Workers protest before cabinet meeting at Glendon

A handful of protesters are telling Premier Dalton McGuinty to abandon plans to sell a portion of Ontario’s electricity, lottery and liquor assets, reported The Canadian Press and Broadcast News June 23 in a news item picked up by newspapers and aired on radio stations across Ontario.

About a dozen workers from Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One, Ontario Lottery & Gaming and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario held an information picket as Ontario cabinet ministers arrived for a meeting at York University’s Glendon College.

  • Ontario should not sell off parts of its liquor, electricity and gambling businesses for "short-term" reasons such as balancing the budget, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday, reported the Toronto Star June 24. He made the comments Wednesday after heading into York University’s Glendon College by a back route to avoid about 20 public sector union workers protesting the potential asset sale first exposed by the Star. 

Sociology prof remembers Toronto’s first Pride Parade

This year’s debate over the participation of the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the Pride Parade is not the first time Toronto queers – and the city they call home – have grappled with what should and should not be included in the country’s largest Pride event, reported the Toronto Star June 24.  

In the beginning, homosexuality itself was the prevailing anxiety. For gay and lesbian people to identify themselves as such in the bright light of a summer day – that was enough to make the 1981 Pride celebration thrilling.  

That February, Toronto police had raided four bathhouses, arresting more than 300 men and smashing the businesses beyond recognition. Thousands filled the streets in protests during the winter. By summer, a handful of organizers decided that the anniversary weekend of New York’s Stonewall raids of 1969 would be a good time to take stock of where the community was at.  

"Part of it was a festival in the park, part of it was political," recalls Lorna Weir, one of the 1981 founders and now a sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. "About 1,000 of us stood outside 52 Division protesting. I was certainly on the political side of things, but it was also nice to sit in a laid-back public space after a year of excitement and non-stop organizing." 

Have we met before? Women and gay men most apt to know

It’s long been an accepted truth among married couples that it’s the wife who must usually steer the pair through social gatherings, reminding her husband if he’s meeting someone for the first, second or 15th time – and science backs up that observation, wrote June 24.  

In lab settings, women routinely outperform men in facial recognition skills, both in terms of speed and reliability. Now, research from York University in Toronto has added a wrinkle to the existing wisdom. It’s not just women whose brains are so nimble, the investigators have determined, it’s gay men, too.  

In the Canadian study, Jennifer Steeves, a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, recruited a sample group composed of homosexual men, heterosexual men and heterosexual women. Significantly, she also took care to include both left- and right-handed people among the subjects. All of the volunteers were shown pictures of 10 faces and given time to try to memorize them. Those 10 faces were mixed with similarly edited images of 50 other people, and flashed on a screen for just milliseconds apiece. The subjects’ job was to press a key when they saw a face they’d seen before.  

The results confirmed what the investigators suspected they’d find: the gay men and the straight women scored about equally well in the test, and both did better than the straight men. What’s more, within the straight male group, lefties outperformed righties. The explanation is rooted mostly in the genes.  

All people are born with genetic coding that regulates body symmetry and asymmetry. This includes not just handedness, but which way the whorl in the hair at the crown of the head grows, or which hemisphere of the brain will be dominant for processing language. "Characteristics like this are determined very, very early on," says Steeves. "A baby’s handedness can sometimes even be observed in utero." 

If sex and symmetry get mixed up this way, there’s no reason the phenomenon should sidestep the brain, and Steeves does not think it does. Gay men, she believes, probably do so well at recognizing faces because, like women, they’re putting both hemispheres to work at once. Greater crosstalk between the two halves via the corpus callosum – the cable of nerve fibres that serves as sort of a superhighway between left and right – probably contributes to this as well. That, however, is not something Steeves and her colleagues have been able to demonstrate conclusively yet, since they have not had the chance to rerun their study while simultaneously scanning the brains of their subjects with a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI). "The University just doesn’t have one," she says. "But we’re getting one soon and we’ll be able to take that next step then."  

