Death of York student sparks debate about helmets

The death of a 21-year-old hockey player who died three weeks after hitting his unprotected head on the ice during a fight has renewed calls for tougher rules governing the use of helmets, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 3.

Don Sanderson, a rookie defenceman with the senior AAA Whitby Dunlops of the Ontario Hockey Association, died shortly after 1am Friday, Jan. 2, at Hamilton General Hospital.

Sanderson, a native of Port Perry, Ont., was tussling with Brantford Blast forward Corey Fulton during the third period of a Dec. 12 game at the Brantford Civic Centre when his helmet fell off.

Towards the end of the fight, both players tumbled to the ice, causing Sanderson to strike the back of his bare head. He was out cold for about 30 seconds before he briefly regained consciousness. The York University student eventually fell into a coma, underwent brain surgery and was moved to life support until his death.

Sanderson went into a coma following a tussle with Corey Fulton of the Brantford Blast during a Dec. 12 game at the Brantford Civic Centre. Video footage and eyewitness accounts of the incident suggest Sanderson’s helmet fell off as both tumbled to the ice during the skirmish.

  • The death of a young Ontario hockey player has triggered a police investigation into the on-ice fight that led to his death, wrote the Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun Jan. 4. Police will be helping out the coroner’s office by having an investigator look into the fight and the death of the Sanderson, a kinesiology student at York University and native of Port Perry.
  • The funeral for Don Sanderson, the 21-year-old Port Perry native who died from injuries suffered during a Major League Hockey game on Dec. 12 at the civic centre, will be held today, wrote the Brantford Expositor Jan. 5. Following the service, members of the Whitby Dunlops, the team Sanderson played for, will attend Crabby Joe’s in Port Perry, along with Sanderson’s family and friends.
  • CBC News and other broadcasters also reported Sanderson’s death on air and online.

Former member of York’s Board of Governors dies

Ben Boyle was from the old school of Canadian banking, wrote the Globe and Mail Jan. 2 in an obituary of the former member of York’s Board of Governors. It went like this: Join the bank straight from high school in small-town Canada, start at the bottom and try to make it to the top. For him, the formula worked a treat. In 1934, he landed his first job as a junior clerk at a branch of the old Dominion Bank in Orillia, Ont., and retired 47 years later as president of the Toronto Dominion Bank.

His real name was John Allan Boyle, but his Scottish mother called him "binnie bairn," and that morphed into the nickname "Ben." It stuck with him throughout his childhood in Orillia, then into his working life.

Strike delays York’s winter term

Thousands of York University students will remain out of classes today as the strike by teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty approaches its third month, wrote the National Post Jan. 5.

Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, said it is not likely classes will resume this week, even if a settlement is reached at the table in the next couple of days. "Basically if there were a settlement, the union would have to take that settlement back for ratification with their members and that could take any number of days. So it is unlikely that students could be back this week," he said.

Bilyk would not comment on the status of the talks or if any progress had been made at the table. The last time the two parties met, the mediator shut down talks on the same day they started because the parties were still too far apart.

When classes resume, York students will most likely see their reading week cancelled next month.

Classes may have to be extended into May but Bilyk said that decision is up to the University’s Senate to determine. York’s Senate has already determined 13 days will have to be added to make up for fall term classes disrupted by the strike, followed by a shortened exam period, before winter classes would begin.

Students and parents have been frustrated as the two-month strike drags on, and Bilyk said the University hopes the dispute ends as soon as possible. "This has been a long process and a long labour dispute, and all we can hope is to get an expeditious resolution as possible."

  • University officials and union representatives will resume bargaining today after negotiations ended late last night, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 5.
    Christina Rousseau, chair of CUPE Local 3903, said job security is a big point of contention. "We want a special contract which gives members five years instead of the eight months they have now," she said last night. "That will allow them to do some long-term planning."
    Child care and professional development are also at issue, said the Star. A York University spokesperson was not available to comment.
  • Talks between York University and its striking staff will resume at 10am today, a spokesperson for the employee’s union predicted, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 5.

"Both parties are exhausted," Tyler Shipley, a spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 3903, said before both sides took an overnight recess.

Though Shipley could not predict a settlement, he said union negotiators were encouraged that University officials had for the first time initiated the resumption of talks. "This is a good sign in itself," he added.

Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts and a member of the University’s bargaining committee, said his team was meeting well into the evening. "We’re in our rooms still working on proposals," he said.

  • York University and its striking staff returned to the bargaining table yesterday in an effort to end a two-month-long strike that has affected 50,000 students, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 4.

