Who will fund accessibility compliance?

So, the federal government has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, wrote Ruth Bramham, project coordinator, planning & renovations, in York’s Campus Services & Business Operations, in a letter to the Toronto Star March 15 responding to an editorial. Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), passed by the legislature in 2005, finally saw the beginning of its implementation Jan. 1 this year.

But where is the funding to ensure full compliance? The costliest part of ensuring implementation is still awaiting final approval: the Accessible Built Environment Standards (ABES). Meetings held over the past year or so brought only questions on where the funding would be found to implement ABES.

Amid a recession, there was only silence from all levels of government, wrote Bramham. The accessibility standards, as sent for final review, indicate major expenses ahead to convert existing buildings. Implementation stays on the same timetable. Public and institutional buildings have only three years to be in compliance, yet we still don’t know the final form of the standards.

Building owners and managers want to make their buildings fully accessible and safe for those with all forms of disability. As a member of the committee formed to ensure York’s compliance, it would be nice to know what standards to meet, a realistic deadline and how to pay for all the changes.

The dark side of DNA evidence

Last year, University of Virginia law Professor Brandon Garrett and Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, found that three of 156 US individuals ultimately exonerated in serious crimes had been wrongly convicted because of DNA errors, wrote The Globe and Mail March 13. In one case, a technician grossly overstated evidence. Another featured lab contamination. The third wrongful conviction came after senior analyst Fred Zain gave evidence in court he knew to be false.

Alan Young, a criminal law professor in York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, describes the Zain case as “a classic example of why you can’t simply roll over and play dead in the face of science.” After his shortcomings at the West  Virginia State Police Crime Laboratory were discovered, Zain left and became head of a medical examiner’s lab in Texas. His errors became one of several problems the state ultimately faced.

“They have had to reopen hundreds of cases in Texas because of the discovery of horrible preservation and contamination issues,” said Young. “They had to literally shut down a lab in Houston because it was generating so many false results.”

Think you’ve got a pension? Well, you’d better think again

The majority of working Canadians – about 67 per cent of today’s workforce – are currently pensionless: that is, they are not part of a registered pension plan (RPP), wrote Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, and Alexandra Macqueen, special project manager at the QWeMA [Quantitative Wealth Management Analytics] Group in the Toronto Star March 15.

The assumption underlying all of the discussions [about reforming pensions] is that the population about whom we are concerned is the majority of Canadians who do not belong to an RPP – and not about the “lucky third” with workplace pensions.

But allow us to be contrarians for a moment. We are actually quite concerned for a large proportion of the so-called lucky third: those who think they will retire to a guaranteed pension income, when in fact they have nothing of the sort.

To understand our concern, we need to step back and carefully review the meaning of the word pension. A quarter of a century ago, the vast majority of the largest and most prestigious employers in North America offered defined benefit (DB) pensions to their new employees. This form of pension promises a lifetime of income to each retiree when he or she stops working, with potentially a survivor pension for the employee’s spouse.

  • York University finance Professor Moshe Milevsky and co-author Alexandra Macqueen caution that even those who save 20 to 50 times what they will need annually in retirement still run the risk of running out of money before they die, wrote The Windsor Star March 15. Guaranteed pensions are expensive, but they provide the certainty the elderly need, they write in the latest issue of the magazine Policy Options. “Hope, expectations and estimates ‘in all probability’ aren’t enough.”

Tales of real women spies spark York prof’s imagination

Odds are, when we imagine a female spy it’s a busty James Bond temptress or Jennifer Garner in "Alias", flirting with terrorists in conspicuous disguises, wrote The Coast.ca March 11. Toronto artist Nina Levitt, a professor of visual arts in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, hopes to portray something a little closer to the truth in her exhibition at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery. Little Breeze pays homage to the lives of Britain’s first female spies, who served in occupied France during the Second World War. “I was interested in the ordinary women, who really did have a big impact on the war,” says Levitt.

The narrative of Violette Szabo, a British Special Operations Executive secret agent, ties the exhibition together. Levitt projects documents on the gallery wall or replicates them herself, containing both banal and gut-wrenching details about Szabo’s life. Szabo, whose alias was Louise, died at 23, after torture and interrogation at the hands of the Gestapo. In one letter, a high-ranking British female officer promises to return Szabo’s camel-hair coat to her parents. “My imagination goes to the point at which the parents received that coat and that’s all they had,” says Levitt. Other documents include account statements and officious character assessments. “I think there’s a failure in these documents to really describe who somebody is,” says Levitt.

