Osgoode student lawyers save family from deportation

Statue of justice

With only 11 hours to spare, two student lawyers from Osgoode Hall Law School’s Community & Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP) saved the parents of a York University student from family breakup and deportation to Colombia, where they faced potential danger or even death.

When second-year student Brandon Jeffrey Jang and third-year student Emma Sandri learned on Dec. 18 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had ordered the parents of a fellow student to be deported on a Colombia-bound plane on Jan. 18, they worked tirelessly over the winter break to prepare about 1,000 pages of legal submissions to stop it – on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).
Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).

The student’s father became a target of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the early 1990s when he was a candidate for the country’s Liberal Party, actively working to prevent youth from joining the paramilitary organization. After several threats and acts of physical violence, the family fled to the United States. They returned to Colombia seven years later, but remained in danger and fled again, eventually making their way to Canada in 2009. With the Colombian peace process currently faltering and FARC still a viable force, the family believes their safety could still be threatened if they return to their home country.

The couple’s adult son is a student in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and their daughter is set to graduate from Queen’s University and plans to study medicine. The son and daughter, who already have permanent residency status in Canada, faced being separated from their parents as well as possible academic repercussions if the deportation had gone ahead as scheduled.

The CLASP team’s request to save this family from deportation was initially denied by the CBSA, so they filed two supporting applications with the Federal Court, under the supervision of CLASP review counsel Subodh Bharati. On Jan. 17, just one day before the scheduled deportation, they appeared in person before a Federal Court judge in Toronto to make their case for the family – and they succeeded.

The parents – who have become actively involved in their Toronto community, volunteering during the pandemic, for example, to deliver food to house-bound, immune-compromised residents – expressed their gratitude to the CLASP team in an emotional email.

“Thank you very much for all the effort that you put in our case,” the mother wrote. “I don’t have enough words to express what I feel right now and to say thank you. You are the best lawyers that Toronto has.”

Their joy was shared by Jang and Sandri.

“We were just so happy,” said Jang about hearing news of the successful stay application. “We’ve built a close connection with the family and we’ve all worked extremely hard on this case.”

Jang said the experience has confirmed his desire to pursue a career in immigration law – and this summer he will work for Toronto immigration law firm Green and Spiegel LLP.

Sandri said preparing hundreds of pages of court applications in a month was a tremendous challenge, but learning that the family can stay in Canada as a result of their efforts was a huge relief and incredibly rewarding.

“It was difficult, in terms of wanting to put out our best work in such a limited time span,” she explained, “and we really felt the pressure of the fact that these people’s lives were possibly at stake.”

As they waited for the court decision, she added, “we both couldn’t sleep because we were thinking about what’s going to happen to this family and we were really stressing about that.”

In the wake of the court decision, Bharati said, the parents can now obtain work permits while they wait for the Federal Court to hear judicial reviews of previous decisions that rejected their applications for permanent residency status.

With the students’ time at CLASP nearing an end, Jang and Sandri expressed special appreciation for Bharati’s guidance and trust.

“All of our experiences at the clinic leading up to this case prepared us for the uphill battle we confronted when fighting for this family,” said Jang. “The result was a total team effort on everybody’s part and it was all worth it.”

New seminar series to advance homelessness prevention

The York University Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) has launched a monthly expert panel series aiming to host engaging community discussions to advance homelessness prevention initiatives in Canada and abroad.

In recent years there has been a fundamental shift in the homelessness sector. Organizations and individuals have often been reactive to the homelessness crisis, but it has become increasingly clear that there needs to be greater focus on prevention – finding ways to eliminate homelessness altogether.

The new COH series, called Prevention Matters!, looks to further advance this approach by helping address the challenge of what prevention means and looks like. What systemic changes can reduce the likelihood that someone will become homeless? What intervention strategies can support those at high risk of homelessness or who have recently become homeless? What can ensure people who have experienced homelessness – and who are now housed – do not experience homelessness again?

The launch of this series was announced this week in a webinar hosted by Faculty of Education Professor Stephen Gaetz, who is also president and chief executive officer of COH, where he discussed “Prevention 101” by unpacking his report, “A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention.”

