The dilemma of the casino state

Call it the gambling paradox: The economy’s in the tank and we need public money to get it going again, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 14. Legal gambling pours a stream of cash into the province’s coffers, especially when times are tough.

So by offering more and increasingly addictive games – taking advantage of the whims and desires of the optimistic, greedy and addicted – the government can help us all. Immoral or not? That policy knot is the subject of a timely new book.

“With gambling, it’s kind of an odd situation, because we expect the state to protect people, to make sure people are not injured. But with gambling, the government is providing an activity that is kind of addictive and tends to take money from the poorest,” said Thomas Klassen, co-editor of and contributor to Casino State: Legalized Gambling in Canada. Klassen, a professor in the Department of Political Science in York’s Faculty of Arts, compiled the book with James Cosgrave, a professor of sociology at Trent University.

From April 2007 to March 2008, legalized gambling brought in $1.85 billion for Ontario, most of it through lottery sales and casinos, Klassen said. People who tend to spend the most on lottery tickets, he added, are the ones least able to afford them.

“With smoking and drinking, we put rules in place to make sure people don’t overdo it. With gambling, we don’t have the same approach,” he said. “If you go into a store, what you see is these big ads to buy lottery tickets. Which are basically put there by a Crown corporation.”

In a Q-&-A interview, Klassen said between three and five per cent of gamblers are addicted, and they provide one-third of the gambling revenue.

Governments are really caught in a hard place, Klassen said, and they are squeezing every dollar out of every opportunity they can. I worry that the money is being squeezed out of the people who are the poorest and people who are prone to addictions. So perhaps my own preference would be for the government to find other, more honest sources of revenue.

I think it is time just to step back, because if we don’t, the governments will be under more pressure to get more money, and you do that by providing games that are more addictive and by making it available over the Internet.

More funding, fewer promises needed to help homeless, say conference organizers

York graduate student Amanda Noble‘s quest began when she looked at the parade of politicians pitching promises here and there to help end homelessness, wrote The Canadian Press Feb. 15. She thought it would be interesting to compare the value of those promises to the actual costs of people living on the streets.

One estimate showed homelessness costs the country between $4.5 billion and $6 billion each year through emergency shelters, social service costs and the increased burdens on the health-care and justice system.

But when the social work graduate student tried to find how much governments had actually spent to help the homeless, she realized those numbers weren’t there. “It’s been very difficult to find concrete pictures of where the money’s actually going and how much is actually being spent as opposed to being promised,” Noble said.

In a lot of cases, she said, big, splashy promises weren’t necessarily followed up by action. And despite combing government registries, it was nearly impossible to figure out exactly where the money went. “It just kind of seems like they’re putting a big Band-Aid over the situation,” she said.

Her supervising professor, Thaddeus Hwong of York’s Atkinson School of Public Policy & Administration and School of Administrative Studies, said he was surprised at the lack of government accountability. “I would say nobody in Canada actually has a clear sense of how much the governments have spent and how much we gain from the spending,” he said. “There’s no comprehensive vision in dealing with homelessness in Canada, even though almost one per cent of our population is homeless.”

Student discord stirs tensions

Ugly charges of racism are being hurled in both directions as a group of students presses for impeachment of the York University student government, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 14.

“Of course it hurts,” said Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students (YFS). “If you were called an anti-Semite on a regular basis, of course it would hurt you when you know you’re not an anti-Semite, or a terrorist.”

On the other side, student officials with Hillel of Greater Toronto said they were hit with a barrage of virulent anti-Semitic epithets at a meeting this week aimed at impeaching the student government.

Daniel Ferman, president of the Jewish campus group Hillel at York and an organizer of the Drop YFS campaign, said the impeachment drive is about good government and accountability, not racism. “It has nothing to do with race,” Ferman said.

Both sides agree the 12-week strike that ended two weeks ago heated up underlying tensions among York’s 50,000 students.

Campus officials are checking the authenticity of signatures on the 195-page petition, wrote the Star. Once verified, a new election can be held for the top five student government posts.

But Ferman acknowledged the current government is on its last legs, regardless of the effectiveness of the impeachment drive. Elections for next year’s government are scheduled for March 16, and the impeachment vote may overlap with those elections. So be it, said Ferman. “A precedent needs to be set that when student government is not representing the needs of students, students will not stand for it,” he said.

