York hosts conference examining impact of AI on law

Leading legal thinkers from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and beyond will gather to assess the seismic impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the law during a special conference on March 13 sponsored by the Osgoode-based Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security.

All York community members are welcome to attend the hybrid event, titled Artificial Intelligence and the Law: New Challenges and Possibilities for Fundamental Human Rights and Security, which will take place both online and in person in 014 Helliwell Centre on York’s Keele Campus from noon to 6:15 p.m.

Trevor Farrow
Trevor Farrow

“I am delighted that this incredibly important discussion is being hosted at Osgoode Hall Law School,” said Osgoode Dean Trevor Farrow.

“Academics, lawyers, policymakers and the public are already heavily influenced by and reliant upon AI,” he added. “Osgoode very much sees itself at the centre of these discussions and innovations.”

By bringing together researchers with AI expertise across various fields of practice, conference speakers and attendees can engage with larger questions about law’s role in the regulation of emerging technologies, legal neutrality, ethics and professional responsibility, said Carys Craig, associate dean of research and institutional relations, who will speak on AI and copyright.

Carys Craig
Carys Craig

“I’m very excited about this conference,” she said. “Osgoode is known for its thought leadership and critical, interdisciplinary thinking, which is exactly what is needed as Canada grapples with the rapid acceleration of AI across almost every facet of society.”

The featured speakers will also include Professor Barnali Choudhury, director of the Nathanson Centre.

“Although AI offers numerous opportunities to society, it also poses risks, particularly in relation to human rights and security,” Choudhury noted. “Lawyers should be well versed in these risks to ensure that AI use aligns with legal standards.”

 Barnali Choudhury
Barnali Choudhury

The conference’s comprehensive examination of artificial intelligence will include the growing use of generative AI, which powers tools like ChatGPT, said Professor Valerio De Stefano, a co-organizer of the event and a panellist who will address today’s challenging issues around AI and work. 

“The law will have to react to a lot of the challenges that arise from artificial intelligence in order for society to thrive on the opportunities that AI offers,” he noted.

De Stefano said that almost no area of the law will be left untouched, including criminal, copyright, labour and tax law. Conference speakers will also dig into the implications of AI for legal ethics, practice and education.

Valerio De Stefano
Valerio De Stefano

“It’s extremely important that lawyers, both academics and practitioners, start discussing how to react to all these new things that are coming out of the AI landscape – and this is the opportunity to do that,” he added. “There’s a lot of people at Osgoode that do top-notch, groundbreaking research on law and technology.”

Other speakers will include Professor Jonathon Penney, who will examine whether AI safety standards are really safe, and Professor Allan Hutchinson, who will discuss AI and law’s multiplicity. Rounding out the list of Osgoode experts are Professor Sean Rehaag, PhD student Alexandra Scott and Osgoode PhD alumnus Jake Okechukwu Effoduh, now a law professor at Toronto Metropolitan University.

In the afternoon, De Stefano will chair a roundtable discussion on AI, due process and legal ethics. Panellists will include: Dean Farrow; Professor Patricia McMahon; Professor Richard Haigh; Glenn Stuart, the executive director of professional regulation for the Law Society of Ontario; and Professor Amy Salyzyn of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

Registration is required. For more information about the event, email nathansoncentre@osgoode.yorku.ca and copy vdestefano@osgoode.yorku.ca.

Bergeron Market certified York’s first gluten-free facility

hands kneeding gluten free dough BANNER

Bergeron Market, located in the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, has received a certification endorsed by the National Celiac Association that recognizes it as York University’s only certified gluten-free dining facility.

The certification means that every product available at the market is carefully sourced, prepared and processed to avoid cross-contamination risks associated with gluten. This assurance plays a vital role in promoting healthy eating habits and overall well-being for those who need to follow a gluten-free diet, allowing them the confidence to dine safely.

Dahlia Abou El Hassan
Dahlia Abou El Hassan

“This marks a significant stride towards sustainable nutrition, addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Good Health and Well-being,” says Dahlia Abou El Hassan, York’s registered dietitian. “This certification of Bergeron not only embraces diversity but also caters to a range of dietary needs, demonstrating the YU Eats commitment to inclusivity and actively supporting the health of our community.”