Moving forward, the series will run on the last Wednesday of the month, from February to June and September to November. Expert researchers and practitioners in the sector will gather to highlight innovative and successful multi-sector prevention initiatives in Canada and beyond. Discussions will run for 60 to 70 minutes and aim to bring attendees a format different from typical webinars by making audience participation central. In an effort to create the open conversation required to explore homelessness prevention, attendees are encouraged to participate in a Q-and-A where they can engage in an open dialogue and help define each session’s discussion.

For those who can’t attend live, all sessions will be recorded and uploaded afterwards to the Homeless Hub’s YouTube channel.

Prof’s new book reveals how a tiny chip can revolutionize health care

glasses and pen resting on notebook

Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, has co-written a new book about the innovative realm of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology, which has the potential to revolutionize health care.

Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh
Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh

What if semiconductor chips could do more than just power our computers, smartphones and other devices? What if they could help power our bodies? Ghafar-Zadeh considers that emerging possibility with his latest book.

“The influence of semiconductor technology has extended far beyond its role in developing digital and analog electronics,” explains Ghafar-Zadeh, director of the Lassonde’s Biologically Inspired Sensors & Actuators Laboratory. “It has significantly impacted life science and health by creating sensors and actuators that interact with biological molecules like DNA and living cells.”

In CMOS-Based Sensors and Actuators for Life Science Applications (2023), which was co-authored by two of Ghafar-Zadeh’s team members – Saghi Forouhi, a former PhD student and current research associate; and Tayebeh Azadmousavi, a visiting research scholar – Ghafar-Zadeh explores the world of advanced sensors and actuators (components of a machine that produces force), with each chapter dedicated to spotlighting unique iterations of them that reflect recent breakthroughs.

“I advocate for the inclusion of CMOS sensors in graduate courses, and this book serves as the first step toward achieving this educational goal,” he says. “By recognizing the pivotal role of semiconductor technology, the book explores its contribution to shaping the future of electronic devices across diverse applications.”

The book concludes by addressing challenges and proposing future steps to harness CMOS technology for creating cutting-edge sensors, ultimately contributing to the fight against diseases and enhancing quality of life.

A heartfelt recognition: professor awarded for cardiac research

hand holding felt heart

Faculty of Health Professor Sherry Grace received the 2022 KITE Innovation and Impact Award from the University Health Network’s KITE Research Institute for the global impact of her work in the field of cardiac rehabilitation.

Sherry Grace
Sherry Grace

The Innovation and Impact Award, bestowed by the KITE Research Institute, is dedicated to rehabilitation science and counts as one of the principal research enterprises of the University Health Network (UHN), Canada’s top medical research hospital. The award is bestowed on two scientists – one senior, one not – whose research contributions have had a major impact, whether to policies, standards, best practice guidelines, regulations, dissemination of resources to the research community, intellectual property or commercialization, or collaborations with non-academic partners.

For Grace, the award served as a recognition of how, over a more than 25-year career – 19 of them at York – she has become recognized as a global authority on cardiac rehabilitation (CR) and has been credited for an ability to transform research into solutions that help reduce mortality and disability among heart patients.

Grace has published more than 320 research papers and has been cited almost 20,000 times, placing her among the top two to three per cent most-cited researchers globally across all fields of study.

Her work has also sought to promote accessible cardiovascular rehabilitation by supporting the growth of CR programs in resource-limited settings, looking to overcome barriers to cardiac rehab participation by increasing program capacity, as well as ensuring patients are better referred and engaged.

In doing so, both her past work and the work that is yet to come has created a catalogue of impactful accomplishment that helped earn her the Innovation and Impact Award.

Schulich ExecEd expands health-care training partnership in Guyana

Schulich ExecEd Guyana group photo

Schulich ExecEd, an extension of the Schulich School of Business at York University, is building upon its existing partnership with the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana by launching a new Guyana-Schulich ExecEd Masters Certificate in Physician Leadership Program and kicking off a second cohort of the Schulich ExecEd-Guyana Masters Certificate in Hospital Leadership Program. Both programs are set to begin their virtual classroom sessions this month.

Representatives from Schulich ExecEd travelled to Guyana last month to celebrate the new program launch with members of Guyana’s government. The attendees from Schulich ExecEd were: Rami Mayer, executive director; Dr. Susan Lieff, program director; Jeff MacInnis, facilitator; Robert Lynn, associate director; and Ai Hokama, program co-ordinator.