None of this means that it will ever be possible simply to take an fMRI of a brain and tell from that alone if it belongs to a homosexual or heterosexual – and given privacy concerns and the risk of bias, Steeves wouldn’t even want to try. "I would hesitate to do post-hoc analysis," she says. "There are scary things that could happen with that." What it does mean, however, is that science’s understanding of the roots of sexuality, so long shrouded in misinformation, is steadily edging into the light – and there’s nothing scary about that.

Asian games take place at York this weekend

While leaders from the G20 nations meet this weekend in downtown Toronto, representatives from Taiwan, Vietnam, India and dozens of other countries will be gathering at York University Friday for the opening ceremonies of the Asian Community Games, reported 24 Hours June 24.  

Organizers expect more than 4,000 people to cheer on athletes from various Greater Toronto Area communities competing in basketball, cricket, soccer, swimming, track & field and volleyball. This year’s event also features a senior citizens’ relay race.  

NGOs have boosted women’s political participation, says prof

Women make up 52 per cent of Canada’s population, yet only 20 per cent of the country’s elected officials are female. It was with this knowledge that a panel of professional women in Oakville urged all women to get involved in politics and discussed ways to do it last week, reported the Oakville Beaver June 23.   

The event, hosted by the Oakville-based Canadians Advocating Political Participation, included speakers Barbara Cameron, former Oakville MP Bonnie Brown and Shaila Kibria. 

Cameron, a political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said "non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been a very important way that women participated in politics and made their voices heard." Problems arise for NGOs that go against the government’s ideals. Public funding is cut from those organizations. "What I’ve seen over the last couple of years as a result of the withdrawal of funding is a lot of the capacity and contributions by these organizations have been lost," she said.

Alberta’s promises of workplace safety questioned

Alberta rarely prosecutes companies that break safety laws, reported the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal June 24. While workplace prosecutions have increased from the cost-cutting 1990s, Alberta still prosecutes far less than it did 25 years ago. It’s also the least-likely province to penalize safety offenders. From 1985 to 1988, Alberta prosecutions averaged 39 yearly, according to labour law expert Eric Tucker, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a national review of workplace safety programs. That figure dropped to just two cases a year in the late 1990s, but has jumped to an average of 12 annually since 2003.  

Student joins downtown ‘toxic tour’

A homemade BP oil-spill float, clowns and activists smeared in fake oil wove their way through downtown Toronto Wednesday in a protest dubbed as a toxic tour of the city, reported the Toronto Star June 24. 

“I think it’s preposterous that the richest 20 countries, the elite, are making decisions that affect us all in their own economic interests,” said Niki Thorne, a PhD student at York University and self-described anarchist. 

York grad Sean Hully performs in Buckhorn

Peterborough musician and music teacher Sean Hully (MA ’07) will be playing Saturday afternoon shows at the Cody Inn in Buckhorn during July and August, reported The Peterborough Examiner June 24.  

Hully is a multi-instrumentalist who specializes in saxophone, flute, clarinet, recorder, guitar and bass guitar. He performed at sea for one year as a saxophonist for Carnival Cruise Lines and has toured Canada and the United States with tribute bands to Billy Joel, Elton John, Tina Turner and Bob Seger. In 2003, Hully released a CD called Interaction.  

In 2007, he received a master of arts degree in composition from York University and he attended the Humber College music program to study with jazz saxophonist Pat LaBarbera. He taught music at The Sterling Hall School in Toronto, Blaisdale Montessori School in Pickering and at York University. Currently, Hully teaches from his Bird House Music studio in Peterborough. 

Work continues on York’s Life Sciences Building

Concrete work is moving along at York University’s Life Sciences Building, reported Daily Commercial News and Construction Record June 24 in its project report. Construction manager Vanbots, a division of Carillion Inc., has completion of the four-storey project scheduled for spring 2011. The facility will be equipped with lecture halls, teaching and research labs.  

On air

  • Stephen Gill, Distinguished Research Professor in Communications & Culture and Political Science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, took part in a panel discussion about G8 and G20 leaders’ reactions to a proposed global bank tax and their coordinated economic stimulus program, which aired on CBC Radio’s “World Report” and “The World At Six” June 23.
  • Fred Lazar, an economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, took part in a panel discussing First Nations’ diet and Type 2 diabetes, on APTN-TV’s “InFocus” broadcast from Winnipeg June 23.