Ottawa faces uphill battle to expel Tunisian billionaire in Montreal

The federal government is seeking the expulsion from Canada of the billionaire brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 27. But it could be years before Belhassen Trabelsi is forced to leave the country, if he can be made to leave at all.

It is no easy thing to revoke residency status once it has been obtained, wrote the Globe. “If he has the resources and the determination, he can easily stay here for 10 years, maybe more,” said Leo Adler, a professor in York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. He noted that some individuals have successfully fought deportation for more than 20 years.

  • Adler also spoke about Belhassen Trabelsi on CTV News Jan. 27.

Ottawa eyes security certificate alternatives

The government is quietly studying alternatives to deporting terrorism suspects under the much-maligned national security certificate, as attempts to remove them get bogged down in the courts, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 28, in a story based on documents disclosed under the Access to Information Act.

Some of the heavily censored federal records were obtained by Mike Larsen, a doctoral candidate and researcher at York University’s Centre for International and Security Studies. Others were released to The Canadian Press.

The documents show that while [a] working group is examining alternatives to deportation where the possibility of torture exists, it has not abandoned the option altogether.

In an interview, Larsen said consideration of these issues should not take place behind closed doors. “There should be public consultation,” he said. “There should be open dialogue.”

The notion of diplomatic assurances about torture involves serious national policy discussions about whether certain foreign countries can be trusted, he said.

  • Large sections of the documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, obtained by York University researcher and PhD student Michael Larsen, are heavily redacted, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Jan. 28.

    Larsen, a researcher at the York University Centre for International and Security Studies, said he asked for the documents because he wanted to bring the secret review into the public domain. Decisions that affect the fundamental rights of people and relations with foreign governments should be made in the light of day so Canadians can participate if they wish [said Larsen]. He worries that the government will make the decisions in secret and then rush them through without proper debate. “These are not state secrets. It looks as if they are looking for alternatives, and there’s no harm that can come from transparency. I am worried that a lot of it won’t be made public,” he said. “I want a public debate.”

Standardized testing is old school and invalid, says York prof

We educate children for the future they will inherit, wrote Heather Lotherington, professor in York’s Faculty of Education, in a letter to The Globe and Mail Jan. 28. Standardized tests of language and literacy test the literacies of a half-century ago, when grammatical knowledge and mastery of spelling and punctuation marked the educated person.

Contemporary literacies profoundly invalidate such tests. Literacy now requires mastery over digital tools for collaborative, dynamic, multimodal communication. Continuing to test children’s formal spelling using handwriting is a speck on the team-oriented strategizing and programming abilities they will need to succeed.

Standardized tests assume that each student has learned exactly the same thing. When we can customize education to reach all students and maximize the potential of each, insisting that each student learn the same thing is wasteful of precious human resources.

Please suggest to the aging politicians who support standardized tests to collaborate electronically with the children of today, who might be able to give them a few pointers on how people communicate in this century. Mind you, they might not all pass.

Find a home for pricey ‘orphan drugs’

Back in 2004, the first ministers signed the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy; they announced they were going to develop a national framework for orphan drugs, wrote Dr. Joel Lexchin, professor in the School of Health Policy & Management in York University[‘s Faculty of Health], in the Toronto Star Jan. 28, in a story about government reluctance to pay for expensive drugs to treat rare diseases.

Critics charge that these drugs are priced at what the market will bear; in other words, desperate people will pay a lot to stay alive. Ontario should ask drug companies to open their books to determine how much they actually spend developing these drugs.

One of the reasons governments are often reluctant to pay for these drugs is that there isn’t a lot of evidence about how well they work or what side effects people taking them may eventually suffer. When there are only a few hundred people in the entire country with a condition, it’s difficult to do definitive clinical trials.

Finally, the thorniest problem of all. Which drugs should the province pay for? Who is worthy and who is not?

I propose that the government set aside a fixed percentage of its drug budget, currently about $4 billion per year, just for expensive drugs for rare diseases.

We should not have to see people on the front pages of our newspapers begging for drugs.  Ontario has the resources to pay for the expensive medications people need. What we need is a coherent plan for moving forward.

York prof to speak at Trudeau Lecture

Isabella Bakker will outline how to strengthen the economic power of women in a free lecture at Brock University Wednesday, Feb. 2, wrote The Welland Tribune Jan. 28, in a story about one of five Trudeau Lectures at universities across Canada.

Bakker, a professor [in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], is the first woman to chair the department of political science. She is an authority in political economy, public finance, gender and development. In 2004, she was named a Fulbright New Century Scholar. Bakker became a Trudeau Fellow in 2009.

In her lecture, “Beyond the Strategic Silence: Towards the Global Economic Empowerment of Women”, Bakker will discuss whether feminism is still relevant to questions of inequality in Canada. To do so means not only looking at the evidence since 1970. It identifies continuing institutional barriers for realizing women’s economic empowerment. It also critically examines the dominant paradigms of economic policy, which embody what Bakker has called “the strategic silence.”

Black history celebrated in play

Brampton resident Aadin Church, who scripted, directed and acts in The Evolution of Gospel Music, a two-hour production, said the play intricately weaves stories and music spanning at least three centuries, wrote the Brampton Guardian Jan. 27.

The Evolution of Gospel Music will host two special shows, Feb. 4 and 5 at 7pm at The Global Kingdom Ministries located at 1250 Markham Rd. in Scarborough. The play, running for the past three years, is a collaboration between Church, Karen Burke, a professor of music in York University[’s Faculty of Fine Arts] and Corey Butler, a gospel music producer.

York student wins bronze medal in weightlifting

The 2011 Canadian Junior Weightlifting Championship was held in Regina, Saskatchewan last Saturday. The roster featured the top under 20-year-old lifters from six provinces, wrote North Bay’s online news Jan. 28.

In the 69 kilos and underweight class, Stavrula Liritzis won a bronze medal for Ontario. Lirtitzis, who is in her first year of studies at York University, was able to break her personal best in the snatch by hoisting 61 kilos on her third and final attempt. She also did a 71-kilo clean and jerk to finish with a total of 132 kilos.

On  air

  • York graduate student Penny Dowedoff spoke about reproductive tourism, on I-Channel’s “@issue” program Jan. 27.