"We’re not asking for a job for life…but the folks teaching for 10, 15 years would like to have their work recognized versus applying for every single course they teach every semester. This is becoming the norm in postsecondary education," said CUPE 3903’s media relations spokesperson Tyler Shipley.

High stakes for higher learning

The bitter strike at York University, now in its second month, has become ground zero in a province-wide union campaign to get more leverage at the bargaining table that could affect the education of more than 300,000 Ontario students, wrote the Globe and Mail Dec. 27.

The initiative by the Canadian Union of Public Employees – outlined in a document called Coordinating our Future – aims to raise wages and benefits and improve job security of Ontario campus workers by moving contract talks out of the hands of individual universities and shifting them to the province.

That’s a tall order given the long history of university autonomy from government. Still, if CUPE can pull it off, it’s a strategy that comes with a huge stick – the threat of bringing higher learning in Ontario to a grinding halt.

York law student Matthew Geigen-Miller has been gathering some numbers on the CUPE campaign. By his count, there are already more than 200,000 students on campuses where CUPE has contracts that will expire in two years. If CUPE locals at York, the University of Toronto and a handful of others now in negotiations get their bargaining in sync, he estimates the studies of more than 330,000 students could be affected by the 2010 effort.

While some of those locals represent support workers such as clerks, food workers and groundskeepers, others include teaching assistants and contract faculty – the same groups that are striking at York and have prompted the administration to cancel classes. Hamilton’s McMaster University, Ryerson University in Toronto and Trent University in Peterborough are in that group.

Geigen-Miller, an organizer of the student group YorkNotHostage, says the 2010 issue has become a major source of discussion on the group’s Facebook site.

“Students are worried,” he says. “The 2010 issue raises in a lot of people’s minds the enhanced possibility that there might be a strike, just because it might be necessary to get the province to the bargaining table.”

On the other side of the debate, CUPE has gained the support of students represented by the Canadian Federation of Students, who see the strategy as a way to put pressure on the government for increased postsecondary funding.

Geigen-Miller says the issue has the potential to influence student choices when it comes to selecting universities, especially given the length of the current strike at York. “We are not trying to be alarmist, but we do think this is an issue,” he says.

Executives with two groups that represent university faculties are not convinced. “It’s not going to happen,” says Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, a group that counts among its members many contract faculty like the ones now striking at York.

Turk says coordinated bargaining is a long-standing aim in the union movement, but the structure of the university system, specifically the autonomy enjoyed by universities from the province, means it is not a realistic outcome. “That may be CUPE Ontario’s dream, but certainly in the university sector it isn’t on the horizon,” he says.

Henry Mandelbaum, executive director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty, takes the same view. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime,” he says. Mandelbaum also questions whether CUPE on its own could exert enough pressure to shut down a campus. In the case of York, he notes it was the University that cancelled some classes but the campus remained open.

Both the universities and the province say the union demand is a non-starter because it would go against a long history of institutional independence. “The university system is not looking at provincewide bargaining as a solution,” says Paul Genest, chief executive officer of the Council of Ontario Universities. “The autonomy of our university is a cherished principle.”

CUPE isn’t buying that response. Punam Khosla, a spokesperson for the York local and a graduate student, describes the 2010 strategy as a “no-brainer” that would benefit everyone. “It would help set public policy in a more rational way across the province,” she says. “The province is the key funder of postsecondary education.”

The dispute at York revolves around several issues but a two-year contract is a key demand. Getting the York workers at the table in 2010 would be a huge boost to CUPE’s efforts because of the size and strength of the local, as well as its Toronto location.

  • In pursuing province-wide talks for contract faculty and teaching assistants in 2010, the Canadian Union of Public Employees is sacrificing the interests of York University’s students to a delusion, wrote Michiel Horn, professor emeritus and University historian at York’s Glendon campus, in a letter to The Globe and Mail Dec. 29.
    The pursuit seems bound to fail, wrote Horn. In 1976-77, I was chair of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. University finances were being squeezed and several members of the executive wanted to negotiate directly with "the paymaster", as we called the provincial government. 
    But neither the government nor the universities showed the remotest interest in the idea. The reason, of course, was that none of them had anything to gain from it and all had something to lose.

That reason persists. If the hope for a two-year contract enabling province-wide negotiations in 2010 is keeping CUPE Local 3903 on the picket line, its members might as well abandon that hope and focus on other matters.

Is York strike devaluing degrees?

Midway through the final year of a course she loves, Melanie Hague says she may quit York University’s Theatre Program and switch to another school because she fears the ongoing strike may have cheapened her degree, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 2.

