Past Talks 2022 - 2023

Professor Ann Shteir: "Women and Plants: A Fruitful Topic" (Winter 2023 Forum #5 Summary)

Professor Ann Shteir

Our brush with botany came early. Remember those primary school drawing lessons, the collections of native field flowers, the glorious autumn leaves pressed in waxed paper?

Those who took it a step further, who were hungry for a deeper scientific understanding, then worked harder and longer to discover and achieve, despite societal obstacles, are the subjects of Professor Ann Shtier’s research and teaching. As Professor Emerita and Senior Scholar in gender, feminist, and women’s studies at York University, she concentrates on digging deeper into the questions surrounding women and their relationship to science.  A book she recently edited, ‘Flora’s Fieldworkers: Women and Botany in Nineteenth Century Canada’ is a collection submitted by fifteen authors.

In the name of Flora, goddess of flowers, Shtier has undertaken to shine a light on these Canadian fieldworkers, accomplished botanists, who could otherwise fade into obscurity.

In an engaging talk at the Forum, Shtier highlighted the lives of a few prominent 19th C women botanists whose contributions have stood the test of time.

Catharine Parr Traill, an Englishwoman who settled in Canada, labored throughout her long and busy life extensively collecting and recording botanic specimens. ‘Canadian Wild Flowers’, illustrated by her niece Agnes Fitzgibbon was published, through 4 editions, and today forms part of the collection at the Thomas Fisher Library.

Christian Ramsay, Lady Dalhousie, a Scottish botanist and natural historian, collected and catalogued extensive lists of Canadian botanic specimens. She had several plants named after her, and created outstanding gardens while in Canada, then on her return to Britain.

Shtier believes there is a large body of scientific work created by women, that needs to be located and shared. The accumulated knowledge and experience of Indigenous women is yet to be explored, for example. She stressed the importance of gathering a more inclusive history of Canada’s women botanists and their contributions.

This is the work of historians and scientists and the topic of poets. Tennyson, of Victorian vintage, said “Women are God’s flowers.”  Not the wilting variety, we learned today.

by Laura Hill

 

Jan Wong: "My Half Century with China: Reflections from the Cultural Revolution to COVID to Xi Jinping" (Winter 2023 Forum #4 Summary)

Jan Wong

The timing couldn’t have been better. At the moment the House of Commons was embroiled in arguments over China’s alleged tampering in Canadian elections and as international concerns were growing about whether it would arm Russia in its war against Ukraine, Jan Wong provided her unique perspective on the last 50 years of Chinese history in ALLTO’s fourth winter forum.

Wong, of course, was the Globe and Mail’s Beijing correspondent from 1988 to 1994, so she was there for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But she was also there during the Cultural Revolution in 1972. Then, as a 19-year-old McGill student majoring in Asian studies, she travelled alone to the People’s Republic of China and talked her way into a spot at Peking University. She was one of only two Westerners to study in China during the Cultural Revolution.

She was a third-generation Chinese Canadian who, at the time of her first visit, spoke no Chinese languages.

She recounted these experiences in her books Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now (1997), Jan Wong's China: Reports from A Not-So-Foreign Correspondent (1999), and Beijing Confidential: A Tale of Comrades Lost and Found (2007).

In her presentation, she braided her own experience of the country with Chinese history and politics over the last half-century. But of greater interest were her thoughts on current geopolitical concerns - even though she said she’s been consistently wrong in her predictions on the country’s future directions:

Interference in Canadian elections: Wong said that when she was at the Globe and Mail, she heard about China’s interference in our elections, actively aiding one Chinese-Canadian candidate over another based on how outspoken each was about China’s record in human rights, for example. Having friends in the Canadian House of Commons can only be helpful to China, whether it be for business reasons such as avoiding a boycott of TikTok, or political, such as protecting its interest in Taiwan. “Interference in the election isn’t the issue,” she said. “They’ve got their foot in the door and we have no way to monitor this.” Canadian MPs should be working for only their constituents, and not for foreign governments, she added.

Will China arm Russia in its war in Ukraine: Wong said she thinks that is unlikely because of the centuries-old enmity between China and Russia. But she said she also thinks that Xi Jinping likes the Ukraine war because it’s weakening both Russia and the U.S. – although he may be shocked at how widespread global support is for Ukraine. China probably wants Russia to succeed – in part, because it’s a test case for China’s designs on Taiwan. But it doesn’t want Russia to get too powerful.

Covid: Just before her talk, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it believes the SARS CoV-2 virus emerged as the result of a laboratory accident rather than from transmission to humans from an animal host. And a few days before, the U.S. Department of Energy also said it felt the virus was the result of a lab leak in Wuhan, but reached that conclusion with only a “low level of confidence.” Wong, ever the journalist, said “low level of confidence” was the same as “a big maybe,” and wouldn’t merit a newspaper story.

China reacted differently than the West did to the emergence of Covid, with a zero-Covid policy including a mandatory lockdown. But its vaccination efforts were limited and the country was wedded to its home-grown Sinovac vaccine, which was found to be effective against the original Covid virus, but much less so against later variants. The government has since abandoned its zero-Covid policy but is failing to accurately count cases of infection and disease, Wong said.

