Osgoode prof says rejection of terrorists’ appeal makes law clear

Terrorists must learn that Canada’s democratic principles are not signs of weakness, the Ontario Court of Appeal said on Friday as it handed down six rulings that upheld federal anti-terrorism measures and imposed stiffer sentences on convicted terrorists, wrote the National Post Dec. 18.

“Terrorists … may view Canada as an attractive place from which to pursue their heinous activities. And it is up to the courts to shut the door on that way of thinking, swiftly and surely,” the appeal court said in the decisions, released simultaneously, dismissing constitutional challenges to the Anti-Terrorism Act and appeals brought by the ringleader of the Toronto 18, Momin Khawaja, and two Canadians wanted in New York for allegedly helping supply Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels.

The court also considerably raised the sentences of Khawaja, an Ottawa man convicted over his role in a British bomb cell, and two members of the Toronto 18, who had plotted bombings in southern Ontario and an attack on the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.

James Stribopoulos, a criminal law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said while judges were previously working in “uncharted territory”, Friday’s rulings have effectively set a framework for dealing with terrorism cases in Canada. “The court has made very clear that these cases are anything but routine and they warrant a unique approach – an approach that recognizes the severity of terrorism as a crime and the challenge it poses to the very fabric of Canadian society,” Stribopoulos said.

George Vari: From refugee to renowned builder

In February, 1957, after George Vari arrived in Montreal following the failed Hungarian uprising, he walked snow-covered Sainte-Catherine Street until he found a place where he had heard that a committee of university students were handing out $5 bills to refugees like himself, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 18 in an obituary.

No one could have guessed that the 33-year-old refugee engineer, speaking no English and without proper winter boots, would one day be a hugely successful international builder/developer, a philanthropist, friend of ambassadors and prime ministers, owner of art-filled homes in London, Paris, the French Riviera, Toronto and Cobourg. The best known – and most controversial – of his buildings is the 58-storey, 210-metre Tour Montparnasse, the tallest building in Paris.

Vari, who died in Toronto on Dec. 9 at the age of 87…participated in the building of Dorval airport, Port Royal, the headquarters of Hydro Quebec and Jardin des Etoiles, a performance hall at Expo 67. Expo created opportunities and Vari, by then running his own company, built six more pavilions for the fair.

In 1950, when he was 27, he was introduced by friends to the beautiful 19-year-old Helen de Fabinyi, then a student of philology in Budapest. But he was in another relationship and by the time their friendship caught fire, they were living on different continents. Each of them married and divorced, then began a long-distance romance by mail. "We fell in love on paper, " Helen recalls.

In 1967, 17 years after their first meeting, they married in Montreal. "There were never any differences between us. We were soulmates, as if we had always been married," she says.

The Varis intended to return to Canada, but so many interesting projects were offered to George that they stayed in France 21 years.

In 1990, they returned to Canada, settling in Toronto. Here Vari built the Novotel Hotel, the Balmoral Club retirement home, Vari Hall at York University [named for George and Helen] and the Hotel Intercontinental on Bloor Street West, where he personally chose the towels and the dishes and cutlery in the hotel’s restaurant. The couple had no children but cared deeply about young people, and gave away large amounts of their money through the Vari Foundation to educational institutions and hospitals.

Honours rained down on him in later life, including the Order of Canada, honorary degrees from York and  Ryerson universities, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal and the Legion d’Honneur of France. In 1991, he was named to the Queen’s Privy Council. Four years ago, he began to show signs of Parkinson’s disease and dementia. In September, his condition worsened and he went rapidly downhill. He died at home with Helen holding his hand.

At his death, French ambassador François Delattre wrote his widow from Ottawa: “France weeps for one of its closest and most faithful friends.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered the flag on the Peace Tower to fly at half-mast on Saturday, the day of his funeral.

Confusion as US, Europe differ on Avastin breast cancer treatment

Contradictory decisions made in the United States and Europe last week about a drug used to treat breast cancer are creating controversy and confusion over whether patients should still have access to it, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 20.

The confusion may be most palpable in Canada, where federal regulators have yet to decide whether Avastin should stay in use for breast cancer treatment because it helps patients live longer, or if approval needs to be revoked in light of new studies suggesting the drug is ineffective and potentially unsafe.

“We’re in the dark about all of this,” said Joel Lexchin, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health.

Public is still leery of electronic vote

A brief but bitter controversy over alleged vote tampering in Mississauga has all but died down this month in the wake of a Peel police probe that effectively vindicated the city’s electoral processes, wrote the National Post Dec. 20 in a story on lingering doubts about electronic voting.

York University political scientist Robert Drummond of York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who said the recent allegations underscore “a real distrust” of the political system, pointed out it is easier to allege a machine erred – or was quietly tampered with by a disgruntled staffer – than to suggest a roomful of people conspired to doctor results. “When you’ve got people hand counting, if something goes wrong it can usually be spotted,” Drummond said. “I think it would require almost a conspiracy of everyone in the room to ensure the results are skewed.”