The availability of gluten-free products at Bergeron Market has significantly expanded over the years, providing a wide range of options to meet diverse dietary needs. From fresh produce and snacks to baked goods and fresh meals, diners have access to a comprehensive selection of gluten-free products right on campus.

“To enhance accessibility to freshly made gluten-free options for the wider community, Bergeron’s team has started to prepare and package gluten-free foods as convenient grab-and-go items. These are now available for sale in cafeterias across the campus” says Tom Watt, director of Food & Vending Services.

Beth Gallagher, a community member with a gluten intolerance, says she is “delighted to have a certified gluten-free food provider on campus – it’s not just a meal, it’s peace of mind. Certification ensures I can enjoy every bite without worry, making campus dining a safer and happier experience. Recognizing the importance of diverse food options, especially for those with allergies, brings inclusivity to the table.”

Come try it for yourself. The market is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Teaching Commons seeks presenters for upcoming TiF conference in May

Speaker giving a talk in conference hall at business event. Audience at the conference hall.

By Elaine Smith

With a new vice-provost teaching and learning and an interim director of the Teaching Commons in place, York University’s annual Teaching in Focus (TiF) conference this May will have a slightly different look and feel, and a theme reflective of the times.

Mandy Frake-Mistak, the Teaching Commons’ interim director, and her team are seeking presenters for the two-day conference, which will be held in person this year on May 8 and 9. The theme for this year’s conference is Engaged Teaching in Times of Crisis and proposals are due on Feb. 29.

In addition to crisis-related presentations, there are opportunities for presentations about Academic Innovation Fund projects and experiential education/work-integrated learning. Presenters may speak individually, in teams or as panel members, and all faculty and graduate students are encouraged to consider taking part.

“Based on feedback from the Task Force on the Future of Pedagogy, we know that faculty members want more opportunities to communicate about what they’re doing in the classroom, and TiF will continue to be a great place for that to happen,” says Chloë Brushwood Rose, vice-provost teaching learning. “However, we also want to offer opportunities for conversations around philosophical and critical issues in teaching and learning, not only about practices. We want to highlight people who are thinking in interesting ways and from a range of perspectives about teaching and learning, especially in complex times.”

People are grappling with conflicts in the classroom and conflicts in the world simultaneously, explains Brushwood Rose. The role of the University, she believes, should be to provide a space to talk about pedagogy more broadly.

Frake-Mistak shares that view.

“When we see crisis on a global scale, we can’t help but bring it home, and it shapes how we process information and our dealings with our peers,” she says. “We are trying to support people through this. It’s one thing to share resources, but what about what happens in the classroom?”

And that is where TiF comes in.

The conference will also feature TiF Reads, a panel reminiscent of the popular Canada Reads competition on CBC Radio. Presenters can champion a teaching- or learning-related book, journal article or other resource that inspired them during the past year and attendees will vote for a winner.

“TiF has been a mainstay on our calendar since 2013 and we want to champion it so it is continually growing and getting better,” says Frake-Mistak. “We want to recognize the community who have dedicated their livelihoods to teaching and learning; there are so many unsung heroes. It’s an opportunity to bring people together to champion teaching and learning and propel it forward.”

Brushwood Rose agrees.

“We look forward to TiF being as well attended and energizing as ever.”

Take this opportunity to fill out a presenter’s application form.

Lecture explores complexities of institutionalized DEI

Rear view of four diverse women

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are intended to create environments where individuals of all backgrounds and abilities feels safe, welcome and valued. York University’s School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies is examining the possibilities and limitations of institutionalized DEI at its annual lecture on Feb. 29, taking place from noon to 2 p.m. in 152 Founders College.

Titled Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): The Good, The Bad & The Performative, the event will touch on fields such as higher education, broadcasting, news organizations and politics. Through a roundtable discussion, it will explore the ways in which racialized and other marginalized people with progressive politics are often initially welcomed into spaces of power, becoming symbols of progress in achieving diversity and inclusion, only to then be gaslighted or vilified or face reprisals for espousing their views.