Population decrease: Early this year, China reported its first population decline since the early 1960s, marking the beginning of what is expected to be a long period of population decline. Wong attributed that largely to the one-child policy that was in effect from 1980 to 2016. It produced “onlies” who became pampered, self-centred  “little emperors” who decided that to have children of their own would be too great a hassle and a financial burden. Add a Covid-related economic downturn to the picture, and a pressing question is who is going to look after seniors.

By Terry Murray

 

Michael Layton: "Personal Reflections Reaching Net Zero Housing Standards" (Winter 2023 Forum #3 Summary)

Michael Layton and Family

This forum presented Mike Layton’s personal reflections on reaching net zero housing standards. Mike is now devoting much of his time to energy savings issues with respect to climate change.

Mike gave an inspiring talk about how he and his family have converted their century-old Toronto house from a fossil fuel guzzler scoring 134 on its first energy audit to an impressive score of 22.

He outlined the eight steps it took to reach their goal of stepping off the fossil fuel bandwagon. He assured us that there are several financial assistance programs that can make this transition feasible for most homeowners. The first step is to get an energy audit done to establish a baseline.  Various suggestions are made through this audit regarding what can be done to better your score. Mike`s house score of 134 was not very good!

The next step, number 2, was to add insulation to the outside walls and in the attic, then, 3, replace the single-pane windows with better-fitting double-glazed panes. The doors needed upgrades too. A significant step, 4, was to install an air heat pump, which provides both heating in winter and air conditioning in summer. On all but the coldest days this system only needs some auxiliary direct electric heating, part of the installed system,  to keep the house warm. Step 5 is to replace the hot-water system with an on-demand hot-water supply that can take advantage of warm basement heat via the technology of a heat pump. Next, number 6, was the change of the gas stove top to an electric induction system.  Mike showed the benefits of this by saying how remarkably quickly the stove could bring a pan of snow to a rolling boil. He also pointed out how safe it was for his daughters to use as the surface does not get hot. Next, a big-ticket item, 7, was to install solar panels on the roof. Some of any excess energy can be sold back to the grid or stored in a battery wall repurposed from a Tesla car battery.  This battery can be used for household needs and provides a nice insurance of having power for essentials in the event of a power outage.

All this work led to the impressive final energy audit of 22, and a very livable abode.

Mike ended his talk with some financial data, showing that his overall cost was about $57,000 after a roughly $8,000 government rebate. He then outlined some successful measures that are being taken in the city to enhance our progress towards an energy-efficient environment for us all.

There followed a lively Q and A session, which provided us with more insights into how we can attain some of our goals towards energy sustainability.

by Linda Tu

Cathy Crowe: "Dying for a Home: The Chronic Crisis of Homelessness and Housing in Canada" (Winter 2023 Forum #2 Summary)

Cathy Crowe closeup and march for housing for all.

Cathy Crowe, a long-time “Street Nurse” who works in the area of social justice nursing, presented some important and timely issues in an Academy Winter forum at Tartu College. Her background in nursing homeless people, as well as advocacy, writing, and filmmaking, have provided her with significant insights which she shared in a very visual presentation.

Homelessness is indeed a crisis in Canada, one which governments need to address much more aggressively. Cathy said that 8 million people in Canada are in a “precarious” position with respect to housing and 235,000 people are actually on the streets. She felt homelessness deserved to be considered a “national disaster”, given not just the deaths due to extreme cold or heat of street people, but also the quality of life of people forced to live in cardboard boxes or ravine tents or on top of subway grates.

One significant quote was that “homelessness is de-housing”. Cathy suggested that Canadian governments have not just ignored the plight of the homeless, but also have acted to disadvantage them even further. Two significant social welfare programs came into being after World War II: Medicare and a National Housing Program. The housing program lasted from 1945–1993 with 20,000 units built per year. Calculation would suggest that, at that rate, the 30 years since have resulted in a deficit of 600,000 affordable houses.

Homelessness can occur as a consequence of economics, personal or natural disasters, war or strife, and systemic policies. Systemic policies that affect homeless people include cancelled programs, closed shelters, laws that criminalize street people’s activities, defunding of emergency supplies, and replacement of publicly-funded programs with charity. Toronto mayors have been complicit in all of these policies.

Cathy identified a number of “hotspots” in the plight of the homeless: insufficient city shelters and respite sites with poor conditions (people crammed together with inadequate personal protection), destruction of encampments and informal shelters, disease (including TB, Strep A, bedbugs, and influenza), insufficient provision for families and children, hate and discrimination (resulting in abuse and even murders), and deaths among the homeless (lately 12–15 per month in Toronto).

She suggested that homelessness during the early days of COVID became a “social X-ray” highlighting the inequities in the system. Public services shut down but the homeless were still on the street, libraries where they could get warm or use telephones were closed, proper masks were unavailable, and people in shelters were given bunk beds with minimal separation.

What can we do? Cathy suggested a three-pronged approach from members of the public: donation to agencies that help people directly on the street, donation to organisations “upstream” that try to influence government policy, and advocacy in the form of letters, phone calls and emails to city councillors, MPPs and MPs. One specific current issue is the fight to keep warming stations open.

The discussion after Cathy’s presentation covered a number of issues: the role of advocacy, the possibilities for “little” housing as a partial solution, whether there should be a legal right to shelter in Canada, and how the social system needs to deal with the fraction of the homeless with mental health issues.

