York student’s death ‘devastates’ his family

For Brian Fair, it was the worst possible outcome, wrote the Toronto Star June 1 in a story about the discovery of the body of York student Shane Fair. He said his family is “devastated” after Toronto police recovered the body of his 19-year-old son from the chilly waters of Lake Ontario near Ontario Place on Saturday.

Fair was last seen nearby early on May 16 after the formal for his York University residence. He had left the Atlantis Pavilions and wandered alone into the night. In the two weeks that followed, police scoured the lakefront and a search by family and friends turned up nothing. Then on Saturday, marine unit officers pulled a body from near the water’s edge and it was identified as Shane.

“We were hoping it wasn’t going to play out like this at all,” Brian Fair said. “It’s devastating for us all. I want to thank everyone who cared enough to come down for the search, to put up posters, taking time out of their days and lives,” he said. “We thank everyone for all of their efforts.”

Det. Scott Purches said police were awaiting the results of an autopsy before releasing a cause of death.

  • Fair’s body was spotted in the water near Ontario Place on Saturday, just metres away from the spot where he was last seen on May 16, after a formal dance and dinner organized by Calumet, his York University residence, wrote The Globe and Mail June 1. Fair was just weeks away from graduation, and was hoping for a career with the Canadian military. His disappearance sparked a massive search. Some believed he had missed the last bus home and been targeted by a mugger while trying to walk to his mother’s home in Toronto’s Beaches district.
  • Around 4pm Saturday, a passerby who spotted the corpse called officers to a bridge at Ontario Place near Lakeshore Boulevard and Exhibition Stadium, wrote the Toronto Star May 31 citing police sources. Police don’t know how Fair died, or how he ended up in the water.“That’s still a matter of open investigation,” said Det. Scott Purches. “We don’t have anything conclusive.” 
  • The Canadian Press, Canwest News Service and broadcast media in Toronto and across the country reported on the death of Fair, including CTV, Citytv, CP24-TV, Global TV, Sun TV and radio stations CBC (Toronto) and 680 News.

Canadian astronaut helps with York experiment

Laying the groundwork for the deployment of Canadian robots on other planets and figuring out how to help people adapt to extreme environments are among the things Bob Thirsk will do now that he’s aboard the International Space Station, wrote The Canadian Press May 29.

The 55-year-old Canadian astronaut was welcomed with bear hugs and smiles when he and two other space travellers arrived at the gigantic orbiting laboratory on Friday. “It is an historic day,” Thirsk told Steve MacLean, the head of the Canadian Space Agency, during a communications link-up with Earth. “It’s also a very happy day up here. You can’t imagine the state of elation that the six of us have right now.”

During the six months he’ll spend in space, Thirsk will participate in a York University experiment that will help people who have trouble telling up from down. Astronauts and others who find themselves in unusual extreme environments, or who have certain medical disorders, have difficulty orienting themselves and the experiment is aimed at helping them avoid life-threatening errors.

Osgoode expert says new law opens up suits against nations

Adjunct Professor James Morton of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School said Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement [of new legislation permitting the victims of terrorists to sue] raises a lot of questions, even if it was warmly welcomed by the crowd, wrote The Canadian Press June 1. “This will be an enormous change in the way Canada deals with foreign states and while it may be a good thing, it opens up all kinds of issues,” Morton said.

The proposed legislation also raises questions about how lawsuits involving other countries would work, he added. “If we, for example, allow someone from Israel to sue Syria for some type of alleged terrorist action, similarly that means they’re going to have people from Jordan allowed to sue Israel and people from Iraq allowed to sue the United States,” Morton said. “Presumably it would all be restricted to persons residing in Canada, which is fine, but it opens up lawsuits against nations across the world.”

  • Morton also spoke about the new legislation on Citytv May 31.

Canadian Jewish Congress is 90 years and going strong

This Sunday at its plenary assembly in Toronto the Canadian Jewish Congress will be celebrating its 90th year. And what years they have been, wrote Irving Abella, J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry in York’s Faculty of Arts and a former president of the congress, in the National Post May 30.

These founding representatives of a nascent Jewish community had faith in their new country. They foresaw an open, better and more tolerant Canada. And they created an organization to work for that new day, wrote Abella. They wanted an association that could speak on behalf of Canadian Jewry, that would preserve a Jewish heritage here, that would help rebuild a Jewish homeland in Palestine that would be an advocate for human rights and dignity and that would advance a flourishing sense of Canadianism amongst all its citizens. And today, nine decades later, it is clear that they built far better than they could have known.

For 90 years the Canadian Jewish Congress has given Canadian Jewry its shape and direction, a sense of unity and purpose. It vigorously fought – and still fights – anti-Semitism and racism. It helped force open Canada’s closed doors to the survivors of the Holocaust while resolutely campaigning to bring Nazi war criminals who found a haven in Canada to justice. From its inception, it has been involved in almost every aspect of Canadian Jewish activity; and in Canadian society at large, it has been a major engine of social change.

