York prof takes issue with Star story on hydro

Ontario’s Green Energy Act is not without its flaws, but to blame it for all that ails Ontario’s electricity system, as the article seems to do, borders on the ridiculous, wrote Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, in a letter to the Toronto Star Dec. 4 about an earlier story.

The system’s problems run far deeper and go much further back than the adoption of the legislation last year. The reality is that Ontario’s electricity system has been lurching from crisis to crisis for much of the past four decades.

A major factor in the succession of crises has been the repeated failures of the system’s architects to grasp the implications of the structural changes occurring in the province’s economy for the likely future direction of electricity demand, while remaining wedded to models built around large, centralized generating facilities that have been unable to adapt to the province’s changing circumstances.

Unfortunately the government’s new Long-Term Energy Plan does little to address that problem.

The reality is that all of the available sources of new supply, with the exception of conservation, will cost more. The government does deserve some credit for attempting to be honest about that reality, and for putting the opposition parties on the spot with respect to what their alternatives are.

That said, those who are really concerned about future costs should be far more upset about the government’s unwavering commitment to 50 per cent of the province’s future electricity supply coming from nuclear power where, based on what we have learned from the province’s procurement efforts and the rebuilding projects at Bruce and Pickering, the government’s estimated cost of $33 billion can only be regarded as wildly optimistic.

Ontarians deserved a serious conversation about the future direction of their electricity system. Simply laying the system’s problems at the feet of the Green Energy Act does little to help with that effort.

Don’t celebrate bogus wine industry history

I read with interest Monique Beech’s article on Johann Schiller and the early wine industry of Ontario, wrote Richard Jarrell, a professor of natural science in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, in a letter to the St. Catharines Standard Dec. 4.

My own research, which will be published soon in the journal Ontario History, makes it clear that the Ontario wine industry was founded by J.M. de Courtenay in the early 1860s in Cooksville. My research, like that of my colleagues Alun Hughes at Brock University and Rod Phillips at Carleton University, has unearthed no evidence that Johann Schiller even grew grapes and made wine. He certainly did not found the Ontario wine industry. His story is an urban legend and I am quite chagrined to see a movement to create a phony anniversary.

We have much to celebrate with the renaissance of the wine industry in our province; let us not sully it by creating a bogus history.

Student’s death needless, mourners say

Needless. That was the sentiment outside St. Cecilia’s Church on Saturday as hundreds of mourners poured out of the funeral for a young York University finance student who was run down after a petty fight at a downtown nightclub, wrote the Toronto Sun Dec. 4 in a story about the funeral for 20-year-old York student Vincent Dang.

“He was so innocent. He was so bright. We miss him so much,” said a tearful Kim Quach, close friend of Dang’s family. “I went to the hospital, welcomed Vincent to this world and I can’t believe I have to say goodbye to him today.”

  • Friends and family of a man who was run down in the entertainment district last Saturday, gathered for his memorial, wrote 680News Dec. 4, in a story about York student Vincent Dang. The York University flag was lowered to half-mast Friday afternoon and will remain lowered until 1pm, Saturday, in honour of the third-year administrative studies student.

Dang, 20, died after being run down by an SUV in what police said was a “deliberate act” that followed an argument inside a club.

Dang’s father remembered his son’s last words while speaking to CityTV. “He told me, ‘Daddy, daddy, I’m okay. Be strong. Keep moving on…and now I live in peace.’ That’s helped me a lot,” he said.

A pioneer scholar of documentary ethics

Enthusiastic and engaging, John Katz taught and inspired film students for four decades, helped to launch documentary ethics as a new field of study, and lived a grand love story that saved his life, at least for a while, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 6 in an obituary. Katz died of renal failure on Nov. 26 in Philadelphia, having moved there a dozen years ago after taking early retirement from his post in the film studies department of Toronto’s York University. He was 72.

Among filmmakers who emerged from his classes at York were Niv Fichman (LLD ’98) and Larry Weinstein (BFA’80, LLD ’98), two founders of Rhombus Media, a top Canadian production house. (They made the Oscar-winning The Red Violin.)

“He really knew films and he opened our minds,” Weinstein recalled in an interview from his Toronto office. “His classes made a profound difference in the way I saw film and my own future path. He would show us films and have a tremendous amount of notes and knew why they were made, how they were made…. Almost singlehandedly he rewired my brain.”

