Osgoode profs call on governor general to say ‘no’ to Senate appointments

A group of Canadian law professors, including Leslie Green, Francois Tanguay-Renaud, Bruce Ryder and Craig Scott of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote a letter to the National Post Dec. 17 calling on Governor General Michaëlle Jean to exercise her residual powers to prevent Prime Minister Stephen Harper from appointing 18 new senators before Christmas. 

Given the current (extraordinary) state of affairs, the group wrote, we believe that the governor general could, in accordance with the Constitution, refrain from acquiescing to the prime minister’s request. We also believe that she should exercise her residual discretionary power to delay any appointments until after Harper has demonstrated that he still has the confidence of the House – especially since the appointment of 18 senators would modify considerably the composition of the Senate. Since nominations to the Senate are for life – i.e. until the age of 75 – the governor general’s compliance would have serious consequences that would be with us for the long term.

We deem it important to take a clear stance to reiterate that the governor general must remain the guardian of parliamentary democracy and of the rule of law in Canada. In a nutshell, she must ensure that the fundamental principle of governmental responsibility before the elected members of the House of Commons is respected.

York plays key role in broader CUPE strategy

When striking workers from York University marched to the Ontario legislature recently, they came with a message, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 17. "Strike to win," they chanted.

The slogan typifies the kind of labour strife that is gripping the country’s third-largest university for the second time in less than a decade. It’s an us-against-them battle that leaves little room for compromise.

The economy is tanking, the job outlook for graduates is grim, and stock-market losses have made a mess of whatever financial nest egg families had managed to build for their children’s education. Against this backdrop, the fate of more than 50,000 students has been placed in limbo, with most classes stopped since early November. No talks are planned and there is no hope that school will begin again until after the new year.

It’s hard to find winners in any of this. York students and their families look like the clear losers.

The strikers – teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees – argue that bad times are good for universities because they bring more students to their doors and generate more income. The union wants better wages, improved job security and a two-year deal that would set the stage for an ambitious CUPE plan to coordinate campus contracts across the province for 2010.

The York local, with its history of job action, has a key role to play in this strategy to increase CUPE’s clout. The York contract is regarded as one of the best in the sector, a benchmark that TAs at other universities are eager to match.

"We are a fighting union," says Graham Potts, chief negotiator for CUPE Local 3903, which has been preparing its members for a strike since the summer. The same group was out for 11 weeks eight years ago, the longest strike ever on a Canadian campus.

York has responded to the union’s tactics by making negotiations public, releasing its offers and the "unrealistic" demands of the union at every stage of bargaining. From the start, the school has asked that the matter be settled through binding arbitration, a tactic the union says shows an unwillingness to negotiate.

Beyond wages and contract length, the York strike revolves around other key issues such as the treatment of long-serving contract faculty, a group that, increasingly, universities are employing as a low-cost alternative to tenured professors. "People are understanding of our position," says Alex Bilyk, director of media relations, who has carried the ball for York in the media. "There is a realization that the demands do not appear to be reasonable, fair or sustainable."

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and other senior leaders have kept a low profile throughout the dispute. The president’s only statement since the strike began has been a warning of budget cuts because of the worsening economy.

Potts characterizes the warnings as a "PR move" and says the union is not about to alter its tactics because of the economy. Instead, he points to the pay hikes given to University leaders, the millions York has raised through fundraising and an administration that "pushed out" the union with its negotiation tactics.

"York has a high number of strikes and it’s partly because of the management culture," he says. "If employees want to stand up for their rights, they have to go on strike."

That leaves many students wondering who is standing up for them. York’s student body is the most diverse in Canada. About half of all undergraduates live with their parents, and more than 40 per cent are part of the first generation in their family to go to university.

York’s student leaders agree with the union that more funds for its members will improve the quality of education but other groups that have formed on Facebook and Web sites are not so sure.

"I don’t trust the University or the union to come to an agreement," says Nora Kharouba, spokesperson for the online group YorkNotHostage.com and a second-year student who is worried an extended school year will prevent her from keeping a summer job she needs to pay for tuition. She also fears the two-year deal would bring more labour trouble in her final year.

Kharouba, an honours student, had her pick of schools, but chose York after her father, a York graduate, took her on a tour of his old campus. Now she is wondering whether she should have considered other offers.