Controversial humane society leader is an Osgoode grad

In interviews with The Globe and Mail, more than 20 current and former employees, and volunteers and visitors, described volunteer president Tim Trow (LLB ’70) as a combative man with a sharp temper whose iron grip on the Toronto Humane Society has hurt the very animals Trow strives to protect, wrote The Globe and Mail June 1.

They say the situation is made worse by the fact that Trow, a former provincial civil servant in his early sixties, controls virtually every aspect of the shelter’s operations. He is volunteer president of the society’s board of directors and manages the shelter’s day-to-day operations, a job typically held by a salaried professional in non-profit organizations.

Educated at Trinity College School in Port Hope, and at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Trow is a passionate animal-rights advocate who writes letters to world leaders and corporations decrying whaling and the sale of small animals at PetSmart. An imposing man with pale boyish eyes, he shows a very compassionate side when he talks about animals. He has always lived around them, as he grew up on a farm in North York, and seems nearly moved to tears when he talks about them.

Can’t get no respect? Don’t lead

Credibility is essential to being an effective leader, wrote the Vaughan Citizen May 29. For Sid Ridgley, who trains executives for a living and teaches at the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University, “Every time you start to lose credibility, people aren’t willing to listen to you or they believe you have a hidden agenda, and that’s not a good thing. Good leaders in business and municipalities are realistic. They always push the bounds of conventional wisdom. They can dispassionately look at the facts.”

While it may seem that a leader has to have an opinion but can’t ever waver from it, Ridgley believes a good leader has to adapt to changing circumstances. “Great leaders, they reserve the right to change their mind. When the facts change, then you do what’s right,” he said.

(F)risky business: Is ‘sexting’ innocent flirtation or a crime?

When he was 18, Peter Cumming posed for his university newspaper wearing only his jockstrap and had to go into hiding for a few days to escape the wrath of the associate dean, wrote The Globe and Mail May 30.

Now a grey-haired professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, he sees no difference between that escapade and the modern phenomenon of “sexting”, in which teenagers send nude or racy images of themselves via their cellphones to their romantic partners or classmates.

The technology has changed, but the impulse is the same. Sexting is normal, flirtatious behaviour for adolescents, says Cumming, who delivered a provocative paper in defence of the practice at a conference this week in Ottawa.

Except when it plays a role in cyber-bullying or sexual harassment, it is the equivalent of spin-the-bottle or playing doctor, says Cumming, a humanities professor and coordinator of the Children’s Studies Program at York.

“Indeed, one could argue that in some ways virtual sexual activities are safer for teens than actual ones: Nobody ever got pregnant or received a sexually transmitted disease directly from an online exchange,” he argued in a paper presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, formerly known as the Learneds, an annual gathering of academics that attracted 8,000 people to Carleton University this week.

But there are other risks, which Cumming mentioned briefly in his paper. Still, there is no need for moral panic, Cumming says, and that is how he describes the response to sexting, especially in the United States, where it has led to more than a dozen criminal charges against teenagers. It is a mistake to see nudity as pornography, says Cumming, who also confesses to almost being expelled in Grade 2 for looking up girls’ dresses. “When and how and why have we forgotten children’s participatory rights as sexual beings?”

There are no sexting-related cases before the courts in Canada, Cumming says, and it is not a crime here for consenting young people to exchange nude photos. But sharing them could become a criminal matter.

  • Instead of outrage, the reaction [to the practice known as sexting] has been largely muted, and in some cases, adults are even excusing it, wrote conservative cable-TV personality Bill O’Reilly in California’s San Luis Obispo County Tribune May 29 in a syndicated column about Cumming’s presentation.
    There was a time when Peter Cumming would have been ostracized from serious discourse but those days are long gone, wrote O’Reilly. There was no widespread outcry from the academics over his thesis and most media chose to ignore the situation. After all, a condemnation of Cumming would require making a judgment, something far-left secular progressives are loathe to do.

First head of Toronto’s Africentric school taught at York

She may have a blue-chip resumé, but it’s the stage presence she honed as a singer that could prove most handy when a former Toronto Board of Education secondee in York’s Faculty of Education, Thando Hyman-Aman, takes on the most controversial school job in Canada, wrote the Toronto Star May 30.

As first principal of the Africentric alternative school slated to open in Toronto this fall, this educator, radio host, hip-hop artist, public speaker, mother, university teacher and sometime wedding singer says she knows she is headed for the hot seat.

“There will be scrutiny, to be sure – the school is meant to give students more choice – but I’m passionate about students succeeding and sometimes success looks different for different children,” said Hyman-Aman, who will finish her first year as a principal at Scarborough’s General Brock Public School to take the reins of the new school.

Stop the money drain, rethink your portfolio

“It’s time to dismantle the myth of ownership is good for all,” says Moshe Milevsky, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University and author of several books on personal finance, wrote the National Post May 30. “Housing is more consumption than investment, and the last year of falling prices has starkly reminded us all of this fact,” Milevsky says.

It’s easy to determine whether renting or buying is the better deal, he says. Think of the house the same way you would a stock, with a P/E or price earnings ratio, he says. “At 40-to-one, the stock is clearly overpriced. So, if you are paying less than 2.5 per cent of the market value of the house in rent, you are better off,” Milevsky says. “This obviously is a very rough rule of thumb, but is the proper way to approach the issue.”