“Our petition is binding,” said Ted Bethune, 22, an organizer of the Drop YFS coalition.

  • Having been a student at York University for four years, I have witnessed, first-hand, the gradual increase in hostility toward Jewish students on campus, wrote Jonathan Mackenzie, vice-president, media and publicity, Hasbara at York University, in a letter to the National Post Feb. 17. Year after year, York’s administration has turned a blind eye to rowdy, unauthorized anti-Israel protests, he wrote. The University’s Student Code of Conduct is rarely enforced against anti-Israel protesters who use megaphones outside lecture halls. York University administrators’ lack of action led to last week’s debacle, when Jewish students had to be locked inside the campus Hillel office to protect them from a mob.

I have never been so ashamed of my school’s administration, wrote Mackenzie. It is high time that major donors to York demand accountability from the administration, or withdraw financial support from the school.

A new sheriff’s in town

In retrospect, it wasn’t the brightest thing Sue Matthews (BA ’96) has ever done. But at the time, the cat was just so irresistibly cute. She had to pet it, wrote the St. Catharines Standard Feb. 14.

At around 60 kilograms, measuring nearly a metre in length and capable of reaching speeds nearly 120 km/h in an open sprint, this kitty was no house pet.

It was a full grown acinonyx jubatus, better known as the cheetah, the fastest predator on earth. Not in a cage, not on a leash, but out in the African wild. And Matthews just had to pet it. “It looked so tame to us. What can I say? I was 17,” says the Niagara Health System’s new head of nursing. “We walked right up to it and pet it. It rolled over on its back and let us pet its belly.”

Last week, the NHS eliminated 50 nursing jobs from its rolls, causing a system-wide shake up of the nursing staff. On top of it all, Matthews faces what all nursing administrators face in Canada – a quarter of senior nurses are in a position to retire in the next few years, threatening a possible brain drain from hospitals. “It’s a challenging time, that’s for sure,” she says. “But I think I can make a valuable contribution.”

RRSPs are still the king of tax shelters

Professor Moshe Milevsky of the Schulich School of Business at York University says an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) contribution now is “absolutely” a priority over a TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account), wrote the National Post Feb. 14. He says investors who skip RRSP contributions this year because of the bear market are irrational since there is no requirement to invest the money in stocks or equity funds. “Put it in cash or money market funds and figure out what to do with it later.” Cash contributions still generate a refund, after all.

MacCallum York’s all-time leader

Laura MacCallum has never been one to be overly concerned with individual statistics, wrote the Oakville Beaver Feb. 13. Even as she neared a major milestone, the 23-year-old continued to play basketball the same way she always had. In fact, she doesn’t even know the exact moment when she became the all-time leading scorer in York University history, a feat she accomplished during the Lions’ 74-60 loss to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees last month.

“I knew I only needed 10 or 13 points (to surpass the York record of 1,359 points, previously held by Nastassia Subban),” MacCallum said, “but I wasn’t keeping track of the points that I scored during the game. I was never purposefully going out to break the record. I was just playing as I normally do, and it became more and more of a reality.”

MacCallum, who will suit up in her final university game today (Feb. 14) when York hosts the Ryerson Rams, also became the fourth-highest scorer in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) history with her 28-point effort against Ottawa.

“Laura is the epitome of a player that all coaches want on their team,” said Lions head coach Bill Pangos. “She is a tremendous student, is coachable, has a strong will to compete, can play at both ends of the court and provides tremendous leadership on and off the court. She has literally given our Lions program everything she has.”

MacCallum is considering playing semi-pro basketball next year in Toronto, and is also interested in coaching younger players.

Credit-card cold turkey

Sonia Kang, a student at York University, taped her Visa card to the wall near where she slept for a few months, “until I could stop thinking about spending,” she wrote in an e-mail, to The Globe and Mail Feb. 16 which used it in a story about an increase in bankruptcies and people’s new spending habits.

“I really went overboard during the summer – I surpassed my limit a couple times and got charged the drafting charges, and my statements were trailing into a three-page-story spending habit,” she wrote. Now she lives on a cash budget, resorting to credit only if she needs to buy textbooks or make another necessary purchase.

