EUC professor’s book illustrates ‘power of nature to thrive’

Abandoned red brick building overtaken by plantlife

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) will host a launch event for Associate Professor Jennifer Foster’s latest book, Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace: Ecology, Aesthetics and Justice (2022) on Friday, May 19 at 1 p.m. in HNES 142.

Jennifer Foster close-up portrait
Jennifer Foster

Inspired by “the power of nature to thrive – no matter the conditions – and the impressive ways that communities build restorative and reparative futures in these places,” Foster’s book examines the means through which urban environments become habitats. For the book’s launch, Foster will discuss her work with a guest panel featuring: Sean Kheraj, environmental historian, vice-provost at Toronto Metropolitan University and host of the Nature’s Past podcast; Loren March, PhD candidate at the University of Toronto; and David Miller, former mayor of Toronto and managing director of the C40 Centre for City Climate Policy and Economy.

To accommodate all potential viewers, this event will also broadcast via Zoom. To join the broadcast contact Denise McLeod.

In anticipation of the book launch, Foster met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to talk about urban habitat creation in old industrial sites, and their social and biological significance.

Q: Can you speak to how this book fits into the longer trajectory of your academic work?

A: My work explores urban habitat creation, including examining contemporary environmental orthodoxies, or received wisdoms about how nature works, in favour of more nuanced interpretations that incorporate concepts like novel ecologies, queer ecologies, anti-colonial ecologies and environmental justice.

Since the mid-2000s, my work has focused specifically on post-industrial urban greenspaces and their evolution in relation to environmental justice concerns. This involves a lot of field work, which I love. I get to explore some of the most fascinating urban spaces – for instance, old factories, dumps, rail lines – and talk to people who care deeply about these places.

This book is about old industrial sites that have been abandoned, or at least left to be without formal management. These sites are not conventionally beautiful, they are typically evaluated as unsafe and their ecologies are scorned as overgrown weeds. Yet, they offer some of the best opportunities for ecologically rich and socially inclusive greenspace. They are life-giving hotpots, nuclei of urban bounty. And they function as alternative public spaces that provide relief from surveillance and other stressors, as well as opportunities for pleasure that diverge from the mainstream.

Q: What drew you to Milwaukee, Paris and Toronto as sites of exploration in your book?

Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace book cover
Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace: Ecology, Aesthetics and Justice (2022) by Jennifer Foster

A: Each of these cities offers insight into possibilities for large-scale old industrial urban spaces, and together they demonstrate that nothing is predetermined. Milwaukee is my mother’s hometown, and it’s a place where people are very proud of their working-class manufacturing roots. It’s also an incredibly beautiful and ecologically rich city. After the industrial core of Milwaukee was devastated in the 1980s and ‘90s, and the large central valley became a putrid no-go zone, a local community health center led the charge in imagining a future for this valley that serves existing residents. Emphasizing the social determinants of health, the valley was cleaned up, made accessible and inviting, and re-industrialized with quality jobs for local residents.

I spent my youth on the edges of Paris, thanks to my father’s job. Paris is glamourous and picturesque, but up to the early 1990s the edges of the city were also heavily industrial. Friends and I loved trespassing to explore the rail line that connected the city’s factories, abattoirs and warehouses. When the trains stopped running along the tracks and the rail company let it all go wild, this 32-kilometer ring became one of the most stunning urban greenspaces. I had to return and get to know it once again.

Anyone who has spent time at Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit knows that it defies description. It is a former construction waste dump, it is a world-class birding site and it is an archive of the buildings and communities that have been destroyed. It is a place of refuge from the city, it is a landscape of astounding biodiversity and it is home for many people. I have been visiting the Spit since I came to Toronto in the mid-1990s and it is my favourite part of the city.

Q: What actionable steps for promoting equitable, sustainable development do you hope readers will discover?

A: Letting go of conventional conceptions of ecology is crucial, as is becoming curious about the incredible beauty and richness of so-called degraded urban lands. I am not a fan of hiding the scars of industrial development or sanitizing industrial legacies, and I hope that we can move away from the habit of “greening over” these spaces through park planning and design. Embracing novel ecosystems, including those comprised of ostensibly exotic or non-native species, allows us to support urban environments that are self-sustaining and richly biodiverse habitats. This means resisting conventional Western aesthetic conceptions of what is beautiful, appropriate and ecologically desirable. Whenever possible, the needs and preferences of marginalized communities must be prioritized, as well as those with historic connections to industrial labour and working-class experiences of these places.

Finally, I hope that we can become more comfortable with the ideas of vacancy and indeterminacy, that urban spaces don’t always have to fit into recognizable categories with functional identities in relation to neoliberal progress. I hope that we can leave these spaces to evolve in unexpected ways, with unplanned uses that respond to the needs of alternative lived experiences.

