Rexall Centre wins good reviews as a concert venue

The music was excellent, but the road to the Greater Toronto Area’s latest and greatest summer music extravaganza was paved with gridlock, wrote the Toronto Star June 5.

On Saturday night, 8,000 fans of opera and song converged on the Rexall Centre – a tennis stadium built on the western edge of the York University [Keele] campus – for the premiere of the Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival.

The Rexall Centre turned out to be a satisfying venue. A bare-bones concrete and cinder-block tennis stadium, it proved to be remarkably intimate-feeling. The tall, canopied stage occupied the west face of the stadium, leaving room for about 8,000 people to enjoy the view directly or via three jumbo screens.

The audio system was excellent, failing to produce a clear, amplified sound only once, when everyone on stage was going full-tilt in the Triumphal Chorus from Verdi’s Aida.

Equally satisfying was the silence in and around the venue – when we couldn’t hear planes taking off from and landing at Pearson Airport.

The only significant detractors from an otherwise fabulous evening were the cold – not a common problem at summer festivals – and the difficulties in getting to the event by car. Organizers had to postpone the concert by 30 minutes to give drivers enough time to navigate the gridlock at the main entrances to the York campus, and then find a place to park.

Motorists jostled for position, barely containing their rage at the intersection of Murray Ross Parkway and Steeles Avenue before the concert. And once on the campus grounds, they careened over lush, green lawns to commandeer any free space. A festival spokesperson admitted there were problems in getting motorists settled and said organizers would try to do better for James Taylor’s concert on June 25, the festival’s next event.

If the traffic woes can be fixed, and if Mother Nature decides to show us some heat, BlackCreek will have rightly earned a spot alongside its more established peers.

  • Before reflecting on [opera singer Placido] Domingo, 70 years young, I should comment on the happy dimensions of the Rexall Centre, wrote reviewer Arthur Kaptainis in the National Post June 6.

This York University stadium was built for tennis rather than football, which makes it a relatively intimate concert facility by post-Three-Tenor standards. Amplification was better than expected. String texture (the orchestra of highly qualified locals was led by imperious-looking Eugene Kohn) had to be edited in, but voices came across truthfully, with just a touch of echo to give the package convincing resonance. Floor customers were as close to the action as they might have been in a standard concert hall. Those in the stadium seats could toggle between the Barbie- and Ken-sized reality and close-ups on the big screen. This is not the place for a graduate seminar on live versus mediated performance, but the Rexall formula proved remarkably easy to like.

  • [Placido Domingo’s] mainly Italian program at a tennis stadium near York University stayed clear of the most well-worn paths, offering a smartly curated selection of solo numbers and dramatic scenes with soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, an operatic power in her own right, wrote The Globe and Mail June 6.

The show, the first of the Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival, had to be amplified to reach all of the 8,000 people who braved cool, cloudy weather to sit in the uncovered stands, or on a temporary floor in front of a portable stage.… There was also the overhead rumble that interrupted every aria, sometimes more than once, as planes approached the runways of nearby Pearson International Airport.

The Rexall Centre, which a program note fancifully described as being “in the centre of Toronto,” also has a serious ground transportation problem: There’s only one narrow access road, which became so clogged with traffic before the show that the start had be delayed by 30 minutes.

None of that bodes well for a festival that also includes an incredible three concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra (Aug. 27 to 30), which in the current market might be hard-pressed to sell out Roy Thomson Hall (capacity 2,600) even once.

Prof takes issue with former Bush adviser

Canada, the UK and the US already have the most undeveloped welfare states among wealthy developed nations and have the statistics to show for it: high infant mortality rates, low or stagnating life expectancies, uniquely high teen pregnancy rates, and in the case of Canada and the US, high murder rates, wrote Dennis Raphael, professor of health policy & management, York University [Faculty of Health] in a letter to the National Post June 4, responding to an opinion piece titled “Restraining the Welfare State”, written by Michael Boskin, professor of economics at Stanford University, [who] was chair of president George H.W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, 1989-1993.

Do we really want to accelerate these trends by making life even more difficult for our citizens?, asked Raphael.

York prof comments on private budget debate in Hamilton

Richard Leblanc, a York University professor of law, corporate governance & ethics [in the School of Administrative Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] agrees the [Police Services Act] allows boards to go in-camera for certain matters, but it should not be “catch-all” that allows all financial matters to be discussed secretly, wrote the Hamilton Spectator June 4.

It is “anomalous” for a public board to debate its financial budgets privately, he said. Any board that represents public finances should make those finances accessible to the public, Leblanc said, adding that this is largely the case when it comes to hospitals and other publicly funded agencies. Transparency should be a top priority for all boards.

“You don’t get accountability if you don’t know where your money is being spent,” he said. “The role of the board is not to protect management; it’s to be accountable to the public.”

When finances are not fully disclosed, citizens have less ability to scrutinize and demand changes, he said.

York University places second in Mars rover contest

Toronto’s York University placed second in an international competition to see who could best build and use a robotic rover on a Mars-like landscape, wrote CBC News online June 5.

