Tories deny they were trying to sway York election results

York University, still recovering from a bitter 12-week strike, cannot seem to escape political fireworks, even during the summer, wrote the Toronto Star and The Canadian Press July 5.

In this latest fracas, the York Federation of Students is accusing two Conservative politicians – MP Peter Kent and MPP Peter Shurman – of interfering with York’s turbulent student politics.

Through a Freedom of Information Request, the student federation obtained 50 pages of e-mail exchanges in which assistants for the two politicians, who represent student-heavy ridings north of the campus, repeatedly question University executives about the results of a student council vote this spring.

That election saw a more left-wing, pro-labour, pro-Palestinian slate of candidates beat a more conservative, pro-Israeli roster.

Despite complaints of voting irregularities from the losing side – that there was campaigning too close to the ballot box, that extra ballots had been printed, that there were partisan stickers on polling officers’ laptops – the student election committee upheld the vote.

It was these events that prompted Kent and Shurman to fire off the e-mails, which various student groups say was way out of line.

“The Conservative party has no authority at all for getting involved in student politics and neither does the York administration. We’re an incorporated, independent body,” charged Krisna Saravanamuttu, who was elected president of the York Federation of Students in the controversial vote. “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foot soldiers are deliberately interfering with student elections to help candidates more friendly to their policies.”

Nonsense, countered Kent and Shurman, who insist they were merely seeking updates on behalf of constituents, many of them Jewish students from Thornhill who say they have concerns about anti-Semitism on campus.

Rob Tiffin, York vice-president students, said the University treated the e-mails as requests for information, not as political pressure. York has no intention of reopening the vote, he said, although he has asked the student federation to join in seeking a review of York’s election process by an outside accounting firm.

In one e-mail to Tiffin at 2:14am the night of ballot counting, Kent’s special assistant said he was there on campus and was concerned nobody from the University was monitoring the process.

In another e-mail, Tiffin listed the alleged voting irregularities in a report to York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, who was to meet Kent.

“The perception (of the vote) is not good but it is also not proof that the voting process was hijacked,” Tiffin concluded. “Bottom – smoke but no gun.”

Canadians find snow on Mars

Leave it to a bunch of Canadians to discover snow falling on Mars, wrote The Timmins Daily Press July 4.

“To discover something new about another planet is as good as it gets,” said York University Professor Jim Whiteway, the lead Canadian scientist involved with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander.

Data transmitted by the Canadian-built laser instrument aboard the lander showed the first-ever evidence of precipitation on the Red Planet, Whiteway said yesterday. Although the data was transmitted back to Earth in September, the findings were just released yesterday for the first time in Science.

The Phoenix Mars Lander touched down on the Red Planet on May 25, 2008, and explored the planet’s arctic plains until November when the expected lack of sunlight caused the solar-powered vehicle to shut down.

Whiteway described the snowfall as light compared to snowfalls on Earth.

“It would be very mild by Earth’s standards,” Whiteway said. “If you stand in the Arctic in January or February, there are tiny ice crystals glinting in the atmosphere. It would be more like that. In the Arctic it’s called diamond dust.”

The snow crystals were captured by the Canadian-designed light detection and ranging instrument (LIDAR), which was built by Canadian company MDA Space Missions, the same company that built the Canadarm.

Whiteway said the findings advance the discussion of whether not there ever was, or could be, life on Mars.

  • Another surprise from Phoenix was finding ice clouds and precipitation more Earth-like than anticipated, wrote MarsDaily online July 6. The lander’s Canadian laser instrument for studying the atmosphere detected snow falling from clouds. In one of this week’s reports, Jim Whiteway, professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, and 22 co-authors say that, further into winter than Phoenix operated, this precipitation would result in a seasonal build-up of water ice on and in the ground.

“Before Phoenix we did not know whether precipitation occurs on Mars,” Whiteway said. “We knew that the polar ice cap advances as far south as the Phoenix site in winter, but we did not know how the water vapour moved from the atmosphere to ice on the ground. Now we know that it does snow, and that this is part of the hydrological cycle on Mars.”

  • The publication of the final report by York researchers on Mars’ snow was also mentioned on 680News Radio July 3.

Osgoode profs weigh in on speculation over Ottawa mayor’s testimony

“It’s a big deal, this decision,” says Alan Young, who teaches criminal law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote the Ottawa Citizen July 5 in a story about whether Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien would testify at his trial on charges of influence peddling. “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to advise not to testify in a lot of cases. It’s a very risky thing to do, especially in front of a jury.”