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: I will continue exploring the core themes of this book, such as urban political ecology, environmental justice, novel ecologies and habitat creation. But my work going forward will focus even more on ecological repair and restorative urban landscapes. I am particularly interested in prison ecologies, based on the experiences of incarceration of many of my family members and friends. I am inspired by energy and leadership of Indigenous scholars, activists and communities, and plan to do a lot of close listening and thinking about how we invest in anti-colonial futures. Whatever happens, I know that I will be spending a lot of time in messy ecosystems.

York University receives largest-ever research funding grant

Vari hall

La version française suit la version anglaise.

Dear colleagues,

Today marks a new level of achievement for York University research and our outstanding faculty.

We are thrilled to share with you all that York University – in partnership with Queen’s University – has been awarded a monumental grant of nearly $105.7 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). The funding from the Government of Canada is the largest single federal grant ever awarded to York and is in support of Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society.

As a research-intensive University committed to positive change, the Connected Minds program and its successful CFREF application elevates York’s research enterprise and allows our researchers to push the boundaries of purposeful research even further.

This innovative, new research program will be led by the inaugural directorate of:

  • Doug Crawford, Distinguished Research Professor, Faculty of Health, York University, Connected Minds Inaugural scientific director
  • Pina D’Agostino, associate professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Connected Minds vice-director
  • Gunnar Blohm, professor, School of Medicine, Queen’s University, Connected Minds vice-director
  • Sean Hillier, assistant professor, Faculty of Health, York University, Connected Minds associate director

In addition to the directorate, the core Connected Minds team includes York’s Shayna Rosenbaum, James Elder, Danielle Elliott, Robert Alison and Laura Levin, as well as Catherine Donnelly from Queen’s.

This historic CFREF grant awards York University with $82.8 million and $22.8 million to Queen’s University. When combined with the contributions (including in-kind) from multi-sector partners, municipal governments and collaborating institutions, the total value of the Connected Minds project is $318.4 million, making Connected Minds the biggest York-led research program in the University’s history.

Connected Minds is a pan-University effort and brings together experts in multiple fields, including the arts, humanities, engineering, law and life sciences, located across eight York Faculties and three Queen’s Faculties. Our researchers will examine the ways in which technology is transforming society – dubbed the “techno-social collective” – and will work to balance both the potential risks and benefits for humanity.

Connected Minds will fund 35 strategic faculty hires, three new Ontario Research Chairs, as well as partner-focused seed, team, and prototyping grants, knowledge mobilization and commercialization activities, and an ambitious multi-institutional micro-credential training program with 385 trainees and cross-sector stakeholders. All activities will require an interdisciplinary participation, and projects that benefit Indigenous and other equity-deserving groups will be prioritized.

Learn more about Connected Minds here:

Click here for York’s official announcement:

On behalf of the entire University, we want to express the community’s pride and excitement for today’s news and what this will mean for the future of York research.

Congratulations to the Connected Minds leadership team and for everyone involved in bringing about this significant milestone.

It’s a new era for research and innovation at York University.


Rhonda Lenton
President and Vice-Chancellor

Amir Asif
Vice-President Research and Innovation

L’Université York reçoit la plus importante subvention jamais accordée à la recherche

Chers collègues, chères collègues,

Aujourd’hui, un nouveau palier a été franchi par la recherche à l’Université York et notre remarquable corps professoral.

Nous sommes ravis de vous annoncer que l’Université York, en partenariat avec l’Université Queen’s, a reçu une subvention colossale d’environ 105,7 millions de dollars du Fonds d’excellence en recherche Apogée Canada (FERAC). Le financement du gouvernement du Canada est la plus importante subvention fédérale jamais accordée à York; elle appuie le projet appelé Esprits branchés /Connected Minds : Systèmes neuronaux et mécaniques pour une société saine et juste.

En tant qu’université à forte intensité de recherche engagée en faveur de changements positifs, le programme Esprits branchés/Connected Minds et sa candidature fructueuse auprès du FERAC rehaussent l’effort de recherche à York et permettent à nos chercheurs de repousser encore plus loin les limites de la recherche ciblée.

Ce nouveau programme de recherche innovant sera dirigé par l’équipe de direction inaugurale du programme de recherche :

  • Doug Crawford, professeur distingué de la Faculté de la santé, Université York, directeur scientifique inaugural d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Pina D’Agostino, professeure agrégée de l’École de droit Osgoode Hall, Université York, vice-directrice associée d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Gunnar Blohm, professeur de l’École de médecine de l’Université Queen’s, vice-directeur associé d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Sean Hillier, professeur adjoint de la Faculté de la santé, Université York, directeur associé d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds

En plus de la direction, l’équipe principale d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds comprend Shayna Rosenbaum, James Elder, Danielle Elliott, Robert Alison et Laura Levin de York, ainsi que Catherine Donnelly de Queen’s.

