SDGs in Action: from desk research to global citizenship curriculum

tablet united nations sustainability goals unsdgs

By Elaine Smith

Although they have now graduated, a team of students who took part in York University’s Go Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Action Student Challenge hope to continue pursuing opportunities to incorporate their community-oriented projects into university extracurriculars.

With funding from the Government of Canada’s outbound student mobility pilot program Global Skills Opportunity, the Student Challenge aims to empower York students and their peers around the world to take action toward achieving the United Nations SDGs with a global lens under the supervision of York International.

Under the auspices of the challenge, two York students, Christiane Marie Canillo, who earned her bachelor of arts (BA) in psychology, and Ravichandiranesan Ponnudurai, a bachelor of environmental studies graduate, along with two students from the University of the Philippines Diliman – Renchillina Supan, a BA sociology graduate, and Mila Monica Maralit, a master of arts in tourism student – connected to work toward ensuring SDG 4: Quality Education. Now known as the iGoCitizen team, they welcomed a new member in November 2022: Anjali Kumar, a BA in law and society graduate from York University, who also shares motivation to transform conversation into active global citizenship.

In the winter of 2022, the team earned the SDGs in Action Creative Solutions Award for exhibiting a high degree of interdisciplinary thinking to mobilize and engage communities to act on the SDGs. And that was only the beginning.

The iGoCitizen team determined that global citizenship education (GCED) is integral to achieving the SDGs because it teaches action skills for quality education. Their pilot project, based on a discourse analysis, targeted the need to integrate GCED into school curricula as extracurricular activities. This helped them build this program, which organizes and equips teams with global citizenship learnings, design thinking and project management skills that allow them to create socially grounded and concept-based social action plans (SAPs) in their own communities.

“We need a relevant and transformative education that will enable learners to think critically and act toward a more ‘just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive’ society,” they wrote in their plan.

Starting with Sri Lanka, the team prepared a country-specific curriculum to teach students about social cohesion, peace-building and active citizenship, and challenged them to create SAPs for their own communities.

Creating the curriculum required extensive research, consultations and discussions, and it would have been easy for the iGoCitizen team to hand in their deliverables and walk away at the end of the semester. Instead, they created an opportunity to deliver the curriculum the following fall, piloting it as a five-day hybrid workshop in partnership with VISIONS Global Empowerment Sri Lanka and the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

Ponnudurai was on hand to deliver content live, while the other team members taught and facilitated the online portions of the workshop. The enthusiasm that greeted the workshop made them eager to keep the project alive.

“The participants wanted to model GCED and do projects in real time in Jaffna,” said Ponnudurai. “We all saw their passion. After three decades of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the younger generation wants to make changes to help rebuild their communities. This is so important in order to achieve the SDGs.”

Supan said, “It was great to see our ideas become reality. We met virtually to create this project, and I never thought that our concept notes would lead to social action plans and actual impact on student engagement activities.”

The iGoCitizen team is working on the possible second implementation in Sri Lanka and project contextualization in the Philippines. Anticipated efforts also include iterations to other countries not initially included in their discourse analysis, since there have been inquiries from countries such as Mexico. The team is also finalizing a memorandum of understanding discussion with their non-governmental organization partner, VISIONS Global Empowerment Sri Lanka.

It is challenging, because the team has limited funding and human resources, and members are also managing personal commitments such as work and studies. Nonetheless, all members remain passionate and committed. They hope that another team of students who join the Go Global SDGs in Action Student Challenge will be interested in pursuing the iGoCitizen initiative elsewhere in the world.

“York University’s SDGs in Action project team is in awe of team iGoCitizen. They are a model for anyone who aspires to create change and positive impact in their community(ies),” said Helen Balderama, director of global engagement and partnerships for York International. “With passion, determination and collaborations, the possibilities are endless.”

The 2023-24 SDGs in Action Knowledge Fair (third edition) is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 6 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Those interested can register to join the conversation and learn about the student groups’ transformative SDGs projects.

For more information about iGoCitizen, contact the team at igocitizen.initiative@gmail.com or instagram.com/igocitizen.

