Legislation won’t stop asylum seekers using human smugglers

This week, Parliament is debating Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, wrote Sean Rehaag, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a letter to the Edmonton Journal Nov. 2 in concert with a number of Canadian law professors. 

The proposed legislation represents the government’s attempt to deter human smuggling in response to a few hundred Sri Lankan asylum seekers who arrived on two ships in the past year. A better title, however, might be the Punishing Refugees and Evading our International and Constitutional Obligations Act, because the bill scarcely alters the sanctions for smugglers while clearly targeting refugees.

The most objectionable features of the proposed legislation…are not measures targeting human smugglers, which are merely symbolic and bound to be ineffectual. The proposed legislation also imposes new penalties against those who come to Canada using human smugglers, whether these people are genuine refugees or not. the professors wrote.

Some of these measures are in clear violation of Canada’s obligations under the international Refugee Convention – a treaty that over 180 states, including Canada, voluntarily ratified. No matter how asylum seekers get to Canada, they are entitled under the convention to apply for refugee protection. Moreover, the convention prohibits countries from imposing penalties on refugees who arrive unlawfully. It also prohibits discrimination between refugee claimants and the detention of refugees for punitive purposes.

Taken together, the proposed legislation will not stop human smuggling, but will only serve to criminalize asylum seekers – at least until its provisions are successfully challenged as violations of international law and of our own constitution.

If the government really wants to stop asylum seekers from resorting to human smugglers, it has to look elsewhere. We must work to stop the human rights abuses abroad that lead people to flee their home countries.

York ranked second among Canadian universities in sustainability

For the second year running, York University has scored a B+ on the annual College Sustainability Report Card, the second-highest ranking achieved by Canadian universities in the survey, wrote GovernmentBuyer.ca Nov. 2.

The 2011 report card looked at sustainability in 322 schools across Canada and the US, grading them in nine categories. York received a “Campus Sustainability Leader Award,” given to institutions that achieve an average grade of A- or better across all six campus categories.

“At York, we recognize that we have a responsibility to provide leadership and dedication to sustainability, not only on our campuses, but to the greater community,” says Mamdouh Shoukri, president and vice-chancellor of York University. “I would like to thank the York community for all of their efforts in helping our University become better stewards of the environment. Our B+ rating is truly the result of a collaborative effort between students, staff and faculty.”

The report card highlighted York’s achievements in building a greener university.

Skyrocketing energy costs exacts toll on poor: social services

You can expect an overall decrease in electricity costs starting this month, wrote YorkRegion.com Nov. 2.

[But] the paltry discounts, measured in percentages of pennies per kilowatt hour, won’t stem the cost of living tide, consumers, educators and social advocates say.

In the short term, hydro costs have been bumped due to the HST, said Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies.

In the long term, consumers can anticipate additional increases. “Energy prices will go up and stay high,” he said. “This adds to inflation in general. We can’t be so precise to say that this will tip the cost of living for most. It’s problematic. But, for those living on the margins, yes.”

Burgeoning energy costs will be a 2011 Ontario election hot potato, Winfield said. “No doubt,” he said. “We’re already seeing that.”

The government’s plan and direction is ambiguous, Winfield said. The flip side is vulnerability in that the PCs and NDP haven’t told us how they’ll keep the lights on. They don’t have answers as to what they’d do differently, he added. “Energy costs will be an election issue. It’s just that no one has a real plan.”

Vaughan election surprises insiders

Surprise was the reaction of one city observer about the five incumbent politicians who were turfed [out of office on] election night Monday, wrote YorkRegion.com Nov. 1.

“I wondered how voters would react to the scandals and difficulties…obviously they reacted by throwing out some people. It’s surprising that some newcomers, who had no experience, won, such as Deb Schulte and Marilyn Iafrate,” said Robert MacDermid professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

MacDermid also said the election of former mayor Michael Di Biase to a regional post was a jolt for different reasons. “He was surrounded by scandal when he left. He still has a court case hanging over him from 2006. That’s a mystery why voters would turf out some people who they felt were compromised ethically and elect someone else who is still under a court case,” MacDermid said.