Cette subvention historique du FERAC attribue 82,8 millions de dollars à l’Université York et 22,8 millions de dollars à l’Université Queen’s. Si l’on ajoute les contributions (y compris en nature) des partenaires multisectoriels, des administrations municipales et des institutions collaboratrices, la valeur totale du projet Esprits branchés/Connected Minds s’élève à 318,4 millions de dollars, ce qui en fait le plus grand programme de recherche dirigé par York dans l’histoire de l’Université.

Esprits branchés/Connected Minds est une initiative panuniversitaire qui rassemble des experts dans de nombreux domaines, notamment les arts, les sciences humaines, l’ingénierie, le droit et les sciences de la vie, répartis dans huit facultés de York et trois facultés de Queen. Nos chercheurs examineront la manière dont la technologie transforme la société — appelée « le collectif technosocial » — et s’efforceront d’équilibrer les risques et les avantages potentiels pour l’humanité.

Esprits branchés/Connected Minds financera le recrutement stratégique de 35 professeurs; de trois nouvelles chaires de recherche de l’Ontario; des subventions de démarrage, d’équipe et de prototypage axées sur les partenaires; des activités de mobilisation des connaissances et de commercialisation; ainsi qu’un ambitieux programme multi-institutionnel de formation aux microcrédits avec 385 postes de stagiaires et des intervenants intersectoriels. Toutes les activités nécessiteront une participation interdisciplinaire, et les projets bénéficiant aux autochtones et aux autres groupes en quête d’équité seront prioritaires.

Pour en savoir plus sur Esprits branchés/Connected Minds :

Cliquez ici pour l’annonce officielle de York :

Au nom de toute l’Université, nous tenons à exprimer la fierté et l’enthousiasme de la communauté à l’égard de l’annonce d’aujourd’hui et de ce qu’elle signifie pour l’avenir de la recherche à York.

Félicitations à l’équipe dirigeante d’Esprit branchés/Connected Minds et à toutes les personnes qui ont contribué à la réalisation de cette avancée majeure.

Une nouvelle ère commence pour la recherche et l’innovation à l’Université York.

Sincères salutations,

Rhonda Lenton
Présidente et vice-chancelière

Amir Asif
Vice-président de la recherche et de l’innovation

EUC celebrates professor’s book on Indigenous land claims in B.C.

Book club image for YFile

York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is celebrating the launch of Professor Patricia Wood’s latest book Unstable Properties: Aboriginal Title and the Claim of British Columbia (UBC Press, 2022).

Patricia Wood's close-up portrait
Patricia Wood

Wood celebrates this accomplishment alongside her co-author, David Rossiter, professor at Western Washington University and a York Geography alumnus.

The Faculty invites the York community and beyond to attend the book launch event on Monday, May 1 from 10:30 a.m. to noon in HNES 138. The event will also be broadcast on Zoom; for a zoom link contact Denise McLeod.

Wood will be joined by Assistant Professor Martha Stiegman and Matthew Farish, of the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Planning, who will discuss the book’s arguments and contributions. The moderator for the discussion will be Leora Gansworth, York geography PhD alumna and Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at Osgoode Hall Law School.

As a precursor to the event, Wood met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to answer several questions about the new book.

Q: How does this book build on your previous research work, and what inspired you to write it?

A: David Rossiter and I have been researching the historical, political and legal geography of Indigenous title in B.C. for about 20 years. It started with a project on the referendum that the provincial government, under (former) Premier Gordon Campbell, held in 2002 about the “principles” of treaty negotiations. That became our first published article together, in The Canadian Geographer, in 2005. Several more articles, presentations and op-ed pieces followed on specific aspects, but there was a larger story that we wanted to tell that needed a book-length manuscript to do properly.

Q: What inspired your choice of British Columbia as the site of exploration in this book?

A: British Columbia is an important site of Indigenous-settler relations because the vast majority of the territory the Crown claimed was never “conquered” nor ceded by treaty. The Crown’s claim, even according to its own law, is without solid moral or legal foundation. It is thus inherently unstable.

Q: Can you discuss the unique approach of Unstable Properties in reframing the topic of Aboriginal claims to Crown land?

Unstable Properties: Aboriginal Title and the Claim of British Columbia
Unstable Properties: Aboriginal Title and the Claim of British Columbia by Patricia Wood

A: We would emphasize that the question is one of Crown claims on Indigenous land, not the other way around. This is at the heart of our approach. It has always been the Indigenous claim that is subjected to scrutiny, as a “burden” on the Crown claim. This is backwards; it is the legitimacy of the Crown’s claim that needs to be examined. It is Canada that needs to reconcile its actual history and present with its alleged principles of democracy and justice.

We also want to emphasize that what progress has been made on resolving these questions and moving forward towards a more just relationship should be credited to Indigenous individuals and organizations who did the political and legal work to compel the Canadian state to – start to – recognize the hypocrisy, injustice and violence of settler-colonial land claims.

