Past Talks

Omar Akieleh, Policy Specialist at the Daily Bread Food Bank: "Fighting to End Hunger - the Present Food Crisis" on Wed., February 28, 2024 (Winter 2024 Forum #4 Summary)

Omar Akelileh

For our final forum of the season Omar Akieleh was introduced to us by Margaret Progovski. She told us that Omar has spent eight years as a policy specialist for the Daily Bread Food Bank. He is the coauthor of the Who’s Hungry report, which has been in publication for over two decades. The report is a call to action from a city in crisis.

Omar told us that the vision of the food bank is to end hunger in our city. The need to provide the services of a food bank has increased dramatically over the last decade. Indeed, there has been a 300% increase since 2019. Now there are 132 agencies and over 200 programs under the umbrella of the food bank.

One in 10 people in the city avail themselves of the service. People may come to the food bank once a week and they receive enough food for three days. New clients are arriving every year, 122,424 just last year. More people who use the food bank now live alone and may have a job (or 2) but still can’t make ends meet. The majority of users are Canadian citizens.   Insufficient income and the soaring cost of housing and groceries are the primary drivers of this need.

Omar said there are various programs in place to help clients, such as a transit discount. Many people are on a disability or old age pension, but this does not provide a living wage.

The call for action is directed at the government, which needs to do more for these clients who are in precarious life situations. Daily Bread does not receive government funding: it is supported by private donations.

As is usual for our forums there were many thoughtful questions and comments from the audience, for example, about the indexing of pensions, the source of fresh produce, Ontario basic income proposals and many others, which Omar answered expertly.

The websites for the Who’s Hungry report are dailybread.ca/whoshungry and northyorkharvest.com/whoshungry.  Here you will find the many facts and figures that Omar shared with us. To support the funding of the disabled pension one can visit fundthebenefit.ca.

by Linda Tu

Academy Debate: "Be It Resolved That AI Will Enhance Human Capacity to Learn" (Winter 2024 Forum #3 Summary)

Artificial Intelligence Debate Team 2024.

With suddenness, the wide-ranging and powerful possibilities of Artificial Intelligence have hit the front pages, thrilling some but not all. New developments in A.I. will drive its impact on education and on learning in general. With a combined total of 47 years in the Academy, four members debated this. (They created their own thoughts; not A.I.!).

Sheila McCook welcomed everybody and introduced the Forum. Virginia Clark  moderated the forum for Mandy Thomson and introduced the topic: “Be It Resolved that A.I. will Enhance Human Capacity to Learn.”

Enrique Biber and Carol Austin argued in support, Linda Tu and Ernie Fallen opposed. Before the debate, 33 were in favour, 14 against and 9 undecided.

Enrique started by saying it’s all about Human Learning: acquiring and retaining knowledge to enhance Peer Learning. It has a positive impact for doing research and can present fewer misconceptions for students. Less time can be spent on the administration of research by teachers; more time to spend with students. There are potential issues of bias and privacy that must be worked around.

Linda responded: the Human Capacity to Learn. Does A.I. enhance this? NO. Does A.I. enhance our brains? NO. Better to learn via effort and time to be smarter, not A.I. Students may not develop critical thinking via A.I. Linda quoted an example of a plane crash when the technology driving the plane broke down and the plane crashed because the people ‘operating’ it did not know what to do. We need human intellect.

For ALLTO learning, we need full attention and human intellect.

Carol commented that A.I. is a new, practical and most powerful tool for research. She gave a couple of examples like Health Care and Urban Planning where the use of data allows better, faster analysis and decisions. It does not eliminate the personal role, but allows people to focus on the data collected.

Ernie said “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.” Studies are biased, not random. There can be disinformation. Humans learn from feedback and experiences from other human beings.