The University Rover Challenge, put on annually by the international Mars Society, was won by the Bialystok University of Technology in Poland, who beat out seven other teams from Canada and the United States.

York University repeated a second-place showing from last year. Team members said in an e-mail to CBC on Sunday that they were happy with their rover, called EVE, and its performance in the rugged sandstone desert near Hanksville, Utah.

"Although we were well prepared before the competition, the desert environment and harsh operating conditions required many last-minute repairs and alterations," the message said. "This is true for all the teams, but as always our success came from our ability to fix the rover in situ and get back to the task, while other teams were left stranded."

  • Robotic rovers built by students at two Canadian universities pulled through some tense moments as they explored a Mars-like landscape as part of an international competition, wrote CBC News online June 3.

Toronto’s York University and the University of Waterloo are trying to beat six other contenders from the US, Poland and Italy to win the University Rover Challenge.

York’s rover, EVE, had trouble Friday climbing a steep hill in the rough and rocky sandstone desert near Hanksville, Utah. "Everyone’s heart almost dropped when one of EVE’s wheels went over a boulder at the hill and almost flipped," the team posted on its Facebook site. "Luckily, EVE’s designated babysitter for today, Chitii [one of the students], was there to catch her in time."

The team also reported some problems with its range-finder, and decided to "call it a day" a little early.

York has competed in the contest three times before and came second last year.

Jordan Bailey, one of two students responsible for the team’s finances and marketing, said he thinks the current rover is the team’s "best one yet."

Last year, the team faced multiple equipment failures as a result of the record temperatures, which soared to 38 C in the shade. This year’s model has a more robust suspension, a finer control system and better temperature regulation than its predecessor, Bailey said.

The rover cost about $13,000 to build, slightly below the $15,000 maximum allowed. It was sponsored by York University, Ontario Centres of Excellence and MDA, a BC-based defence contractor.

Canadian scientists ‘bottle’ antimatter

Makoto Fujiwara has spent more than a decade in laboratories hunting an elusive prey, the stuff of science fiction – the missing half of everything, wrote Postmedia News June 6. He and other Canadian researchers have finally managed to trap their lightning in a bottle. Only it isn’t lightning they’ve got in the bottle – it’s antimatter.

The ALPHA team Fujiwara works with is made of up 40 researchers, 14 of them Canadian. They come from the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, Simon Fraser University and York University in Toronto.

Appeal of ruling on prostitution set for next week

The [Ontario Court of Appeal] has set aside five days the week of June 13 to hear a joint provincial and federal appeal of last year’s lower-court decision that invalidated prohibitions against maintaining a brothel, communicating for the purposes of prostitution or living on its avails, wrote The Globe and Mail June 4.

In Canada, politicians have repeatedly ignored cries for reform, leaving it to York University law Professor Alan Young [Osgoode Hall Law School] finally to persuade the judiciary to step in. During the week-long hearing last year before Madam Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court, Young and the Crown brought out a parade of sex workers, criminologists and international experts arguing for or against decriminalization.

Supreme Court under the microscope again

York University law Professor Bruce Ryder [Osgoode Hall Law School] said that a cautious court can have as much impact as an interventionist one, wrote The Globe and Mail June 6, in a story about upcoming appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada. He called the phenomenon conservative judicial activism: "Narrowly construing Charter and other limits on government power, even if it means rolling back protections provided by past precedents."

Appointed to head the court in 2000, Chief Justice McLachlin has been a leader for her times. An able jurist who lived through a period of factionalism on the court in the 1990s, she emerged with an inclination toward consensus.

"That court was really under a microscope," said Osgoode Professor Jamie Cameron. "I would say that one of the objectives she set for herself as chief justice was to settle things down."

In recent years, there has been a decline in the number of successful Charter of Rights claims. Even when the court finds in favour of a Charter claimant, it tends to craft a careful compromise that respects the aims of parliamentarians. "The evolution of Charter rights has slowed right down," Cameron said. "And when it’s slow at the top, lower courts are not going to be as likely to take chances."

"For the most part, we have convinced ourselves that our judges are not chosen for partisan reasons, and I think that’s right," Cameron said. "But I certainly don’t rule it out as the way of the future. This is a prime minister who has an agenda, and he has not been able to implement his agenda until now. We can look forward to a court that is even more conservative and deferential."

A welcome addition to Jamaican theatre

The recent publication of 3 Jamaican Plays by businessman and accomplished theatre practitioner Paul Issa is to be joyously welcomed, wrote reviewer Michael Reckord in Jamaica’s The Gleaner June 5.

[One of the plays,] Fallen Angel & The Devil Concubine, is a two-hander about the quarrels that two old women, Katie, who is white, and Lettie, who is black, have as they battle for control of a derelict colonial mansion. They attempt to dominate each other by lying about themselves and trying to discover the other’s secrets.

The process of the play’s creation is interesting. It began with the two actresses, who would go on to play the roles in the first production, improvising with the objects in an old suitcase. The two, Carol Lawes and Honor Ford-Smith, worked with Williams and Lindsay, then later the fifth author, Cumper, made a play script out of the improvisations.