There are perhaps 30–40 “street nurses” in Toronto, all of whom are acting as volunteers and have other jobs to support them. Cathy herself has actively treated people in need of care but also has been a strong advocate dealing with the underlying issues. Her activism has taken many forms: marches, inquiries, direct action, blogs and website information. She showed some disturbing “secret camera” pictures within shelters, secret because photography and videography is generally banned.

As a rich source of further information, Cathy made reference to three books that she has authored or edited:  Dying for a Home: Homeless Advocates Speak Out, Displacement City: Fighting for Health and Homes in a Pandemic, and A Knapsack Full of Dreams: Memoirs of a Street Nurse. In addition, much of this powerful presentation and considerably more information, images, and videos can be found on Cathy’s website, www.cathycrowe.ca.

by Don Plumb

 

Linda Woodcock and Sharyn Salsberg Ezrin: Presenting our Presenters (Winter 2023 Forum #1 Summary)

Linda Woodcock

Linda Woodcock

Sharyn Salsber Ezrin

Sharyn Salsberg Ezrin

As usual, the two chosen presentations were definitely up to our expectations.

The presenters and their topics were:

Linda Woodcock on ‘The Sky’s the Limit – Dark sky events in Canada’

From: Oh the Places You’ll Go! – Travel Ideas workshop.

Sharyn Salsberg Ezrin on ‘Leonard Bernstein’

From: Celebration of Song workshop.

Linda took an interesting approach to the presentation as it was an imagined trip to see the dark sky events that have occurred recently. The first stop was to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park to see a total eclipse of the moon which is on the lands of the Blackfoot people.  Linda told us of the traditional celebrations for the Beaver moon (also called the Grandmother moon) of Algonquin people. The ceremonies took place at Chedoke Creek near Hamilton.  The northern lights are particularly fascinating, even though the temperature can be 38 degrees below freezing way up north. Unfortunately,  Linda was not able to show a short video of them near Yellowknife.

Meteor showers can be spectacular but you need an area for viewing that is free of light pollution.  Such an area has been established at Mont Megantic Observatory in Quebec.  In early December the Geminid shower can be observed.  Nearer to home this shower could have been seen in the Torrence Barrens Dark Sky Reserve in Muskoka which was established in 1999.  On December 21 the winter solstice can be celebrated almost anywhere, but if you can go to one of the ancient stone henges you should go there at this time. There is a particularly dramatic one in Northern Ireland designed to catch a dramatic view of the sunrise. Linda ended with a quote -  "Once you have tasted the 'taste' of sky, you will forever look up`` - Leonardo da Vinci.

In the second presentation Sharyn introduced us to Leonard Bernstein, (In his introduction of Sharyn, the workshop`s facilitator, Paul Nash, made sure that we knew that Leonard`s last name rhymes the stein of the beer parlour). Sharyn told us that Leonard started his television career with The Young Peoples’ concerts in 1958.  He was a conductor, composer and educator.  Sharyn delighted in telling us about Leonard`s great personality and showed pictures of his family.  On the darker side, he was ostracized for being gay, and for his strong support of black musicians such as Louis Armstrong and was investigated by the FBI.

We were entertained by three videos that showcased Leonard`s prodigious skills in the world of music and education. For example, one of the videos showed Veronica Tyler, a soprano with a young musicians` group who sang the aria from La Boehme.Here is the link to the video with Louis Armstrong that we were unable to see: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xleysx

The final video was a super-cut of the original West Side Story (1961), for which Leonard worked with Stephen Sondheim, juxtaposed with the new version of 2021.  It is a fascinating technical display of the synchrony between the two performances. Sharyn ended by saying the Leonard Bernstein is an American Original.

Both presentations were excellent, but there were some technical glitches.  Mandy Thompson, Chair of the Talks Committee, spoke to me about working on the issues that occurred at this session. She apologizes for the issues and has stated that this session was a learning session for the committee. In future they will ensure that dry runs take place to sort out any software glitches and connectivity issues. Also, the buzzing in the sound system is being investigated by Tartu. She thanks everyone for their patience as they work to bring quality to these Forums.

by Linda Tu

 

Dr. Harold Troper: "None Is Too Many - Thoughts Forty Years Later" (Fall 2022 Forum #5 Summary)

It was a book that many publishers rejected, convinced that a history of Canada’s refusal to help European Jews in a time of absolute peril would never recoup its costs. Fortunately, Malcolm Lester, of the publishing company Lester, Orpen & Dennys, understood that it told a story Canadians needed to know, and four decades later, None Is Too Many is still considered one of our nation’s most important books.

According to Professor Harold Troper, its creation was something of a fluke. It had never occurred to him that our past had such a dark side until a graduate student reported finding a file in the archives that might interest him. That file contained information about Canada’s response to the voyage of the St. Louis, the ship that left Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, carrying hundreds of people desperate to escape the Nazis. Like every other nation in the Western hemisphere, Canada flatly refused to accept any of the refugees.

The subject would make an interesting article, he thought, but it would require an understanding of political processes and personalities, for which he had no background. To cover that side of the story, he enlisted the help of fellow historian, Irving Abella. Once they began to comb the archives, they discovered a far more substantial body of sources. Their intention morphed from an article into a book, one which would document the Canadian government’s approach to European Jewry up to the outbreak of the war. At that point, they reasoned, surely attitudes must have changed. It took more time and research for them to realize that, in fact, saving Jews was never a wartime goal. Anti-Semitism remained ingrained in Canadian policy until well after the war ended, so the scope of their research expanded yet again.