A number of questions were raised by the audience, including:

  1. Are there benefits to A.I.? Linda: good for research, but does it change the capacity of humans to learn? Use your brain. Enrique: It enhances our capacity to learn; we progress.
  2. Have I learned from A.I.? Linda: Can consider A.I., but it does not enhance unless you study a lot; A.I. does not help you learn. Ernie: Critical thinking is the question: A.I. does not do this.
  3. Capacity versus learning? A.I. gets information, but how do students learn? It gathers data, but need to take action on it.
  4. Disadvantages? No creativity, must think outside the box. Enrique: A.I. will not replace creativity, but provides data as a starting point.
  5. We need a reason to learn; can A.I. motivate us? Why learn unless it’s necessary (e.g. why do I need to know how to cook?!)
  6. What are we talking about? Learning via ALLTO is better than A.I.!
  7. Bias, Disinformation, Ethics: How do we know? Enrique: there is a risk, but the software can often detect this, and it can be audited, based on algorithms.
  8. Capacity to Learn from A.I.? Linda: A.I. gives you new information, but you need to process and learn (i.e. Capacity).

In summary, Ernie commented on how comical it is to watch his grandkids using ChatGPT. Carol had a number of comments: We are on the cusp of a technology revolution. It is a tool for education and research. We have always developed tools; it is the latest. It’s a tool; it replaces mundane tasks and allows us to focus on critical thing. Will it diminish our cognitive capacity to learn?: NO. The question is: how quickly can we embrace it?

The final vote was 28 in favour, 22 against and 5 undecided. More CONS than PROS than before the debate.

A very entertaining afternoon. Thanks so much to Virginia, Enrique, Linda, Carol and Ernie.

By John Weatherburn

Moe Hosseini-Ara, Toronto Public Library’s Director of Branch Operations and Customer Experience: "How One of the Best Library Systems in North America Navigates Our Complex World" (Winter 2024 Forum #2 Summary)

Moe Hosseina Ara from Toronto Public Library.

How have the roles of our public library changed from providing just books on shelves to media in many forms and multiple community services? And, most recently, how has our library responded to a devastating cyberattack? An enthusiastic and thoughtful presentation by Moe Hosseini-Ara at a Tartu College Academy forum late in January provided some answers to these questions. Moe is the Director of Branch Operations and Customer Experience at the Toronto Public Library (TPL). As such, he is responsible for over 100 branches in the biggest, busiest public library in North America, one that 2/3 of Torontonians access every year.

Moe talked about fundamental questions for the TPL: who we are, what we do, and why we matter. He provided some remarkable statistics. On a typical day at the TPL, in rough numbers:

  • 100,000 people visit the library, half in person and half online
  • computer technology is accessed 25,000 times
  • 130 programs serve 3,000 participants
  • 90,000 items are borrowed
  • a Digital Innovation Hub is used 125 times for 3-D printing
  • 10 musical instruments and 10 sewing machines are used!

The TPL provides infrastructure that makes library branches hubs for the community, and has tried to create branches sensitive to community opinion and needs. During COVID, library staff stepped up and made a number of branches “pop-up” food bank depots. But, on a regular basis, library staff offer help that may not otherwise be available. Far from being just about access to books and media, for many people the library is the only place where they can access the Internet or find a computer and printer to produce a resume for a job. And the library is committed to providing cultural experiences in areas not normally served by discussion groups and activities.

Moe presented much detail and many slide graphics from various TPL strategic plans and studies. The TPL hopes to become even more relevant to help a wide range of people grow and thrive. Many issues remain as challenges to the system: safety and security in public spaces, improved access to technology, response to trends especially in America towards book banning and stifling of free speech, and, of course, the response to the October 28 cyberattack.

The cyberattack was described as part of a worldwide issue where, despite all reasonable precautions, the question was not if, but when an attack would occur. Indeed, the British Library was hit even more seriously the same day, by another so-called threat actor. At the TPL, staff HR files were compromised but no library client data was threatened. The TPL decided not to pay the ransom and has had to essentially reboot the system.  Meanwhile, however, the library has carried on. Since the attack, 1,700 TPL staff have manually checked out over 1,000,000 items. Remarkably, the library has added 17,000 new members during this time.