But the new faces will change the dynamic of Vaughan council, according to MacDermid. One area that that could affect is development issues, he added. “Hopefully, the dynamic will be positive. On the other hand, there’s going to be some opposition to development. There will be a small group of councillors who will now be arguing for some measured development and taking into consideration planning and environmental considerations,” MacDermid said. “There will be a group that speaks to that issue, which there wasn’t before. Development applications just sailed through.”

Despite some differing views that may arise with the newly elected council, it doesn’t have to be acrimonious, MacDermid said. “People can be opposed to ideas and not make it personal, the way it appears to have been,” he said.

People who can’t remember faces

A rare brain disorder leaves some people unable to recognize faces, including facial expressions. People with prosopagnosia can’t even distinguish male from female facial features, wrote Kelowna.ca Nov. 1.

One patient studied by Jennifer Steeves, a professor of psychology in York University’s Faculty of Health, also has an inability to recognize objects. Steeves set up experiments for the patient using visual and voice cues for both faces and specific objects – in this study it was cars. The patient was able to expertly use the audio cue to identify people, but was no better than a control group in identifying cars and car horns.

  • Steeves also spoke about her research on CBC Radio’s "Quirks & Quarks".

Media confidentiality gets big boost by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Canada has set strict rules for when judges can force journalists to identify their sources in a landmark ruling that also gives the media a green light to publish confidential informationeven information that may have been obtained illegally, wrote The Lawyer’s Weekly in its Nov. 5 edition.

In its Oct. 22 ruling in Globe and Mail v. Canada (Attorney General), the court sent a strong message to judges that journalists should be compelled to identify confidential sources only when obtaining the information is “vital to the integrity of the administration of justice.”

Lawyers involved in the case says it’s the first time the High Court has ruled on whether Canadian journalists are bound to respect the confidentiality of the information they receive while gathering the news.

Professor Jaime Cameron of Osgoode Hall Law School, who intervened on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, praised the ruling as “an important victory for investigative journalism.” But a Canadian version of the shield laws in place in the US and other countries may be needed to give journalists’ sources greater protection and to remove “the uncertainties of case by case decision-making” under the Wigmore test.

The Kudumbashree female farmers, part two

Currently, around 250,000 women are practising collective farming in an approximate area of 27,000 hectares (66,000 acres), wrote Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, for the OneWorld South Asia website Oct. 30. Her article was the second in a series about Kudumbashree, a network of 3.7 million women in Kerala, India.

Such a scale of women’s involvement in collective production is certainly not common. Kudumbashree farmers show great enthusiasm for further expanding these operations. They are eager to experiment with new crops, organic methods, better governance, stronger connections to their local markets and so on. Where does this enthusiasm come from?

First, farming, as the women tell me, comes naturally to them. For some, this is their first opportunity to use their "natural" skills towards an independent income. For others, collective farming marks a highly significant transition from wage labour to independent production. Women eagerly speak of the control over their time and labour that they now enjoy and that they never had before. Second, their enthusiasm for farm work has much to do with the collective nature of the activity and the relations of solidarity. As a Kudumbashree farmer in Kozhikode told me, “We have developed so much solidarity I feel we can do almost anything.”

As indicated by these words of a young Muslim woman, Kudumbashree groups seem to demonstrate a strong sense of social inclusion. Members are vocal against caste and religious discrimination. They proudly proclaim Kudumbashree to be first and foremost as an organization of poor women. While it is hard to assess how representative this is of Kudumbashree’s 3.7 million members, I do wonder what makes such social inclusion possible, especially given the deeply divisive nature of the Indian society.

My hypothesis is that the fabric which connects Kudumbashree members draws upon gender, class and locality and the commonality of experiences that derive from there. The women’s involvement in farming appears to provide a common experience where solidarity triumphs over social schisms.