Once published in 1982, the book became an immediate success. Professor Troper attributes its reception to the fact that at the time, the Vietnamese refugee program was at its height. None Is Too Many could be read as a marker of how much more enlightened the nation had become.

Professor Troper’s talk was engaging throughout, but perhaps its emotional peak was an anecdote he told about receiving a phone call from a stranger shortly after the book’s release. The caller explained that before the war, she had tried desperately to obtain visas to Canada for close relatives. She had failed, her loved ones had perished in the camps, and she had felt guilty ever since for not doing enough to save them. The book had made her realize, as Professor Troper affirmed in their conversation, that her efforts never had a chance of succeeding. Nothing could assuage her sense of loss, but there was absolutely no reason for her to feel guilty. This was, said Professor Troper, the most important review of the book he has received.

Another thought-provoking moment came in the Q and A, with a question posed by Linda Tu. How will Canada respond, she wondered, when global warming and rising seas create millions of climate change refugees? Alas, Professor Troper could not say.

by Keith Walden

 

Alexis Kane Speer and Anjuli Solanki: "Enriching Communities With Public Art" (Fall 2022 Forum #4 Summary)

Alexis Kane Speer speaker for the Fall Forum 4 on November 9, 2022.

Alexis Kane Speer

Anjuli Solanki Speaking at Fall Forum 4 on November 9, 2022.

Anjuli Solanki

This forum featured the work of STEPS Public Art. This organization works to engage and empower artists and communities in transforming public spaces into vibrant places. Alexis KaneSpeer, the Founding and Executive Director, and Anjuli Solanki, the Director of Community Programming, gave an engaging, informative and very visual presentation.

STEPS (Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space) has received numerous awards for their programs, including the National Culture Days Innovative Event Award, the NXT City Prize and Imagination Catalyst Best Social Enterprise Award. Since 2011, they have produced more than 300 public art installations as well as providing hundreds of artist and youth leadership opportunities.

Alexis and Anjuli started by talking about what public art is -- art created for the public but in many forms, whether the political wall graffiti of Banksy or the whimsical sculpture of a girl facing a bull on Wall Street or the huge silvery “bean” in Chicago. Murals and sculptures integrated into architecture can also qualify as street art. All are intended at their best to evoke an emotional response in the viewer.

The organization’s website, https://stepspublicart.org/, shows many of the colourful and creative installations that they have produced. In all, they have tried to incorporate central guiding principles represented by six key verbs: connect, engage, transform, build, exchange and celebrate. The artists must connect to the community and become familiar with it in some way. If the artists are not residents, they undergo an education/ familiarization process so that the work they produce is meaningful to the community. STEPS strives to engage with the community through surveys and meetings during the planning stages. For example, over 200 local residents had input into the design of the huge wall mural at St. Clair and Yonge. Many projects are created to transform the neighbourhood. For example, painted construction
hoardings and the Roncesvalles pedestrian bridge over the Gardiner have improved bleak industrial landscapes. The projects seek to build capacity in the artists. For example, painting of hoardings by students increases not only their skills as painters but also the mentoring abilities of the artist. Finally, STEPS creates public events in which artists and community members exchange ideas in learning about the art after completion. The public events, often with entertainment, allow the artists and community to celebrate the achievement.

STEPS had a response to COVID different from many other organizations: they scaled up instead of down. They more than doubled their staff, budget and number of projects as well as expanding from Toronto mainly to nine provinces. COVID had created a huge need in the artistic community as income fell and galleries became unavailable. However, street art offered an opportunity. Their Main Street Recovery program produced 434 sites involving 120 artists in the two years following. They produced art not just on public streetscapes, notably in Brampton and Toronto Chinatown (see the aforementioned website), but also in stairwells and interior spaces in partnership with Tridel and BMO.

Overall, Alexis and Anjuli provided an optimistic and engaging presentation. They encouraged Academy members not only to explore their website, but also to download their free, highly visual app. The STEPS Public Art app allows you to find installations near you, visit faraway projects virtually, learn about the projects and artists, and go on self-guided walking tours.

by Don Plumb

The Academy Debate (Fall 2022 Forum #3 Summary)

Debate Presenters and Moderator

Mandy Thomson introduced the topic: “Be It Resolved that Canada is essentially a Centrist country,” centrist defined as “Adherence to moderate political views; careful avoidance of any political position that could be construed as too far right or left.”

Frank Richmond and Vivienne Monty argued in support, Patricia Cross and Sue Kralik opposed, and Linda Tu moderated.At the beginning of the debate, 27 were in favour, 4 opposed, and 5 undecided.

Frank opened by emphatically stating that in order to reach this conclusion it is necessary to compare Canada to the rest of the world and most importantly to the USA.  He set a high bar with a ten-point argument that Canada is a centrist country because:

  • Canada does not have a ‘Monroe doctrine’ on foreign policy. It has never told another country how to govern or attempted to overthrow another country. When it recently had a dispute over an island with Denmark, the two countries agreed to share it.  2) Corporate electoral spending is prohibited. 3) Voting here is easy whereas in the US rights are being stripped away. 4) Our Supreme Court is independent. 5) We have gun laws. 6) Abortion and a woman’s right to choose is no longer a political issue. 7) Religious freedom: we do not persecute the religious. 8) We do not criminalize same-sex intimacy. Nor is it a political issue. 9) Same sex marriage - our government has no involvement in the bedrooms of the nation. 10) We do not have a government that denies climate change.