Moe’s presentation provided material for a lively question period in a number of areas:

  • the acquisition process tries to provide books and materials tailored to individual communities
  • author lectures continue at the Reference library
  • books can be donated to the TPL (Central Reference and North York Central). They do not join the regular collection but rather are sold through an organisation that last year earned the TPL $120,000
  • the TPL is working on having longer Sunday hours, but is constrained by budget limits
  • the library currently has two Bookmobiles with 28 stops in areas in the city lacking branches
  • the library’s $200 million budget is 95% provided by the city

In all, Moe’s obvious passion for his job and belief in the importance of the TPL to our city made his presentation interesting and informative.

by Don Plumb

Presenting the Presenters: "China in Space" by Helen Prislinger and "Oppenheimer" by Jim Lutz (Winter 2024 Forum #1 Summary)

Helen Prislinger and Jim Lutz.

The forum, held at Tartu on January 17, was one of our favourite events, Presenting the Presenters. As you know, we hold this event once each term to highlight exceptional presentations that have been nominated by a workshop facilitator for these forums.

This forum featured Helen Prislinger, who talked about “China in Space” from the China in the Evolving World workshop, and Jim Lutz, who spoke about “Oppenheimer: on the day the sun rose twice.” He is a member of the Extraordinary Lives workshop on biographies.

Helen opened her presentation with a diagram of Earth’s atmosphere and near space layers above the Earth showing where orbiting objects can be found. She told us that at least 70,000 such objects are up there. China sent up its first satellite in 1970. In the 1990s it collaborated with Russia, but in the 21st century it has forged ahead with its own program, launching a space station in 2011. The Chinese government engages in long-term goals, opening up private enterprises, and aspires to be the world leader in space. A project slated for 2049 is to launch a solar-powered energy collection device that could be a game changer for harnessing the sun’s power. The US has been particularly uncooperative in China’s progress in this field. Helen outlined some of the hazards for humans being in space; radiation and the proliferation of space debris certainly are risks that will be difficult to overcome.

Jim’s presentation on the life of Robert Oppenheimer was particularly timely as many of us have seen the recent film about Oppenheimer. Jim said he enjoyed the film and that it was reasonably accurate. The presentation benefitted from Jim’s considerable research on his topic as exemplified by the many archival pictures. Jim’s sensitive talk about his subject’s character and experiences brought the life and times of Robert Oppenheimer into an illuminating perspective for us.  Some of us have lived long enough to remember the dramatic story of the beginning of the atomic age.

The afternoon ended with a gracious thanks on our behalf by Margaret Prugovecki.

by Linda Tu

Presenting the Presenters: "Montreal’s Beaver Hall Group of Artists" by Sheila McCook and Stefan Hertmans’s "The Convert" by Fran Bleviss (Fall 2023 Forum #3 Summary)

Sheila McCook and Fran Bevis

“Presenting the Presenters” featured two very polished presentations, both involving topics of historical significance, one literary and one visual.

The Convert

Fran Bleviss delivered an interesting description of a historical romance novel, “The Convert,” written by Stefan Hertmans in 2016. The presentation had three main areas of focus: the history of a real scrap of a manuscript from the 11th century, which inspired the author to write the book, a fictional description of the three voyages that the main character followed, and an account of an imagined love story that formed the core of the novel.

The scrap of manuscript was one of over 300,000 documents found in an archeological investigation of the ruins of a synagogue in Cairo. Once pieced together, the documents in vellum, linen and parchment, provided an unparalleled view of life in medieval Europe. They included topics as diverse as childish scribbles, poetry and a shopping list. Most importantly to the author, one fragment was a document from a rabbi in Monieux, France offering safe passage to a Norman noblewoman.

In the novel, the author sees the heroine undertaking three major voyages: one fleeing with her Jewish lover from her Rouen home in northern France to Narbonne in the south; a second from Narbonne to Monieux, a safer refuge also in the south; and, a third from Monieux to Cairo. The core of the novel was the romance between the noblewoman and her rabbinical student lover. Fran’s enthusiastic endorsement of the novel was echoed by a number of the audience members who had read or were intending to read the book.

