Have Quebec voters set up Canada’s opposition to fail?

Canada’s opposition politics have taken a hard left turn, with some bizarre consequences, wrote Time.com May 15, 2011…. The election’s real surprise, however, was the fact that the pro-labour New Democratic Party (NDP) led by "Salty" Jack Layton placed second for the first time ever – thanks to strong support from Quebec’s French-speaking voters who normally support the separatist Bloc Québécois.

Many voters in Quebec said they had voted NDP to give federalism a last fighting chance, after what they view as the failure of other national parties. But what chance does the new official opposition have of satisfying Quebec’s traditional gripes – which include the call for autonomy over language and immigration policy – while relying on a large contingent of MPs with training wheels?

"The NDP will need to turn its mind to how it can consolidate support in Quebec without alienating supporters in the rest of the country," says Robert Drummond, professor of political science & public policy in Toronto’s York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

Don’t expect a radical new Supreme Court

The process proposed for selection is very reasonable and makes the appointment of extremists highly unlikely, wrote James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Ottawa Citizen May 17, in a story about speculation on two upcoming appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It is true that the process will allow the Conservatives to select the final candidates. That said, radicals of any stripe will not make it through the selection process and the approved nominees will inevitably be politically middle-of-the-road. One assumes that given a choice between a left-leaning progressive candidate and a right-leaning conservative candidate, the conservative candidate will be appointed. But the Conservatives won the election and presumably the appointment of the conservative candidate is consistent with the popular will that elected a majority government. A choice of some sort has to be made and it makes sense that the democratically elected government’s policy leanings be reflected in its judicial appointments.

Over time the government will be able to nudge the Supreme Court somewhat to the right. But the appointments that the current process will create are likely to be reasonable, sensible and effectively non-political.

  • The notion of a liberal bloc forming is quickly moving out of reach. Legal experts believe that Madam Justice Rosalie Abella, the only left-leaning judge on the court, is now doomed to perpetually find herself on the wrong end of 8-1 court decisions, wrote The Globe and Mail May 13.

“Abella [wife of York Professor Irving Abella] is likely to become an important, if singular, progressive conscience for the court,” observed Allan Hutchinson, a longtime Supreme Court watcher who is a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Prof. Jamie Cameron, a constitutional expert at York University [Osgoode Hall Law School], said [Prime Minster Stephen] Harper will seize his historic moment. “This is a prime minister who has an agenda and has not been able to implement his agenda until now,” she said.

Harper is also in a position to effectively choose the next chief justice during his term. Based on a convention of rotating francophone and anglophone chief justices, a Quebec judge is likely to be next. Therefore, whoever is prime minister is almost sure to choose from one of the two Quebec judges Harper will appoint.

Cameron noted that the court’s move toward conservatism was already under way, having begun when Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin rose to the top job a decade ago. The intellectual debate and bold decision-making that had characterized the Brian Dickson and Antonio Lamer courts began to fade.

The court’s low key, minimalist decision-making is also trickling down through the court system. “Without binding precedents from the top, the lower courts are not as likely to take chances,” Cameron said. “Over a period of time, litigants who take advice from their lawyers are less likely to bring claims.”

York’s sustainability policy noted in US bulletin

Building on the recent release of its “2010 Sustainability Report”, York University has announced a new sustainability policy, wrote the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, in its weekly bulletin for May 17. Approved by the Board of Governors in April, the policy provides the framework for sustainable and responsible practices, activities and operations on campus, wrote the bulletin.

The reference included a link to the May 10 YFile story about the adoption of the policy.

Does Canada’s army need a long-range rocket system?

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick noted that the army has wanted a long-range rocket system for a number of years but has been unsuccessful in moving the project forward, wrote the Ottawa Citizen May 17. “The artillery side of the army tends not to be all that blessed with money,” said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University [York Center for International & Security Studies] in Toronto.

He pointed out the army has, however, been able to modernize its artillery with the purchase of M777 howitzers for Canada’s Afghan mission. Canada also purchased the Excalibur precision-guided artillery round for the guns, although details on quantities have not been released publicly.

France’s right-wing temptation

Like her famous father [and founder of France’s National Front party], Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine [Le Pen] is a brilliant speaker, wrote Harvey Simmons, professor emeritus in York’s political science department, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in the Toronto Star May 16. Unlike her father, however, she no longer supports two dead-weight policies which ensured the Front’s place in electoral isolation – anti-Semitism and traditionalist Catholicism.

