Dr. Harrelson honoured for his sustainable ways

His latest character may have killed a zombie with a banjo, but Woody Harrelson‘s not sure he can slay the crowd when he accepts his honorary doctorate Saturday at York University, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 17. "It means more than any award or accolade I’ve received," Harrelson said. "I just get nervous about having to do a speech."

The Zombieland star was to receive the honour at York’s convocation. Best known for his role on the television comedy “Cheers”, he’s spent years promoting sustainable living by means of bicycle tours, green road trips and a book.

"It’s not always the usual suspects that need to be uncovered and recognized," said Dawn Bazely, a biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, who helped nominate the actor. Bazely first came across Harrelson’s efforts when she watched Go Further, the 2003 film that documents his biofuel road trip to spread the green word.

Harrelson has a bachelor’s degree in English and theatre but no honorary degrees to his name. "I was a little unsure they had the right guy," he said in his Texas drawl. "But now that I know they do, I’ll be there."

Harrelson talked to the Star on why he shouldn’t be your child’s role model and the impending vegan Twinkie revolution.

Q: When you were in school, were you into the environmental scene?
A: No, I really didn’t think about it that much. The college I went to, we had a nuclear power plant just down the road.

Q: When did the environment become important to you?
A: That probably happened in the late ’80s, early ’90s. I started to feel like, "What am I doing wasting my time as an actor when the world is going to hell in a handbasket?" I didn’t feel like I was doing anything of import.

Q: What parts of your life would you want students to follow?
A: I don’t consider myself much of a role model at all. The reason they’re giving me this doctorate has to do with my getting a hold of a principle that I believe in and sticking to it. Otherwise, I can’t think of any other aspect that I would even want my own children, much less other people’s children, to follow.

Q: Are you going to make a speech at convocation?
A: Well, I guess so. I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about it. I guess I have to say something. I’ll just say how grateful I am.

Q: What would be your advice to students?
A: Voting with your dollar, to me, is more important than voting any other way. Using a cloth bag instead of a paper bag. Ride a bike, not a car. I did that in Toronto; I did a lot of it on a bike.

Q: How was that?
A: I thought there were some really cool areas to bike, and some felt pretty dangerous. I was rehearsing over at the Distillery District, and I would come down some cool very green area, and go over the rail tracks.

Q: What’s your biggest challenge as a raw-food vegan?
A: Sitting at a restaurant that’s not vegan and trying to explain I can’t have any dairy or butter without annoying the s— out of everybody at the table.

Q: In Zombieland, your character is obsessed with a Twinkie. How did that work with your beliefs?
A: I play a lot of characters who have nothing to do with what I believe. And they ended up bringing in somebody to make something that looks just like a Twinkie. It might just start a vegan Twinkie revolution. There’s not even the remotest chance of me ever eating a Twinkie.

Q: How will you get to Toronto?
A: I generally fly. My carbon footprint has got to be astounding, but all those other people in the plane are helping offset it. I really haven’t done carbon offsetting. I probably should; that’s more laziness than anything. 

  • CTV, CP24-TV, Citytv and major Toronto radio stations broadcast the news of Woody Harrelson’s York honorary degree on regional and national newscasts Oct. 17.

York invites you into its ‘circle’ of learners

How does the idea of a free university education without the drudgery of studying for exams sound? If the thought appeals to you, you may want to look into joining York University‘s York Circle, suggested the North York Mirror Oct. 16.

Sure, you may not get a degree out of it, but that’s not what the program is all about. The York Circle bills itself as an endeavour for curious people who never want to stop learning. While closed to students and faculty, the program is open to parents of students, alumni and the general public who want to hear York professors and lecturers explore interesting ideas.  

"It is a view that there are a whole lot of people who want to keep learning but (because of) their day jobs and family responsibilities, don’t have the time," said Lorna Marsden, coordinator of The York Circle and past president of the University.  

While offering programs to adults isn’t new, The York Circle is putting a fresh twist on an old idea, she said. "Many universities offer continuing education programs. In the United States, they have something called University for a Day except they charge 350 bucks," she said. "This (York Circle) is something of the same idea but it is free. You have to be a member but membership is free."  

Marsden also points out that it is easy for people living downtown to attend lectures and lively debates. The York Circle aims to open up that experience to others outside the inner city. "If you live downtown, you could go to a lecture every night. But if you live near our Keele campus or north of (Highway) 401 or in a lot of North York, there aren’t those opportunities," she said.  

On Oct. 24, The York Circle will host its inaugural lecture series.  

The morning session features Harvey Skinner, dean of York’s Faculty of Health, discussing the topic "First Health, Then Medicine: A Prescription for Personal Health and Our Health Care System". The seminar imagines a future where almost everyone is healthy and aging gracefully, preventable diseases have been mostly eradicated because people do what it takes to stay well, and those who are ill receive early diagnoses and effective treatments. Skinner will explore what it would take to achieve this future.  