Beaver Hall Group of Artists

Sheila McCook delivered a highly visual presentation about the Beaver Hall Group of Artists who banded together in the 1920s to offer a Post-Impressionist vision of Canadian art. Her presentation included a variety of images of the paintings of the Beaver Hall group, which were compared and contrasted to contemporary work by other artists.

In the early part of the 20th century, Canadian art tended to be derivative of realistic European landscapes. One example shown could have been as easily an English countryside as Canadian. In the 1920s, artists like the Group of Seven and Beaver Hall, who diverged from this style, faced bitter attacks from art critics and even from such notables as Mackenzie King.

The membership of Beaver Hall was diverse, initially including roughly equal numbers of women and men, most notably A.Y. Jackson who was the organization’s first president and for decades its strongest supporter. Sheila suggested that there was uncertainty about how many artists were members (anywhere from 19 to 30), and the number of group exhibitions they had (probably two). The best known members were A.Y. Jackson, Prudence Heward, Anne Savage, Sarah Robertson and Edwin Holgate, but many notable women joined the group over the following decades, making it unique in encouraging and celebrating female artists. Sheila presented some engaging work by Ethel Seath, Adrien Hebert and Emily Coonan, among others. Unlike much of the work of the Group of Seven, these Beaver Hall paintings were often portraits and urban scenes.

Sheila finished with a very amusing anecdote (with visuals) about Canadian artistic contributions to a 1925 exposition in London. Conventional landscapes were ignored, and the Group of Seven and Beaver Hall received favourable reviews, but the “star” of the Canadian show was an exhibit from the Canadian Dairy Industry: an apparently life-size sculpture in butter of the Prince of Wales as an Indian chief.

In thanking the presenters, the point was made that outstanding presentations have three elements: the presenter has deep knowledge of the topic; the presenter loves the topic; and the presenter makes the audience love the topic. Audience response would suggest Sheila and Fran succeeded in all three.

by Don Plumb

Academy Memoir Group: "Writing About Our Mothers" (Fall 2023 Forum #2 Summary)

Memoir writers

The second forum of the season featured six women who met through the Academy, joined the memoir workshop and shared a common cause in writing about their mothers. They are Brenda Doyle, Melanie Faye, Nancy Garrow, Kathy Honickman, Jennifer Walcott and Ellen O’Donnell Walters. The forum, “Motherload: Memoirs of Struggle and Strength,” is also now a book, published in December 2022.

Nancy started the vignettes that each participant presented about her mother. Nancy wrote a letter to her mother, telling her about the rich recollections she had of her, even though her mother had died of suicide many years ago. Nancy lamented the damage that can be done by secrets kept in families.

Jennifer told us that her mother had carried the shame of her own illegitimacy during her life. Her sister had two children out of wedlock and Jennifer searched for her sister’s children who had been adopted in Scotland. Eventually,  through DNA testing, she got to know the second child. Jennifer also writes poetry, and she recited one of her poems for us. Jennifer has quite a witty way about her!

Melanie grew up in South Africa and extolled her happy childhood with wildlife adventures of the garden variety – snails, beetles, bugs and caterpillars, her favourite being the millipedes. There were fairies and mud pies in the backyard too. Her culinary memories included beef stew and cornbread.

Brenda had to push back against her mother and her mother’s parenting style. This led to a tough time for Brenda in developing her own parenting. It did not help Brenda’s childhood that she was molested by a neighbour. She has been strong enough as an adult to move towards a healing place and is now able to forgive. Consequently, she has developed a better relationship with her own daughter.

It fell to Kathy to take care of her mother in her mother’s later years, just because she was the eldest. This must have been tough, as she was known to her mother as being “not the good one.”  Under the circumstances, Kathy said, “It is OK to swear.”

Ellen told us of the harrowing story of her early childhood, initially happy memories of life with her mother and grandmother on Ward’s Island, but when she was about four she and her brother were, according to their mother, abducted by their abusive father. Ellen remembers the terrifying ride in a water taxi after being taken from their cabin.

During the lively question and answer period, the ladies had lots more to say. One of the questioners asked how did they build trust within the group, and Nancy replied that something clicked between them; then it was just an extra step to move forward to publishing their stories.

