Iranian dissidents blocked from attending York conference

Leading dissidents from Iran were insulted and humiliated by visa officers at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran before two were barred entry to Canada for a conference at York University, wrote the Toronto Star May 8, quoting organizers.

The two are Reza Alijani, a journalist and scholar who has been jailed several times by the Iranian government for his work and who has been honoured by Reporters Without Borders, and Shadi Sadr, a feminist lawyer who has travelled widely as part of her “One Million Signatures” campaign against the stoning of women in Iran. They were among 35 international scholars and activists invited to a conference last weekend on secularism and fundamentalism to mark the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

Saeed Rahnema, a conference organizer and political science professor in York’s Atkinson School of Public Policy & Administration, said it is “ironic at a time when Canada is involved in Afghanistan fighting fundamentalism that the government denies people visas to discuss secularism versus fundamentalism in Islam.”

One applicant reported “insults and humiliations were beyond tolerance” at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, according to a letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney signed by all the scholars and activists at the conference.

The visa officers at the embassy “resorted to all sort of excuses to discourage the two individuals,” the letter said, despite several requests from the organizers and York. A third person from Iran, Fariborz Raisdana, did receive a visa.

“Our obligation for these events is to help where we can but ensure the system is not abused,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson Danielle Norris said in an e-mail response. “A number of factors are considered. These include the person’s ties to the home country, the purpose of the visit, the person’s family and economic situation, the overall economic and political stability of the home country, and invitations from Canadian hosts,” Norris said.

Saeed Hariri, president of the Iranian Canadian Congress, said there is a 61-per-cent refusal rate for Iranians seeking visitors’ visas to Canada and the rate has been climbing. He said his pleas for a meeting with Kenney have received no response.

Save the birds? Save their habitat

International Migratory Bird Day [which fell on May 9] reminds us of the remarkable phenomenon we witness every year at this time: an amazing spring migration, with millions of birds flying thousands of kilometres from South and Central America and the southern United States north to Canada’s vast boreal forest, wrote Bridget Stutchbury, Canada Research Chair in Ecology and Conservation Biology in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, with Jeffery Wells and Caroline Schultz in The Globe and Mail online May 8.

Will governments act swiftly to save this precious resource? Last summer, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made a landmark commitment to protect at least 50 per cent of Ontario’s northern boreal region, followed by Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s similar announcement last fall. These bold decisions set a standard that other provinces and territories would do well to emulate. We expect the Ontario government to table legislation this spring as the first step to follow through on its commitment. This legislation has to be strong and clear enough to ensure land-use planning that will realize the Premier’s vision and promise.

Ontario Nature and the Boreal Songbird Initiative, with conservation partners across Canada and the Americas have circulated a petition appealing for much broader protection for this vast area. Such conservation measures cannot come too soon: Nearly 3,000 hectares of Canadian boreal forest, an area roughly the size of downtown Toronto, are clear-cut every day.

It is time our governments listen to the science and institute comprehensive reforms to safeguard this Canadian and global treasure. Anything less will have serious consequences for us all.

Astronaut returns home for tribute

It was standing room only in Merivale High School’s cafeteria last Sunday as residents gathered to pay tribute to one of Nepean’s own, wrote Nepean/Barrhaven EMC May 8.

May 3 was named Steve MacLean Day in Ottawa as the astronaut and president of the Canadian Space Agency returned home to be honoured with the Nepean Museum’s ‘Celebrating Nepean’s Best.’ “Today we celebrate one of Nepean’s best, Nepean’s own rocket man,” said Michael O’Byrne of CTV Ottawa, who was master of ceremonies for the occasion.

Born in 1954, MacLean (BA Spec. Hons. ’77, PhD ’83) attended Fisher Heights Public School, Sir Winston Churchill Intermediate School, and Merivale High School. He went on to receive a doctorate in physics from York University.

In 1983, MacLean was selected as one of Canada’s first astronauts and went into space aboard the shuttle Columbia on Mission STS-52 in 1992.

MacLean returned to space in 2006 aboard the shuttle Atlantis for Mission STS-115. During the 12-day space mission from Sept. 9 to 21, 2006, the Nepeanite became the first Canadian to operate Canadarm2 and the first Canadian to walk in space.

Singing for a cause

Rising 21-year-old Foxboro soprano singer and York student Gabrielle Crawford was born with music and theatre in her blood, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer May 8.

Crawford’s pure, warm-sounding voice will fill the air at Westminster United-Church May 30 for the second annual Benefit Classical Recital. “Opera is a challenge,” said Crawford. “There is no plateau. There’s always another level of technical precision, another level of difficulty. I am not going against anyone in my field, I am going against myself. It’s the ultimate challenge and the ultimate fun.”

Last fall she got actively involved in The Campbell Family Institute cancer centre at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto where she was attending York University.

Schulich’s Kozinets talks tribal marketing

Most marketers don’t think of their customers as tribes yet, or don’t realize the enormous impact that successful customer communities can have, so for many of them this is an non-existent problem, wrote Francois Gossieaux in Emergence Marketing May 8 in an introduction to an audio interview with Rob Kozinets, professor of marketing in the Schulich School of Business at York University.

One of Rob’s main themes is that consumer learning, opinions and transmission of influence happens in smaller groups – hence the idea of tribes. Today’s tribes have looser affiliations and are more hedonistic in nature than ancient tribes.

According to Rob, one of the big problems with communities is that companies are setting them up expecting fixed ROI (returns on investment), wrote Gossieaux. In reality the measurement of the impact of communities is very hard. They are hard to set up, take time to take off, and are challenging to maintain. And, as Rob points out, a lot of the successful community marketers have had their communities formed for them by their customers – much like Harley [Davidson].

Gossineaux also noted that Kozinets was the editor of Consumer Tribes, a collection of research papers on consumer tribes, recently finished a book on word-of-mouth advertising, and is one of the few researchers looking at the practice of business through the eyes of an anthropologist/ethnographer (among other things).

There are options in rural properties

They weren’t raised in a barn but Garry Watson and his wife Nancy feel quite at home in one most weekends and throughout the summer, wrote The Globe and Mail May 8 in an article on vacation properties. Then again, the Watsons’ 3,000-square-foot converted barn overlooking the tranquil Albion Hills in Loretto, Ont., has come a long way from its modest beginnings.

Instead of opting for a waterfront cottage, the couple had “the Barn,” as they refer to it, built on a 44-acre parcel of farmland they purchased a few years earlier. One might say that it’s located in the middle of proverbial nowhere and has but a small pond onsite. But the Watsons wouldn’t trade their country retreat for anything. The retired Osgoode Hall Law School professor and his wife, an educational consultant, hate long drives and love the location of their five-bedroom Barn.

The place they go to read, write (he still pens legal textbooks), garden, go on walks and spend time with their children and grandchildren is less than an hour’s drive from Toronto.

Elementary school named for Oscar Peterson 

Oscar Peterson was a world-renowned jazz musician who dropped out of school at 14 to pursue his career, wrote the Whitchurch-Stouffville Sun-Tribune May 7. But he never forgot the value of an education. In the mid-1980s, he was an adjunct music professor at York University, than its chancellor in the early 1990s. Now, there is an elementary school named after Peterson in Whitchurch-Stouffville.

Oscar Peterson Public School , on Hoover Park Drive, held its official opening ceremonies last Thursday. The school replaced Orchard Park Public School, which shut down at the end of the school year in 2008, last September.