Prof knows why we get sick and wants us to act on it

Dennis Raphael knows who gets sick and why. But to make it better he needs you to know, too, wrote in a story also published in print editions across Canada May 11.

So the professor at York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health teamed up with visiting scholar Juha Mikkonen to produce a free public primer. Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts is a 62-page report suggesting the primary factors shaping the health of Canadians are not medical treatments or lifestyle choices, but living conditions.

“We’ve been trying for years to put out something for the public,” says Raphael, “because the average person doesn’t go to Health Canada’s Web site or the Canadian Public Health Association Web site.”

Raphael credits his tech-savvy co-author in helping to get the message out. “With Juha visiting from Finland, I came across someone who not only had the content expertise, but was also able to master the desktop publishing and setting up of the Web site. Now when someone asks what it’s all about, instead of directing them to a World Health Organization report of 300 pages or my textbook of 600 pages, they can be directed to an accessible document.”

Since its launch on April 28, has had more than 5,000 visitors, says Raphael.

Not surprisingly, Raphael and Mikkonen looked to Europe as a model. In 1998, the World Health Organization’s European office put out Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts. Reissued in 2003, the document was able to influence public policy in Europe, according to Raphael. “Our thinking was that if they could do that in Europe and get the word out maybe we can do it Canada – until the Canadian public begins to understand how important these issues are, there won’t be enough pressure on elected representatives to address the challenges that Canada is facing.”

  • A York University study has found enormous gaps in the quality of life and health among Canadians, and those lines are largely drawn along income and wealth, wrote April 28.

The 62-page report found that while Canada is among the richest countries in the world, it’s more than willing to let its poorest citizens fend for themselves when hard times strike.

Noting that an average person’s health can be determined by a number of factors, including housing, food security, social exclusion and income, the report claims Canada’s safety net isn’t sufficient.

The cumulative effect of these inequalities, the report says, is inferior public health, increased expenditure on front-line health care and increased mortality.

It’s easy to be tough when provinces pay

The cost of new federal crime legislation is high, much higher that previously announced, wrote James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a column in the Ottawa Citizen May 11.

Bill C-25, limiting the credit offenders receive for pre-trial custody, was supposed to cost around $90 million. The actual cost, the government now admits, is in the $2-billion range, and parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page will release a report this week which may show the actual amount to be very substantially higher.

Legislation that increases Canada’s inmate population is, inevitably, costly.

Among various new and proposed criminal law reforms, the federal government is bringing back a bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences on people convicted of growing small numbers of marijuana plants. The new legislation will include a mandatory six-month sentence for people convicted of growing as few as five pot plants.

Last year I testified before the Senate about an earlier version of this legislation. I argued that mandatory jail should not apply to drug offenders who grow marijuana for personal, as opposed to commercial, use. I also pointed out that there is a serious issue about who would pay for the inevitable increase in prison populations.

Prof takes issue with former PhD committee member over comments on PsychOUT

The only shadowy thing about the PsychOUT conference is the manipulative use of photo images in your story, a clever way of matching the mood of the article which seeks to portray this event as anti-psychiatry with the hidden hand of Scientology behind it, in the words of University of Toronto Professor Edward Shorter, wrote Geoffrey Reaume, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, in a letter to the National Post May 11.

As one of the presenters who does not identify as anti-psychiatry, but who respects the work of co-presenters who do, it is intellectually dishonest of Shorter to use the rhetorical trick of linking an entire conference and dozens of presenters to a cult.

Even worse is his statement, “There’s all kinds of nuttiness at this conference.” As an historian of psychiatry, Shorter will know the immense damage caused by such labelling.

In the 1990s Shorter was on my history PhD committee at the University of Toronto and approved my doctoral dissertation to go to defence. Now I read that he considers me and my co-presenters to be exhibiting nuttiness. In using such a stigmatizing term, he insults not only a student who sat in his office and people at this conference, but also people whose history he writes about and from whom he has made a profitable living as an academic.