The audience was truly engaged by these ladies’ skill in relaying to us their stories and their openness in answering our questions. This forum was a strong testament to the value that Academy membership brings to us all.

by Linda Tu

Diana Matheson: "Soccer Dreams Do Come True!" (Fall 2023 Forum #1 Summary)

Diana Matheson

Diana Matheson was our first Fall 2023 Forum presenter.  Diana is passionate about women`s soccer and her infectious enthusiasm enthralled us with her recounting of the trials and tribulations of pursuing her dream for a Canadian women`s professional soccer league.  To this end she became a co-founder with Thomas Gilbert of Project 8, set up with the mission to create an opportunity for every Canadian to engage with the promise of sport through the establishment of a women’s professional soccer league founded on the principles of inclusion, community, and identity.

She told us of the frustrations of young girls, wishing to follow their soccer dreams, having to go aboard to train and play professional soccer. A great loss, says Diana, to Canada, when trying to build a sustainable league in this country.  She compared this with the international development of women’s pro sport in many other countries of the world such as England (2018) and Mexico (2017).

She outlined the steps to creating a Canadian league even though there is no blueprint in place to do this yet.  There are three, soon to be four, teams being established in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto.  The nascent fourth was not revealed to us.  The next step is to do impressively well in the 2024 Olympics and have a kick-off between eight teams by 2025 and then build towards an expansion to 12 teams by 2028.

The time is now, she says, to bring together Canadian talent and the country`s will to have a world class women`s professional soccer league.

by Linda Tu

Mitchell Marcus: "City Building Through Creativity: the Redevelopment of the Downsview Airport Lands" (Spring 2023 Talk # 5 Summary)

Our last Spring Talk for the season had Mitchell Marcus talking about how to be creative with one of the largest underused open spaces in the city, indeed in any city in North America. At first, Mitchell gave us some of his own artistic background in theatre to tell us how he came to be working for a developer, Northview Developments. He is the founding director of The Musical Stage Company, which has produced several original musicals. However, his wise mother encouraged him to have a plan B: he started a business degree, didn`t like it at first, but after many years in the creative arts he was looking for more avenues in which to be creative. The opportunity came when he was offered the position of Executive Director of site activation and programming for the Downsview Airport Lands redevelopment project.

The Downsview Park area in North York has three segments, a green park area, an industrial area and the airport. The airport is the area of interest to the project now that Bombardier has found another site. It is not usually open to the public and is now owned by a pension fund. The long-range plan, reaching to 2050, for this area is for 10 neighbourhoods accommodating much needed residential housing, cultural facilities, retail space and recreation opportunities. It was compared to the Distillery District of the Toronto port lands area.

Mitchell`s challenge is to entice people to come to this area over the next five years to enjoy the space during various events such as free play, community art displays, theatre and dance shows, and entrepreneurial projects. He is hoping that it will become a win-win endeavour for the community and the developer. A few events have already been held. The next steps may be more regular events that should be well publicized in the neighbourhood.

Access should be improved to take advantage of the three nearby subway stations. The Q and A session elicited many questions and comments, as usual for our Spring Talks. There were concerns about the cost, suggestions from the agricultural history of the area to include urban farming, and encouragement to the skilled trades people in the area to help build the project. There should be demonstration on the site of sustainable energy generation for the users of the development. Mitchell enjoys the ambiguities of the potential uses of the site but it needs to have a cooperative buy-in from all interested parties, especially the city of Toronto. We should all “look beyond the stroke of the pen.“

To find out more and to see the pictures that were in the presentation please look at the web site: https://www.northcrestdev.com/

by Linda Tu

Andrew Kirsch: "Discussion with a Spy: What CSIS is, what it does, and why it’s Important to know more about it" (Spring 2023 Talk #4  Summary)

How does spying happen in Canada, and should we be worried about it? Andrew Kirsch’s Spring Talk was an interesting presentation of what has become a currently topical issue in Canada. He is a former Canadian intelligence officer, now working as a consultant in cybersecurity with Kirsch Consulting Group. His intention in the talk was to illuminate what
our Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) does, the threats and challenges to come, and how we can better protect ourselves and our country.