Hundreds of York University students evacuated after campus bomb threat

York University students got an unexpected break from exams Sunday after a bomb threat was called into the school’s Keele campus, wrote The Globe and Mail online Dec. 19.

Several hundred students writing exams were evacuated from Curtis Lecture Halls at 11am after a threat targeting that building was received, said Keith Marnoch, York’s associate director of media relations. “We went through our regular procedures with Toronto police and Toronto fire,” Marnoch said. “We always take these things very seriously.”

After police deemed the building safe, students returned to their tests just over an hour later at 12:20pm, Marnoch said.

This is the second disruption in York’s fall exam season. A fire at the school’s Central Utilities Building Monday shut off heat to the campus and forced its closure until Wednesday. Exams scheduled for Monday and Tuesday have since been rescheduled.

  • The Toronto Star and 680News also covered the story on Dec. 19.

York professor criticizes suspension of hockey coach

The claim that it is only following the rules is a moral evasion of the type used by bureaucrats throughout the US South or apartheid South Africa who refused to challenge racism on the grounds that they were “only following the rules,” wrote David McNally, professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in a letter to The Peterborough Examiner Dec. 20. McNally was writing about the Ontario Minor Hockey Association’s suspension of local house league hockey coach Greg Walsh until April 10 over a racial slur directed at one of his players.

Athletes, parents, fans, children and everyone in our society deserve real leadership from the OMHA – not complicity with racism. And make no mistake: punishing a coach who refused to abide racism makes the organization complicit with the racist act itself.

All of us who have played hockey and other organized sports know that there is a culture of racism that disgraces the sport and the wider society.

Stop hiding behind bureaucratic rules and do the right thing. Rescind the suspension of Greg Walsh and come out unequivocally against racism in hockey and throughout our society.

Peel board seeks public input on future of instructional technology

The Peel District School Board has engaged an external researcher, Jennifer Jenson, a professor in the Faculty of Education at York University, to undertake a review of instructional technology, wrote TheBramptonNews.com Dec. 19. This review is an opportunity for the Peel board to look at what and how technology can make a difference for students in the years ahead, and what actions we need to take to fulfil that vision. Focus groups have already been conducted with staff, students, parents and the members of the community.

Facebook to hold Hacker Cup

Facebook has created a page containing details about a Hacker Cup in 2011, wrote the Toronto Star and Metro Dec. 17. People can apply and compete online and a final 25 will be flown to compete in the algorithmic programming contest in California in the new year for US $5,000 and the title. The tests are designed by Facebook engineers. Inside the Facebook universe “hacking” or “Hack” are used as terms for all-night coding benders, rather than for the more popular interpretation of someone who creates codes or viruses to interfere with or destroy computer programs.

Alan Middleton, marketing professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, was admittedly a bit baffled at the prospect, given the elevated public perception of hacking of the more nefarious kind. “In a world where we are getting increasingly concerned about privacy (does Facebook) want to be associated with hacking?” asked Middleton.

He said there are two possible options for the contest. “They are trying to get some buzz to remain cool with a rebellious and youthful segment of their population,” said Middleton. “In which case, I think it is a really bad strategy.”

Facebook, he said, is likely just holding a skills competition to seek out new talent.

“Maybe in a new world where WikiLeaks and hackers are the new heroes and we hate government and establishments…maybe we are now trying to celebrate the rebels,” said Middleton.

Video games boost brain power, multitasking skills

Parents, the next time you fret that your child is wasting too much time playing video games, consider new research suggesting that video gaming may have real-world benefits for your child’s developing brain, wrote National Public Radio online Dec. 20.

To better understand how gamers acquire these non-gaming skills, neuroscientist Lauren Sergio, of York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, looks inside the brain. She’s found an important difference between gamers and non-gamers in how and where the brain processes information. She likens skilled gamers to musicians.

“If you look at professional piano players, professional musicians, you see this phenomenon where they don’t activate as much of their brain to do very complicated things with their hands that the rest of us need to do. And we found that the gamers did this as well.”

Skilled gamers mainly use their frontal cortex, according to Sergio’s fMRI studies. That’s an area of the brain specialized for planning, attention and multitasking. Non-gamers, in contrast, predominately use an area called the parietal cortex, the part of the brain specializing in visual spatial functions.

“The non-gamers had to think a lot more and use a lot more of the workhorse parts of their brains for eye-hand coordination,” Sergio says. “Whereas the gamers really didn’t have to use that much brain at all, and they just used these higher cognitive centers to do it.”

The direct route from child sex charges to suicide

The morning after he’d been publicly identified as one of 57 men charged in an international child exploitation investigation, Richard Dyde waited for his wife to leave the house, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 17.