York artist/professor’s ‘she-beasts’ hit Winnipeg

Just as local women head into bathing-suit season obsessed with dieting, bikini-waxing and shaving, a clan of delightfully fat, hairy she-beasts arrives at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press May 31.

Ladies Sasquatch, an exhibition by Toronto artist and York Professor Allyson Mitchell, is a “community” of six towering sculptured creatures whose pelts are made from kitschy domestic textiles such as shag carpet, sofa cushions, afghans, rug-hooking projects and especially fun fur. “Dozens of sasquatch sightings occur around the world every year,” notes the printed material for the show, which opened Saturday and runs until Aug. 16. “Why is it that none of these beasts are ever reported as female?”

“They’re fantasy, utopian wild women of the forest,” says Mitchell, 41, a playfully provocative lesbian feminist who teaches in York’s School of Women’s Studies.

Glendon grad Hébert craved the real world of politics

National affairs writer and York grad Chantal Hébert (BA ’76) was honoured to speak at Bishop’s University’s convocation over the weekend, wrote Sherbrooke, Que.’s The Record June 1, although she has a hard time considering herself “the preachy type”. “I wasn’t the most studious university student either,” she admits. “I kind of just wanted out of there.”

“There” was York University’s bilingual Glendon campus in Toronto, where the Franco-Ontarian studied political science in the early 1970s. Her desire to move on wasn’t for a lack of interest in what she studied but Hébert craved the real life experience the world of politics offered. Enough to convince the Radio-Canada newsroom in Toronto to give her a chance; an opportunity that launched a storied journalistic career in both the country’s official languages.

Downturn lowers people’s career goals, says Shulich prof

Ambition – that key driver of career advancement – is being reconsidered in many workplaces that are challenged by the [economic] downturn, wrote The Globe and Mail June 1. Some employees are managing personal expectations as they handle the many curveballs the economy has thrown their way. Others simply push goal-setting lower on their to-do lists.

“[The economy] has had at least a modest effect in lowering people’s sights,” says Ronald Burke,  professor emeritus of organizational behaviour at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “I think they’re lowering the personal bar, plus they’re more open now to shifting their goals to areas of potential employment than what they hoped for a few years ago.”

That reach-for-the-top mentality hasn’t been completely stifled in the recession-weary office, Burke says, but employees have to prune their expectations to fit the landscape. “I think you have to aim high but you have to be realistic. Right now, people in the job market across the board are having to be more realistic about what they can get to, and how quickly it’s going to result in some kind of a career advancement.”

Mathematicians gather to examine retirement issues and pensions

Tom Salisbury, a mathematics professor in York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, is one of the experts helping create new financial products that aim to protect retirees from financial ruin in their golden years, wrote the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal June 1.

Salisbury and many of his fellow math gurus from across the country are gathering at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton this week for the 10th anniversary conference of MITACS, a federally funded national research network for the mathematical sciences.

“MITACS has a mandate to stimulate interaction between people in universities and industry/business,” Salisbury said. “They also stimulate training – helping graduate students learn the skills they need to actually work in the industry. “The summer meeting is a networking opportunity to find out what other people are doing.”

Salisbury is one of the speakers at the event and he will discuss risk and finance, particularly as it applies to retirement issues and pensions. “I’ll be talking about demographic changes in Canada and how that’s affected the way people save for retirement,” he said. “I’ll talk a bit about some of the retirement savings instruments that industry has built for people.”

Fine arts grad teaches in Port Hope

Throughout July and August, budding artists, actors and musicians flock to The Old Art School (Molson’s Mill) in Port Hope to experience the widest range of arts interaction in Northumberland, wrote Northumberlandtoday.com June 1 in a story about the Journey Through The Arts summer program. Guitar strings are plucked, paintings are created, plays are performed and songs are composed under the guidance of teachers, including Sarah Foord (BFA Spec. Hons. ’02), a Port Hope native.

‘Wrap It Right’ ads are a hit when tailored to the target community

An innovative campaign by the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) went over well with young South Asians, says researcher Trevor Hart, and this breaks new ground for cultural communities, wrote the Toronto Star June 1.

Hart, an investigator in HIV research for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and associate Amrita Ghai, a graduate student at York University, have just finished analyzing the impact of ASAAP’s “Wrap It Right” TV and transit drive to promote condom use among South Asians.

What Hart and Ghai studied was the response of 106 heterosexual undergraduate students to the various “Wrap It Right” messages – a middle-aged couple, a young couple, two young women, two middle-aged women and two young men in clearly South Asian settings of food, clothing and music.

On air

  • Gordon Kirke, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the guilty verdict in the trial for manslaughter of Manny Castillo on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” May 29.
  • Perry Sadorsky, professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about GM’s expected filing for bankruptcy protection on AM640 Radio, May 29.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about GM’s application for bankruptcy protection on Sun TV June 1.
  • Former graduate student Fred Metallic, spoke about pursuing his doctorate in the Mi’kmaq language at York on CHMT Radio (Timmins) May 31.