“The Philadelphia love story was very real,” said York University film Professor Seth Feldman [referring to Katz’s marriage to Joan Saltzman, who later donated one of her kidneys to him]. “I visited them down there and they were like two undergrads living together, albeit sharing a kidney.”

A year ago Katz’s kidneys started failing again and in June he went on dialysis again three days a week. Though he continued to deteriorate, Saltzman said he never stopped teaching: “The last time he had a class was a week before he went to the hospital for the last time. He always said he wanted to die with his boots on.”

Schulich prof comments on public/private land deals

A national expert in public-private partnerships said the Louise Station deal violated the fundamental principles of a P3 project because there was no bidding process, wrote the Calgary Herald Dec. 6, in a story about a development agreement that saw the city partner with a private developer on an affordable housing tower and fire/EMS station.

“It is very important to do these deals in a very open and transparent manner,” said James McKellar, professor and associate dean in the Schulich School of Business at York University. “I can’t comment on the specifics of this (deal) but, in the end, the city has to be able to stand up and say we actually got the very best deal for the taxpayers and here’s why.”

“The issue is fundamentally, did the city make sure it got competitive bids?” asked McKellar, in a related story.  “You would never do a P3 without competitive bidding.”

Fallout from Pickton murders will continue to ripple across Canada in 2011

Alan Young, a professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the Robert Pickton murder case was part of the genesis for him and a team of lawyers to challenge Canada’s laws against prostitution, wrote The Canadian Press Dec. 5.

They won their case in the fall after successfully arguing in Ontario Superior Court that the law forces prostitutes – overwhelmingly women – to work in unsafe conditions that make them vulnerable to predators like Pickton. The government has until April to appeal the ruling.

Young said that in 1990, an effort to challenge the same laws at Canada’s high court failed. The justices concluded laws that force prostitutes off the street but don’t allow them to move indoors were contradictory but not unconstitutional. “The court sort of threw up its hands and said, ‘Well, you know, it’s a bit bizarre, a bit odd’ – these are the words they used – ‘but there’s no constitutional problem when all you’re saying is the law is strange,’” Young said in an interview.

The Pickton case proved othrewise. “It was irrationality leading to the killing fields,” said Young.

It’s not just Pickton’s case bolstering the fight, Young said. Eighteen women have gone missing or been found murdered along the Highway of Tears, an RCMP task force in the Edmonton area has 82 similar cases between Calgary and Edmonton to investigate and a task force in the Winnipeg area has a list of more than 30.

Most are sex-trade workers. “It is epidemic,” said Young. “It is a problem that is inherent in telling people that you can do this business but you can’t do it in a safe setting.”

The prostitution case is bound to end up before the Supreme Court of Canada. Young expects to be arguing at the Ontario Court of Appeal next year and hopes to have a definitive decision from the country’s highest court by the end of 2012.

He said he’ll be watching the Pickton inquiry to see if public enquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal concludes that Canada’s laws are partly to blame for putting Vancouver women in the serial killer’s hunting ground.

Fine arts grad performs in White Christmas

Robb Fischer and Mark Kuntsi (BFA Hons. ’91) are back, wrote The Sault Star Dec. 6 in a story about the Sault Symphony Orchestra’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

Kuntsi is a regular performer on the city’s musical scene, performing solo dates and fronting the band Honey Throat. But, he also appeared in Musical Comedy Guild productions, such as The Me Nobody Knows and Bye, Bye Birdie before studying theatre and visual arts in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

“I’ve been concentrating on the music thing,” said Kuntsi. “When (Rent) came up I was like, ‘Maybe this is finally the time to get my feet wet again in theatre.’ Well, I guess I’ve been bitten by the bug again.”

Acting and singing demands are fine. It’s the dancing that’s challenged Kuntsi during three months of rehearsals leading up to Wednesday’s opening of the Sault Symphony Orchestra show at Kiwanis Community Theatre Centre.

“I can move once I know what I’m doing, but my brain doesn’t remember choreography too well,” he said. “I’m getting to the point now where I’m just about there. It just takes me a little longer, that’s all.”

On air

  • Alan Young, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about Canada’s prostitution laws on CFRB Radio Dec. 2.
  • The story of Alfred Metallic, the York PhD candidate who defended his thesis in his native Mi’gmaw language, was featured on APTN TV’s national news Dec. 2.
  • Penny Dowedoff, a York PhD student, talked about reproductive tourism and the documentary Google Baby on ichannel Dec. 3.