The global dialogue on business and human rights

In our hyper-integrated global economy, corporate performance and resilience is increasingly vulnerable, wrote Ed Waitzer, Jarislowsky Dimma Mooney Chair in Corporate Governance in York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the Schulich School of Business, in The Globe and Mail Dec. 24 in a story about an online forum on business practices by John Ruggie, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In 2005 Ruggie, was appointed by the United Nations to identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability on human rights, including the role of states. In 2008, after extensive consultations, Ruggie proposed a policy framework to manage business and human-rights challenges.

The framework, unanimously embraced by the UN Human Rights Council, outlined three distinct responsibilities: the state’s duty to protect against human rights abuses; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights (by acting with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others); and greater access to remedies for victims.

The rights council then asked Ruggie to go a step further and provide guidance on how countries and businesses could implement this “protect, respect and remedy” framework. After more rounds of consultations (including one convened in Toronto by York’s Osgoode Hall Law School) and the input of law firms around the world (including Stikeman Elliott LLP in Canada), on whether and how corporate and securities laws foster corporate cultures respectful of human rights, Ruggie recently released a significant blueprint for public comment.

His “Guiding Principles” framework brings together social ideals and operational practicalities. It helps to frame, and make operational, an emerging international consensus, starting with the need for states to adopt a more comprehensive approach to address business-related human rights impacts, and to encourage business enterprises to respect human rights.

The Guiding Principles deserve the support and practical commitment of the business community. Ruggie is welcoming public feedback on his blueprint through a dedicated online forum until Jan. 31, 2011.

Anyone involved or interested in the challenges of corporate social responsibility, including governance and accountability, should take part in this crucial global discussion.

The best of both worlds

When I was at the pinnacle of my concert career, Jon B. Higgins invited me to teach at York University, wrote Trichy Sankaran, professor of Indian music in York’s Faculty of  Fine Arts, in India’s The Hindu Dec. 31. We founded the Indian Music Program in 1971. This was left entirely under my direction after Jon left Toronto in 1978. My training as a postgraduate of Madras University alongside my performance career enabled me to slip into teaching and research. In the last 39 years at York University, I have trained several hundreds of students in the history, theory and performance of Indian music, many of whom have become professional performers and educators over the years.

My interest for collaboration with world music artists resulted in many new creations with noted world musicians in the genres of western chamber music, symphony, jazz, African, Indonesian and other ensembles.

A quote from my colleague Professor Sterling Beckwith, [professor emeritus & senior scholar in the Faculty of Fine Arts] the founding chair of the Music Department at York, sums up my musical contributions in North America. "His [Trichy Sankaran’s] valued works as composer, ensemble leader and percussion maestro, scholar and researcher, cross-cultural innovator and ambassador, tutor and mentor of the many young talents whose lives he has touched and changed keeps him constantly on the go, and shows no sign of slowing down.”

As a torchbearer of the Palani style of mridangam playing, I enjoy coming to the music season every year, purely out of passion for music and to spread this style among the younger generation. Living, teaching and performing our music abroad has given me a unique perspective to look at my own culture and the music of India and share it with a global audience. It is thanks to my good fortune, God’s grace and my hard work that I have been enjoying the benefits of the best of both worlds.

York prof doubted rumours about Fantino

Julian Fantino, who has been Vaughan’s MP for only a month, now becomes Minister of State for Seniors, wrote The Canadian Press and 680News Radio Jan. 4 in a story about a minor cabinet shuffle by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

York University political scientist Robert Drummond, a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said it’s not often a rookie gets brought into the inner circle so quickly. “This is someone they’ve recruited as kind of a star,” he said.

It was rumoured prior to the announcement that he could become justice minister following the shuffle. However, Drummond highly doubted those rumours. “It’s not clear to me that the justice portfolio is one in which I would put someone who had been a former senior police officer,” said Drummond. “I think it’s one where they expect rather, more impartiality…. Even this government, I think, would not push law and order to appointing someone like that into justice,” he told 680News.

David Noble, activist and academic, dies at 65

David Noble, a well-known political activist and history professor at York University for about two decades, died suddenly in a Toronto hospital on Monday after contracting a virulent strain of pneumonia that caused septic shock and renal failure, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 29 in an obituary. He was 65.