Her father, Samir, says he worries a power struggle between the union and the school is damaging the quality of his daughter’s education. Unions have a role in protecting workers, but he fears too much of this dispute is about acting tough. "It is a blessing to have a job right now," Kharouba says. "I would rather that the two sides would sit down and discuss this and compromise."

  • From Canada’s financial hub to the centre of campus power, striking staff members staged protests yesterday to pressure the administration at York University to return to the bargaining table, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 17.

About 20 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 and some student supporters spent Monday night and all day yesterday outside the office of York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, demanding his commitment in writing to host a public forum on the strike during the first week of January.

To the south at King and Bay streets, other strikers and supporters held a "block party" to inform office workers and shoppers why they’ve been off the job since Nov. 6 in a dispute over wages and job security.

As of yesterday afternoon, Shoukri still had not met with the protesters outside his ninth-floor office, and the group said they were prepared to spend another night camped out with sleeping bags.

"We feel York hasn’t done enough to communicate with the University community during this strike, which is why we want a public forum on the issues,” said Amrit Heer, a master’s student in social & political thought.

The group was not blocking people from entering or leaving Shoukri’s office but were chanting "Whose university? Our university!" They also had pizza delivered.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said Monday the protesters were holding an unlawful picket by blocking the corridor, which he said was private property. He suggested they would do better to focus on negotiating a deal with the University.

No talks are slated, and the school year will almost certainly have to be extended into May if a deal is not struck over the holidays. York has offered a 9.25 per cent raise over three years, while the union is seeking an 8 per cent raise over two years and more job security. Nearly 50,000 undergraduates have been without classes for nearly six weeks at Canada’s third-largest university.

  • Professor Eric Lawee claims that the progressive majority in York’s faculty union have traded in their rational and critical faculties in favour of an unthinking stance of solidarity toward the union representing teaching assistants and contract faculty, wrote Richard Wellen, chair of York’s Division of Social Science, in a letter to the National Post Dec. 17. He maintains that university professors should put their professional commitment to rational criticism ahead of their "fundamentalist" allegiance to another union, especially when the strikers’ demands are "unreasonable" and students are harmed.

This argument is based on his assumption that the demands of this union – CUPE 3903 – are unreasonable. Unfortunately, however, he makes almost no mention of the issues at the centre of the strike: job security and career progression for long-serving contract faculty. He must know that a solution to this issue will almost certainly end the strike.

In light of this, the solidarity shown by the majority of York’s faculty members toward their under-recognized, "invisible" colleagues is remarkable and does honour to our profession. It would be easy for privileged tenured professors like myself, with practically the best job security on the planet, to turn their backs on this group of hard-working, flexible academic workers, who now do so much of the teaching at Canadian universities, but get so little recognition.

I am proud that the majority of members in York’s faculty union have abandoned this prejudice and have resisted Lawee’s elitist appeal to abandon union solidarity, wrote Wellen. 

  • Jean-Mikael Michaud, president of the Glendon College Student Union and a student member of York Senate, spoke about the strike by CUPE 3903 on Radio Canada (Toronto) Dec. 16.
  • York student Victoria Barnett, spoke about her participation in the sit-in at the president’s office on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Dec. 16.
  • Graduate student Amrit Heer, spoke about the sit-in on CFRB Radio Dec. 16.
  • Student Jesse Zimmerman, and graduate student Gabrielle Gerin, spoke about the strike on Global TV Dec. 16.
  • Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, and unnamed students, spoke about the strike on Toronto’s CFTO-TV and CTV Newsnet Dec. 16.

Fake degree costs woman her articling job on Bay Street

A promising law student has become the first casualty of the bogus degree scam exposed by the Star, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 17. Osgoode student Quami Frederick, 28, has quit the Bay Street law firm where she was to article after graduating in the spring.

A Star investigation found she had bought her undergraduate degree from a diploma mill.

Frederick not only used fake transcripts from St. George’s University in Grenada to get into York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 2006, her marks earned at the law school were inflated on transcripts she tendered to law firm Wildeboer Dellelce LLP.

"We owe the Star thanks for bringing this to light," said Kevin Fritz at the law firm. He said when the firm called her, "we didn’t have to say much. She immediately resigned."