In many ways, Andrew’s talk was summarized by the title of his recent book, “I Was Never Here: My True Canadian Spy Story of Coffees, Code Names, and Covert Operations in the Age of Terrorism”. He had never intended to be a spy, but terrorist attacks in the U.S. and London convinced him to change his career path from financial services to CSIS. His successful application led to intensive training and a ten-year career with the agency. He started in the role of analyst (humorously described as working in a depressing windowless room), but
progressed to field work in both open and covert operations.

CSIS itself does not have a long history. It was only set up in 1984 in response to the FLQ Crisis and a perceived need to separate security intelligence work from policing by the RCMP. Its mandate was to deal with four threats on Canadian soil: espionage, sabotage, terrorism and subversion. However, Andrew was clear in describing CSIS role as an advisory one, quite different from the CIA or FBI. CSIS gathers information on reasons to suspect criminal
behaviour, with the RCMP or other agencies doing the actual investigation leading to arrest. Moreover, CSIS is a domestic service, operating in Canada only. It relies on international input from the Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance comprising Canada, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Most Canadians have little awareness of CSIS, and Andrew suggested three reasons why it should be better known. Firstly, CSIS relies on local communities for information, and people are more likely to talk to an agency they recognize as important to their security. Secondly, CSIS could benefit from a more balanced image. Much of the current publicity is negative, especially with respect to Chinese involvement in trying to influence politicians. Thirdly, Canadians have a tendency to be complacent about national security and should be more aware of real threats.

Andrew included a number of anecdotes in his presentation to show that the real world of spying is not as glamorous and efficient as TV shows like Homeland would suggest. He talked about glitches during “ops”: power outages while supervising surveillance specialists installing bugs, an agent stepping in dog poop on the way to an apartment installation, interruption by local police curious about the black-clad agents in an unmarked van, and the unexpected failure of technology. Moreover, he talked about the stress on personal relationships of having a job that required you to lie to your partner and family about what you do (not to mention being missing for several hours during the night with no explanation given). CSIS agents are never thanked for what they do.

Threats to Canadian security have evolved over time. When Andrew joined the service, threats were more concrete. One major concern was the radicalization of Canadians, either at home or when they went overseas to join organizations like ISIS. Much of his job was described as coffee and conversation: meeting with people and hoping that they both had information of value and could be convinced to share it. Now, the future is remote. We are connected to each other as never before. Cybercrime and cyberespionage are dominant in the spying world. Data that required expensive covert physical operations previously can now sometimes can be found openly online using Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Not only do people share useful information, but also foreign agencies deal misinformation regularly. Sometimes the largest task is not intelligence gathering, but rather intelligence sifting and evaluation. Sorting information becomes a huge task. And, security threats extend to us as individuals, not just to our country. Every phone is a potential microphone, and every person is a potential target for Internet scams. Andrew suggested that we should not put anything into an email that we would be unwilling to write on a postcard mailed to our neighbour.

A lively question period followed Andrew’s presentation. The current revelations about China’s operations in Canada were no surprise to him. Canada is a country of immigrants, many recent: the diasporas from many countries, not just China, are often threatened with extortion. Andrew was disappointed and disapproving of anonymous leaks in the agency, feeling that leakers did not have the right or competence to decide what to share. He stressed that CSIS activities were always a team effort, again different from those of an individual Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan. Moreover, much of what CSIS does is “above board” and public rather than covert. The rogue truckers’ blockade in Ottawa, Windsor and Alberta last year provided a particular challenge to CSIS. The agency’s mandate is to investigate threats to security, but did the truckers’ blocking of a border crossing constitute a threat to economic security? And, finally (and inevitably), AI does factor into the future of CSIS and other intelligence agencies both in data gathering and production.