Prof recognized for pioneering Black studies in Canada

Andrea Davis

At its Fall 2023 Convocation ceremonies, British Columbia’s Royal Roads University awarded York University Professor Andrea Davis an honorary doctor of laws degree in recognition of her pioneering work bringing Black studies programming to Canadian academia.

Andrea Davis at Royal Roads University’s Fall 2023 Convocation.

A professor in York’s Department of Humanities, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Davis teaches courses in Black Cultures of the Americas and is the founder and program co-ordinator of the University’s Black Canadian Studies Certificate. Introduced in 2018, it was one of only two university programs of its kind in Canada at the time.

“Black students at York in 2016 were asking for programs that reflected their histories and experiences,” said Davis in a recent interview with Royal Roads University. “They were not really interested in a program about anti-Black racism per se, because those programs are not for Black students; they’re educating someone else. Black students wanted something that could speak deeply to them, about not just their experiences but their thoughts and their ideas.”

Davis took that request and ran with it, and is now continuing her transformative work by developing a Black studies major.

In her 20-year academic career, Davis has worked to advance equity, access and justice in post-secondary education, and has been a fierce advocate for students. An accomplished teacher, she has won teaching awards at the Faculty, university and national levels, including a 2021 3M National Teaching Fellowship. A former Canadian Commonwealth scholar, her research focuses on the literary productions of Black women in the Americas, with a particular interest in the intersections of the literatures of the Caribbean, the United States and Canada. Her work encourages an intertextual cross-cultural dialogue about Black women’s experiences in diaspora.

The doctor of laws, honoris causa, is Royal Roads University’s highest honour, awarded to people who reflect its vision and values and have achieved a significant record of success and community service.

Osgoode prof advocates for access to legal information

Office clerk searching for files in a filing cabinet drawer

Osgoode Hall Law School Assistant Professor Patricia McMahon is calling for key changes to Canada’s Access to Information Act after it took her more than five years to acquire information about a significant court case that dates back more than 100 years.

Patricia McMahon
Patricia McMahon

McMahon said certain provisions in the law are stifling research and she is organizing an interdisciplinary group of fellow academics to advocate for changes to the law.

“When I started this project, I had no idea that it would be harder to get information about what happened during the First World War than it was to get access to the documents I relied on to do my PhD dissertation on nuclear policy,” she said. “We’re trying to come up with some easy fixes that could make a big difference in the way access-to-information claims are processed.”

McMahon filed the first of several access requests in 2011, when she started researching an article about the use of habeas corpus during the First World War. She decided to focus on two cases heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1918 and filed an access-to-information request for the respective Department of Justice files. The cases were brought by two farmers – George Gray from Ontario and Norman Lewis from Alberta – who challenged the federal government’s move to revoke exemptions from compulsory military service when conscription failed to raise a sufficient number of troops to fight overseas.

She received almost the entire file on the Gray case but nothing for the Lewis case because, the government stated, it contained personal information. When she challenged that finding, she received about half the file. The rest was withheld on the grounds of solicitor-client privilege. It took five years to get the full file.

McMahon said different government officials review different access-to-information requests, even ones that are related like hers, and often come up with different conclusions as to what and how much can be released. That’s why she received most of the Gray file but had problems getting documents from the Lewis file, notwithstanding that each contained the same types of records.

“When in doubt, people typically take the cautious and most conservative approach and don’t release documents,” she said. “Everybody is afraid of releasing something that shouldn’t have been released.”

She said the interdisciplinary group of scholars she has helped to organize is hoping to shed light on the problems that the Access to Information Act is posing for researchers.

“It’s not just about access for journalists, which is really important,” she said, “but it’s also affecting the work that social scientists and others can do.”

McMahon said the group hopes to hold a symposium in the spring that will give researchers an opportunity to discuss the access-to-information problems they’re facing and some possible solutions.  

For McMahon’s research, the challenge was the way government relied on solicitor-client privilege to withhold select documents.