The event will be moderated and hosted by York University professors Bianca Beauchemin and Nadia Hasan of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. The featured speakers will include: Ginella Massa, a York alumna, broadcast journalist and media consultant; Desmond Cole, a journalist, activist and author of The Skin We’re In; Nadiya Ali, a professor of sociology at Trent University and Chair of the new Anti-Islamophobia Subcommittee of the Canadian Sociological Association; and Somar Abuaziza, York student, activist and president of the Palestine Solidarity Collective.

Register by Feb. 27 to join the fascinating discussion about an issue that impacts the entire community. For more information about the event, contact Melissa Falotico at gswsac@yorku.ca.

Your voice, York’s future: Sustainability Strategy consultations continue

Aerial Bergeron - Green Roof (July 2023)-1

York University is seeking continued feedback from students, faculty, instructors and staff to inform the renewal of the institutional Sustainability Strategy. Over the next few weeks, community members can provide their input in person or virtually to shape the University’s sustainability priorities and support its journey to become one of the most sustainable universities in Canada.

Sustainability is a core value of the University, and the Sustainability Strategy, planned to cover 2024 to 2030, is critical to ensuring York meets its bold sustainability commitments. Most recently, York announced its plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2040, a decade earlier than originally planned. Both the aspirational target and the renewed Sustainability Strategy will support the York community’s collective responsibility for environmental stewardship in a world increasingly burdened by the consequences of climate change.

“2023 is now being reported as the hottest year on record, with the global average temperature likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 11 months,” says Mike Layton, York’s chief sustainability officer. “The renewal of York’s Sustainability Strategy is an opportunity to build awareness, inspire lifelong commitment and catalyze action towards creating a more sustainable future.”

The community consultation process began in October 2023, when the Office of Sustainability began hosting workshops and open houses to engage all members of the York community. An option to share feedback via email or by survey was also made available. So far, more than 1,800 York community members have participated in the consultation process.

“After speaking in classrooms, boardrooms, departments and Faculty councils, and even by having conversations with students at tabling events, we’re impressed at the bold ideas that have been shared so far,” says Nicole Arsenault, program director, sustainability. “We’ve heard from students about food on campus, commuting and biodiversity. We’ve received feedback from staff on purchasing and energy use, and from faculty on research and teaching. We’re excited to continue gaining input from everyone – from every level of the University – to create an inspiring strategy with long-term impacts.”

To share feedback, all community members are encouraged to review York’s previous strategy and the Office of Sustainability website before providing feedback through the following channels:

Email the Office of Sustainability at sustainability@yorku.ca

Exhibit celebrates Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year dragon BANNER

York University’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics (DLLL) has mounted a Chinese New Year display as part of the World Cultures Celebrations initiative to appreciate and respect cultural diversities and festivals around the world.

Chinese New Year display
Chinese New Year display.

The Chinese Studies program is exhibiting artistic calligraphy, artifacts, drawings and narratives in the DLLL office, in S580 Ross Building, to present the traditions, customs and festivities of the holiday.

Chinese New Year celebrates the beginning of the Chinese lunar calendar to honour deities and ancestors. This festival is widely rejoiced in China and in Chinese diasporic communities around the world. Traditional customs include family reunion dinners, dragon or lion dancing, firecrackers, red envelopes, paper cutting and couplets with blessings of good health and fortune.

“The Chinese program organized the Chinese New Year display to enhance Chinese cultural literacy in the York community to destabilize stereotypes and to co-construct a multicultural society in Canada,” said Professor Jessica Tsui-yan Li, co-ordinator of the program. “This exhibition offered students valuable experiential education opportunities to explore the cultural meaning and practices of the New Year of the Dragon.”

Chinese language instructors Professor Gang Pan, Anna Hui Wang, Jenny Jing Zhang and Renee Rui Wang worked together with their students to put together the display, which is free and open to the entire York University community during business hours until Feb. 16.

Upcoming lecture looks at practice of evidence-based hope

Two hands holding black heart

The late professor David V.J. Bell, former dean of York University’s Faculties of graduate studies and environmental studies, had a passion, commitment and dedication to sustainability and education that left a lasting imprint on policymakers, educators and youth across Canada and abroad.

David V.J. Bell
David V.J. Bell

Honouring his legacy, the Annual Dr. David V.J. Bell Memorial Lecture is intended to help bridge the gap between research and what is practised in educational institutions by identifying Canadian thought leaders to share their insights on education for sustainable development as it applies to policy, teacher education and practice, and student empowerment.  