The altered marks, with a C upgraded to A in some cases, came to light when the law firm and Osgoode shared notes on Frederick. She was one of 290 students admitted to Osgoode in 2006 from 2,500 applicants. Her bogus bachelor of science degree from Grenada came with a stellar 3.93 grade point average.

York officials say all law school applications go to a central source – the Ontario Law School Application Service – for evaluation.

Asked about her doctored Osgoode marks, Frederick said it no longer matters. "I’m finished. I have no career in law. Nobody is going to hire me," said the tearful woman, who said she is a single mother. "I’m just going to save face and save the University further embarrassment."

The scandal has left her destitute, she said, with more than $80,000 in student loans and other debts. Frederick, who lives in a townhouse in Rexdale, said she is Canadian born and grew up in Grenada. She said she wants to quit Osgoode but said the "rules of the law school" compel her to submit to a formal inquiry she believes can only end in her expulsion.

In the last three days Frederick has become a cause celebre among bloggers on the Internet, who have posted reactions ranging from outrage and mockery to praise for Frederick for beating the system.

It’s not about fighting

It’s started to gain steam but you can expect the debate over fighting in hockey to attain shout-it-from-the-mountaintops volume as soon as the condition of a critically injured member of the Whitby Dunlops changes, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Dec. 17.

If York student Don Sanderson begins pulling out of his coma and shows signs of moving toward a successful recovery, those who insist fighting’s part of the game will lament this as a horrible accident but quickly point out how rare something like this is.

But if, heaven forbid, things don’t go so well for the 21-year-old York University student, those who claim fighting has no place in the game will ramp up their argument that this young man would be getting ready for Christmas with his family right now if dropping the gloves had long ago been scrubbed out of the sport.

Problem is, no matter how loudly they scream and shout, neither side has the market cornered on being right.

  • CBC News online also reported on Sanderson’s condition Dec. 17 and regional papers across Ontario carried stories on the incident.

York historian says Korean War controversy still rages

John W. Powell, an American journalist who in 1959 was tried for sedition in a rare and highly public case after he asserted in print that the United States had used biological weapons in the Korean War, died on Monday in San Francisco. He was 89 and had lived in San Francisco for many years, wrote The New York Times Dec. 17. Even today, historians do not agree on whether the United States actually used biological weapons in North Korea, as Powell contended more than half a century ago.

"There’s no consensus," Stephen Endicott, a retired professor of history in York University’s Faculty of Arts, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. Endicott is the author, with Edward Hagerman, of The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets From the Early Cold War and Korea (Indiana University, 1998). "Nobody has come forward to say, on the American side, ‘Yes, we did it,’ or on the Chinese side, ‘Yes, we lied about it.’ It remains one of the controversial issues of the cold war."

York profs make TVO top 20

Two York University professors are in the top 20 running for TVO’s 2009 Big Ideas Best Lecturer Competition, wrote the North York Mirror Dec. 16. York’s Merv Mosher, professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science and Karolyn Smardz Frost, professor in the Atkinson School of Arts & Letters, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, are in competition for a $10,000 scholarship.

Subway extension appears set to begin

Community planning is a tricky business, to say the least, these days, wrote the North York Mirror Dec. 16. That’s because, realistically, there’s an inherent difficulty in seeing plans on paper cleanly translated into a place for people to live, work and play; it is no small task, given the number of interested parties. In Downsview, for example, the area’s secondary plan is currently undergoing a review. The original plan, approved back in 1999 by the city, is now being revisited given that the extension of the Spadina subway line is now on firm financial ground. The extension, getting a long-awaited financial commitment from the federal government earlier this year, appears set to finally move forward from its current terminus at the Downsview subway station, extend north through the community to York University and then up into the City of Vaughan.

Osgoode grad takes on new role with Region of Peel

The Region of Peel has dipped into its senior management pool to fill two newly created positions, wrote The Mississauga News Dec. 16. Osgoode grad Kent Gillespie (LLM ’08), former Peel commissioner of corporate services and regional solicitor, is now commissioner of employee and business services. Gillespie was legal counsel for the City of Mississauga between 1981 and 1989 and has been at the region since that time. A graduate of the University of Waterloo, he received his master of laws degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

On air

  • York grad Trung Le (BSc ’04) and his female robot “Aiko” were discussed on CBC Radio Dec. 16.