Academic-autonomy line crossed by Goodyear, say groups

Academic groups are accusing Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science and technology), of political interference and want his resignation after he called for a review of government funding for a conference on Israel and Palestine, reported the National Post June 12.

The Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) an arm’s-length federal agency that gives grants to university-based researchers, approved a $19,750 grant for a conference organized by York University and Queen’s University, titled Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace. The conference, taking place in Toronto June 22 to 24, has more than 50 confirmed speakers from across Canada and abroad.

On June 4, Goodyear phoned the head of the council and, the next day, released a statement saying he had heard concerns that some speakers had made anti-Israel statements in the past. Goodyear asked the council to do another peer review of the grant application, a move academic groups say is unprecedented for a minister.

"We feel that he has no business interfering in the peer-review process that’s undertaken by SSHRC, and we feel this represents an overall pattern, where the minister has demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the way science and social-science research works in Canada," said Megan Nicholson, chair of the National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students. Thursday, the group joined the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) in calling for Goodyear to step down.

But Goodyear has no intention of resigning, his spokesman, Gary Toft, told Canwest News Service, and he is strongly committed to the principle of academic independence.

Concerns about the conference were expressed by members of the Jewish community, said Toft, and the minister received hundreds of e-mails. "He felt it was important to bring those concerns to SSHRC so that they could have an opportunity to examine those and to respond to those concerns," Toft said.

But James Turk, executive director of the CAUT, said contacting the SSHRC crossed the line, and Goodyear has been in the job long enough to know better. "If he’s allowed to get away with this, this begins to undermine the whole kind of autonomy that allows our universities to do the work they do for the public," he said. Goodyear should have advised those opposed to the conference to raise their concerns with the council instead of "using his power to, implicitly, at least, intimidate the granting authority," said Turk.

Some Jewish organizations, including B’nai Brith and the Jewish Defence League, are opposed to the conference and plan to protest at it.

  • The Canadian Association of University Teachers’ call for Gary Goodyear’s resignation as federal science minister doesn’t meet the academic standards that might be expected of a university group, wrote the Waterloo Region Record in an editorial June 12. The association has no case against the Cambridge MP.

Sure, Goodyear called the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada to ask it to review a federal grant of $19,700 it is giving to a conference on the Mideast entitled, Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace. Goodyear said he called after receiving hundreds of e-mail notes from individuals and Jewish groups complaining about some speakers at the conference, which will be held at York University June 22-24.

It’s worth pointing out Goodyear did not tell the council he thought it should withdraw its support for this conference, and he didn’t threaten the organization. He merely suggested a review.

There are some aspects of the conference that are controversial, but the overall concept of this meeting is not inherently bad. This is a conference sponsored by reputable Canadian institutions. A thoughtful discussion of the problems in the Middle East might offer some constructive ideas that would be to the mutual advantage of all people living in that troubled part of the world.

Interestingly, this story has emerged at the same time that the federal government has objected to Sri Lanka keeping Liberal MP Bob Rae out of that country. If we expect other countries to welcome Canadians despite their views, we have to be willing to extend the same courtesy to others and ensure an open dialogue here.

  • Is a one-state solution really viable? In view of this long history of Arab refusal to accept the existence of Israel, most recently voiced by Hamas, why should anyone, not just Israelis and Diaspora Jews, believe that a single state could or would guarantee the safety and civil rights of its Jewish citizens? asked S. David Rosner in a letter to the National Post published June 12. With its focus on one-state solutions, the York University conference can hardly be considered as "mapping paths to peace," and leaves itself open to charges of serious bias verging on anti-Semitism.
  • The Canadian Federation of Students is joining the Canadian Association of University Teachers in asking for Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science and technology), to resign over political interference with internal peer-review processes at an independent granting council, reported the “Gary Doyle Show”, CKGL-AM, Kitchener, June 11.

Anti-supermom – today’s fatigued parents embrace ‘bad’ label

On blogs, confessional Web sites and bookshelves, a growing number of disaffected moms and dads are taking on the mantle of badness, reports The Hamilton Spectator June 12. Drained and fed up after a decades-long diet of marketing, advice and pressure to put the kiddies first at all costs and be the perfect parents, they are rebelling like the feistiest of teenagers. To hell with trying to be attentive, patient servants around the clock, they say.

Instead, they’re going public with their "bad parent" moments. Just trawl the Internet or thumb through the latest wave of parenting books and there they are. Kvetching about being bored silly at Gymboree, forgetting their infant at the babysitter, letting the preschoolers veg in front of the TV and refusing to cook organic.