“The danger is that something will come out of a substantive nature that hurts him, or he’ll just have a manner that will cause the judge to take a disliking to him,” says James Stribopoulos, who is also a professor at Osgoode. “He might be needlessly combative, he might be self-righteous or he might just not come across as credible,” Stribopoulos said.

The decision to testify or not is “completely contingent” on the strength of the Crown’s case, Young says. “Once it reaches a certain level of strength, you’d better testify. I can’t say it in stronger terms.”

In judge-alone trials such as O’Brien’s, it’s easier to succeed without testifying, Young says. Unlike juries, judges “will evaluate the Crown’s evidence based upon the proper burden of proof.”

Many trials, Stribopoulos says, “are really credibility contests, a question of who do you believe. Whether or not you believe someone really is a subjective kind of thing.” So if O’Brien were to testify, “You never know what impression the judge will form of the mayor’s credibility.”

“He really has to take his lawyers’ advice on what they think his best legal response is in the circumstances and try to put the political realities of this case to one side pending the outcome,” Stribopoulos says. “If he testifies because he feels he has to for political reasons, and it’s a bad legal move and he’s convicted, I think that’s probably the end of his political career, too.”

Smaller town, bigger edge

“I can’t think of any ostentatious leader in this community,” said York grad Dave Caputo (BA ’90), president and CEO of Sandvine Inc., which makes broadband networking software and equipment, wrote The Globe And Mail July 4 in a story about living and working in Waterloo.

“Let’s see, I left my house at about 9:52 for this 10 o’clock meeting, and I just moved out into the sticks,” Caputo said. “You can’t overestimate the power of the short commute.”

While studying computer science in York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and getting his MBA at the University of Toronto 20 years ago, Caputo “loved every minute” of his big-city experience. “When I first moved here, I used to go back to Toronto every weekend, and then a little thing happened called kids,” he said.

Autism promises have yet to be fulfilled by government

Children with autism learn differently, but they do indeed learn and studies by Adrienne Perry, a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, bear this out, wrote Bruce McIntosh in a letter to the Richmond Hill Liberal July 5 on behalf of the Ontario Autism Coalition. The intensive behavioural methods used in Applied Behavioural Analysis are the best way to teach them.

Think Canadian Idol, urban edition

The country’s best undiscovered urban artists converge in Toronto today for a showcase that marks the end of a nationwide talent search and could launch the career of Canada’s next big thing, wrote The Globe and Mail July 4.

The Urban Music Association of Canada (UMAC) and Nettwerk Music Group have teamed up to put on Urban X-Posure, an artists’ conference and competition, with the winner receiving a cross-country concert tour in the fall and a digital singles deal with Nettwerk.

Ten finalists will hit the stage today for an opportunity that could make their careers. They include Ian Kamau [Prieto-McTair] (BDES Spec. Hons. ’05), a hip-hop artist who calls Toronto home. Kamau is working his way back into the music scene after taking some time off to get a degree from York University, where he studied fine arts and graphic design.

Conference on Middle East ignites passion

I appreciate Haroon Siddiqui’s article on the York University conference [Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace], which I attended, wrote Mira Khazzam, member, Independent Jewish Voices, Montreal in a comment to July 4. I am grateful to live in a society where there is the freedom to explore such vital issues in open dialogue. What a contrast to the hysterical tone and the cheap, low-level attacks of “anti-Semitism” of the conference’s detractors.

It is evident that this tyrannical attempt to silence free speech is not working, with the result that the attacks are becoming ever more desperate, shill, hysterical. As has been rightly stated, when the attack of anti-Semitism is so cheaply and readily used in an attempt to discredit whatever displeases supporters of Israeli injustice, then no one will be willing to listen when there is real anti-Semitism. They have emptied this term of any meaning.

  • The overall description of the recent York University conference as one of benign academic exchange misses the mark, wrote Frank Dimant, executive vice-president, B’nai Brith Canada, in a comment to July 4. To the contrary, what the conference did was lift the veil of so-called academia to expose a “toxic” environment where questions surrounding the Jewish state’s right to exist were front and centre.

Vilifications of Israel held court, with those expressing sympathetic viewpoints on Israel at times being heckled from the floor. We stand by our condemnation of this conference and we are concerned by the anti-Israel hostility that was in evidence at this event.