Overall, Canada does not take positions associated with the Far Right or the Far Left. He concluded that Canada is not only a centrist country but arguably the most centrist of all centrist countries, except maybe New Zealand.

Pat’s passionate rebuttal focused on the present – that as of this moment, 2022, Canada is an angry country on a rightward drift. She sighted Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s support for the ‘Freedom Convoy’ that wanted to throw out the government, and his intention to get rid of  the governor of the Bank of Canada. She went on to point out that Danielle Smith, the present premier of Alberta, is not going to let her province follow the federal laws. Pat brought down the house when she stated the “Doug Ford is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” But he is astute enough not to testify at the inquiry into Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act. She also stated that we as a country shut our eyes to residential schools, to stolen Indigenous land. We are afraid of famine, climate change and the threat of nuclear war – and this makes us angry. Therefore, we are not centrist.

Sue supported Pat by sighting the verbal assault that was perpetrated against Christia Freeland in Edmonton as an indication of how much the anger is rooted in conspiracy theories that thrive in the social media. The assaulter ranted that  Trudeau was part of a conspiracy that involved the World Economic Forum. “Lest we assume that these rantings are confined to a fringe group,” Sue argued, “Pierre Poilievre has taken aim at the federal policy proposal on fertilizer, the subject of rampant misinformation.”

“Anger,” she went on to state, “can lead to progress, but perpetual anger erodes the foundation of democracy by creating divisiveness, lack of trust and the undermining of tolerance. The result is extremism.”

Vivienne started her rebuttal by quoting the scholar Larry Diamond, who stated “a culture of democracy is also a culture of moderation.”  She also noted that according to a national survey, 70% of Canadians would hold an openly negative view of a politician who supported the trucker protest. Arguing against Pat’s ‘at this moment’  opposition, Vivian took a more historical perspective, stating that what happens today is not  necessarily what happened for the last hundred plus years. Our constitution holds that power should be shared and by that definition makes provincial and federal governments compromise and makes it more centrist, as does our multiparty system. We are ruled more by issue politics than by party politics.   We have a Senate, we can’t gerrymander and we’re number 7 in the world on the Democracy Index.

There were several questions from the floor, among them the following -

Sheilagh Hickie asked the Opposition why they focused on Anger as those problems are part of every democracy. Pat emphasized that their side was arguing in the moment as in “this year, we’re not centrist.” Frank’s response that the fact that the Americans think we’re socialist is proof that we’re a centrist country solicited the best laugh of the afternoon. Vivienne solicited more laughter by quoting Marshall McLuhan, “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.”

Karen Melville reminded the room that the price of democracy is eternal vigilance; that we just had a (municipal) election where the turnout was only 29%; and that if we don’t address the issues that make us angry, that’s when our country will sink.

Sue’s Opposer summation reiterated the success of the Freedom Convoy, the support of Pierre Poilievre, and that Canada developed elements of political extremism as a result of world circumstances as well as national ones. Isolation during pandemic lockdown led to more time spent online and Canadians were among the most active in online rightwing extremism. Resistance to vaccinations The anger and fear are not going away.

In Vivienne’s summary in support of the resolution, she noted that historically there were lunatic fringes.  But as a country we always veered towards the centre.  Our healthcare system, our social programs, the way we vote have always provided that balance. Richard Wagner, the head of our Supreme Court, said, “We are not politicians. We are equal but different. We are meant to keep each other in balance.” Frank added in closing, “The fact that we view Alberta politicians, conspiracy theories and the Truckers Convoys as being fringe, that’s the proof the country is in the centre, that we’re centralists because we view all these as fringe players.”

In the end 28 voted pro, 4 remained con. The pros won. It was a very enjoyable afternoon. Thanks to Mandy Thomson and her team.

by Matthew Segal

Presenting the Presenters (Fall 2022 Forum #2 Summary)

As it turned out, the two offerings at the Presenting the Presenters Fall Forum were surprisingly complementary. Barrie Wilson’s discussion of the film, Profile, and Don Plumb’s explanation of non-fungible tokens both dealt with the mystery of human desire.

Profile, first released in 2018, was inspired by the experience of a French journalist who was assigned the investigation of online recruiting of young women by the terrorist organization, ISIS. In real life, she had a steady job and was on the verge of moving in with her boyfriend, but after only a few days of posing as a potential convert, she was prepared to get on a plane bound for Syria. The film version of the story places the heroine in London rather than Paris, but accurately depicts the methods of seduction used to lure her. She succumbs to declarations of eternal love by her social media confidant, combined with promises of an idyllic suburban life in a caring community - expectations that are abruptly shattered on arrival. The director, Timur Bekmambetov, tells the story almost exclusively through internet screen shots, a technique that is low-budget, Covid-safe, fast-paced and true to the way people now communicate. Sadly, the film is also true to contemporary life. According to Barrie, by 2018, over 5,000 women had been lured to Syria, victimized by their own gullibility and feelings of alienation, as well as ISIS lies.