He shot to prominence in the mid-’80s with his book Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, in which he argued that technological automation had been a tool to deprive workers of power.

“Most people think Dave was just some kind of reckless, angry man but there was so much to him,” said Doug Noble, his twin. “As a father, brother, friend, he was everyone’s rock,” he said, adding his brother believed in fighting for injustices that were “right where he lived. He couldn’t tolerate any wrong.”

  • With great sadness and deepest sorrow, we received the news of the passing away of Professor David Franklin Noble, wrote contributor Khaled Mouammar in Toronto’s Oye! Dec. 29.

Professor Noble was a critical historian of technology, science and education; a relentless crusader against the commercialization of higher education; a passionate champion of academic freedom; and a staunch opponent of discrimination. He last taught in the Department of Social Science, and the Social & Political Thought program at York University.

Throughout his life, whether at the personal or professional/academic level, Professor Noble was the embodiment of intellectual honesty, courage and decency. Canada lost a truly noble person, both in name and in the essence of his character.

We at the Canadian Arab Federation, Palestine House, Islamic Society of York Region and Canadian Shia Muslims Organization extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Sarah, his three children and his two brothers, and stand with them during this difficult period.

Osgoode grad was a passionate defence lawyer

Osgoode grad Michael Lomer’s sense of justice inspired him to become a criminal lawyer, but it was also what drove him from his profession, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 23 in an obituary.

Lomer (LLB ’79) died Dec. 13 at 59. Friends and family who gathered for his funeral Tuesday at Kingston Road United Church remembered a quietly passionate man who was a skilled sailor and knowledgeable about astronomy, music and art.

After nearly two decades in the trenches, Lomer grew disillusioned with the criminal justice system. A lot of it had to do with the case of William Mullins-Johnson, the Sault Ste. Marie man who, at 24, was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering his four-year-old niece, Valin, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Lomer took on his appeal in 1994 and soon realized the evidence didn’t add up. But it would be years before the justice system acknowledged that Mullins-Johnson was one of at least 14 people wrongly convicted on the basis of flawed evidence from Dr. Charles Smith, then the undisputed guru of pediatric forensic pathology.

In 2008, when Mullins-Johnson’s conviction was quashed by the Ontario Court of Appeal, Lomer was a member of the defence team. It was one of his last appearances in lawyers’ robes.

He had soldiered on after Mullins-Johnson’s conviction was upheld in 2006 and there were gratifying moments. Lomer was proud of having appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada in the case known as United States v. Burns, which shut the door on the death penalty ever returning to Canada. But he was also increasingly disenchanted with the direction that criminal law was taking.

Two years ago, Lomer shut down his practice and enrolled in York University to study art history and astronomy. He also helped care for his sister, Janet, who died of cancer last February.

Earlier this month, Lomer felt unusually tired and developed leg pains. At the hospital, doctors discovered he had pulmonary embolisms, but believed they were treating them successfully.

Boxing day: from giving to getting

Boxing Day’s origins are based not on shopping and spending, but on giving and charity, wrote 24 Hours Dec. 26 in a history of the day’s origins which date to the 12th century.

So when did it change from mass charity to mass consumption? Nicholas Rogers, a history professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said the shift happened in the late 1950s. “That’s when credit cards became big and stores became big into post-Christmas price reductions,” he said. “Now it’s about high consumption.”

Nurses working in Canadian jails face threats: study

For Judeline Innocent (MSCN ’07), emotional abuse often took the form of cat-calls and sexual innuendo, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 5 in a story about a landmark study that suggests nurses working in corrections have lower levels of burnout than their counterparts in settings that don’t include bars and guards.

Innocent previously worked as a program manager at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, and has also worked at the Toronto East Detention Centre.

She recalls how some of the inmates used to whistle at her while she was walking on a range and make inappropriate comments about her body. The comments stopped when she confronted the inmates, she says.

While doing her master’s degree at York, Innocent researched strategies to help nurses succeed in an environment that she says is not conducive to building a therapeutic relationship. “Unless you have some kind of a mechanism to prevent yourself from being sucked in emotionally, it becomes a very, very difficult environment to work in,” she says.