But Marine’s obvious charm and apparent moderation are deceptive. The National Front still wishes to bring about radical, possibly disastrous, changes in French politics. It advocates withdrawing from NATO, dumping the euro and renegotiating and possibly destroying the European Union. Each of these proposals alone would be disruptive – together they could amount to disaster.

On a more serious and threatening note, Marine, like her father, continues to hammer away at African immigrants. The Front’s 25-point program is peppered with references to the ill effects of immigration.

The Front’s role in helping to bring about these restrictive measures raises serious questions about the nature of French democracy…. Nothing that Marine Le Pen (or [President Nicholas] Sarkozy, for that matter) has said would reveal her as anti-democratic.

However, if one defines democracies as requiring political equality and mutual respect among citizens, and stipulates that citizenship must be available to all, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, then the attempt by the Front and of Sarkozy’s party to denigrate Islam, to marginalize and stigmatize Muslim members of the community, and to narrow the privileges of citizenship must raise serious questions about both parties’ commitment to democracy.

With the National Front leading the way, and with the governing party not far behind in squeezing the Muslim community, one might ask whether the far right has finally succeeded in imposing on France its narrow, intolerant definition of democracy.

York prof joins international call to reinstate academic

We write as academics deeply concerned by the suspension of Dr. Rod Thornton, a lecturer in counter-terrorism in the school of politics and international relations at the University of Nottingham, wrote a group of academics from universities around the world, including David McNally, professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in a letter published in The Guardian (UK) May 10.

We understand that Dr. Thornton’s suspension is the result of a whistle-blowing investigative research paper that was presented at the annual British International Studies Association conference and subsequently published on its website. In his research, Dr. Thornton carefully details what appear to be examples of serious misconduct from senior university management over the arrest of two university members (The "Nottingham Two") under the Terrorism Act 2000 in May 2008.

The claims he makes are very serious and should be subjected to a full and proper inquiry: they cannot be ignored.

We call for the immediate reinstatement of Rod Thornton and call on the University of Nottingham to openly and thoroughly examine the claims made in his research. We also request that an independent inquiry be conducted into the university’s actions on this matter.

Osgoode grad beats judges in race for chief justice of Kenya

Seven months ago, Willy Mutunga [DJUR ’93], wrote a piece in [Kenya’s Daily Nation] outlining the resumé of the new chief justice, wrote All Africa.com May 13.

He said key reform institutions must be led by new hands committed to ideas of the new constitution and called for the appointment of the next chief justice from outside the Judiciary.

The scholar warned against the recycling of names of the "usual suspects" for senior appointments.

On Friday, the Judicial Service Commission accepted his application for nomination as chief justice alongside lawyer Nancy Baraza as deputy chief justice.

As early as three weeks ago, many commissioners had made a decision in support of Mutunga because of his academic credentials and struggle in the reform movement as a member of the National Convention Executive Council.

The fact that he had not served in the discredited Judiciary gave him an upper hand as the new broom to clean up the institution.

Mutunga is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. He studied Law at the University of Nairobi and was awarded an LLB. He has a master’s degree from the University of Dar es Salaam and a PhD from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada.

  • Kenya’s top judicial authority Friday nominated constitutional reform activist Willy Mutunga (DJUR ’93) for the post of the country’s chief justice and picked Nairobi lawyer Nancy Barasa as his deputy, wrote Afrique-en-ligne May 14. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which comprises the attorney general, elected agents of the bench and the bar – judges and lawyers – and appointees of the president, said it sought “impeccable legal minds” for the posts.

The panel’s acting chair, Professor Christine Mango, said it “picked a man and a woman of impeccable legal minds, giving consideration to candidates with a record of independence and who could not be compromised by economic considerations.”

Mutunga, a reputable law teacher, was sacked from his post at the University of Nairobi during Kenya’s crackdown against academic dissent in the 1980s, following a failed military coup against former President Daniel Moi.

With a doctoratal degree from Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, Mutunga is a senior counsel and advocate of the High Court of Kenya.

His immediate task is to restore confidence in the Kenyan judiciary, which has been battered by a perception of ineptness and pure corruption.