York grad joins NHL coaching ranks

His work done for the evening, York grad Jim Hulton (BA Hons. ’93) stepped out of the Air Canada Centre and headed out to hook up with a few pals on the eve of a milestone birthday, wrote the Kingston Whig-Standard Feb. 14. The rookie assistant coach of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers was feeling pretty chipper. He’d just watched his cats claw the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 and was about to say so long to his 30s in the welcomed company of three fast friends from Kingston.

The job with Florida also meant the York University grad faced an immediate and imposing challenge: Help right a Panther pack that hadn’t played a playoff game in eight years. Moreover, it was his first time dealing with pro players, and not just any pros but la crème de la crème. His was a roster of real live millionaires, not the wannabe-wealthy he directed in junior.

On the defence – an activist becomes a lawyer

Davin Charney (LLB ‘07) has traded his bullhorn for a briefcase, his prison-issue jumpsuit for a business suit, wrote the Waterloo Region Record Feb. 14.

Once in frequent need of a lawyer because of his antics as a social crusader, he went back to school and became one himself this summer. But after years of protests and stunts on behalf of the young, the poor and the powerless, Charney insists he hasn’t really changed.

Instead of screaming slogans in the streets, now he just advances arguments in courtroom. “I’m still an activist, I’m still a protester, but I won’t put myself in a position where I can easily be picked up by the police,” Charney said, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt at the shared Kitchener townhouse that doubles as his law office. “There’s a lot to lose now.”

Charney applied to law school at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, buckled down for three years of studies and articled for a year with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. He now works for himself “so I can’t get fired,” still finds it a bit absurd being a lawyer, travels by bus or bicycle and has put principle ahead of profit – aiming to make just $25,000 in his first year in practice. “Other people get meaning out of having a nice car and a big salary, but that doesn’t make me happy,” Charney said.

Much of the money from successful police lawsuits, for instance, will be donated to fund more front-line activism. “There’s a real sense of ironic justice in that, I think,” Charney said.

No right to say no

Clayton Ruby (BA ’63) argues that student unions exercise their right to free speech when they decide not to fund anti-choice student groups, wrote York/Osgoode grad Daniel Santoro (LLB ’06) in a letter to The Globe and Mail Feb. 14. This does not, he says, limit the free-speech rights of anti-abortion students. With respect to my learned mentor, this analysis is flawed.

First, only recognized clubs can book a classroom on campus in which to hold an event such as a public debate. Recall that York University’s student union shut down a public debate on abortion. Funding had nothing to do with it.

Second, every student must fund their union with a portion of their tuition to the tune of several hundred dollars per year. While this does enable [student] union members to play pretend politics, it does not allow them to discriminate against the very students who supply the funds.

Making the literary life a little less precarious

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists Fraternal Benefit Society’s will offer writers, editors, translators – “basically anybody in the writing industry” – a Writers’ Coalition Benefits package, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 14. Deborah Windsor, executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, said the package will give access to the insured, extended-health-care services most salaried employees take for granted, such as basic dental and vision care, subsidized prescription drugs, accident insurance and physiotherapy. (Pensions are also on the long-term wish list.)

The catalyst for the initiative is Susan Swan, at 63 a much-published author (The Wives of Bath, What Casanova Told Me), academic (in York University’s Faculty of Arts) and, until this year, chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada. In this last capacity, she hosted a series of wine-and-cheese parties throughout 2007 for younger writers to get a feel for what they wanted the 1,800-member WUC to address.

A classy act for children

When Jason Spetter (LLB ’98) and Eric Weisz (MBA ’97/LLB ’97) were attending York’s Osgoode Hall Law School together in the 1990s, they loved participating in the annual Mock Trial, a spoof students put on to make fun of professors and lawyers, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 14 in a story about the two friends’ $250,000 donation to the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario. They ran into each other a couple of years after graduating and started talking about those sketches.

The company is Fallen Rock Productions and each year for the past six Spetter and Weisz have put on a musical and donated the proceeds to charity. At first, Weisz and Spetter did everything from arranging costumes and props to selling tickets and even performing. Today, they have two dozen volunteers and rely on graduates from various theatrical schools for actors.

Weisz, who manages a Toronto financing business called The Effort Trust Company, remains executive producer and takes care of the administrative duties. Spetter, a lawyer with Lipman Zener & Waxman in Toronto, handles the artistic side.

This year’s production, The Wizard of Oz, starts next week and runs for five days. It features more than 50 adult and child actors.