Our argument about the instability of the settler claim to Indigenous land in British Columbia isn’t intended to suggest British Columbia is exceptional and everywhere else is fine, but rather that it exposes the problems of settler-colonial claims across Canada, and should lead us to question what existing treaties mean, under what circumstances they were established, and what kind of relationship we want to pursue from here.

Research is not politically neutral, and a lot of talk about “reconciliation” can be pretty superficial. We’re trying to contribute to a path that is more meaningful and material, where Indigenous sovereignty and land rights are part of the plan. Facing our history and decolonizing our thinking is not just in our publications; bringing this to the curriculum and the classroom is just as important.

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: We know we still have miles to go, and Dave and I plan to continue to pay attention to specific cases that Indigenous organizations raise to see where we can help with research that exposes the instability of the settler claim, in hopes that it helps pressure settler governments to come to the table and negotiate honestly and fairly.

About the authors

Wood is a professor at the York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change. Currently, Wood is a visiting scholar in the Department of Geography and the Indo-Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Mumbai. Her research addresses topics of Indigenous sovereignty and settler colonialism, political ecology and citizenship and governance. Rossiter is a professor in the College of Environment at Western Washington University. He completed MA and PhD degrees in the graduate program in geography at York University.

CIFAL York hosts two-part symposium on Turkiye, Syria earthquake aid

Person sitting in chair amid debris from damaged buildings in Antakya, Hatay, Turkiye.

A two-part virtual symposium will examine the responses of Canada and other cooperating countries to the recent crises in Turkiye and Syria resulting from the Feb. 6 earthquake. The symposium will strive to create better understanding of barriers to deploying humanitarian resources internationally on May 3 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Hosted by CIFAL York and Y-EMERGE, the “Canada’s Response to Earthquake in Turkiye and Syria” symposium features a range of confirmed guest speakers from agencies such as International Development and Relief Foundation Canada (IDRF) and Samaritan’s Purse International Disaster Relief, as well as potential appearances by featured guests from Care Canada, Canadian Red Cross, Islamic Relief Canada and Global Medic.

The February earthquake was among the deadliest natural disasters of the century, spanning multiple countries and resulting in the deaths of nearly 60,000 people, with over two million more being injured or displaced. To mitigate the effects of this catastrophe, 105 countries, including Canada, pledged to support those in need and contribute to humanitarian aid efforts.

Designed to engage academics, students, policymakers, first-responders and the general public, the symposium will analyze and critique Canada’s ongoing response to the earthquake in order to better understand and surmount emergency response obstacles in the future.

The first instalment of this series, titled “Canadian NGOs Response to the Earthquake in Turkiye & Syria” focuses on the role of Canada’s non-governmental organizations and highlights opportunities for collaboration between public and private sector actors. Speakers Rebecca Tjon-Aloi and Hanan Maolim, of the Programs and Operations Office at the IDRF, will explain how their foundation responded to the earthquake and share lessons learned for future emergency responses. Melanie Wubs, technical specialist in the International Health Unit at Samaritan’s Purse, will also explore cross- and multi-sectoral cooperation in humanitarian responses.

The second instalment of the symposium, titled “Canadian Government Response to the Earthquake in Turkiye & Syria” takes place on June 14, with guest speakers to be announced at a later date.

Free registration for these online events is required. For more information on the symposium and featured guest speakers, click here.

About CIFAL:

CIFAL York is part of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) global network of training centres for knowledge-sharing, training and capacity-building for public and private leaders, local authorities and civil society. CIFAL Centres are local and regional hubs for innovative, participatory and co-creative knowledge exchange opportunities to support decision-making processes, build capacity and accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. Established in 2020, CIFAL York started its operation in June 2021 as the first CIFAL Centre in Canada. Health and development training and knowledge sharing is among the key focusing areas of CIFAL York.

York professor co-authors international report on costs, benefits of community-based justice

Judge's gavel and translucent globe marble sitting on a dark grey backdrop

A new report by Professor Trevor Farrow analyzes research from three African countries and Canada, highlighting the benefit of grassroots support in addressing the global justice crisis.

Community legal clinics, paralegal services, social workers and others assisting those who cannot easily access legal help, are a few ways of narrowing the gap in accessing justice that’s prevalent across the globe, says Farrow, Osgoode Hall Law School associate dean, research and institutional relations, and co-author of an international report released on April 21.

Trevor Farrow
Trevor Farrow

The report, Exploring Community-Based Services, Costs and Benefits for People-Centered Justice, is a review of recent studies conducted by researchers in Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Canada, to understand how effective grassroots support systems are in alleviating, if not eliminating, barriers to justice.

The research is part of Community-Based Justice Research (CBJR) project, funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre. The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ), based at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, played a lead role in co-ordinating the project.