This year, the Fifth Annual Dr. David V.J. Bell Memorial Lecture, hosted by national charity Learning for a Sustainable Future in partnership with York’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change, features keynote speaker Elin Kelsey presenting a talk titled “How to be hopeful in a world of doom: the practice of evidence-based hope.” The virtual lecture will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

Elin Kelsey
Elin Kelsey

Kelsey is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies and Western Washington University’s School of Environment. She is also an award-winning author, speaker and thought leader for the evidence-based hope and climate justice solutions movement, helping people to believe that desired change is possible. Her work focuses on the reciprocal relationship between humans and the rest of nature, particularly in relation to the emotional implications of the narrative of environmental doom and gloom on children and adults

To register for the lecture, visit lsf-lst.ca/forms/dvj-lecture-registration. Details on how to join the session will follow.

For further information about the event, email elaine@LSF-LST.ca. To learn more about the keynote speaker, visit elinkelsey.org.

Researchers share findings that could lead to better cancer care

heart and stethoscope

One of the hallmark characteristics of many cancers is a debilitating body- and muscle-wasting condition called cachexia, which affects the way the body processes food and absorbs nutrients. New research from the Faculty of Health – overseen by Professor Olasunkanmi Adegoke and PhD student Stephen Mora ­– looks to better understand the syndrome by asking the question: why do cachectic patients have impaired ability to use nutrients?

Olasunkanmi (Ola) Adegoke
Olasunkanmi (Ola) Adegoke

Cachexia is caused by cancer itself (notably, the cancers of the lung, liver, pancreas, colon) and/or by treatment like chemotherapy. It results in significant weight loss, especially loss of muscle.

The condition’s associated body wasting is linked to poor food intake and loss of appetite, but even if patients do eat – introducing more nutrients and calories – the cachexia doesn’t go away. The condition not only can lead to poor quality of life for those affected but can impede effective treatment.

Adegoke and Mora’s research, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology, aimed to better understand the hows and whys of cachexia in the hopes of leading to improved treatment for cancer patients.

Stephen Mora
Stephen Mora

Their research project studied what happened to skeletal muscle cells, known as myotubes, treated with a clinically relevant chemotherapy drug cocktail. They noted profound atrophy of these cells. A link to poor levels of amino acid – the building blocks for body proteins and therefore the strengthening of muscles – in these cells led the researchers to add amino acids. There was no improvement.

In process, however, they did identify a protein whose abundance was drastically reduced in the muscle cells treated with the drugs. The function of this protein is to transport amino acids into the cell, where they can then be used to make body proteins. Adegoke and Mora then manipulated the muscle cells so they would have high amounts of this transporter. This led to a profound – and promising – rescuing of the cells treated with the chemotherapy drugs.

Adegoke and Mora hope their findings provide data that may lead to the development of interventions that can limit or prevent cancer-associated wasting syndrome.   

The research – which was funded by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada – builds upon Adegoke’s ongoing work, and expertise, in molecular mechanisms regulating skeletal muscle growth and metabolism.

Public matters: York partners on project advocating for public education systems

classroom with desks and chairs BANNER

York University has joined together with five other organizations to create the Public Education Exchange (PEX), an initiative to investigate the future of public education by making research more available, providing policymakers with valuable insights and engaging the public.

Sometimes organizations are formed from a single source of inspiration – an idea, a spark, a challenge, a singular moment or movement. PEX’s inception was not triggered by a single event, but a recent shift in public education.

Private actors – whether parents, religious institutions, businesses or other non-governmental organizations – have become increasingly involved in public education systems. In tandem, there has been the emergence of new policies and practices in public schools that risk undermining public education and exacerbating inequalities.

Sue Winton
Sue Winton

With this shift, information and dialogue is needed, but hasn’t always been available. PEX was created to help provide that.

“The decision to pursue the PEX came from the challenges I faced accessing research on education privatization across Canada and concerns about the possibility for accelerated privatization during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Sue Winton, the PEX project director, York Research Chair in Policy Analysis for Democracy and a professor in the Faculty of Education.