“Solicitor-client privilege survives for all time and belongs to the client,” she explained. “In the case of government lawyers, the government is the client. Solicitor-client privilege is a discretionary ground under the Access to Information Act, which simply means that government may withhold documents but has the discretion to release them, too.”

In McMahon’s view, solicitor-client privilege should not be used to protect government documents from permanent scrutiny. Even a temporal limit – like 20 or 30 years – would go a long way toward improving the situation.

“Whether the right amount of time is 20 or 30 years is a matter of debate,” she said, “but few could think it justified to withhold documents from researchers that are almost 100 years old.”

Join discussions on qualitative accounting at upcoming symposium

man using calculator finanace math

York University’s School of Administrative Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, will co-host the eighth annual Qualitative Accounting Research Symposium with the University of Guelph’s Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics from Nov. 23 to 24 at the Second Student Centre on York’s Keele Campus. The hybrid event will allow for both in-person and virtual participation.

The symposium will showcase a niche area of research in the accounting field. Qualitative accounting scholars comprise a dynamic and growing component of the scholarly community. This symposium serves as a platform to unite the community, enable collaboration amongst its members and add legitimacy to its research output.

Helen Tregidga
Helen Tregidga

The event’s keynote speech will be presented by Helen Tregidga (Royal Holloway, University of London), director of the Centre for Research into Sustainability, whose research is grounded in an interest in social and environmental issues, and critical aspects of organizations and work. Her primary research has focused on the constructions of sustainable development and sustainability within the corporate context, its consequences and, more recently, the role of academics and others countering or resisting the dominant discourse.

The symposium will include presentations by 18 academics from Argentina, Canada, Ghana, South Africa and the U.K. The event’s theme, “Accounting at the Crossroads of Democracy,” will be explored by panellists including Tregidga, Carla Edgley (Cardiff University), Christine Gilbert (Université Laval), Julius Otusanya (University of Lagos) and Fernanda Sauerbronn (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro).

The hybrid event will close with a panel discussion titled “Building Ethical Leaders for the Future Accounting Profession,” geared towards professional accountants and funded by CPA Ontario.

For more information about the symposium and to register, visit the event web page.

Research day to highlight environmental studies PhD students

Panoramic photo a hand clasping miniature globe with view of arid mountain range behind in the distance

On Nov. 14, the PhD Environmental Studies Association (PhESSA), with the support of the Environmental Studies (ES) PhD Program and the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), is curating an in-person research day that will engage the exciting and provocative work of ES PhD students.

The event, titled “On Fire,” will take place in N120 of the Ross Building from 9 a.m to 4 p.m, with the aim to celebrate the work of ES PhD students working for social and environmental justice, while bringing them together with faculty members and larger communities of scholarship, activism and practice.

The event’s theme – “On Fire” – is drawn from how the day’s event will focus attention on the many fires involved in the students’ work: material, political, inspirational. As the event’s description explains: “On Fire because the world is burning, literally and politically. On Fire because inspirational people and movements are working for social and environmental justice.”

Following arrival and coffee, attendees will be welcomed to the days-worth of panels by Melvin Chan, a graduate teaching assistant representing PhESSA, and Philip Kelly, associate dean of EUC.

Each panel – all chaired by Phyllis Novack, director of Maloca Living Labs, and made up of three to four speakers – is organized by theme.

  • Panel I: Multispecies Research “On Fire”;
  • Panel II: No Extraction Between the Branches: Epistolary in the Ruins of Fossil Capitalism;
  • Panel III: Burning Political Questions; and
  • Panel IV: Setting Creative Fires.

At noon, a special keynote presentation will also be given by Camille Turner, an artist who recently completed her PhD in environmental studies at York, titled “UnMapping: An Afronautic Journey.”

Closing thoughts will be provided by Alice Hovorka, dean of EUC.

The event is open to all York community members. For further information contact Novak at phyllisnovak4@gmail.com.

Grant supports project to improve court efficiency

Supreme Court of Canada tulips

As Ontario’s under-resourced courts struggle with the impact of delays, Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Palma Paciocco hopes a recent $51,000, three-year Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant will help her uncover insights that could improve the justice system’s efficiency and fairness – especially when it comes to the use of often time-consuming expert evidence.