Shamed and humiliated, Dyde, a post-doctoral research fellow at York, chose to do what a growing number of others who face child exploitation charges – considered among the most repugnant of crimes – have done.

The scientist and author left his Leaside home on a bicycle on the morning of Dec. 9. He pedalled the short distance to the Woodbine Bridge on O’Connor Drive. Around 10:30 that morning, Dyde parked his bike and climbed the railing on the Woodbine Bridge and jumped. He landed about 30 metres below on his back, on a paved walkway in Taylor Creek Park. Death was quick.

He’d earlier discussed with his lawyer his intention to fight the accusations he faced. He had been charged on Dec. 1 with making child pornography available, possession of child pornography and of making child pornography, which can refer to transferring the offending material from one medium to another.

Police allege Dyde and the other accused were involved in online trading of child sexual abuse images and videos. The investigation, dubbed Project Sanctuary, involved police from Canada, the US and Europe. There is no suggestion Dyde had direct contact with a child victim.

On Dec. 8, the day he would make bail, Dyde did not appear suicidal, his lawyer, Heather Pringle, said in an interview. “He spoke of his wish to fight these charges at trial.”

He was released on a $10,000 surety, posted by his wife. Waiting for him outside court was the media. His name, face and biographical details made the evening news, the Internet and the morning papers.

There is nothing to suggest Dyde expressed suicidal thoughts while in custody. But his lawyer, Pringle, said in an e-mail to the Star that, in general, the “state in which the presumed innocent are held in pre-trial custody is an abomination. “This includes – but is not confined to – access to meaningful counselling. The government fails to fund the detention centres properly because taking care of prisoners is not a politically popular cause.”

Pringle believes Dyde was overwhelmed by the “outing,” and that this led to the suicide. “I do feel that police should be cognizant of the risk in publicly releasing information that an individual faces this type of charge, along with personal details about that person’s life and occupation,” she said. “Increased media attention into every aspect of the accused’s personal life exacerbates the stigma inherent in facing that type of charge.”

Varley gallery hopes to work with students

The Varley Art Gallery is in the preparation stage of a strategic planning exercise to review its mandate and establish a shared vision between the Town of Markham, the Varley gallery and the Varley-McKay Art Foundation, wrote YorkRegion.com Dec. 17.

It’s about how the gallery can still be relevant to the community and its peers, said Francine Perinet, gallery director. Secondly, the team can afford to take more risks, including working with art students at York University[’s Faculty of Fine Arts] and the Ontario College of Art & Design to brainstorm ideas through a mentorship-like collaboration, with the gallery being a laboratory for emerging ideas.

Hockey sobers up on concussions

It’s pretty much taken a generation of hockey players, but that attitude of “shake it off and get back out there,” toward concussions is changing, wrote the Toronto Sun Dec. 20. “If you see a teammate on crutches, with a cast or a brace, you don’t question their integrity or their commitment to their teammates,” said Paul Dennis, the sports psychologist who worked for two decades with the Toronto Maple Leafs, now retired, and lecturing at York University and the University of Toronto. “When it’s a concussion and it’s invisible, it’s not considered a real injury because it’s hidden.”

More sex than revolution

Playwright Sally Clark (BA Hons. ’75) has turned to an eclectic cast of strong-willed, driven women for inspiration: Joan of Arc in Jehanne of the Witches, Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi in Life Without Instruction, actress Frances Farmer in Saint Frances of Hollywood and the Biblical figure of Judith in The Widow Judith, wrote the Vancouver Sun Dec. 18, in a review of the York grad’s latest book.

Now, in her first novel, Waiting for the Revolution, the woman she turns to is herself and her experiences as an art student in Toronto

Clark, who was born and raised in Vancouver’s wealthy Shaughnessy neighbourhood, went to Toronto in 1973 to study fine arts at York University. After nearly a decade of struggling as a realistic painter of portraits – neither fashionable nor much in demand, she has said, in a decade dominated by pop and abstract art – she focused on her writing, turning out eight plays over two decades.

Going upscale

Owner Paul Zubot (BA ’95) said the old leaky Brouwer Plumbing & Heating building was beyond repair and no longer useful in a competitive market, wrote The London Free Press Dec. 20 in a story about the company’s new premises.

Zubot grew up in Toronto but attended Fanshawe College, graduating from the Music Industry Arts program. As a student, he worked part time at Brouwer as a plumber’s assistant. He returned to Toronto, graduating with a music degree from York University before moving on to a sales career with Minolta.

On air

  • Sergei Plekhanov, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, took part in a panel discussion about the role of the United States as a superpower, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Dec. 17.
  • Judith Rudakoff, professor of theatre in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about the play The Silicone Diaries, about the life of York grad Nina Arsenault (BFA Spec. Hons.’96, MFA ’00), on CBC News’ “The National” Dec. 19.