PEX is a collaboration between the University of Windsor, the University of Manitoba, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives. The joint effort secured funding from a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council Partnership Development Grant in the spring of 2023 to pursue its mission of connecting researchers, advocates, policymakers, and the public to foster dialogue and knowledge exchange. “It’s about making information accessible to everyone and creating spaces for meaningful conversations,” Winton asserts.

education-privatization-illustration
An infographic featured on the PEX website.

The initiative is still in its early stages, with plans to build a network of collaborators, researchers and advocates across the country, but it has already made notable progress. For instance, the project’s website serves as the online hub for the network and features information and resources. However, Winton envisions the PEX as more than just a website; it will be a dynamic network of individuals engaging through online webinars, in-person meetings and community-based dialogues.

Through these offerings, Winton explains, PEX will look to advocate for a robust public education system that prioritizes collective benefits over individual gains. “We believe in highlighting the successes and potentials of public education while pointing out the potential damage caused by privatization policies,” she says. “The focus is on fostering a system that embodies equity, reflects democratic values and prioritizes the collective well-being of society.

“I truly believe that by coming together and sharing our insights, we can shape a future where public education remains a cornerstone of our democratic society,” she adds.

York research looks to improve air quality prediction

York Jack Pine tower in Boreal forest banner

Mark Gordon, a professor in the Earth & Space Science & Engineering Department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, has dedicated the past five years to forest fieldwork to help create better air quality models that detect the detrimental impact pollutants may have on the environment.

Mark Gordon
Mark Gordon

In the summer of 2023, Toronto was briefly covered in a thick blanket of smoke due to pollution from wildfires in Quebec – causing the bustling city to have some of the worst air quality in the world. During that time, air quality models served as a crucial tool, helping people understand potentially harmful atmospheric conditions and adopt safety measures in the face of potential risks.

The experience served as a demonstration of how important air quality models – which some may have been unaware of until now – can be.

“Air quality models work in the same way weather models do,” says Gordon. “Just like a weather model can tell you when it is going to rain, these models allow us to understand air quality and inform necessary action.” Beyond this, air quality models are used to help control air pollution and monitor the impact of pollutants on natural ecosystems like grasslands and forests.

Gordon’s work looks to further the significance of air quality models by improving their accuracy to reflect real atmospheric conditions as closely as possible. “Getting air quality models right is crucial,” says Gordon. “Accurate models can help predict many things, like how pollutants from a newly implemented industrial site might impact nearby communities.”

To achieve this, physical and chemical properties and processes of various pollutants in the atmosphere need to be first measured and analyzed. Then, mathematical and numerical techniques are used to simulate the collected data and create or improve air quality models.

In a recently concluded project funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada, Gordon has looked to do just that.

He and his graduate students Kaiti (Timothy) Jiang, Xuanyi Zhang and Dane Blanchard measured pollutant emissions – emphasizing those with greatest impact on climate, vegetation and natural ecosystems – from the Athabasca oil sands region in northern Alberta to examine how pollutants interact with the nearby boreal forest. Measurements were also compared with values used in existing air quality models to validate their accuracy.

From left to right: Kaiti (Timothy) Jiang (MSc 2018), Xuanyi Zhang (MSc 2020) and Gordon standing in front of the York Athabasca Jack Pine tower.
From left to right: Kaiti (Timothy) Jiang, Xuanyi Zhang and Gordon standing in front of the York Athabasca Jack Pine tower.

A 100-foot retractable tower, the York Athabasca Jack Pine tower, was erected in the boreal forest, equipped with tools to measure the concentration of the pollutants and used to examine their activity as well as their physical and chemical properties. In particular, the team looked to investigate how fast the surrounding forest takes the pollutants out of the air.

After five years of fieldwork in a remote forest, countless hours of research and a few encounters with bears, Gordon and his research team published three unique papers, each focused on one of the three distinct and harmful pollutants: aerosols, sulfur dioxide and ozone.

The trilogy of investigations resulted in insights that can help improve the accuracy of existing air quality models and support further studies. The goal is that in others drawing on Gordon and his team’s information and air quality model algorithms, inaccuracies of current air quality models can be corrected to reflect real-world conditions and establish more precise models.