Palma Paciocco
Palma Paciocco

Her current research project, titled “The Gatekeeper and The Timekeeper: Regulating Expert Evidence and Trial Delay in Criminal Courts,” will focus on the competing demands for efficiency and the need to carefully assess expert evidence in the court system. In several high-profile cases in the past, reliance on faulty expert evidence resulted in wrongful convictions, but the process for screening out such evidence can be time-consuming.

“It continues to be a huge issue that looms in the background of all cases,” said Paciocco. “And we do, from time to time, hear of cases where very serious charges are stayed because of delay.”

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines the right to a timely trial – and the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark R. v. Jordan ruling in 2016 imposed a presumptive limit of either 18 or 30 months between the time charges are laid and when a trial is concluded, depending on the court.

But issues like legal-aid cuts, limited court resources and the rising number of self-represented litigants have contributed to court delays. And the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the problem.

While most criminal cases do not involve expert evidence, Paciocco said, it is more likely to arise in trials involving particularly serious charges, where it can play an important role in the fact-finding process.

“The process for assessing expert evidence is very time consuming but very important to ensuring accurate outcomes,” she explained. “At the same time, judges are aware of the need to ensure that the trial is moving along efficiently. Sometimes those goals can be in tension, and judges need more support figuring out how to navigate that tension on a case-by-case basis.”

Paciocco said she chose to focus on expert evidence and trial delay because of the very high stakes for serious criminal cases and because the interaction of these two legal issues can result in especially pronounced tensions between the needs for efficiency and accuracy in the court system.

As part of her research, she plans to delve deeply into theoretical literature on these competing justice goals, which also relates directly to plea bargaining – another research interest of hers. She will also look at case law from across the country to see how judges have balanced the need for expert evidence with the desire to avoid undue delays. Finally, she will review best practices recommended by commissions of inquiry and other bodies to see how well best practices designed to promote sound expert evidence align with best practices for avoiding or minimizing trial delay.

Paciocco said she plans to translate her research findings into scholarly articles, including a practice-oriented article for judges and lawyers and a slide deck that could be used for continuing professional education.

“I’m hoping the project will contribute to ongoing conversations about improving the efficiency of our courts and ensuring that expert evidence is being carefully assessed,” she said.

Experience urban ecosystem through new lens at Keele Campus

Bird perched on a human hand, eating seeds

The Bentway, a not-for-profit organization and public space nestled beneath Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, recently donated an art installation called the Multispecies Lounge to York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC). ​

Multispecies Lounge public art donation from The Bentway
Photo by Andrea Marie Abello, digital and multimedia specialist, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change

The art piece, which was on display at the Bentway from May to September of this year, is currently installed near EUC’s Native Plant Garden in front of the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies (HNES) Building on York’s Keele Campus. It will serve as a site of experiential education and research opportunities related to urban ecology, human-animal relations and public art.

“I hope that Multispecies Lounge will become a site of learning, engagement and place-making for our EUC community,” said EUC Dean Alice J. Hovorka. “It extends our Native Plant Garden ‘living lab’ through artistic expression. And it welcomes all beings in our midst – human and non-human – as we shape a more just and sustainable future.”

The installation consists of specially designed furniture composed of locally upcycled materials for birds, insects and humans alike to enjoy. Created by two artists who are also architects and educators, Joyce Hwang and Nerea Feliz, known collectively as “Double Happiness,” the Multispecies Lounge invites interspecies encounters with urban wildlife. Based out of Buffalo, N.Y. and Austin, Texas respectively, the artists’ work seeks to make visible the under-acknowledged world of the non-human as active participants of urban life, by attracting and magnifying their presence in shared urban spaces.

Through UV-painted details, the Multispecies Lounge offers glimpses of how birds and insects see beyond the human eye and provides a new lens through which to experience the urban ecosystem. Community members are invited to sit back and relax against red cedar chairs and watch swallows nest and sparrows perch above, while small terrestrial beings relax below.