“I am excited to announce the continuation of our partnership with the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana,” said Mayer. “Together, we are pioneering transformative learning programs focused on social innovation that are aimed at equipping health-care leaders with essential skills crucial for navigating the evolving landscape of health care in the Guyana region.”

The Schulich ExecEd-Guyana Masters Certificate in Hospital Leadership Program focuses on fortifying the administrative skills of health-care workers, equipping them with the knowledge to effectively manage health-care facilities, resources and personnel. Its sister program, the Guyana-Schulich ExecEd Masters Certificate in Physician Leadership Program, is a direct response to the needs of physicians in the region. The goal is to build up physicians’ leadership abilities, improve their decision-making skills, and sharpen their capacity to manage health-care facilities and resources. 

“These programs have been specifically designed to empower health-care professionals in Guyana and enhance the quality of health-care services they provide to their patients,” said Frank Anthony, Guyana’s minister of health. “We are grateful for the co-operation of the Ministry of Public Service and the Government of Guyana in delivering this training to the participants free of charge.”

Schulich ExecEd’s ongoing mission with this partnership is to transform Guyana’s health-care system to deliver more equitable, accessible and enhanced health care. The shared vision of these partners is to develop better health care and physician leaders in Guyana and to provide innovative health-care solutions to improve patient outcomes across the country. Program participants hail from all 10 regions of Guyana, including the country’s Indigenous communities.

“Our programs are meticulously designed to fill critical gaps in business education, addressing skill needs not traditionally covered in medical school,” explained Mayer. “We are committed to empowering physicians and health-care leaders with the tools to manage difficult conversations, solve complex problems, foster collaboration, lead effectively and elevate the overall quality of care in the country.”

Both programs are expected to graduate their current participants in September of this year.

For a closer look at the Schulich ExecEd team’s celebratory trip to Guyana last month, visit vimeo.com/901964260/c095aa81b2?.

LA&PS prof publishes three books in one month

colorful book shelf banner

A busy 2023 has led to Hassan Qudrat-Ullah, a professor in York University’s School of Administrative Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), publishing three new books in short succession this past November, covering topics as diverse as systems thinking, supply chain management and sustainable development.

Hassan Qudrat-Ullah
Hassan Qudrat-Ullah

The first of the three, Managing Complex Tasks with Systems Thinking (Springer, 2023), is about improving human decision making and performance in complex tasks. Using a systems thinking approach, it presents innovative and insightful solutions to various managerial issues in various domains, including agriculture, education, climate change, digital transformation, health care, supply chains and sustainability.

Qudrat-Ullah’s second recently published work, a co-edited volume with York University Research Fellow Syed Imran Ali called Advanced Technologies and the Management of Disruptive Supply Chains: The Post-COVID Era (Springer, 2023), explores the cost-effective and efficient supply chain management strategies required to achieve resilience in the post-COVID environment.

“The book follows a didactic approach through which it informs global researchers and practitioners to deal with the most significant insights on future supply chains with a more in-depth analysis of post-COVID opportunities and challenges,” said Qudrat-Ullah. “In particular, it provides an in-depth assessment of disruptive supply chain management in certain industrial contexts and explores various industry 4.0 and industry 5.0 technologies to achieve resilience.”

The final book of the bunch, Exploring the Dynamics of Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in Africa: A Cross-Country and Interdisciplinary Approach (Springer, 2023), explores the potential of renewable energy sources to promote sustainable development in Africa, with a specific focus on Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Algeria. It delves into the challenges and opportunities presented by various renewable and clean energy technologies, including nuclear power, liquefied petroleum gas, bamboo biomass gasification and geothermal energy in addressing the energy needs of African nations. Additionally, it assesses the socio-economic and environmental impacts of renewable energy projects and evaluates their alignment with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“The book’s interdisciplinary and cross-country approach, as well as its incorporation of innovative concepts like social innovation and bamboo-based development, makes it a unique resource,” said the author.

Biomedicine innovator earns awards, leadership role

doctor hand taking a blood sample tube from a rack with machines of analysis in the lab background / Technician holding blood tube test in the research laboratory
doctor hand taking a blood sample tube from a rack with machines of analysis in the lab background / Technician holding blood tube test in the research laboratory

York University Professor Yong Lian has earned recognition for his work in biomedicine, advancing circuits and systems to aid the development of in-home devices for disease prevention and detection.