Privatization unpopular with readers

It would have been a great Speech from the Throne – if it was 1910, wrote Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies in a letter to the Toronto Star March 13, in response to a story about Premier Dalton McGuinty’s support for a chromite mining project in the James Bay region. In this century though, Ontario may want to consider an economic strategy that does not involve large-scale irreparable ecological destruction, will not leave the province dependent on volatile resource commodity prices (ask Alberta), and that will provide long-term sustainable employment for northern communities.

  • A $200,000 review of the value of the province’s assets, including Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One, the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario by Goldman Sachs and CIBC World Markets raises the question: What is Goldman Sachs’ interest in it? asked economics Professor Emeritus Louis Lefeber, of York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in another letter to the Star March 13.

That sum to a banking giant such as Goldman Sachs is chicken feed. We should consider Goldman Sachs’ role, albeit a completely legal one, in marketing the assets of the Greek nation under its previous New Democracy government, thereby helping to hide the size of the country’s budgetary deficit, and depriving the incoming PASOK [Panhellenic Socialist Movement] government of adequate resources for coping with its near catastrophic economic situation.

Spaces between places

Unexplored crevices and odd points of view burst from the pages of A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto, a collection so inspired it surprised the series’ creators in Montreal, wrote the National Post March 13 in a review.

The book, pocket-sized and jammed with photographs, was a three-year labour of love, and it features buildings and parks from Etobicoke to Scarborough, the waterfront to Highway 401. Attention is paid to the usual suspects, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum receive full pages, but equally enticing are little known areas like the Schulich School of Business at York University and the laneway homes on Croft Street in Little Italy.

A new leader for crime prevention

She has experience in policing and working in the mental-health field and York grad Joan Nandlal (BA Hons. ’91) is bringing those skills to her new job as head of the John Howard Society of Waterloo-Wellington, wrote the Waterloo Region Record March 13.

Nandlal took over as executive director of this local agency on March 1. Born in Montreal and raised in Toronto, Nandlal has a bachelor’s degree from York University in Toronto, and master’s and doctoral degrees in social psychology from the University of Guelph.

Poems of whimsy, verve, playfulness and erudition

I came across a book of poems by a retired professor of English at York University recently that struck me by its whimsy, verve, playfulness and erudition, wrote Michael Higgins in the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal March 13. Imagining Sisyphus Happy by Ian Sowton, former master of York’s Calumet College and a recognized Edmund Spenser scholar, is an eclectic work, both recondite and accessible, reflective and provocative, conventional and experimental.

Sowton has fun with his poems and invites us to share in his merriment. He concocts new fables and has his way with old fairy tales. In one cleverly crafted poem, he brings together the 19th-century Romantic composer Anton Bruckner, the London of the 1590s, poet Denise Levertov and a new historical construct, a magical outcropping from the poet’s fertile imagination, one Tewler.

York University launches Oscar Peterson Scholarships

A major new scholarship program endowed by the Ontario government to commemorate legendary Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson will be inaugurated this year at York University, wrote JazzFM.com March 9.

The Oscar Peterson Scholarships will be launched this fall with an entrance award valued at $40,000 and up to four $10,000 scholarships for current undergraduate music students.

York pole vaulter beats Saskatoon jumper’s mark

It was a day of inches at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) track & field championships in Windsor, Ont., on Friday – or centimetres, to be more accurate, wrote Saskatoon, Sask.’s The StarPhoenix March 13. Former Huskie Kelsie Hendry’s CIS record jump of 4.22 metres in the pole vault was surpassed by Heather Hamilton of York University – by one centimetre.

York has Shockwave

York University, Mount Sinai Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic Canada, McGill University and the podiatrist for Toronto Blue Jays are among Canadian institutions that have a Shockwave machine – a machine that provides non-surgical treatment to accelerate the recovery of injured tissue, wrote the National Post March 15 in a story about the company’s dilemma in expanding into the US market. In the United States, orthopedic surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic have machines, as does the Oakland Athletics baseball team.

On air

  • Tony Fang, professor of human resource management in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about his study of immigrant professionals, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” March 11.
  • Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology/Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Health and director of the Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative at York, spoke about neuron therapy, on CBC Radio’s “Ideas” program March 12.