Ford-Smith not only helped create the final work, but she edited the plays and wrote four insightful introductions to the book…. Later, Ford-Smith…now a professor at York University [Faculty of Environmental Studies] – gives individual introductions to each of the plays. They do more than merely assist in the reader’s understanding of the works: they make one want to see the plays performed.

US prof hopes to take her students to visit Glendon’s great-ape expert

Ohio State University psychology professor Sally Boysen hopes to return to Indonesia with students in tow, wrote The Columbus Dispatch June 3. The field site is run by friend and primatologist Anne Russon, a psychology professor at York University’s Glendon College in Toronto.

"I said ‘I’d really like to see wild orangutans.’ She said, ‘come on over,’" Boysen recalls.

Orangutans, like all great apes, build nests for sleeping and settle in a new place every night as they search for food.

Russon, who has studied orangutans for 23 years, compares them to human travellers seeking a motel: "Dinner and breakfast easily available either side of going to sleep."

Flacking for Big Pharma

Aren’t physicians, with their scientific training and medical expertise, able to see through the negative bias and data manipulation? asked June 4, in an article about questionable methods major drug manufacturers use to promote their product in medical journals.

“When you are published in a medical journal, especially one of the top ones, this gives the article a certain imprimatur that makes people less critical,” adds Joel Lexchin, MD, a bioethicist at York University [School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health] in Toronto. “‘If it’s in The New England Journal of Medicine it’s got to be good’; this mentality diminishes the critical reading of the study.”

Yukon hockey players receive an assist from York

The largest donations came from Stephen Dempsey, [assistant manager, facilities administration for York Sport & Recreation] who donated York University equipment which had been updated, wrote the Yukon’s Whitehorse Daily Star June 3, in a story about a hockey equipment charity drive organized by Aurora’s Maria Jagodkin after a fire destroyed the local arena in Ross River, Yukon.

Argo wants sack crown back

[Former York Lions football star] Ricky Foley has upward of 30 tattoos, which tells you he is a fairly brash guy, wrote the’s SLAM sports June 5.

The [CFL’s Toronto] Argonauts defensive end, in his first full season with the Boatmen, certainly has no desire to blend in once the pads go back on. “I want my crown back,” the 28-year-old said, seeking refuge in the media trailer from a severe thunderstorm that swept through the Greater Toronto Area. “I want to lead the league in sacks. Rings and trophies, man, that’s all I care about. I want to dominate this year. I want to be recognized as the best pass-rusher in the league. If you don’t want to be the best, then why are you here?”

A groin injury, becoming accustomed to new surroundings and not getting the playing time he wanted conspired to make Foley a bit miserable [last season]. He acknowledged on Saturday his groin troubles were worse than he let on.

Foley’s groin is now fully healed. He spent much of the winter training at his old school, York University.

McLuhan protest film stored in Clara Thomas archives at York

When [Marshall] McLuhan was prompted to political action, it was not the Vietnam War or apartheid in South Africa or other social issues of the day that were the target of his indignation. Rather, he dedicated himself primarily to environmental issues and urban affairs – especially of a highly local or personal nature, wrote June 4.

McLuhan…along with Jane Jacobs and other Torontonians of all political stripes including students, business owners and ratepayer groups…was a member of the Stop Spadina, Save Our City Coordinating Committee.

McLuhan also collaborated with Jane Jacobs on a short film, The Burning Would, for the SSSOCCC in 1970. The title derived from a line in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake: "A burning would has come to dance inane."

The film would be shown all across North America, wherever there were contemporary campaigns against expressway construction. Although the film is not available online, copies are available at the York University [Clara Thomas] Archives [& Special Collections], and in the library at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.

Israel business trip ‘significant’, says Markham mayor

Called the “most significant business mission” in the Town of Markham history by Mayor Frank Scarpitti, the seven-day trip to Israel last week was an eye-opener for a team of delegates including the mayor, York Region chairperson and CEO Bill Fisch and representatives from Miller Thomson LLP and York University’s Office of Research and Innovation, wrote June 4.

The delegates attended the Israel Life Sciences Industry Conference in Tel Aviv.

York students help people share gardens online

Gardeners without gardens still have a chance to get their hands dirty, wrote The Mississauga News June 3. Garden Hunters, a group founded by five York University students, allows people to share gardens through the website

Co-founder Nicky Dao of Mississauga said Garden Hunters is used to connect people who live in apartments or condominiums with very little land to people who have unused land and no time or interest to garden. "We have legal templates where one person can go to another person’s land and when they grow crops, the land owner gets a share of them," said Dao.

Dao said Garden Hunters started out as a group project – with the help of classmates Xiang He, Henry Ho, Danny McMullen and Nick Williams – at York University for his environmental studies class. 

Dao said the idea was influenced by the United Kingdom’s "Landshare", a similar garden swapping idea that has become widely popular overseas.

On air

  • Osgoode Hall Law School’s Innocence Project was featured in a repeat broadcast of CBC Television’s “The Fifth Estate” on June 3. The segment included interviews with Professor Alan Young, project director, and law students Alex Melfi and Ziba Heydarian who both worked on the case of a woman named Ludmilla who was convicted of murdering her husband.