Woodbridge teacher turns dream into reality

During his final years of high school, York grad Joshua Martyr (BA Spec. Hons. ’05) had a vivid daydream about a sentry perched in a large oak tree outside a medieval town, wrote Dec. 28.

Now, more than 10 years later, that daydream has evolved into a two-part novel – Genesis Of The Hunter Book 1 and Book 2. The first book was released in June, while the second came out in September.

The story follows the sentry from his encounter with the two vampires in 1483 up to present day. “So, you’re with him through that transition (from man to vampire) and all these incredible experiences that he undergoes and his changes in perception of the world,” Martyr said.

After graduating from Woodbridge College, Martyr attended York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and played running back for the York football Lions. From there he completed a teaching degree at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

It took about two-and-a-half-years to complete the novel, which ran more than 500 pages. Two months after finishing it, Martyr landed a publishing deal with Damnation Books, a small California-based firm which recommended he split the novel into two books.  

In addition to promoting his books and trying to score a film deal, Martyr has been working as a substitute teacher in York Region and is hoping to land a full-time teaching position.

York student has represented Métis youth

Erin Konsmo describes herself as a compassionate activist and feminist, wrote Alberta’s Innisfail Province Jan. 4. She is a Métis youth and takes great pride in her heritage and is working towards creating a better world for other Métis women. Konsmo is currently taking her master’s degree in environmental studies at York University and is researching sexual and reproductive rights around HIV/AIDS for women and youth. Konsmo has represented Métis youth and women at many different national events and conferences. She is a strong leader and keeps close ties to her home here in Innisfail.

Anger vented at Ottawa police racial profiling forum

Years of community consultations, roundtables, meetings and community-police partnerships could have produced a racial profiling policy reflecting community wisdom, wrote Sulaimon Giwa, PhD Candidate in York’s School of Social Work in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, on Jan. 5. His article centred on a report on “Let’s Chat About Racial Profiling”, an interactive forum to discuss the Ottawa police service’s draft policy on racial profiling held Nov. 30. But the incongruence between the OPS draft policy and what the community has been saying all along suggest that the police have not been listening to the community’s recommendations for change. In the words of one participant, what the community needs from the police is for “heads to roll” – a sentiment echoed by many at the meeting.

At a time when the population of ethno-racial minorities is growing in Ottawa and the rest of Canada, it is imperative that the Ottawa Police Service begin to attend to the demands of this growing population. Police leadership needs to take a tougher stance on acts of racial profiling, however unpopular the police service may find it. The police must remember the oath they swore to uphold: to protect and serve. This oath extends to addressing racial intolerance, oppression and discrimination wherever they may lurk.

Tim Wu: A freedom fighter for the digital age

Largely unknown and – until now – unheralded, they’re part of our burgeoning Canadian diaspora: 2.7 million men and women, increasingly referred to as Canada’s 11th province – some of whom are making substantial marks in dozens of countries and dozens of fields, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 1 in a story about Canadians working in other countries.

“This is not about selling wristwatches or sweaters,” says Tim Wu, the Columbia Law School professor considered one of the world’s leading thinkers on technology policy. “This is information – information is power.”

After growing up in Toronto, where his mother, Gillian Wu, is a cancer researcher in York University’s Faculty of Health, and earning his bachelor’s degree from McGill, Tim Wu studied law at Harvard University. After serving as a law clerk for leading members of the US Supreme Court and US Court of Appeals, he began teaching at the University of Virginia and then Columbia.

Now his expertise in the nature of monopolistic empires and net neutrality is about to become even more important. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission is set to introduce rules on net neutrality that critics say will fall far short of what’s needed to keep the web a level playing field.

On air

  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics and astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the discovery of a supernova by a 10-year-old girl in New Brunswick, on CTV News Jan. 4.
  • Zbigniew Stachniak, computer science professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about outmoded technology from the past decade, once considered as “must haves”, on Global TV Dec. 28.
  • York student Derek Ang spoke about the Golf Academy’s community program for children in the Jane-Finch community, on CBC TV Dec. 27.
  • Research on how video games can boost brain power and multi-tasking skills by Lauren Sergio, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, was featured on US National Public Radio Dec. 20.