Former police chief is relishing her career as lawyer

It takes guts to be a pretty, long-haired 21-year-old wearing a very short skirt and walk into a police superintendent’s office to apply for a job – and wind up as the first female recruit on his force, wrote the Calgary Herald Feb. 16.

It takes courage to be the first woman to head up a major city police force in Canada. And it takes sheer determination to launch a whole new career at age 51 by heading back to university full time to do a law degree.

Glendon grad Christine Silverberg (BA ’70) has had the guts, courage and sheer determination to do all of these things in her 59 years on the planet – plus much, much more.

I spent several hours in conversation with Silverberg – best known to Calgarians as the chief of police from 1995 to 2000 – in her new digs at Wolch, Hursh, deWit, Silverberg & Watts, where her diverse practice centres on civil law.

Named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2004, she is that. Silverberg comes across as direct, forceful, highly articulate and supremely confident, a heavy hitter accustomed to playing a man’s game and winning.

Silverberg didn’t set out to be a police officer. She kind of fell into it.

After completing a sociology degree at York University’s Glendon College in Toronto, she got married in 1971 at 20, and instead of pursuing her dream of going to law school, she went looking for a job.

Journey from China is chronicled in a powerful collection of pictures and stories

York University graduate Caryl Registe (BAS Spec. Hons. ’04) came here from Dominica to better herself, wrote The Toronto Sun Feb. 16. After searching for months and not finding a job, she checked out Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s mentoring partnership program that got her an interview and job with Legal Aid Ontario.

Jie Lu (BScN ’07) began her professional life in Canada working in a restaurant after moving from China. She took English classes and applied for a York University program that qualified her as a registered nurse. She’s now a member of a family health team.

Singers, dancers vie for summer jobs

It was more intense than an "American Idol" audition, wrote The Toronto Sun Feb. 16. About 100 singers and dancers came to Canada’s Wonderland yesterday to try out for one of the 45 openings in performances scheduled for the upcoming season. But before they earned the title of “rising star”, they had to wow the panel of three judges.

“I can perform in front of thousands of people without any butterflies but in a room with three people staring at you it’s terrifying,” said Stacey Maroske, 21, who was auditioning for a singing position. Maroske has worked at Wonderland as a performer for the past four years and hopes to make it five. The York University student also said she hopes this might be a stepping stone to a singing career.

Nursing home abuse reports triple since 2001

Complaints of abuse in Manitoba’s nursing homes – everything from bloody noses to sexual abuse – have skyrocketed in the last few years, almost tripling since the province started formal reporting in mid-2001, wrote The Winnipeg Sun Feb. 16.

York graduate student Albert Banerjee, lead author of a study comparing violence in Canada’s nursing homes with Scandinavian countries, said elderly residents here are being left in dirty diapers longer because there isn’t enough staff. “They’re uncomfortable and they are, in a sense, powerless to do anything about it,” said Banerjee, sociology doctoral student at York University. “They’re frustrated. They lash out.”

Influenced by jazz greats

Toronto native and York instructor Richard Whiteman is a versatile player whose piano stylings range from the stride masters of the ’20s, through others like Bud Powell and Bill Evans, and also including modern giants like Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Feb. 14 in a review.

In addition to leading his own trio, Whiteman has performed with such jazz greats as Don Thompson, Kenny Wheeler, Pat LaBarbera, Ed Bickert and Jane Bunnett. He is a member of The Al Henderson Quintet, and has played with groups including The Canada Pops Orchestra, The Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra and The Galaxy Trio. Whiteman also teaches jazz piano and leads ensembles at York’s Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Arts.

On air

  • Sharon MacAlpine, coordinator for York’s Bridging Program for Women, spoke about the program on APTN-TV, Feb. 13.
  • Rob Tiffin, York vice-president, students, and Miguel Dias, York student, spoke about York’s recently announced financial help program for students affected by the strike on CFMT-TV’s “Telejournal” Portuguese news Feb. 13.
  • Robert Macdermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about municipal campaign contributions from land developers on Oshawa’s CHEX2-TV Feb. 16.
  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at Glendon, spoke about the economic crisis and the provincial legislature on Toronto’s CBLFT-TV Feb. 16.
  • Bridget Stutchbury, biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about her latest study of songbird migration, on CBC Radio (Thunder Bay, Fredricton, NB, Quebec City, PQ) Feb. 13 and on CBC Radio’s “Quirks and Quarks” Feb. 14.