According to Farrow, the inaccessibility of legal services is a common issue, be it in Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Canada, or the rest of the world. In fact, the United Nations has identified access to justice as a global crisis that – through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – requires collective efforts and shared solutions, continues Farrow.

According to earlier research from the CFCJ, approximately 50 per cent of adult Canadians will experience a legal problem in any given three-year period. “Like the rest of the world, there is an access-to-justice crisis in Canada,” notes Farrow, who also serves as Chair of the CFCJ. “Law and legal issues are everywhere, but very few people can afford legal help.”

Grassroots-level support can help change this situation for the better, says CFCJ Senior Research Fellow Ab Currie, who also co-authored the report.

“Getting access to trained social workers at drop-in shelters, support workers at community centres, paralegals, religious advisors and many others who work and interact with people where and when they most need help, are primary goals and benefits of community-based justice,” explains Farrow. “The core idea is to find ways to get legal services and law-related help to people in the places that they live and work, and to identify – and ideally avoid – legal problems or to help address them before they get worse.

“Generally, there’s a benefit to having these services in the community and the recent research indicates that the cost-benefit analysis is positive for these community justice services,” he adds. “There are also non-financial benefits of trust, access and awareness when it comes to supporting local help for local communities.”

South African researcher Busiwana Winne Martins, of the Centre for Community Justice, agrees. “Because support workers are close to the community, they understand their problems and socio-economic conditions,” she says. “They share the same geographic space and culture and can negotiate plural legal systems and determine how to straddle the formal law and traditional African customary law.

“People who work in the grassroots justice structures, especially community-based paralegals, are able to translate difficult legal and bureaucratic language into frames that local people can understand and help them to resolve their justice issues,” she adds.

Farrow agrees that managing problems within a community and with the help of community members is often simpler, quicker and allows for community values and interests to be present in the process. “Community justice initiatives can provide exciting opportunities for innovative and inclusive problem-solving that allows for important justice options and strategies,” he notes.

To help solve the access-to-justice crisis, Farrow concludes, “community-based justice provides significant and exciting opportunities for meaningful assistance – in addition to numerous other options and processes, including strong legal institutions.”

With the addition of access-to-justice to the UN SDGs, calling on all nations to work toward equal access by 2030 is a significant move and driver for action, according to the report.

Learn more at News @ York.

Groundbreaking global health simulation slated for May

Global health

By Elaine Smith

Students will be immersed in an unparalleled learning experience on May 1 and 2 as York University’s School of Global Health unveils an innovative global health simulation event designed for Faculty of Health students.

Ahmad Firas Khalid
Ahmad Firas Khalid

Spearheaded by Dr. Ahmad Firas Khalid, a physician and assistant professor of global health and faculty Fellow with the Faculty of Health, this first-of-its-kind simulation will transport students into the heart of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly.

Participating students will have a unique opportunity to collaborate, tackle multi-sectoral challenges, and deepen their understanding of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The deadline to register is April 17. Students must register using this link. Those who would like to attend the opening and closing plenary sessions and the side sessions as an observer are also welcome; the registration deadline is noon on April 21 using an online form.

Khalid has created a state-of-the-art simulation of the World Health Assembly (WHA), WHO’s supreme governing body, giving students the chance to participate in creating collaborative governance approaches to multi-sectoral and multi-jurisdictional global challenges. The simulation, the first of its kind, also provides a deeper understanding of the UN SDGs.

“This project is groundbreaking because simulation-based learning in global health training is new,” Khalid said. “Presently, there is a distinct lack of continuous efforts aimed at advancing experiential education through simulation-based learning in global health, especially beyond the traditional clinical settings.

“In accordance with the University Academic Plan, the WHA SIM advances experiential education (EE) at York beyond the classroom by pioneering a novel EE strategy that combines the opportunity to explore and analyze real-world problems by applying theory and skills to a concrete experience and producing outputs that are collaborative and action oriented.”

The simulation, which takes place at the Keele Campus, begins with an opening ceremony and a welcome address by York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton, followed by a panel discussion on “Building Solidarity for Worldwide Health Security” moderated by Professor A.M. Viens, director of York’s School of Global Health. The panel features Dr. David Peters, dean of the Faculty of Health; Dr. James Orbinski, director of York’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research; and Krishnan Shankar, science advisor and community partnerships lead at ScienceUpFirst Initiative, Canadian Association of Science Centres.

Afterward, students will immerse themselves in the simulation, joining one of three committees: Public Health Emergencies: Preparedness and response; Strengthening Infodemic Management; or Universal Health Coverage: Reorienting health systems to primary care. Students will discuss the issue facing them and draft a related position paper and resolution. Each committee will work with a York University mentor who is an expert in the field: Godfred Boateng, assistant professor of global health; Matthew Poirier, assistant professor of social epidemiology; and Farah Ahmad, associate professor in the School of Health Policy and Management.