Lian, from the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the Lassonde School of Engineering, was honoured with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Circuits and Systems Society Mac Van Valkenburg Award, recognizing his years of technical excellence, global impact, and research contributions as one of the pioneering researchers who founded and established the evolving field of biomedical circuits and systems.

Yong Lian
Yong Lian

Over his career, Lian’s research has focused on wearable and implantable biomedical circuits used for applications ranging from seizure detection to heart monitoring. In addition to helping coin the term “biomedical circuits and systems (BioCAS)” and guiding the progression of the field, he has aimed to provide accessible solutions for early detection and prevention of various health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, his work may facilitate better home care for outpatients and reduce their need for frequent hospital visits.

In addition to the Mac Van Valkenburg Award, Lian was also honoured recently by IEEE with the Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems Best Paper Award for research titled “A 13.34uW Event-Driven Patient-Specific ANN Cardiac Arrhythmia Classifier for Wearable ECG Sensors.”

Working together with his PhD students, Lian developed an energy-efficient solution for wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) devices, which are used to identify cardiovascular problems by detecting irregular heartbeats. The proposed solution reduces the power required to detect these abnormalities, allowing for longer usage time and smaller devices.

“Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the world,” says Lian. “That is why we’re looking at solutions in this area. We need to develop wearable and cost-effective systems that are convenient for patients to use in order to help detect early warning signs of cardiovascular diseases and reduce hospital visits.”

Typically, ECG sensors constantly monitor a patient’s heart rhythm, whether an irregularity is detected or not. Sensors that can be used at home collect raw ECG data and wirelessly transmit it to a mobile phone – this requires a large amount of energy and limits battery life. Professor Lian’s work proposes a novel, event-driven approach to reduce the amount of ECG data collected by allowing an artificial neural network to only process data that can be used to classify different types of cardiac arrhythmia. This way, the device can save energy by focusing on critical events, rather than using excess power to monitor the heart’s constant rhythm.

As a further testament to his prestige, Lian was also recently elected as the first Canadian IEEE Division I director for the 2024-25 period. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to technological innovation and advancement for the benefit of humanity.

“The main purpose of this role is to help shape the IEEE as a whole, not just my division,” he says. “I will support collaboration between researchers and engineers, as well as look at how we can meet industry needs, underdeveloped regions and IEEE members in our changing world.”

Call for abstracts on how natural disasters impact maternal-child health

Mother child outside sky

Organizers of the seventh Lillian Meighen Wright Maternal-Child Health Learning Academy have opened a call for poster abstracts.

This two-day event is organized by the Women’s Health Research Chair in Mental Health and the Lillian Meighen Wright Scholars Program academic lead, Professor Nazilla Khanlou, and the student co-chairs of the program, Meaghan Hall and Lojain Hamwi.

This year, the event will focus on the theme “Impacts of Natural Disasters on Maternal-Child Health” and will run on July 15 and 17 in a virtual format.

Abstracts for posters can be submitted by students, educators, researchers, service providers, policymakers and community members. Send an abstract for the poster by Feb. 15, 2024. Abstracts should not exceed 300 words in length.

Organizers are seeking submissions on the impacts of natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis) on maternal-child health, across multiple domains (physical and mental health, economic, environmental, political).

Descriptive, empirical, analytical or reflective submissions should focus on:

  • how these disasters affect mothers, children, and/or their communities;
  • what supports are helpful; and
  • how populations adjust following these disasters.

Format of abstracts for the posters should use the headings provided here and abstracts should be sent to owhchair@yorku.ca with the subject line “7th LMW Academy: Poster.”

Presenters of accepted abstracts will be notified, and their abstract will be included in the seventh Lillian Meighen Wright Maternal-Child Health Learning Academy’s program booklet. Posters will be presented as short lightning presentations using pre-recorded videos.

For more information, visit this website.

Bisexual women at greater risk for substance-use events

emergency room sign

New research out of York University shows that bisexual women face a higher risk of substance-related acute events than other sexual orientations and genders.