Overall, Andrew’s talk was an interesting and very personal introduction to CSIS and the “real world” of spying in Canada. Andrew’s book is available in bookstores and at the Toronto Public
Library.

by Don Plumb

Dr. Jean Marmoreo: "MAiD: Where We Have Come, Where We Are Going" (Spring 2023 Talk #3  Summary)

A well-attended Academy Spring Talk at Innes College featured Dr. Jean Marmoreo, a Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) assessor and provider since the enactment of Bill C-14 in 2016. Dr. Jean has been a family doctor for over 46 years, with an eclectic resume ranging from academic and author to trekker and marathon runner. She offered a comprehensive and thought-provoking examination of "the journey so far and the road ahead” in MAiD in Canada. Her presentation used beautiful visuals of vast and remote regions of Canada as a metaphor for the journey that the medical community and MAiD patients have followed in the last several years.

Dr. Marmoreo started by examining statistics on the application of Medical Assistance in Dying. In the three years from 2019 to 2021 the number of MAiD deaths slowly rose as the program became more established. By 2021, MAiD accounted for 3.3% of all jurisdictional deaths, consistent with roughly 4% in European countries. Quebec and British Columbia were outliers at roughly 4.8% and Ontario was slightly below the average at 2.7%.

She talked about a significant change that occurred in 2020 as a consequence of a Quebec court challenge. The removal of a mandatory NDRF (“natural death reasonably foreseeable”) criterion, viewed by the court as denying Canadians the right of bodily autonomy, opened up access to MAiD to people who might not have been previously eligible. As a consequence, people who apply for MAiD now fall into two categories, Track 1 and Track 2.

Criteria for both forms of MAiD request changed as a result. The criteria for Track 1 (NDRF) were eased in requiring a signed formal request by only one witness, the allowance of a care worker to act as witness (as long as they were not in the will), the removal of the 10-day waiting period, and the acceptance of a written Waiver of Final Consent (WFC). The WFC was particularly reassuring to patients who feared that they might become incapacitated in the time between choosing MAiD and the moment of having it administered. Statistics showed that this track was taken mostly by patients with cancer (66%), with cardiovascular and other conditions in lesser numbers.

The criteria for Track 2 (Natural Death Not Reasonably Foreseeable or Non-NDRF) allowed people who faced years of suffering to have access to MAiD. These more complex criteria included the requirement of one witness (who could be a healthcare professional or worker), a 90-day minimum waiting period, two assessors (one of whom must consult or be a specialist in the relevant condition), and the required offer of counselling, palliative and/or support services. Statistics showed that this path was followed mostly by patients with neurological and other incapacitating conditions, rather than cancer. Since MAiD has started in Canada, a total of 30,000 people have had medically assisted death, but only 2.2% have been Track 2.

A key question that Dr. Jean considered was why people seek MAiD and, somewhat surprisingly, pain was not the main reason. The perceived nature of their suffering was most significantly their loss of ability to engage in meaningful activities or to perform the activities of daily living. They could not do what they wanted to do as part of a normal life. Inadequate pain control, loss of dignity and control over bodily functions and mental suffering were also significant.

Dr. Marmoreo talked about the legacy of COVID, in particular its devastating effects on mental health and long-term care facilities. The legacy of isolation, incapacity, illness and loneliness with the prospect of possible dementia has led many elders to ask hard questions about the future of their care. Elders want aging in place, connection, contribution, care, safety of housing, pleasure and mastery over the end of life. Most do not want to end their lives in long-term care.

But what happens if dementia removes awareness and the ability to make decisions, including MAiD? Advanced requests do not exist at present but Quebec is considering a bill to address the issue, based on the concept of body autonomy as a charter right. Although Benelux countries have had such a provision for 12 years, this issue remains one of the most controversial in Canada.

Dr. Jean’s presentation sparked a lively discussion, which included

  • the logistics of getting MAiD (especially when the patient is in a faith-based facility that will not allow it);
  • the process and steps in initial assessment (a telephone number on a government website as a good start);
  • why Quebec seems to be a leader in MAiD development; and
  • the current split in the psychiatric profession over provision of MAiD for mental illness.