On the second day of the simulation, each committee will take its resolution through the WHA approval process, aiming to have it passed.

“The WHA simulation should be eye-opening for students as they are exposed to the procedures and politics involved in global health initiatives,” Khalid said. “This amazing opportunity will offer valuable lessons that will be transferable to their future careers.”

Participants will also attend a career session focused on opportunities in global health and enjoy a lecture by Anthony Morgan, the new host of CBC’s acclaimed television program, The Nature of Things.

The simulation will end with an awards ceremony, recognizing the best delegate, best collaborator and best position paper.

“This is a fantastic EE opportunity for our students,” said Viens. “York’s undergraduate global health program was the first in Canada and one of the first in the world to offer a free-standing undergraduate global health degree. Its reputation and record of educating the next generation of global health leaders will be further advanced by this innovative, real-world simulation-based experiential learning initiative. It’s something we hope to enlarge upon in years to come.”

New project to explore anxiety among Black youth, families

Black woman and child

The recently launched “Retooling Black Anxiety” project at York University looks to examine increased anxiety among Black youth and families who have had encounters with the criminal justice system (CJS).

With $35,000 from the Faculty of Health’s Anxiety Research Fund, powered by Beneva – a Quebec-based insurance and financial services firm – the project is led by two York professors: serving as principal investigator is Professor Godfred Boateng, director, Global & Environmental Health Lab and Faculty Fellow, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research; co-investigator is Dlamini Nombuso, a professor in the Faculty of Education whose work focuses on youth, especially racialized youth within leadership and political systems. Partnerships with the Ghana Union of Canada (GUC) and Gashanti Unity (GU) is also a critical component of the project in order to help lead community-based research activities and intervention.

Godfred Boateng
Godfred Boateng

The collective goal is to work and mentor youth and their families towards better experiences of addressing anxiety and mental health issues mainly induced by encounters with the criminal justice systems (CJS) and the child welfare systems (CWS).

Research conducted in 2021 by the Department of Justice Canada, and the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat at the Department of Canadian Heritage, identified how over-policing in schools and in Black communities – particularly in economically marginalized neighbourhoods – as well as police reliance on child welfare agencies, has increased the encounters Black youth have with the criminal justice system. According to the Department of Justice Canada, in 2020-21, Black males made up 19 per cent of all male youth admissions to custody, and Black females made up 11 per cent of all female youth admissions to custody.

According to Boateng, these realities have a profound effect on the mental health of Black youth and their families. The professor shares that he has observed how this has led to a significant increase in stories of anxiety, youth entrapment and disillusionment among Black youth and their families. Given how anxiety and mental health can limit individual potentials and capabilities, and injustices that put Black youth in jeopardy can affect their long-term possibilities, Boateng and his partners have prioritized exploring ways to address these ongoing challenges.

The GUC and GU will play a crucial role in implementing the project in their communities. “An important part of project is to dialogue with community partners to ensure that they feel fully and respectfully engaged and involved as driving forces for this project,” says Boateng. Each organization will leverage their membership, network and cultural community advocates to recruit young adults who have had encounters with the criminal justice system or the child welfare system to be part of the program.

Boateng with members from community partners Ghana Union of Canada and Gashanti Unity
Boateng with members from community partners Ghana Union of Canada and Gashanti Unity

During the project’s early exploratory phase, all partners will work to interview and focus group discussions. Subjects will receive a one-pager that articulate project intent, target cohort, duration and expectation. During the subsequent implementation phase they will recruit participants, identify key needs and work with clinical professionals to provide interventions, as well as work with participants on outcomes.

The interventions will be tailored specifically to subjects’ anxiety. After an initial assessment, referrals will be provided to appropriate support systems for those found to have higher levels of anxiety, stress and/or depression symptomatology. Among the choices of intervention for Black youth will be either a restorative justice program aimed at healing and consciousness raising, as well as helping keep youth away from CJS; or enrollment in Unstuck & On Target, an eight-week program aimed at improving self-regulation and good directed behaviors in Youth with offences in CJS/CWS. Family and caregivers will be offered an eight-week program aimed at educating them on how to identify or flag risky behaviors in children, as well as providing crisis support, counseling and therapeutic services referrals to parents or caregivers.

The “Retooling Black Anxiety” team has further ambitions for the future. “We are hoping to scale up this study and apply for larger research and community funding that will advance the mental health of Blacks in the Greater Toronto Area and reduce anxieties experienced by Blacks and Black families,” says Nombuso. The team expects to apply in the future to the SSHRC Collaborative grant to further scale-up the study.

A website is still in development, but those wishing for further information can reach out to the project team directly by email. Boateng can be reached at; Dlamini can be reached at, and project coordinator Salwa Regragui can be reached at

Osgoode launches app to aid in immigration, refugee hearings

Close-up photo of judge's gavel on a desk with unseen figure writing on paper in the background

A new online application from a team led by Sean Rehaag, associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and director of its Refugee Law Lab, is designed to equip lawyers with critical legal data needed to improve their odds of winning refugee protections for migrants at risk.