Such arrogant dismissal of the perspectives of people who seek alternatives to psychiatric medical model dogmatism is one of the many reasons why such a conference like this is needed to engage in the very sort of discussion which critics, like Shorter, find so threatening.

York grad remembers Glendon classmate

My first introduction to Vince Del Buono (BA Comb. Hons. ’72) was in high school when we both participated in Model UN Assemblies and Model Parliaments, wrote David Moulton (BA ’73, MA ’76) in an obituary in The Globe and Mail May 11.

Then we were reacquainted at York’s Glendon College, from which Vince graduated. He was active in the political life of the college and we both sat on Faculty Council. Vince was one of six people including me who ventured to Washington in the fall of 1969 to protest the war in Vietnam.

The trip was an amazing adventure. Upon arrival in the city on the morning of the demonstration, we toured the Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress and the Congress itself. After the demonstration in the evening, we had no place to stay, but Vince had a friend who was going to Howard University. Vince and I went into the black area of the city where the university was located in an attempt to find his friend. But our companions had found a couple in Virginia who were prepared to put us up for the night. The next day we visited Arlington Cemetery before heading back home.

It should also be remembered that Vince also had a formal political career as he ran as an unsuccessful federal NDP candidate in the elections of 1979 and 1980 in a West Toronto riding.

We stayed in touch over the years and our last meeting was at a memorial event at Glendon in November 2009.

He talked of the future – teaching, writing and fundraising – and it is difficult to comprehend that he is gone. I will always remember his laugh and his positive disposition as well as his commitment to justice and the rule of law.

Advanced voting in malls, at York University a first for Vaughan

If there was any doubt the last municipal election left an indelible mark on Vaughan council, it was erased Tuesday as politicians battled over advance polling locations for October’s election, wrote the Vaughan Citizen May 10.

City clerk Jeffrey Abrams sent a bylaw to council to approve times and locations of the advance polls, scheduled for Oct. 4 to 19. But what was expected to be a minor item instead turned into a two-and-a -half-hour debate.

For the first time, Vaughan voters can mark their ballot at Vaughan Mills, The Promenade Shopping Centre and at York University in Toronto. The recommendations to include advanced polling in places such as malls came from the Task Force on Democratic Participation and Renewal, a group of residents who worked for two years on ways to increase voter turnout.

Intellectual property laws don’t serve creators

Darren Wershler, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, and fellow Artmob researcher Rosemary Coombe, Canada Research Chair in Law, Communication & Culture at York University, are editing a volume of essays that will be called Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online, wrote the Waterloo Region Record May 8.

Wershler and Coombe will look at how artists and writers are actually creating, circulating and managing digital cultural objects, and how these practices can present alternatives to traditional intellectual property and cultural policies.

Dance department chair keeps coming back to see Shen Yun

Mary Jane Warner, chair of the Department of Dance in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, has seen Shen Yun perform in Toronto year after year and keeps coming back, wrote The Epoch Times May 7.

“They’ve always been beautiful dancers,” she said, noting that this year’s production has added more of the highly technical leaps and tumbling moves she has seen in earlier Shen Yun shows.

While many people associate such movements with gymnastics, the hosts of Shen Yun explain that they actually originated from classical Chinese dance and have a history of thousands of years.

The dance professor said she also enjoyed the variety of ethnic and folk dances in this year’s production. “There’s always a nice variety of dances from different parts of China,” she said.

“They’re quite remarkable dancers because they’re so together in unison and they always have this beautiful quality of flow, of ease, about their movements. They seem to be just truly enjoying what they’re doing. It really comes across and you only get that with many years of hard, hard work and discipline.”

Artist was a York grad and former instructor

York grad Agatha Schwager (BFA Spec. Hons. ’84, MFA ’86) passed away very suddenly May 2, 2010, while in Montreal surrounded by loving family, wrote The Sudbury Star May 8. She had celebrated her 70th birthday on Feb. 24 and had just opened her newest art exhibition of ink paintings on May 1 with many friends and family.

Schwager was born in Arnhem, Holland, in 1940. As a child she lived through the trauma of the Second World War, including the infamous Battle of Arnhem. Agatha first studied at the Arnhem Academy of Fine Arts. Agatha and Walter Schwager married in 1961 and then moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, where she began painting landscapes.