Dr. Jean’s warmth, calm humanity and care for the suffering of her patients were consistently apparent in her presentation. Her book, The Last Doctor: Lessons in Living from the Front Lines of Medical Assistance in Dying, was recently published and tells the end-of-life journey of some of her patients and the perspective she gained from assisting them. In addition, her website (www.dr-jean.com) and the Dying With Dignity website (www.dyingwithdignity.ca) provide a wealth of useful background information.

by Don Plumb

The Honourable David Crombie: "Why the Upcoming Mayoral Race Matters" (Spring 2023 Talk #2 Summary)

This talk today was dedicated by Mr. Crombie to Ksenjia Klinger, a former Academy member, who died at Christmas time.  She was a Senior Planner for the Metropolitan Planning Dept.

Throughout his excellent talk David stressed the importance of the up-coming byelection for Mayor of Toronto.

He said that people know about the services that the city provides but that we tend to take them for granted. They include such necessary services as Education, Public Health, Libraries, Child Care, Garbage Collection, Safe Water, The TTC, Emergency Services, Long term Care and Entertainment.

So important are these services that David says they are our connective tissue, the glue, of our communities. People who live in the many communities of Toronto know more about them than the experts do. Communities enable newcomers as well as established residents to ask such questions as ``Who am I? Where do I belong? and How do I behave?” The answers keep changing as we develop our mental maps for our survival within the community and the city at large.

David maintains that Toronto is a global city and cited “Making a global city : how one Toronto school embraced diversity”  by Robert Vipond.

The city should provide opportunity and equity for everyone, he declared. There should be a platform for economic growth and renewal. The services should enhance, and if necessary change, our attitudes to nature, noting that Canada’s flag is only one of two national flags to honour an emblem of nature, We should strive for a sense of social peace.

With respect to the byelection David recommended that we determine from the candidates their positions on the following seven issues:

  1. Housing, including homelessness, mental health and drugs.
  2. Improvements to infrastructure, maintenance and repair
  3. Save the greenbelt. Beware of letting loose the dogs of speculation!
  4. Rebuild the growth plan; it has stagnated.
  5. Downtown renewal, understand the role of work, cars, bikes and people.
  6. Preservation of local democracy,
  7. Ways of funding our needs, know who does what (the city, the province or the feds?)

The question period was lively, (the Green Belt, Ontario place, role of the mayor, the strong mayor policy, recommended candidates (he did not answer this one!) Rouge Park, cyclists’ safety, climate change, Toronto’s taxes, the Don River, voter influencing from the Ford government and how to get more funding).  David thoughtfully answered (almost) all of them with humour and his inimitable insight.

by Linda Tu

John Fraser: "Integrity in the Fourth Estate: Ensuring Media Remains Ethical and Honest in a Digital Age" (Spring 2023 Talk #1 Summary)

After a long absence, we all gathered on April 12, 2023, to hear the series' first speaker for Talks 2023.

Mr. Fraser is well known to many of us for his multi-faceted career. He was trained as a journalist, but he dabbled in many other fields, though he always remained a journalist at heart.

He has written 12 books and many other distinguished works. He brought many of his work experiences to life during his talk, with a lesson from each.

Under his tutelage, commissions were formed in all provinces to adjudicate complex complaints that could not be solved conventionally. He also created a joint council across Canada; now, only a few areas still have the commission in place.

The other thing that he emphasized was the support that we should give to journalism at all times. Also, try to expedite the complaints rather than let them sit.

Mr. Fraser continued to emphasize today's society and the Artificial Intelligence situation that will continue to persist in many writings. This new factor will challenge the universities and communities because of its existence, and many people believe in it.

Many things present today send the world into a dangerous situation, so one must be careful. Also, we live in an age with a lot of anger, distant relationships, and distrust. He emphasized trusting yourself and using your good judgment.

He spoke a bit about China and that the Globe and Mail was the first paper to have an office in China, but he could not elaborate more on the Chinese situation.

There is also a lot of denial in today's society and dealing with issues. One should call things out rather than deny them.

Newspapers must have individual responsibilities in handling situations with pictures, which should be appropriately shown rather than manipulating and having extracts of them.

Throughout his talk, plenty of good funny comments made it very pleasant, leaving one in a positive frame of mind.

by Mariana R. Grinblat