"They can talk all they want about how the strike won’t affect academic integrity but it’s very difficult for me to imagine how, after two months’ absence, I could make up the work required at the accelerated rate they will demand if they don’t extend the school year," said Hague, 21, during a break Wednesday at Starbucks, where she has taken extra shifts since the strike began Nov. 6.

Hague is one of nearly 50,000 undergraduate students whose classes were scrapped when 3,400 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants walked off the job. They are demanding better job security, benefits, wages and a two-year contract that would expire at the same time as other Ontario university unions, giving the Canadian Union of Public Employees more province-wide bargaining clout.

And while there is no particular date that serves as a deadline for when the school year would be lost – the University could just stretch classes longer and longer into the summer – many worry the quality of their education has already suffered.

"I’m supposed to be applying to grad school in three weeks, but if I’m going into a master’s program, I need a good foundation and I don’t think I’d be able to accomplish my winter courses to my satisfaction in the shorter time frame if they don’t extend the school year," said Hague.

"That’s why I’m thinking of finishing my degree at another university: I would sooner finish my education somewhere else and feel good about academe than shorten it in any way."

York University spokesperson Alex Bilyk said every department and Faculty at the University is working on a remediation program to ensure the University delivers on its courses and delivers in such a way that students get a meaningful degree and proper evaluation. "It is very important for the integrity of our courses to deliver on the knowledge that (students) are there to acquire," he said.

  • Thank you for bringing continued attention to the strike at York University, wrote Rochelle Bowmile (BA ’79, BEd ’79) in a letter to The Toronto Sun Dec. 22. The effect on the whole York community is devastating. Not only are 50,000 students losing out on the education they paid for; more important is the time wasted on their future, which in turn is the future of all of us. The businesses in and around York University are feeling the effects too.

    As a parent of two students at York, and as a York alumna, I am disgusted that once again the University is on strike. I, along with countless other parents and students, have appealed to our Ontario government to help end the stalemate and the only response I have received from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities was a form letter expressing "deep concern" and disappointment that the situation remains unresolved – and that they are monitoring the situation. In today’s economy, this strike needs to end now.

  • The strike at York University may be coming to an end, but the University’s administration and staff, as well as Ontarians generally, should pause to think about what has happened at this school, wrote the Waterloo Region Record Jan. 2 in an editorial.

While the two parties will sort out the details of a contract at the negotiation table, this strike has brought up broader issues. This is not the first major strike that has disrupted studies at York. Students at York endured a 55-day strike in 1997.

The provincial government has taken a hands-off approach to the strike, leaving the two parties to settle the dispute. This is the same approach that the Conservative government of Mike Harris took in 1997.

Some students, however, might wonder if this approach leaves them as pawns in an educational game. They can’t just pick up their textbooks and go to an alternative university. In short, the normal pressures that apply to labour disputes in the private sector don’t apply to the province’s campuses.

At this point, York’s students probably just want to get back to their classrooms and aren’t too interested in worrying about the broader implications of campus labour disputes. The provincial government, however, should consider reviewing the strike to see what it can do to help avoid such a disruption in the future.

Universities in $450-million ‘hole’

Ontario universities face $185 million in lost revenue next year after millions evaporated from endowment funds, wrote Canwest News Service Dec. 20, in a story quoting Paul Genest, president of the Council of Ontario Universities.

Operating grants for universities have flatlined, while costs increased by $270 million. Between that shortfall and the endowment crash, universities are in a $455-million "hole."

"We are facing grave pressures," said Genest, who addressed the province’s finance committee yesterday in Ottawa asking for $270-million in one-time relief to protect jobs at universities, as well as a $500-million quick infusion of cash for infrastructure renewal as part of the province’s economic stimulus package, and another $2-billion over the next two years for new construction to generate sustained stimulus and protect the growth of innovation at universities.

In Toronto, the president of York University circulated a statement indicating the value of its endowment fund had dropped by 19 per cent or $55 million, which would put the squeeze on new hiring and make it difficult to meet operating expenses and demand for student aid.

Filmmaker and writer scrutinized Canada’s intelligence agencies

Jim Littleton was a filmmaker, broadcaster and journalist who made a life-long specialty of investigating Canada’s intelligence services, wrote the Globe and Mail Dec. 23 in an obituary. Besides films [produced with Donald Brittain], he went on to write a seminal book entitled Target Nation that his friend, York University political scientist Leo Panitch, describes as important and extremely well researched. Target Nation, he said, detailed the spying on Canadian citizens and the passing of "scurrilous material" against them to the FBI or the CIA.