In 1969 the family settled in Sudbury. Here, in the landscape of the Canadian Shield, she found further inspiration for her watercolours as well as her photography. She had three solo exhibitions at the Sudbury Museum and Art Centre. Agatha also produced a large collection of batik textiles; her work is in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

She moved to Toronto in 1979 to study visual arts in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, where she received her BFA and MFA. There she exhibited her Memory Room, an installation based on drawings of her childhood memories. At York she also taught several drawing courses.

Albert Greer plays puppetmaster at Cellar Singers show

After 33 years leading The Cellar Singers, it’s about time Albert Greer had a chance to load up a program with only the stuff he thinks the world of, wrote the Orillia Packet & Times May 8 in a story about the choir leader.

It also speaks highly of the leadership Greer has provided since he picked up the baton in 1977. For years, he has juggled time being organist at St. James’ Anglican Church and teaching in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and with the Cellars.

Grad student starts Sustainable Exteriors landscaping

A couple of high school buddies have formed their own landscaping company, wrote the Brantford Expositor May 8.

Craig Brown, an environmental studies graduate student at York University, and Chris Young, a graduate of the Ecosystem Management Technology program at Fleming College, are the owners of Sustainable Exteriors, a landscaping company.

“We can do projects really green, green or not so green,” Brown said. “We’re comfortable working in all three areas and we recognize that a lot of people have to work within a budget.”

However, the company’s goal is to create outdoor spaces in an environmentally considerate way.

Holocaust survivors built new lives in North York

Rachel Piuti (BA ’83) was born in Radom, Poland in 1927, wrote the North York Mirror May 8 in a story about local Holocaust survivors being honoured. Piuti survived the Radom ghetto and five death camps, including Auschwitz. Liberated six days before the war’s end, she returned to Poland and found that only her sister had survived. After a year in Italy and another year in detention in Cyprus, Piuti and her husband reached Israel a few days after it became a state and moved to Toronto in 1951. In 1976, she enrolled at York University, graduating seven years later with a bachelor of arts in history.

Stutchbury offers delightfully shocking stories of avian sex and infidelity

In her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood invents new animals to entertain us and get across her concerns about environmental and social collapse, wrote The Globe and Mail May 8…. In The Bird Detective: Investigating the Secret Lives of Birds, Bridget Stutchbury, Distinguished Research Professor of Biology in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and author of the Governor-General’s Literary Award-nominated Silence of the Songbirds, also uses animals to illustrate the effect humankind is having on nature. And she does it very effectively without Atwood’s black wit and disturbing scenarios.

The Bird Detective, in fact, is a cheery little book. Stutchbury delights readers with hundreds of amazing facts and stories about birds, mostly songbirds, which serve to make it all the more tragic that climate change, habitat loss, pesticide use, long-line fishing and other environmental sins are mixing up extraordinary behaviours that have evolved over thousands of years.

  • As the outdoor reading season opens, Bridget Stutchbury’s new, informal work on bird behaviour, The Bird Detective: Investigating the Secret Life of Birds, just begs to be read under a backyard tree, wrote May 7. The book could serve as beach reading too; marine birds such as the albatross and rhinoceros auklet put in appearances. But Stutchbury, a biologist in York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, has done much of her research on songbirds, and tales of their behaviour form the heart of the book.

Stutchbury examines big issues in the family life of any species – courtship, kids, infidelity and so on – and describes relevant research projects. Some examples come from her own work with her husband, evolutionary biologist Gene Morton, and some from other scientists.

Behind-the-scenes details set the book apart from typical wildlife guides. In one vignette, Stutchbury recalls conveying nestlings to and from weighing sessions by climbing ladders while clenching paper bags of baby birds in her teeth. The book takes a conversational approach to research, yet Stutchbury packs in a good number of intriguing findings while presenting the science clearly.

On air

  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about developments in the so-called Toronto 18 terror trial, on OMNI News "South Asian Edition" May 10.