“The Multispecies Lounge offers a welcome opportunity, in the midst of our many comings and goings, to sit in and amongst the home-making of birds, insects and pollinators,” said Phyllis Novak, director of the EUC’s Native Plant Garden. “Quieting our minds and bodies to listen, to tune into our more-than-human relatives, the trees and the elements, is critical to our well-being.”

The art piece also includes a web component that will remain live. For more information about the Multispecies Lounge, visit Multispecies Lounge – The Bentway.

Osgoode Fellow to focus on environmental law, Indigenous land rights

Trowbridge Conservation Area Thunder Bay Ontario Canada in summer featuring beautiful rapids and Canadian Forest with blue sky on summer

Osgoode Hall Law School master’s student Julia Brown, the 2023-24 Environmental Justice & Sustainability Clinic (EJSC) Fellow, hopes she can play a part in ensuring the development of Ontario’s mineral-rich Ring of Fire region, on First Nations land in the environmentally sensitive Hudson Bay Lowlands, does not take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous people who live there.

Julia Brown
Julia Brown

Brown will work with leaders of Neskantaga First Nation in an effort to draft the terms of a workable partnership with the Government of Canada as it prepares to undertake a regional environmental assessment prior to any mineral development. The assessment is taking place under Canada’s Impact Assessment Act, which replaced the Environmental Assessment Act in 2019.

Brown said the original terms of reference for the regional assessment gave First Nations in the area only token participation in the process. After strong pushback, the federal agency involved agreed to review the terms.

“That was disappointing,” she explained, “because this legislation was supposed to be a real improvement in terms of the roles that First Nations would play.

“That was a glaring omission,” she said. “Whether development should go ahead really should be up to the people who live there and whose land it is.”

While various levels of government have recognized the importance of reconciliation, they are still reluctant to give up control – especially when it comes to mineral wealth, Brown remarked.

The federal assessment will be among the first to look at a whole region; environmental assessments are typically project specific. Brown said the Ontario government has, to date, declined to participate in the federal process and is carrying out separate assessments focused only on proposed roads connecting the area to the provincial highway system.

“There is no precedent for the federal government in terms of how this regional assessment has to be structured,” she explained. “So we’ll be working on how it could be structured so there is a real partnership between First Nations and the federal government.”

Last year, Neskantaga First Nation marked its 10,000th day of being under a hazardous drinking water advisory, despite federal commitments to fix the problem. Located 463 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont., the fly-in community is situated amid a vast wetland that acts as a huge carbon sink.

Some have called the region the “lungs of Mother Earth,” and the First Nations people there call the region the “Breathing Lands.” In total, the Ring of Fire region spans about 5,000 square kilometres and is rich in chromite, nickel, copper, platinum, gold, zinc and other valuable minerals – some of which are required for battery production.

Brown, who previously worked as a lawyer for Toronto-based OKT Law, the country’s largest Indigenous rights law firm, said she feels fortunate to be working with the Environmental Justice & Sustainability Clinic and its current director, Professor Dayna Nadine Scott – and the feeling is mutual.

“We feel very fortunate this year at the EJSC to have someone with Julia’s depth of knowledge and experience to be stepping into the role of clinic Fellow,” said Scott.

As part of her graduate research, Brown will focus on the issue of emotion in judicial reasoning and how that influences Indigenous title cases. Her research adviser is Professor Emily Kidd White.

Copyright could make or break artificial intelligence, says prof

Artificial intelligence: A human hand shakes a robot hand

Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Carys Craig is stepping into the role of associate dean of research and institutional relations at a time when her own scholarship is posing fundamental questions about society’s next technological shift and the future of artificial intelligence (AI).

Carys Craig
Carys Craig

Craig, who will serve in this new role over the next year, argues in a series of recent articles and presentations that the text and data mining required for AI to produce anything could potentially clash with copyright law, significantly hampering the development of the technology or changing its direction.

“The way I see it now, copyright is the thing that could make or break AI,” she said. “The question about whether training AI involves making copies that constitute copyright infringement is an enormous issue.”