The Refugee Law Lab Portal (RLLP), which launched March 27, provides readily available legal analytics derived from all Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) decisions and judicial reviews of IRB judgments by the Federal Court.

According to Rehaag, the aim of the project – funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario – is to maintain the portal’s legal data so that lawyers can create “targeted” legal arguments, just as a doctor would use targeted medications to treat a patient’s unique symptom profile.

The Refugee Law Lab additionally receives grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Considering the support that public funding provides for both the RLLP, and the lab in general, a crucial goal of the project is to increase the accessibility and equitability of public services like immigration hearings.

“When lawyers appear before decision-makers, they often don’t know who the decision-maker is until they walk into the room, so this can give them a quick way to understand some information about the decision-maker,” Rehaag said.

“If you know you have someone who is never going to grant refugee protection, then your job as a lawyer is to get a review,” he added. “By contrast, if you have someone who’s very sympathetic, you might just want to let the process roll through without interruption to keep the decision-maker on board.”

Rehaag said that subjective decision-making by refugee adjudicators is a reality, but he hopes data provided by the portal will help level the playing field for lawyers.

“From my perspective,” he said, “the key takeaway is that we need to have safeguards for this kind of decision-making to prevent the worst outcomes for refugees.”

Those worst outcomes would include the recent drowning deaths of eight migrants as they attempted to cross the St. Lawrence River into the United States.

“This [portal] can contribute to efforts to create those safeguards,” he added, “and help lawyers develop strategies to deal with the subjectivity of decision-making.”

The Refugee Law Lab plans to continue expanding the portal to provide additional information, including cases that decision-makers most often cite in their decisions. Rehaag said he also hopes that the legal data will help stimulate additional research into Canadian refugee law by other organizations.

Unlike high-priced legal databases, Rehaag said, the Refugee Law Lab Portal is committed to keeping the information accessible, offering it for free and in easy-to-understand formats while at the same time protecting privacy.

Rehaag explained that most of the work in creating the Refugee Law Lab Portal has gone into compiling the data, including developing a sophisticated, cloud-based internet scraping tool to continuously extract data from Federal Court dockets.

“I think it’s a good example of taking academic funding for research and transforming that research so it’s more accessible and useful for practitioners,” he said. “Lawyers are not always comfortable engaging with data.”

Donation from Mark and Gail Appel supports programs that counter antisemitism, racism

Kalman Weiser, Mark Appel, Gail Appel and David Koffman

York University has announced a new donation of $750,000 from long-time benefactors Mark and Gail Appel to support programs that foster deeper understandings of Jewish history and life, combat antisemitism and deter other forms of racism.

Their gift will support important collaborations between the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies (CJS) and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), and contribute to the advancement of decolonization, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI) at the University.

The funding supports two key programs. The first is the biennial Summer Institute on Teaching About Antisemitism – led by Kalman Weiser, associate professor of history and humanities, in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Toronto and Tel Aviv University. The program brings graduate students and faculty members from around the world to York to discuss pedagogies in teaching about antisemitism.

The second program is the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education, a study-abroad, experiential education and cultural exchange course to be held in Germany, Poland and Canada, taught by Sara Horowitz, professor in the Departments of Humanities and Languages, Literatures & Linguistics. The Mark and Gail Appel Program is a re-launched version of the Teach For The Future program which the couple funded several years ago at the University.

“York has a very diverse student population and some of our students come from places where oppression and discrimination are very real and dangerous forces. Those students understand that the Holocaust is something important to learn about more deeply. Students who have participated in this program in the past have told us, ‘This program was life changing,’” said Horowitz.

Group photo featuring (from left to right): David Koffman, Maggie Quirt, Allan Weinbaum, Mark Appel, Gail Appel, Kalman Weiser and Sara Horowitz
From left to right: David Koffman, Maggie Quirt, Allan Weinbaum, Mark Appel, Gail Appel, Kalman Weiser and Sara Horowitz

The positive impact of this new funding will be seen in new approaches and methods to be developed and refined on the teaching of antisemitism, and in the transformed perspectives of students who participate in the study-abroad course.

David Koffman, associate professor of history and acting director at CJS, said “Programs like these demonstrate that leaders like Mark and Gail… understand what our centre stands for: excellence in scholarship, inspired teaching, and the true importance of scholarly effort and insight out there in the world, helping shape minds and hearts, institutions, and policies for the common good. Gifts like these help make York the thoughtful and welcoming place for all it can be.”

The Appels recently met with representatives from CJS and the LA&PS dean’s office to celebrate this important donation. At that meeting, a video by York alumna Anna Veprinska – now an assistant professor of literature at Cape Breton University – who participated in the earlier iteration of the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education, was presented. “This program changed the trajectory of my life,” Veprinska said.

