantra has become “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” wrote the Kenora Daily Miner & News Aug. 2. In fact, it’s the title of a film she’s making about a cross-country journey by horse. While crossing northern Ontario, she’s had lots of time to evaluate her thoughts, which she shared during her stop in Kenora. “Our ride is about finding out if, 60 years later, you can still ride across Canada on Canadian kindness,” she said, before setting out for the Prairies. 

Even though Sider’s only just graduated from York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, she’s listed as a director’s assistant on the Hollywood production of Kit Kittredge’s An American Girl. By the way, the credits also listed Julia Roberts as executive producer and starlet Abigail Breslin was the toast of the talk show circuit for several weeks. 

  • Sider’s journey was also featured on Kenora’s CJRL-FM Radio July 29.

On air

  • Steven Bailey, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana, on TVO’s “The Agenda”, Aug. 1.
  • Ray Biastoch, a graduate student at York, spoke about climate change in the Arctic, on CBC Newsworld Aug. 3.