Nancy Nicol: 30 years of social justice documentaries

“My interest in politics and history, particularly the history of social movements, has kept me coming back to video,” says documentary filmmaker, [York] professor and activist Nancy Nicol [MFA ’97], wrote Xtra May 13. She’s been coming back to it for over 30 years, with a list of more than 30 films to her credit since 1979.

“In the last decade I’ve really focused on lesbian and gay rights,” she says. “I started working on this series of four films, From Criminality to Equality, in 1999, and it basically just took over.”

Nicol’s latest film, Dykes Planning Tykes: Queering the Family Tree, is set to premiere at the Inside Out Film Festival on May 28 at 1pm. The film takes a look at the Toronto-based parenting program of the same name, which was founded in 1997 and continues to support lesbian and queer-identified women from its home at the Sherbourne Health Centre. The group commissioned the film for its 10th anniversary three years ago.

As if a rich and productive career in documentary-making weren’t enough, Nicol also works as a professor and researcher in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, as well as being a faculty associate in York’s Centre for Feminist Research. She was recently granted $1 million in funding over five years in the form of a Community-University Research Alliance award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a project called Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights, a collaborative endeavour with a 22-member research team and with 32 community and organizational partners across the globe. The project will explore how LGBT and human rights groups resist the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity.

With all this, it’s only fitting that Nicol would be earning the recognition of her peers. On May 26 at 7pm at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, she’ll be inducted into the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives’ National Portrait Gallery, which features portraits of individuals who, according to the Portrait Gallery website, “have made significant contributions to the growth of diverse, out and proud lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) communities in Canada.”

Nicol is especially pleased because the artist commissioned to do her portrait is none other than her partner, Rainbow Health Ontario representative and longtime activist Phyllis Waugh [MFA ’81]. “We met after art school, and we’ve been together for 26 years.”

Vote to make singer’s dream come true

Laura Kay is living her red-carpet dream, but she needs your vote to go just a little bit further, wrote YorkRegion.com May 16.

The 24-year-old Markham woman is one of 10 finalists in the Toronto division of the Red Carpet Dreaming Competition, an Idol-like online vocal competition.

It’s part of singer/entertainer Cindy Ashton’s Red Carpet Dreaming Tour, taking place May 17 to June 24 to raise money and awareness for vital child and youth charities across North America. The local charity benefiting from this cause is the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness located in Newmarket.

“I like the giving-back aspect,” said Kay, a music major at York University.

Kay describes herself as a jack-of-all-trades singer who can perform a wide range of genres including jazz, classical, Broadway, hip hop and rock.

To check out Ms Kay’s rendition of All That Jazz and cast your vote, go to http://redcarpetcompetition.com/toronto.html.

The grand prize winner will, among other things, get to sing a solo and group song at the Toronto concert May 27, receive a photo shoot and a recording session. Voting closes May 24.

York student is a top-10 finalist in video awards competition

Sylvie Martin wasn’t expecting to see anything extraordinary when she attended the annual Christmas parade in Edmundston four years ago, wrote New Brunswick’s Telegraph-Journal May 14.

Then along came a float carrying 15-year-old Danyka Nadeau who was singing a French carol alongside Santa Claus.

The town’s vocal coach stood awestruck. "I heard this voice and thought oh my God," said Martin. "It’s so different, beautiful and I knew she would do big things with that gift."

So it’s no surprise to her that the now 19-year-old, who studies music and communications at Toronto’s York University, is making waves nationally. The exuberant teenager is among the top 10 finalists in this year’s Much Music Video Awards (MMVAs) Covers Award competition, beating out 1,200 Canadian hopefuls who auditioned.

To watch Nadeau’s videos and cast your vote for the Much Music Video Awards Covers Award competition, visit covers.muchmusic.com.

More acts added to Black Creek Festival

In other concerts news, John Fogerty with The Levon Helm Band has been added to the BlackCreek Music Festival at York University‘s Rexall Centre on July 16, wrote the Toronto Sun May 17.

Tickets are also on sale now at the above for another BlackCreek Music Festival addition, Pink Martini and Chris Botti with special guest Jesse Cook on July 20.

On air

  • Brendan Quine, space engineering professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” May 16.
  • York grad Suzanne Desrochers [BA Hons. ’00, MA ’07] and her book Bride of New France were featured on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” May 16.