“The program teaches about antiracism, with antisemitism as an avatar of racist ways of thinking,” Mark explained. “Our societies seem to be in a re-run. Attitudes we had hoped were behind us in the 1960s and 1970s are showing up again. There have been recent setbacks. Too many people are trapped by uninformed opinions. Gail and I looked at each other, thought of our previous involvement with York, and said, ‘We need to do something again.’”

“People can acquire racist attitudes in childhood or as they grow older,” added Gail. “We’ve seen the transforming power of these programs in the past. We have seen people learn to set those attitudes aside.”

Mark and Gail Appel with Maggie Quirt, Associate Dean Programs, LA&PS and David Koffman, Director, Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies
Mark and Gail Appel with Maggie Quirt, associate dean, programs, LA&PS and David Koffman, director, CJS

“We are so grateful to Gail and Mark for this delightful contribution,” said J.J. McMurtry, LA&PS dean. “Now, another generation of diverse students can participate in this impactful study-abroad course in Poland and Germany with Professor Horowitz, and Professor Weiser’s work with the pedagogy of teaching about antisemitism can grow and expand. We could not be more grateful. The Appels are true partners.”

York professor’s expert testimony helps win asylum-seeker case


By Elaine Smith

When Professor Yvonne Su was asked to provide expert testimony at the refugee hearing for a gay Venezuelan man seeking asylum in the United States, she jumped at the opportunity.

“My whole academic career led me to this point,” said Su of the request made earlier this year. “I’ve written journal articles, policy papers and been involved in activism, but rarely do I get to do something that has such a direct impact.”

Yvonne Su
Yvonne Su

Su, an assistant professor in the Department of Equity Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is an expert on forced migration. Since 2019, her research has focused on LGBTQ+ asylum seekers from Venezuela, where, as in many countries, a confluence of politics, religion and culture make living an openly gay life dangerous.

“Given the anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, many people aren’t even out to their family members,” Su said. “They remain closeted so their families don’t disown them. Some are married with children and living double lives. There is fear of violence and concern about job discrimination, and there are few laws to protect LGBTQ+ people. Same-sex marriage is not recognized in the country as the Venezuelan constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“The pandemic made things worse for the LGBTQ+ community, because fake news stories circulated on social media at the start of COVID-19 blaming LGBT people for the spread of COVID-19.”

The lawyer for the asylum seeker learned of Su’s research and reached out to her to ask her to write a report about the living conditions for gay men in Venezuela that addressed whether it was possible for them to live authentic public lives as gay men, free of violence. Su wrote the report based on her research; she never met the applicant, because her work had to be impartial. 

Next, she testified as an expert witness at the immigration hearing.

“The lawyer for the asylum seeker practised with me for an hour to prepare me for the type of questions I might be asked,” Su said.

Her testimony was given by phone, something she assumes is fallout from the pandemic.

“The government’s lawyer really wanted hard evidence and concrete numbers about incidents of violence against gay men, but states like Venezuela don’t collect statistics on hate crimes or violence against certain groups,” she said. “They don’t want that information publicized.”

However, in the survey Su previously conducted of gay Venezuelan men through her Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded research, she asked them if they faced discrimination and violence in Venezuela due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In answering those questions, some respondents volunteered examples of violent incidents: beatings by police and civilians, as well as gang rape. She was able to present the results from the 162 surveys completed by LGBTQ+ Venezuelan asylum seekers in Brazil and Colombia as evidence and to explain the cultural context.

As one of the first migration experts to research these high-risk and hard-to-reach groups, Su’s data set of experiences of violence is rare and necessary for informing policy.

“North Americans have a difficult time conceptualizing the LGBT culture in other countries,” Su said. “Their concept of what constitutes a gay life is very narrow. In many countries in the Global South, it’s not like North America, where teenagers come out to their parents or friends at 14 and there are few political consequences.

“In many other countries, it’s a serious political and social issue, people don’t want to talk openly about how state authorities mistreat LGBTQ+ people, because the state may persecute them for speaking out and it makes them more vulnerable or it identifies them to others as LGBTQ+.”

Su’s testimony lasted 20 minutes, but the hearing itself went on for five or six hours. Afterward, the judge decided in favour of the asylum seeker.

“They emailed me and I jumped for joy,” Su said. “Someone’s life has changed. They will be able to live in the United States and will be free to be their authentic selves.”

Although this was her first experience as an expert witness, she will be happy to do so again. It’s part of her commitment to York’s ideal of righting the future as laid out in the University Academic Plan.

“If I hadn’t done this research previously, these statistics wouldn’t be available,” Su said. “They don’t exist elsewhere. So, if others ask, I’d happily help out. I’ll present what I know and hope for the best.”