Mukherjees share a passion for social justice

York grad Alok Mukherjee (PhD ’04) is used to balancing societal order and individual human rights – he’s made his life’s work of it, wrote The Globe and Mail July 17. After a long career in public service, he finds himself chair of the Toronto Police Services Board just as the force comes under intense scrutiny for its handling of G20 protests.

On that Saturday morning, he left home early and went to police headquarters to catch up on paperwork. He stayed late into the afternoon as he received updates from the command centre elsewhere in the building. He watched on television as the calm protests turned violent. “It’s very hard to describe,” he said of how the violence made him feel. “That’s in the heat of the moment. I didn’t know where things were going to go, how bad they were going to get.”

Nor did his wife Arun, a professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who shares her husband’s passion for human rights and was at the protests that day at Queen’s Park, eager to vocalize issues she felt world leaders left off the agenda. “I wanted to just join the protest and march with everybody else,” she said. “I felt like, ‘This is Toronto and we’re going to have a great day.’”

In the end, the weekend was one of the city’s darkest in recent history, pocked by vandalism and violence, with more than 1,000 people arrested and detained. In the immediate aftermath, many faulted police actions for making a tense situation worse – and Arun worried that her husband and his seven-member board of civilians, charged with overseeing and governing Canada’s largest police force, would have its work cut out for it.

Last Tuesday, the board called for an independent review into the police actions during the G20. For a man seen by his board and Chief of Police Bill Blair as a thoughtful and conciliatory leader, the pressure around such a task is immense. The outcome of this review and others could be the catalyst for the federal government to do its own probe; or, the information that’s released could be so limited by the board’s jurisdiction it could be viewed as a waste of time.

For Mukherjee, the two core tenets of the board – to effectively govern the police while keeping the interests of the public at heart – are about to be tested like never before.

The 64-year-old’s path to police governance has been guided by a passion for social justice that began as a teenager in Kanpur, India. He was inspired by his grandmother’s devotion to helping the poor, though she had little money for herself.

He took that philosophy with him to the University of Saugar in Sagar, central India, where he met Arun. They were idealistic English students of the same age. They married in 1968 and moved to Canada three years later in search of a Western education, first living in a Toronto co-op and another house before moving to their two-storey home in the Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West area.

They found the education they were seeking at York University, where she became an English professor and he later received his PhD and taught South Asian studies part time. The couple’s pursuit of social justice – a legacy continued by their son Gautam (BA Spec. Hons. ’00), who works in community housing – came through in their careers. Arun has been a champion of the rights of women and immigrants through the University.

York diabetes study is a worldwide first, professor says

York University Professor Michael Riddell is working hard to reverse the natural tendency of parents of children with juvenile diabetes to keep their youngsters on the sidelines, wrote the North York Mirror July 18.

He understands their fears. Participating in sports can lower the blood sugar levels of people with Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. But Riddell said exercise is important for people with Type 1 diabetes. Studies indicate keeping active can add as much as 10 years to their lives and reduce the chance of complications of diabetes.

“We know exercise is critical. We just have to make sure they can do it safely,” said Riddell, a world renowned diabetes and exercise physiologist and professor in York’s Faculty of Health.

Riddell, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 14 and regularly engages in competitive sports, runs an elite summer sports camp at the university. About a third to half of the campers have Type 1 diabetes and the camp teaches them how exercise can be used to better manage their disease.

On the eve of this year’s camp, which began Monday, July 19, Riddell’s team of researchers published a study in the International Journal of Pediatrics looking at the interaction of sports and blood sugar levels.

For the study, which Riddell said is the first in the world to examine these interactions in a real-life setting, last year’s campers were outfitted with round-the-clock glucose monitors both while they played tennis, basketball and soccer at camp, and during their time at home, including while they slept.

The study is also important for high-performance athletes without diabetes who can see their blood sugar levels plummet during extreme sports, he added.

Activist’s plan for pot-store chain has rivals fuming

If everything goes according to Gary Webber’s plan, a national chain of 250 medicinal marijuana franchises will spread across Canada this summer, wrote The Globe and Mail July 17.

It’s a big “if”. Webber’s ambition may just turn out to be the outlandish dream of an impatient activist – and if Montreal police prove their criminal case against him, he may also be branded as little more than an audacious dope peddler. Many activists already question his credibility, and blame him for bringing the weight of police enforcement on them with his penchant for drawing attention and threatening unbridled expansion.

Activists and legal scholars in Ontario and Quebec, with long records of winning pot cases, are preparing for their own legal challenges.

“A compassion club’s mandate is to take care of seriously ill Canadians. A lot of constitutional claims can be made to protect a club from conviction,” said Alan Young, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “No legitimate compassion club has ever been convicted.”

Legitimacy is a question that dogs Webber, who opened Culture 420 earlier this year. (Young, for one, doesn’t intend to help Culture 420, saying he represents only clubs he can prove are legitimate.) Webber’s competitors say his marketing schemes and loose membership rules forced the hand of police, who have let other clubs operate in peace since the last criminal case against them was thrown out in 2002.

Giving new life to old legends

Members of the group travel to places where the creatures have been said to have been seen, including the kraken, a mega jaws, the bird monster and a winged lion, wrote the Timmins Daily Press July 17 in a story about History Television’s “Beast Legends”, a show aimed at creating the mythical creatures many have claimed to see over the years.

Team members Steve Leonard, an adventurer and veterinary surgeon based out of Britain, and Francis Manapul, a Canadian comic book artist featured in DC Comics, spoke with those who claim to have seen the beast. They travelled to the spot it was seen, before Manapul sketches the creature and sends the info back to 3-D artist Michael Paixao, Harvard University professor of organismic and evolutionary biology Scott Edward and legend expert, anthropologist, archeologist and York University Professor Kathryn Denning at the “Beast Lab”.

Fest brings Newfoundland’s Norse history to life on stage

You don’t have to be an archeologist to know the Vikings are alive and well in Newfoundland, wrote Victoria, BC’s Times Colonist July 17. You just have to check out the Norstead Theatre Festival.

Located at L’Anse aux Meadows, home of the earliest known European settlement in North America, Norstead is a replica of a Viking port of trade, complete with a Viking ship, recreated buildings, including the chieftain’s hall, plus various period-specific crafts and activities.

This year marks the second summer season for the festival, co-founded by actor Pat Dempsey (BA ’09).

In addition to starring in Freydis, Dempsey, a St. John’s native and graduate of York University’s Theatre Program, appears in The Death of Balder and The Monk, and wrote the children’s puppet show, Why the Sea is Salt.

On air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor in York’s Glendon College, spoke about protests against police over tactics used during the G20 summit, on Radio-Canada’s “Radiojournal” July 18.
  • Gilary Massa (BA ’08), former vice-president equity of the York Federation of Students, and Ausma Khan (PhD ’04), a graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and editor-in-chief of Muslim Girl Magazine, took part in a panel discussion about the wearing of the niqab, on TVO-TV’s “The Agenda” July 16.