An internationally recognized intellectual property (IP) law expert, Craig said that, more than ever, the interaction of law and technology is forcing legal scholars to re-examine legal principles and concepts that may have been taken for granted – especially when it comes AI. In many areas, she added, Osgoode is at the forefront of that process.

“When you have a technology that has this paradigm-shifting capacity,” she observed, “suddenly you’re looking at the law and you’re thinking, well, we always knew, for example, what copyright laws protected when something was authored, but we didn’t really know what an author was because we hadn’t really encountered that question before.

“We want to future-proof the law,” she added, “but we need to understand that the law will evolve and so we need to look at how technology is shaping the law, as well as the potential for the law to shape technology.”

In her new role as associate dean, research and institutional relations, Craig said she will be focused on continuing to enhance Osgoode’s vibrant research community post-pandemic, supporting its researchers, communicating their successes and improving the public’s understanding of the importance of legal research.

In particular, Craig said, she will work hard to ensure that students feel that they’re an integral part of Osgoode’s research community. The law school’s curriculum aids in that by ensuring students are engaged in legal research and scholarly writing, especially with its upper-year writing requirement, editorial opportunities with its leading law journals and the annual JD Research Symposium.

“It’s easy for them to get caught up in their studies and their deadlines and their exams and their grades, but being at Osgoode gives you a real opportunity to participate in an intellectual community,” she said. “We want to see the students here and engaged in that scholarly conversation.”

In addition to her role as an associate dean, Craig is director of IP Osgoode, which explores legal governance issues at the intersection of IP and technology. She is also editor-in-chief of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal. A recipient of multiple teaching awards, she is often invited to share her work and expertise with academic audiences, professional organizations, policymakers and the press. Her publications are regularly cited in legal arguments and judicial opinions, including in several landmark rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada.

To read some of Craig’s recent work on AI and copyright law, visit works.bepress.com/carys_craig.

Supreme Court justice welcomes first-year students to Osgoode

gavel and notepad

Andromache Karakatsanis (LLB ’80), Osgoode Hall Law School alumna and Canada’s longest-serving Supreme Court justice, welcomed Osgoode’s Class of 2026 with an encouraging speech and some words of wisdom.

Andromache Karakatsanis
Andromache Karakatsanis. Photo by Jessica Deeks Photography,
Supreme Court of Canada Collection

Appointed to the Supreme Court in 2011, Justice Karakatsanis looked back fondly on her legal education at Osgoode, and especially her experience at Parkdale Community Legal Services, which she called “transformative.”

“That was one of the reasons that I came to Osgoode,” she told the students. “I grew up in an immigrant household, in a warm, supportive environment. At Parkdale, I encountered people who had not had that, and it really opened my eyes. It brought home for me that the law is about helping people.”

Karakatsanis, who grew up in Toronto working in her parents’ Greek restaurant, told the students that they will quickly learn in the legal profession that their reputation is everything. And that, while advocacy is important, it should not cloud their ethical standards, analytical skills or good judgment. 

“How you live your life is as important as what you do in your life,” said Karakatsanis. “So how you can enrich the community, the human connections we make and the small kindnesses are just as important as any grade you achieve.”

During a question-and-answer session following her speech, incoming Osgoode Dean and Professor Trevor Farrow noted that Justice Karakatsanis’s message resonated strongly with the school’s distinctive emphasis on legal ethics – beginning in first year with its first-semester Ethical Lawyering in a Global Community course.

Karakatsanis went on to advise students against feeling the need to have a grand plan for their law career. “No matter what you choose to do in life, law school will serve you well,” she said. “These skills will prepare you to open your mind to the world and to become involved in your communities. Be open to opportunities that interest or challenge you.”

She left the students with one final takeaway about dealing with career or academic disappointment and persevering despite it. After law school, she said, her goal was to become a Crown attorney, but she was passed over. “I was devastated,” she recalled. “I thought my career was over before it began.

“Why do I tell you this story?” she asked. “Because when one door closes, another opens.”