Disparities in alcohol- and substance-related hospitalizations and deaths across sexual orientations in Canada: a longitudinal study” uses Ontario health administrative data from 2009 to 2017 to quantify hospitalizations and deaths (acute events) related to alcohol, cannabis, opioids, narcotics, and illicit drugs across different sexual orientations and genders.

Authored by Gabriel John Dusing, Chungah Kim and Antony Chum of York University, along with Andrew Nielson of the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the study indicates that bisexual women faced 2.46 times higher risks of substance-related acute events compared to heterosexual women. For non-alcohol substance-related acute events, the risk was 2.67 times higher than it was for heterosexual women.

While substance-related acute events for heterosexual men and women were found to be 29 and 16 cases per 100,000 persons per year, this increased to 33 and 34 for gay men and lesbians, and up to 99 and 55 for bisexual men and women respectively.

However, after adjusting for sociodemographic differences, only bisexual women had a significantly higher risk compared to their heterosexual counterparts. The differences between heterosexual and bisexual men (or between heterosexual women and lesbians), could be explained by other factors such as income and education.

The paper continues to suggest that bisexual women’s elevated substance use may be associated with self-medication in response to unique stressors related to discrimination and isolation.

“The findings emphasize the need for enhanced education and training for health-care professionals to address the heightened substance use risk among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals,” said Chum. “More funding and research is needed for targeted interventions focused on reducing substance use problems among bisexual individuals.”

By combining data from a population-representative survey and health administrative data, the study offers a unique contribution to research literature by sharing the first robust evidence of disparities in substance-use acute events across sexual orientations. It calls for “further evaluation of the effectiveness of tailored prevention and treatment programs, support groups, or public health campaigns designed to reach bisexual women and gay/bisexual men.”

Using AI to enhance well-being for under-represented groups

A man meditating

Kiemute Oyibo, an assistant professor at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning to build group-specific predictive models for different target populations to promote positive behaviour changes.

Kiemute Oyibo
Kiemute Oyibo

From reminders to take a daily yoga lesson to notifications about prescription refills, persuasive technology is an effective technique used in many software applications. Informed by psychological theories, this technology can be incorporated in many electronic devices to change users’ attitudes and behaviours, including habits and lifestyle choices related to health and well-being.

“People are receptive to personalized health-related messages that help them adopt beneficial behaviours they ordinarily find difficult,” says Oyibo.

“That is why I am designing, implementing and evaluating personalized persuasive technologies in the health domain with a focus on inclusive design, and tailoring health applications to meet the needs of under-represented groups.”

By considering the specific needs of these groups, Oyibo’s work has the potential to change the one-size-fits-all approach of software application design. “By excluding features which may discourage some populations from using certain health applications and focusing on their unique needs, such as the inclusion of cultural elements and norms, personalized health applications can benefit users from marginalized communities,” he explains. “Another method that can help improve user experience is participatory design. This enables underrepresented groups, such as Indigenous Peoples, to be a part of the design and development of technology they will enjoy using.”

Through demographic studies, Oyibo is investigating the behaviours, characteristics, preferences and unique needs of different populations, including under-represented groups, throughout Canada and Africa. For example, he is examining cultural influences on users’ attitudes and acceptance of contact tracing applications – an approach that is unique for informing the design and development of public health applications.

“Group-specific predictive models that do not treat the entire target population as a monolithic group can be used to personalize health messages to specific users more effectively,” says Oyibo of his work, which is supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant.

In related work, Oyibo is collaborating with professors from Dalhousie University and industry partners at ThinkResearch to explore the application of persuasive techniques in the design of medical incident reporting systems, to improve their effectiveness in community pharmacies across Canada.

“There are a lot of near misses and incidents in community pharmacies across Canada that go unreported,” says Oyibo. “Apart from personal and administrative barriers, such as fear of consequences and lack of confidentiality in handling reports, the culture of little-to-no reporting reflects system design. We want to leverage persuasive techniques to enhance these systems and make them more motivating and valuable, to encourage users to report as many incidents and near misses as possible so that the community can learn from them. This will go a long way in fostering patient safety in community pharmacies across Canada.”

Oyibo’s work is part of a global effort to bridge the digital divide in health care and utilize technology to improve the lives of diverse populations.