YFS president hopes task force recommendations will be adopted

A York University task force is recommending changes to protect the open exchange of ideas in an environment free of discrimination and intimidation, wrote the North York Mirror Sept. 2.

The recommendations came in a report released Monday by the Presidential Task Force on Student Life, Learning & Community, which was established in March following a series of ugly incidents, said the Mirror.

While the task force said publicity of the incidents has portrayed an unduly negative image of life on York’s [Keele] campus, it acknowledged, “there have also been other incidents of racist graffiti targeting students from a variety of other identifiable groups.”

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri has asked senior staff to assess the feasibility of the recommendations so he can respond to the report within 30 days. “We are doing everything we can to enhance the student experience at York and to ensure students are able to learn in an environment free from fear and hostility,” he said in a statement.

Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of the York Federation of Students, is pleased with the recommendations and is looking forward to working with Shoukri and senior administrators to have them adopted.

In particular, he supported the task force’s call for a student bill of rights and responsibilities, creating more student space on campus, having University-sponsored debates of hot issues and establishing a 24-hour library.

Saravanamuttu applauded the task force for endorsing the campus as a place where freedom of speech, even on controversial matters, is protected while at the same time guaranteeing students the right to learn in an environment of civility, said the Mirror.

York team is ready to help students under stress

Canadian universities take mental health issues seriously and offer counselling to thousands who find their struggles on campus are affecting their academic performance, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 3.

Since suicide crosses so many young people’s minds, it is difficult to know when to intervene, says Marc Wilchesky, executive director of Counselling & Disability Services at York University, where the vast majority of students are commuters. “You don’t want to get someone in hospital who doesn’t belong there,” he says. “But you don’t want someone to kill themselves, either.”

In his 24 years at the University, he isn’t aware of any student who received treatment but went on to take his or her own life. “The threshold has changed how quickly we respond.”

York has a special team that swoops in to help students who experience a traumatic incident. It was used recently when a professor suffered a heart attack and died while giving a lecture to 150 students, Wilchesky says.

Brain’s ‘rage system’ shuts down rational response

York University’s David Wiesenthal is one of the country’s leading experts on road rage, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 3, in a story about a possible scientific explanation for a confrontation between a driver and a cyclist. Wiesenthal said that being behind the wheel in this state [after drinking] can be especially deadly.

Normally, when people are faced with life-altering decisions, from marriage to how to treat a disease, they have time to step back and rationally consider their options, he said. But on the road, in the heat of the moment, they don’t have the time or cognitive ability to take into account potential consequences, from injuring themselves or others to winding up in jail. “Someone’s life can take a tremendous turn in a few moments,” Wiesenthal said.

Osgoode prof says tribunal judge erred in hate law ruling

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal yesterday ruled that Section 13, Canada’s much-maligned human rights hate speech law, violates the Charter right to free expression because it carries the threat of punitive fines, wrote the National Post Sept. 3.

The shocking decision by Tribunal member Athanasios Hadjis leaves several hate-speech cases in limbo, and appears to strip the Canadian Human Rights Commission of its controversial legal mandate to pursue hate on the Internet, which it has strenuously defended against complaints of censorship.

Bruce Ryder, a constitutional law professor in York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said Hadjis was correct to find that the penalty provision “exacerbated the chilling effect” on freedom of expression. But he said Hadjis’ reasoning “broke down at the end,” and he should have rejected [a] penalty provision [instead]. Ryder also wondered how Web site owner Marc Lemire, a prominent figure in the Canadian far right, was acquitted over the posting of an article that explicitly denied the Holocaust, which he called “outrageous and inconsistent with jurisprudence”, and makes the entire ruling “vulnerable on judicial review”.

Bringing Goodness to Rwanda

It’s taken the better part of a year, but Toronto’s Volcano Theatre is finally going to make it to Rwanda, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 3. After 11 months of assiduous fundraising and gifts of 250,000 Aeroplan miles from generous donors, the company’s much-acclaimed production of Michael Redhill’s Holocaust drama Goodness leaves for Kigali and Butare next month.

Volcano artistic director Ross Manson, who also directed the play, had long hoped to take the project to Rwanda. Manson, who will direct a show at York University this fall, is also incubating a new play by Toronto playwright Hannah Moscovitch.

Victoria art college changes hands again

The Victoria College of Art & Design has been sold again, scarcely 10 months after being taken over by the Eminata Group, as part of its purchase of University Canada West, wrote Victoria, BC’s Times Colonist Sept. 3.

“We felt like a dolphin caught in the giant tuna net of a big factory ship,” said new owner Peter Such, former associate dean at Atkinson and chair of the Department of Humanities at York (1994-1997). “But now we’re free.” The deal has been signed, and the new school approved by the Private Career Training Institutions Agency, which regulates such institutions in BC.

He has been paying faculty salaries since the end of June, and also paid about $20,000 to take over the school’s liabilities and assets. He bought it with his brother Lionel Such, a chartered accountant.

The college will continue to focus on studio-based classes in drawing, painting, sculpture and art history, said Such, who is a novelist, filmmaker and editor.

On air

  • Alan Young, criminal law professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about a possible reopening of an investigation into corruption in the Toronto police drug squad on Global TV Aug. 31.
  • Richard Fisher, York’s chief marketing officer, and city councillor Howard Moscoe were interviewed about Moscoe’s claim York University cannot issue parking tickets on CBC TV in Toronto (French and English) Sept. 2.