Following lunch provided by the University, participants will be able to choose between two afternoon sessions:

  • Paul Delaney, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics & Astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, will host "Planets, Planets Everywhere". The seminar will discuss the ongoing search for planets and for life in our galaxy. Images from the spacecraft and the largest telescopes on and above the Earth will be featured.  
  • Phillip Silver, a theatre professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, will host "Food, Glorious Food", a lighthearted look at food and drink on stage. From meat pies in Sweeney Todd to linguine flung at the wall in The Odd Couple, food is often a central feature in theatre.  

Ottawa sets off constitutional battle over federal regulator

In a move that will provoke a constitutional showdown with Quebec, the Harper government is asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether Ottawa has the power to create a national securities regulator, reported The Globe and Mail Oct. 17.  

Friday night, Quebec, which opposes a countrywide watchdog as an encroachment on its turf, said it "has not budged one iota" from this view and is ready for a fight.  

The federal Tories, armed with legal opinions in their favour, are trying to speed resolution of this constitutional question by asking Canada’s top judges for a verdict now. That’s because Ottawa is drafting legislation for the spring to create a single commission that could replace Canada’s much-maligned patchwork of 13 provincial and territorial securities regulators.  

Legal opinion in Canada is on Ottawa’s side, noting that Section 91 of the Constitution Act gives Parliament the power to make law on the “regulation of trade and commerce.”

"I think the consensus view among most constitutional scholars is the federal government has the full authority to proceed in the way it’s proceeding," said legal scholar Patrick Monahan, vice-president academic & provost of York University.

Monahan called the Supreme Court reference a wise move, although he warned that Ottawa cannot be certain of what response it will get. "The only caution is you can never take the Supreme Court for granted. There certainly have been cases in the past where federal governments were very confident – and referred matters to the Supreme Court and got unwelcome surprises."  

  • “I think it is a wise move,” said Monahan, in a Canwest News Service story Oct. 16. “Although I believe the constitutional and policy case for a national securities regulator is very strong, there are some provinces who continue to question the constitutional authority of Parliament to establish a regulator and I think that measure of uncertainty will potentially cause problems for the legislation.” 

Most Canadians now see environmental irresponsibility as social faux pas

Attitudes about the environment have shifted so profoundly that, in as few as five years, eco-delinquency will be akin to lighting up a cigarette in an elevator, says a leading Canadian expert on the issue, reported The Gazette in Montreal Oct. 15.  

According to David Bell, professor emeritus and former dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, the dovetailing of government legislation, public policy incentives and corporate leadership has created an atmosphere in which conservation is increasingly the norm. A new survey of some 1,500 people, in fact, reveals fully seven in 10 Canadians now believe environmental irresponsibility is a social faux pas.  

“I see this country at the cusp of great social change,” says Bell, chair of Learning for a Sustainable Future. “Soon, people who blatantly disregard the environment will be treated as outcasts.”

The Bosch Eco-lution Report, based on nationwide data collected by Leger Marketing and analyzed by Bell, finds 85 per cent of Canadians consider themselves committed to greener living, with roughly one in three identifying as either “green crusaders” or “green ambassadors”. A whopping 68 per cent use energy-efficient bulbs, 53 per cent purchase earth-friendly household supplies, 50 per cent buy energy-efficient kitchen or laundry appliances, and fully 78 per cent use reusable shopping bags.  

“There was always a gap between the expressed opinion and the actual behaviour. Now, that gap is closing and people are actually putting their money where their mouth is in the kinds of purchases they make,” says Bell. “It’s one thing if you read about (environmentalism) in the newspaper, another when you see that all your friends and neighbours are doing it. That’s when it becomes something you can’t ignore.”

Time to protect sex workers

The hypocrisy of our criminal laws in which prostitution, that is the sex act itself, and payment for sex are legal, but all other activities related to prostitution are illegal, is rather shocking, wrote the London Free Press Oct. 17.  

If hypocrisy was all it took to banish a law, our prostitution laws would have been tossed years ago. Instead York’s Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young has launched a court challenge of the laws relating to communication, living off the avails and bawdy houses. The case is being argued before Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, but the ultimate decision is destined to be made by the Supreme Court of Canada in the far-off future.  

Young’s argument is based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ right not to be deprived of "life, liberty and security except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."  

Whatever happens in this case, prostitution is not going to disappear, so would it be so wrong if we tried to rationalize the law and to protect vulnerable sex trade workers? concluded the Free Press.

On air

  • Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about recent EKOS political poll results that show dwindling support for the federal Liberals, on 680 News in Toronto Oct. 16. His comments were also featured on news reports on other Rogers News & Business Radio stations in North Bay and Moncton.
  • CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” discussed how The Economist magazine rated York’s Schulich School of Business No. 12 in the world, on Oct. 16.