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, another product of computer wizardry, are digital files, marked in a way that makes them unique, and protected by block chain technology that makes hacking virtually impossible. Paintings, video clips, songs, sound bites – all these sorts of things can be recorded as digital files. When marked at NFTs, they become one-of-a-kind works of art or collectables, not very different, in Don’s view, from something like an exceedingly rare sports card. For techno-peasants like me, the mystery of NFTs begins with the processes of digital file compression and the block chain concept, subjects that Don thankfully avoided. Instead, he focused on the mystery of why purchasers are willing to spend thousands, in some cases millions, of dollars for images and sounds that are often available for free in virtually indistinguishable form. A painting by the American artist known as Beeple is a case in point. In 2021, an NFT version sold for 69 million dollars. It doesn’t exist in tangible form and anyone with access to the internet can see what it looks like.

For Don, NFTs have some positive aspects. They provide artists with a new way to market their work, and they expand the kind of art available. On the other side, they are susceptible to counterfeiting, their production requires a lot of energy, and they amplify the gross disparities of wealth in contemporary society. The willingness and ability of a few one-percenters to pay exorbitant amounts for intangible baubles perhaps helps to explain the alienation that fed the ranks of ISIS.

Both presentations were artfully delivered in an engaging, conversational style. As usual, the Talks Committee chose well.

by Keith Walden

The ‘New’ Cold War? U.S., Russia and China, and the International Order Today (Fall 2022 Forum #1 Summary)

Are we in the midst of a new Cold War, or did the old one never really end? Although academics love to debate such matters, suggests Arne Kislenko, the question of the proper label is peripheral to the fact that people are dying right now as a result of great power rivalries.

The Talks Committee could not have been more prescient in choosing this topic to launch the new season of Academy Forums. Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in his war against Ukraine, made just last week, revives the kind of anxieties that most of us can probably remember from the 1950s and 60s. What better guide than Professor Kislenko to elucidate the circumstances that seem to be returning us to a brink long considered abandoned. A member of the History Department at Toronto Metropolitan University, specializing in International Relations, he is an engaging speaker who wears his erudition lightly. No wonder he has won
numerous teaching awards.

So, what did we learn? There are now continuities and differences from the old Cold War. The potential for nuclear disaster, the abundance of proxy wars, the continuing strength of the nation state – these are very much the same as before, but in fundamental ways the world situation has changed. Ideology is no longer a battleground. The economy has become global. American power is in decline and Chinese power in assent.

According to Professor Kislenko, the recent history of Russia is a good starting point to understand where we are today. In the West, the fall of the Berlin wall and the dismantling of the USSR under Gorbachev were celebrated as triumphs. The Cold War was over. The Soviets had lost. Russians never saw it that way, but they did endure a period of economic collapse and psychological trauma as they adjusted to the loss of world power status. Under Yeltsin, ordinary people despaired of a promising future, paving the way for the emergence of Putin, a hitherto unknown bureaucrat in the state security apparatus. Putin’s grip on power has been cemented
through the ruthless elimination of rivals and critics, as well as popular approval for his success in restoring Russian greatness at home and abroad. He has also been helped by the stunning ineptness of recent American leadership.

Meanwhile, China, the third great player on the contemporary world stage, continues to flex its muscles. Like Putin, Xi Jinping has courted popular support by promising to avenge past national humiliations, and like Putin, he has been assertive in extending domestic territorial claims. Still, with slowing economic growth and increasing international resistance to its aggressive insistence on playing by its own rules, China may not be as stable as it seems.

As Talks Committee Chair, Mandy Thompson remarked, in forty-five minutes, Professor Kislenko provided the equivalent of an entire university course, and he did so with brilliance, lucidity and humour. I hope he is invited back.

by Keith Walden

UNDRIP Implementation in Canada: Completing Decolonization (Spring 2022 Talk #5 Summary)

One of the foremost experts on Canada’s constitutional, aboriginal and judicial politics, Peter Russell has had a distinguished career as a political scientist and prolific author. Russell was chair of the Research Advisory Committee for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and presently serves as Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Innis College, University of Toronto. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada. His latest book is Sovereignty: The Biography of a Claim (UTP 2021).

The purpose of Professor Russell’s talk was two-fold: to introduce us to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a legally non-binding resolution; and to explain the “sovereignty” or more accurately the “sovereignties” of Canada’s First Nations.

The Declaration defines and delineates the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including their ownership rights to cultural and ceremonial expression, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

Their ownership also extends to the protection of their intellectual and cultural property and "emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations." It passed in 2007 by a vast majority of 144 in favour, 11 abstained and 4 voted against - Australia, New Zealand, United States and (yes) Canada.

There are over 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands in Canada and, according to Russell, 193 sovereign First Nations states, each with distinctive cultures, languages, art and music, so coming to a consensus on language was a bit of a hurdle. But the main reason for the Canadian government’s “nay” at the time was that while it supported the "spirit" of the declaration, the declaration contained elements that were "fundamentally incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework," which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Section 35, which enshrines aboriginal and treaty rights. In particular, the Canadian government had problems with Article 19, which requires governments to secure the consent of Indigenous peoples regarding matters of general public policy.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission listed ratifying UNDRIP as one of its national "calls to action." In 2016, Canada officially adopted and promised to implement the declaration fully. At the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Canada’s Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced, "We are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification. We intend nothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution.”

Bill C-15, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, was introduced to the House of Commons in December, 2020 and received royal assent on June 21, 2021 to become law. It would bring Canadian law into alignment with the UN resolution.

To be effective, Russell reminds us, sovereignty must be secured through force or consent by those living in a territory and accepted externally by other sovereign states. To be legitimate, the sovereignty claim must have the consent of its people and accord with international human rights.