Amplifying a teacher’s voice can help kids learn

A 2008 review of the research by Pamela Millett, a professor and educational audiologist in York University’s Teacher of the Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Program in the Faculty of Education, wrote Janesville, Wisconsin’s GazetteXtra.com, found a variety of studies that concluded that amplification led to:

  • Better performance in grades 1-5 on dictated spelling tests.
  • Improved reading fluency in grades 1-5.
  • Better standardized test scores in early grades.
  • Better math performance in grades 2 and 3.
  • Positive effects on the classroom behaviour for students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
  • More involvement in classroom discussions.
  • Improved ability to distinguish words among students whose native tongue is not English.

But why does it work?

Millett says researchers theorize a variety of reasons:

  • Poor classroom acoustics.
  • High demands on listening and auditory processing in classrooms.
  • Children’s brains have not matured in the area of perceiving sounds.
  • Kids can simply hear better.

York Regional Police Chief Armand La Barge retires at the end of the year

York Region’s next police chief will be announced in about three weeks, wrote YorkRegion.com Nov. 2. Chief Armand La Barge (BA ’95), 56, announced in April that he would retire in December following a 37-year policing career.

Well-educated and widely respected, Chief La Barge is a past president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. Other achievements include a bachelor of arts degree and a multiculturalism studies certificate from York University and a master’s degree from Trent University in Canadian & Native Studies.

York grad’s art inspired close to home

Driving from Antigonish to Mahoneys Beach is like being inside an Anna Syperek (MA ’06) painting, wrote Halifax’s The Chronicle-Herald Nov. 2 in a story about the graduate of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

The rolling hills, hay bales, farmhouses and sparkling ocean have all appeared in Syperek’s images, which celebrate the world around her. “I think what I’m into is everything,” says Syperek, whose show HOME, new paintings and etchings, opens today at Lyghtesome Gallery, Antigonish.

“I’m looking for beauty around me and that’s why the show is called HOME,” she says, sitting in a sunny second-floor studio that is at the end of Mahoneys Beach Road and overlooks St. Georges Bay. “My work is always about what I see around me every day.

A sense of place is very important to Syperek and her art. Raised in Oshawa, Ont., she met Antigonish filmmaker Peter Murphy, of SeaBright Productions, when she was studying fine arts at Toronto’s York University. The couple moved to Antigonish, Murphy’s hometown, in 1970, and later built a cedar house overlooking the water, next to Murphy’s parents’ cottage.

Hillel called ‘agent of a foreign government’

Hillel at York University has come under attack from a history professor who accused it of being an “agent of a foreign government” because of its Israel advocacy efforts, wrote the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) Nov. 4.

In an Oct. 8 letter to York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, David Noble wrote that “[Hillel at York] serves as, in effect, an agent of a foreign government.”

Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, said Robert Tiffin, York’s vice-president of students, responded to Noble’s charges in an Oct. 21 letter of his own, which stated that Hillel is recognized by York because it complies with the University’s principles and policies that student groups must abide by, as well as with the “three pillars of tolerance” specified by York’s Inter-Faith Council.

“On many occasions, Dr. Shoukri has noted that it’s the right of any community member to express his or her view within the law without fear of intimidation or harassment,” Bilyk said. “This extends to the members of a student organization such as Hillel.”

York student Brandon Crandall, Hillel at York’s president, told The CJN that it’s “quite comical and absurd that somebody would say that anyone who supports the Jewish state or a democratic Jewish state is an agent for a foreign country.”

Joshua Wais, a third-year York student and vice-president of AEPi’s Eta Pi chapter at York, wondered why Noble only focused on a Jewish campus group. “If he were to have a valid argument that Hillel is ‘an agent of a foreign government’ then why hasn’t he targeted other student groups around campus? There are several groups around the campus that blatantly support their respective countries and their governments.”

Sammy Katz, a former York student and managing director of the Canadian Network for Israel Affairs, called Noble’s statements “ridiculous”. “Advocating or promoting a country on campus that isn’t Canada doesn’t mean you’re acting on behalf of a foreign state."