Public inquiries, morality and the search for truth

The release of the Air India inquiry report Thursday will help solidify a public narrative around the deadliest terrorist attack perpetrated in Canada. As it was with Britain’s Bloody Sunday report and apology on Tuesday, or the residential schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada event launched Wednesday, or the inquiry report into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski to be released Friday, this is a moment when the public will be forced to come to terms with its past, wrote The Globe and Mail June 17.

Alice MacLachlan, a philosophy professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, says these concluding chapters share an important undercurrent: a recognition that the past must be dealt with. There’s no statute of limitations on moral responsibility, and the traditional mechanisms of justice aren’t able to deal with these ruptures satisfactorily.

“The wrongs of the past, whether it’s Air India or Bloody Sunday or the residential schools, can’t always be measured out materially or legally…. Part of dealing with the past means negotiating our moral and political relationships with each other, so we find ourselves taking up a language like apologize, forgive, reconcile, come together,” MacLachlan said.

There has been an accelerating trend around the world in the last three decades in which dozens, if not hundreds, of official apologies have been issued by various heads of government or churches, MacLachlan said. “An apology is still about maintaining control of a story,” she said. It offers a sense of closure or finality, at least in theory. The response to apologies among victims is usually mixed, she said, but it’s often much more positive with the public.

Filmmaker wins slander case against former diplomat

When his nine-minute documentary on a Canadian company’s alleged human rights abuses in Guatemala was disparaged by Canada’s ambassador to that country, a York University filmmaker took the federal government to small claims court, wrote the Toronto Star June 17.

And won. After three years of chipping away at a federal “wall of silence”, graduate student Steven Schnoor (MA ’05) emerged victorious Wednesday in a slander case against former ambassador Kenneth Cook.

In 2007, Schnoor made the movie documenting the eviction of a group of Guatemalan Mayan people in El Estor by Skye Resources, a Vancouver company that has since merged with HudBay Minerals. “The judge’s ruling shows that the Canadian government was willing to harm me, my reputation and the people in the video to defend Canadian companies operating overseas in problematic ways,” said Schnoor.

Judge condemns ‘twisted mindset’ in teen’s slaying

When he sentenced Aqsa Parvez’s father and brother to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 years Wednesday, Justice Bruce Durno said he hoped to deter anyone else in Canada from believing what the two conservative Muslim men believed: “That the family pride could at least be kept intact – or perhaps even enhanced – by having two grown men overpower and kill a vulnerable teenager,” wrote The Globe and Mail June 17.

James Stribopoulos, a professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the set of facts Judge Durno faced in making his decision was uncommon. “It’s very rare for a parent to kill a child, and it’s rarer still to have a parent kill a child along with a cooperative sibling. And it’s even rarer still to do it for this sort of motive…. The idea that because she was a female, she should be acquiescing to the males in the household – that’s pretty aggravating, to say the least,” Stribopoulos said.

Native blockades set for Monday, unless HST deal becomes official

First Nations leaders are ready to roll out blockades across Ontario even as they expect to reach an accord by Friday with Ottawa and the province to award their communities a major break under the new harmonized sales tax (HST), wrote The Globe and Mail June 17.

The deal will save residents of native communities between $85 million and $120 million in the first year of the HST, according to a new study done by Fred Lazar, an economics professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University. However, it will also avert a series of protests just as world leaders descend on Ontario for next week’s G8 and G20 summits.

NDP leader looks at transit situation first-hand

Provincial New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath wanted to experience the reality of transportation in Toronto. She should have been careful what she wished for, wrote the North York Mirror June 16. As she waited for the 89 Weston bus in the pouring rain, two out-of-service buses passed by the cramped shelter which was full to capacity. When the 89 finally arrived just before 10am on a Wednesday morning, it was standing-room only.

Earlier on the journey, Horwath was met by York Federation of Students President Krisna Saravanamuttu. While he understands many students have a need for affordable and reliable transportation, he also sees the delay of funding for light rail down Jane Street as another issue that is alienating his Jane and Finch community from the rest of the city.

“Sometimes the Jane and Finch community feels like it exists in a silo. I live in that community and people there feel like they are not part of the rest of the city, existing in isolation. To take away something that connects Jane and Finch to the rest of the city, what kind of message are we giving folks that live there?” said Saravanamuttu.

Ross King paints history of art with vivid imagery

Ross King (PhD ’92) writes bestsellers about art history, a status very few art historians’ books ever achieve, wrote the Calgary Herald June 17. What accounts for his success? He is a consummate storyteller.

“I suppose I concentrate on the story part of art history and I put it in narrative form,” the Saskatchewan-born historian says. “I originally began my career as a novelist and what I was interested in when I wrote novels, or now when I read novels, is what I try to bring to the forefront when I write history or art history: character, plot, action, atmosphere and a sense of place that allow you to tell the story and allow people to follow and understand it…. I am fascinated by the way people lived,” he says. “I like the idea of being able to travel back in a time machine.”

Born in Estevan, Sask., King grew up in the nearby village of North Portal. He took two degrees in English literature at the University of Regina (BA ’84, MA ’86) and a doctorate in 18th-century English literature at York University in 1992. That year, a position as a post-doctoral research fellow took him to Oxford University.