"If you’re not a bad mom now, then you’re a bad mom," quips Andrea O’Reilly, director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University. "It’s almost as if we’ve upped the ante to who’s the baddest."

O’Reilly, who has been studying motherhood for decades, fears the "bad parent" posturing may be just another "mask" that parents will use to hide behind and judge each other. And, she adds, in many ways, it doesn’t come any closer to voicing the authentic challenges – lack of social supports, maternal ambivalence and regrets – than June Cleaver did.

Rosie Abella justice tempered with a soft heart

Madam Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada had no intention of letting police seize a Vancouver woman’s home to punish her for running a marijuana grow operation, reported The Globe and Mail June 12. In a ruling last month that was vintage Abella – justice tempered with a soft heart – the judge concluded that light sentences are more appropriate for small fry such as Judy Ann Craig.

Five years after Abella arrived on the court, the jury is in. Having largely silenced critics of her public profile and vocal support of social causes, Abella has emerged as a tower of strength in her favoured fields – family law, employment law, youth criminal justice and human rights. In addition, the growing number of majority judgments that she writes has stifled any suggestion that Judge Abella aspires to be a squeaky wheel.

"Justice Abella certainly started slowly, but I see a judge who is starting to assert herself as a distinct judicial personality on the court," said Bruce Ryder, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "I see her emerging as a leader on the court."

By instinct or design, Abella lay low at first. In cases where she could have forged a bold, activist path, she came across as a team player with no interest in rocking the boat. In two key decisions involving legal funding for the indigent, Abella failed to register even a faint dissent. "Those were both very, very cautious and conservative opinions that offer very little hope to ongoing struggles to secure rights to legal aid for the indigent," Ryder noted.

A turning point came early last year. In a case involving the rights of young offenders, Abella carried a 5-4 majority and aimed a well-argued swipe at her dissenting colleagues. Noting that "no one seriously disputes" that young people vary widely in maturity and sophistication, she argued they should be sentenced in ways that are unique to them.

It was the sort of succinct, self-confident opinion on behalf of a relatively powerless group that her supporters had hungered for.

Ryder calculated that Judge Abella has sat on 267 appeals since 2004, writing opinions in 48 of them, or 18 per cent. One clear theme has emerged. "Her commitment to progressive values shines through," he said.

Iron Road goes to dark past

For Chinese railroad workers and early migrants to Canada, the new movie Iron Road rivals in significance to what The Pianist means to Jews living with memories after the persecutions during the Second World War – both dramas give a face to those nameless and voiceless who perished en masse in history, reported the Toronto Star June 12.

Premiering at York University’s Price Family Cinema Sunday, Iron Road does that in a Shakespearian fashion – through the romance between a young Chinese woman, Little Tiger, who, disguised as a boy, goes in search of her railroad-worker father in British Columbia, and a Canadian playboy James Nichol, whose father runs a company that builds railroads.

Is York grad Sergio Marchionne Chrysler’s saviour?

Were I at all jingoistic, I’d be declaring the saving of Chrysler the work of a good Canadian education system, wrote David Booth in his Victoria Times Colonist column June 12. Indeed, our friends over at the "Old and Male" did exactly that when extolling Sergio Marchionne‘s (CEO of Fiat and the man who will save Chrysler) upbringing in Toronto and his schooling here in the Great White Frozen North (University of Toronto, an MBA from the University of Windsor and a 1983 law degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School).

And, indeed, it is entirely possible Marchionne will be some day credited as one of the saviours of the US auto industry. But before we get all mushy about yet another underdog comeback story, let us not forget that there are still serious obstacles to the resurrection of Chrysler. Let us not kid ourselves: The combination of an Italian automaker that’s never been successful in North America and Detroit’s most sickly cousin is hardly the stuff that inspires confidence.

North York students help launch new urban arts magazine

An urban arts magazine featuring the work of female Brookview Middle School students will launch June 18 at the Art Gallery of York University, reported the North York Mirror June 11. The magazine, Young Inspirations, features articles and artwork by Ladies First, a group of young, female Brookview students who took part in an after-school urban arts mentorship program run by the art gallery and Medina Collective. Through visual arts and writing, participants explored how hip hop serves as a vehicle for self-definition, empowerment and social justice, which led to the production of their own urban arts magazine.

On air

  • York students Neela Maharaj and Michael Liscombe talked about being part of a team that scored top honours for building a prototype of a Mars Rover in an international competition held early in June in the Utah Desert, on CTV’s “Canada AM” June 11.