Russell traced the origins of the sovereignty claim to Christian Europe and the attribution of sovereignty to God in the early Middle Ages. Transcending a narrow legal framework, he discusses sovereignty as a political activity including efforts to enshrine sovereignty within international law. While sovereignty can work well for small and vulnerable peoples, it cannot be the basis of a global order capable of responding to the major existential threats that threaten our species and our planet.

Peter Russell’s talk was a strong echo of his Innis College conversation with fellow political scientist, Professor Rob Vipond. Titled  An Unlikely Iconoclast: An Evening with Peter Russell, it is available on YouTube.

[Highly recommended]

by Matt Segal

If you attended Professor Russell’s talk, we would enjoy reading your feedback. Please send feedback to ouracademy2021@gmail.com.  

 

Ideas about Policing in Toronto (Spring 2022 Talk #3 Summary)

Susan Schwartz introduced our guest speaker, John Sewell, who is a well-known Toronto activist. He was a member of Toronto City Council 1969 -1984 and Mayor of Toronto 1979-1980.

John has strong opinions about policing. He began his talk by giving us some data about policing in general across Canada. He pointed out that Canadian cities, especially the eastern ones, are really very safe. Indeed, the crime rates have been falling since about 1990. In 2001, there were 105 violent crimes per 100,000 population and in 2018 there were 55/100,00 population. In Canada, there are between 152 and 223 police per 100,000 people (Toronto has 167). He said that the number of officers does not correlate well with the crime rate. On average, there is about one violent crime per year per officer. Officers on patrol duty also do not seem to be effective in stopping crime, yet the police spend about 2/3 of their time on patrol.

John was very critical of the Toronto Police Services Board, calling it “toothless”; for instance, the practice of carding and strip searches continued even though Ottawa had ruled against these practices. He blames the Toronto Police Association for lobbying against any changes in police practice in Toronto.

John has come up with seven points for the New Policing Agenda in Toronto:

  1. Pre-charge screening to minimize the number of cases that actually go to court.
  2. End the pay for officers who have been suspended. The Liberals under Kathleen Wynne might have done this, but the Conservatives under Doug Ford reversed this initiative.
  3. End the practice of two officers in a car after dark; one officer should be able to call for appropriate backup if violence is suspected.
  4. Disarm the police except, perhaps, special units.
  5. De-task the police in favour of including community agencies to deal with cases where mental health issues present themselves.
  6. Break certain aspects of police culture because, he said, it is a very stultified culture that is racist, sexist and violent.
  7. Study how police use their time. A study done in the 1970s has never been repeated as it was so embarrassing to the organization.

In conclusion he said that councillors and the public should address these issues with the Police Board and demand results.

The Q&A session provided many questions, ably moderated by Susan. For instance, a member asked why the Police Board is so “toothless”; John answered that the members don’t seem to listen; “it is like talking to a brick wall,” he said.

John continues his push for better policing with his most recent book, “Crisis in Canada’s Policing” and he is currently the co-ordinator of Toronto Police Accountability Coalition. He was awarded an Order of Canada in 2005.

by Linda Tu

 

Cities as Post-Covid Accelerators of Resilient, Inclusive Communities (Spring 2022 Talk #2 Summary)

Ken Greenberg, urban designer, active city-building advocate, author and teacher, is the former Director of Urban Design and Architecture for the City of Toronto. He gave an information-packed presentation that was overflowing with thought-provoking ideas. But that is what you would expect from someone who is still helping to shape the policies, community living and texture of the GTA. Ken was instrumental in creating more livable green space within the city, such as the Bentway under the Gardiner Expressway.

I volunteered to summarize this presentation as I co-facilitate “The Future of Cities” with Andris Rubenis. These short notes are a poor replacement for the visuals and data that Ken shared with the group, as well as the rich Q&A that took place after the presentation. These are some highlights:

General

  • Great cities are the crucibles where solutions can be found to problems, and we have some substantial ones to work on, particularly climate.
  • Cities already house 50% of the world's population. In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, it is more important that we create livable cities that are safe, multi-use, accessible and can accommodate a diverse population.
  • 21% of Canada’s population lives in the Golden Horseshow (GTA).
  • The pandemic exposed the good and the bad. Community spirit and green space helped many people survive the pandemic. Overcrowding in some city areas led to the rapid spread of infections.

Post pandemic solution

This is not a multiple choice; you have to address them all - densification, growth and affordability, resilience, inclusivity. In order to create a vibrant livable GTA that will be home to the brain-trusts that will help solve the coming crises, we need to do the following:

  • Wean ourselves off auto-dependence
  • Revive the commons
  • Develop cities as part of nature

Wean ourselves off auto-dependence

  • Since 1943, city development has been shaped by the automobile.
  • Our resulting sedentary lifestyle is affecting our health. This was documented by Toronto’s Medical Officer pre-pandemic. There is a high correlation between sedentary, automobile-centric neighbourhoods and chronic (and infectious) diseases including diabetes.
  • The suburbs that were built around the highway networks are generally isolated, using cars to go from one place to another. Families live parallel rather than the intersecting lives that are part of a community.
  • This led to two paradigms - the world where everything is isolated and car-dependent. And the other, returning to a mixed-use model where we commute more actively via walking and biking. We have to create more bike- and pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods.
  • The pandemic taught us we need to be close to nature, living within caring and enriching communities.

