More discussion needed on ‘mass arrival’ migrants law, says Osgoode prof

Refugee experts say the federal government’s draft plan to crack down on human smuggling probably won’t do much to discourage ships full of migrants, and may also run afoul of the Constitution, wrote The Canadian Press Sept. 21 in a story about a proposed “mass arrival” designation that would allow authorities to hold them for weeks instead of days.

Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Sean Rehaag says a charter challenge would not be a slam dunk. If the government can show it needs the extra time for administrative purposes and not for punishment, the courts would tend to side with the government, he said. Still, he is alarmed at the turn the government has made in its approach to migrants.

In its haste to crack down on fraud and human smuggling, Ottawa has not actively discussed what would happen to the asylum-seekers driven to use extreme measures to find a safe haven, Rehaag said. “If we want to prevent people from getting to the border to make refugee claims, we have to have a conversation about the consequences of that for asylum-seekers,” he explained. “For the vast majority of people fleeing persecution or threats to their lives, the only way to get to Canada is through false documents or human smuggling.”

  • Rehaag also spoke about the human smuggling issue, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” Sept. 21.

Robots on TV: ‘AquaPad’ controls robot dive buddy   

You would balk at getting an iPad wet, but a tablet computer has now been designed to work deep under the sea – not to allow divers to check e-mail, but so that they can communicate with underwater robots working in hard-to-reach or dangerous locations, such as the inside of shipwrecks or caves in coral reefs, wrote New Scientist Sept. 21.

Professor Michael Jenkin and graduate student Bart Verzijlenberg of York’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering have created an underwater casing for tablet computers so that divers can control underwater robots. Motion sensors detect when the waterproofed computer is tilted, and instruct the robot to move in the same direction.

“What makes what we are doing unique is the idea of deploying the robot and the diver as part of a team to solve various problems,” says Jenkin. “The diver operator can remain outside dangerous environments and operate the vehicle, while the vehicle itself extends the diver’s capabilities.”

The vehicle in question is called Aqua, a small submersible robot that swims using paddle legs and carries cameras and position sensors that relay information back to the screen of the tablet computer via an optical fibre.

The team is now working on signals to help robot and tablet communicate with each other even without the fibre. “At the moment in autonomous operation the robot only communicates back to the tablet through flashing lights on the vehicle. We want to look at having the robot perform certain motions – essentially, have the robot ‘dance’, and use this dance to communicate from the robot to the tablet,” says Jenkin.

Shermans’ investment makes York research centre possible  

The opening last week of a new state-of-the-art health research centre was made possible by a $5-million investment by York University Foundation board member Honey Sherman and her husband Dr. Barry Sherman, president and CEO of Apotex Inc., wrote the Jewish Tribune Sept. 21.

The project brings scientists who study the brain and vision, virtual reality and robots together under one roof – that of a former hockey arena. The former York University Ice Arena, built in 1968 and known by many as the Ice Palace, was transformed into a sophisticated centre for interdisciplinary collaboration.

“We are extremely thankful to Honey and Barry Sherman for their generosity,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, York president & vice-chancellor. “This unique new facility will strengthen our University’s research capacity and enhance collaboration between researchers in the health, science and engineering fields.”

The centre’s highlight is a neuro-imaging laboratory with the latest functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, which is critically important for research at York and future partnerships.

“We are particularly delighted we can support research in the health sciences because this is an increasingly important area for research innovation,” Dr. Sherman said. “This facility and the work that will be undertaken will help strengthen Ontario’s global position in research and innovation.” 

For Portland mayor, the idea of green is black and white

The mayor of Portland, Ore., is in town selling his city’s innovative sustainability campaigns in everything from public transit to a wide-ranging climate-action strategy and a “complete-neighbourhoods” goal of ensuring everyone in the city has everything they need within a 20-minute walk, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 22.

True, Portland has the luxury of having operation of its enviable light-rail transit funded in part by the regional government – a long-term commitment Toronto has yet to win from the province. But it’s an example Toronto could afford to learn from, says Mark Winfield, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. “We need to be thinking about how what we’re doing on transit will integrate with what we’re doing with land use,” Winfield said. “Our mayoralty candidates…seem to be assuming they can make these decisions about transportation and planning in a complete vacuum. There’s a touch of unreality to some of the things some of the candidates have been saying.”

On air

  • Bob Drummond, University Professor in York’s Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about an ad campaign for Rocco Rossi that may have hurt his chances of becoming Toronto’s next mayor, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Sept. 21.