Revival of the commons

  • We need to work on the right kind of mixed-use densification where we create community. “It’s not just how dense you make it - it is how you make it dense.”
  • During the pandemic, strong multi-generational community sharing was just as important to recovery as access to local green areas.
  • We need to address the needs of all ages, all physical abilities from young children to the aging population to people with different levels of mobility, in close proximity to where they live, making these spaces available.
  • One of the real challenges we're facing is the way cyberspace is eating into real spaces. We want to overcome the isolating effects of cyberspace by creating collaborative spaces that encourage casual conversations and a strong sense of community.
  • Technologies now exist that allow planners to engage diverse communities at the planning stage. They can have discussions ranging from the visual representation for the pedestrian at ground level, debate on the optimal time for crosswalk signals, to support all levels of mobility, down to the support of the trees and shrubs planted on the pavements.

Cities as part of nature

  • Recent growth has been a consumer society completely out of control. We are seeing a generational shift to a sharing society.
  • The goal is to reduce the effects of climate change and create solutions.
  • We can tap into the healing power of nature - as we did during the pandemic, “growing more urban and more green at the same time.”
  • New developments are now making environmental areas central to their marketing plans instead of an afterthought.
  • Develop renewal projects around Toronto that are holistic, addressing the present and future issues raised by climate, while nurturing the community and neighbourhood.
  • Support the existing greenbelt.
  • We cannot block the waterways. We need creek-to-creek and green system connections.

We have the opportunity to help design the Golden Horseshoe into the kind of city that attracts and keeps great talent from cradle to grave. Our diverse gene pool is our greatest natural resource. Let’s all actively participate in that mission.

by Karena de Souza

The Yorkville Sounds (Spring 2022 Talk #1 Summary)

Dr. Mike Daley is a musician, musicologist, writer and freelance lecturer based in Toronto. He is writing a history of live music in the Yorkville district of Toronto in the 1950s and 60s. Joseph Bloor founded Yorkville Village, an independent village from 1853-1888, which was then annexed to Toronto in 1889. The village boundaries were west to Bedford Avenue, east to Sherbourne Street, north to Davenport Road and south to Bloor Street. There were numerous taverns in the area such as The Embassy and The Gaslight. In the 1950s citizens of this neighbourhood had a bylaw passed to stop the opening of more taverns and to encourage more coffee house openings. The coffee houses originated farther south at Gerrard and Bay Streets.

Some of these jazz and folk venues have recently been torn down. The Pilot Tavern on Cumberland is still open with live jazz Saturday afternoons; the Heliconian Club on Hazelton is open as a classical music venue. You can now see plaques where The Riverboat, The Penny Farthing and The Purple Onion used to be. Moe Koffman played jazz at the House of Hambourg. In 1959 Ian and Sylvia performed some of their songs, including “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon,” at the Village Corner. Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote her famous Vietnam protest anthem, “Universal Soldier,” at The Purple Onion. In 1966 Joni Mitchell wrote a tribute song to Yorkville, “Night in the City,” and on a return trip to Toronto she first performed at The Riverboat her most famous song, “Both Sides Now.” Neil Young appeared as a solo artist at one of The Riverboat's Hoot nights, then drove his hearse to L.A. He returned to Toronto in 1969 to perform again solo at The Riverboat. He paid tribute to this club in his song “Ambulance Blues.” Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot played The Riverboat.

The Riverboat was the most famous of all Yorkville's clubs, located at 134 Yorkville and owned by Bernie Fiedler, partner of Bernie Finkelstein, who managed many Canadian music acts. Finkelstein helped Bruce Cockburn make his name in the USA after the single “Wondering Where the Lions Are” became a hit in 1980.

In 1964 the British Invasion arrived with the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. The British galvanized the local record business and the popularity of the Beatles meant Capitol Records was looking for new acts. Toronto musicians were encouraged to adopt fake British accents. The music was changing from jazz, blues, R & B and folk to rock and roll.

The Sparrows, a Canadian blues rock band notable for bringing John Kay into the mainstream, moved to L.A. in 1966, reformed as Steppenwolf and had their first big hit, “Born to be Wild.” The Ugly Ducklings, Rolling Stone-influenced, ran Charlie Brown's club on Cumberland. Their 1966 record Nothin’ did not do well at the time, foreshadowing Punk Rock. Luke and The Apostles were playing El Patio and The Purple Onion. In 1965 they signed to the Elektra Label; their advocate at the label was arrested; they broke up in 1967 and never made it big. The band Kensington Market drew large crowds at Boris' Basement. At the Mynah Bird one could view go-go dancers gyrating in a glass booth. At the Friar's Tavern on Yonge Street, Jon and Lee & The Checkmates, blue-eyed soul, had a high intensity sound, a combined USA and UK sound that was fully maximized.

The dynamic music of Toronto in the 1950s and ‘60s established Yorkville as strong competition for New York's older and larger Greenwich Village. Yorkville was not just a grunge hangout.

Real estate speculators moved into Yorkville and most of the live music venues had moved by 1968,  killing the coffee house music scene. There had been 40 clubs featuring live music every night. Night after night the hippie superfreaks walked up and down the sidewalks, the bumper to bumper cars drove by with rubberneckers gaping at this strange scene. Dark times came when the bikers moved in and took over the drug scene!

Many thanks to Mike Daley and the Talks Committee for this entertaining and informative history, with accompanying videos, of The Yorkville Sound.

by Janet Broadley