Ryerson rethinks the think tank—with an Indigenous focus

Written by Emily Baron-Cadloff. Photo credit Alia Youssef. Originally published in Maclean’s.

The Yellowhead Institute at Ryerson applies an Indigenous perspective to public policy

It’s been a busy few months for the Yellowhead Institute. Ryerson University’s new think tank is doing what a think tank does: analyzing government policies, recruiting academics and conducting research on community projects. But Yellowhead is doing something that’s never been done before at this level. The institution focuses on Indigenous people and filters all that work through an Indigenous perspective.

The centre was formally opened in June, but it has been suggested by Indigenous leaders and thinkers for years. The name comes from William Yellowhead, the first chief of the Rama First Nation in Ontario. “We were sort of modelling it on the think tanks that currently exist in Canada and North America, and we saw the organizations like the Laurier Institute,” says Hayden King, the director of the institute. “What would it look like to have an Indigenous institute named after someone we could aspire to?”

King has taught Indigenous politics and policy for more than a decade at multiple universities and is an adviser to the dean of arts on Indigenous education at Ryerson. He is also Indigenous, as are all the research fellows and the majority of the board members. Together, they crafted five key objectives: support First Nations in their self-determination, hold all levels of government accountable, invest in public education, support Indigenous students, and build solidarity with non-Indigenous students and researchers. “We want to try to change the way research is done in communities, and provide a model for how to do that for other individuals and other organizations,” King says.

For King, looking at public policy from an Indigenous perspective is novel, because not many organizations or First Nations have the resources to do a deep dive into those issues. “For many generations, First Nations have dealt with this chronic underfunding at the community level,” King says. “Leadership have often been forced to make difficult decisions about where they allocate funding. Is it to clean water, or is it to transportation or infrastructure?”

One of the first issues King and his staff are looking at is the Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework, an effort by the federal government to take a sweeping look at changing the relationship between Indigenous people and government systems; it could encompass any number of policies before its implementation in October 2019. But it’s complicated and removed from the daily life of many people. That’s where Yellowhead comes in. “There is a really glaring gap in the landscape for any organization like this to offer critical perspectives to those communities on government policy and legislation, and then support for cultivating and building their own,” King says.

While there are First Nation research chairs and university departments around the country, Yellowhead is the first institute of its scope and size in Canada. Fifteen research fellows from across Canada have signed on to work with the group, publishing near-weekly briefs dissecting various subjects.

It’s been an ambitious first year, but one that has been a long time in the making. King and his staff have spent years working out how to launch Yellowhead, and how they want to support First Nation communities. For them, it’s about supporting students and building those relationships, but also “changing the discourse in the country, which ultimately supports communities, and making the research relationship more just. It is ambitious, but we’re committed.”

In the end, it was Khashoggi’s ‘friends’ who silenced him

Written by Shenaz Kermalli, Ryerson University. Photo credit AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin. Originally published in The Conversation.

People, including the activist group Code Pink, hold signs at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia during a protest about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Oct. 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

I was first in touch with Jamal Khashoggi — the Saudi journalist who disappeared on Oct. 2 — while setting up an interview with Osama bin Laden’s former close friend and brother-in-law, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, for the CBC back in 2003.

It was two years after Sept. 11, 2001, when 2,977 victims were killed by four co-ordinated attacks against the United States by the al-Qaida terrorist group, and the world was still searching for reasons behind the tide of anti-Americanism across the Arab world.

Khalifa was a murky character at the time (he has since died in a mysterious killing in Madagascar in 2007). After Sept. 11, 2001, he always maintained publicly that he had fallen out with bin Laden’s decision to form al-Qaida in 1988. He was accused of being a major financier for the al-Qaida-aligned Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and reportedly also played a controversial role in the arrest of the group that attempted to blow up the World Trade Centre in 1993.

Khashoggi, then the deputy editor-in-chief of Arab News, a Gulf English language daily, was one of dozens of Saudi-based journalists and political observers I reached out to in an effort to track down Khalifa. For several months, all my calls and emails went unanswered. And then Khashoggi responded.

Yes, I know Khalifa, he told me via email. And yes, he could help facilitate an in-person interview with him.

From a news perspective, it was a great scoop: a rare opportunity to speak to someone who had once been close to bin Laden. Khashoggi not only followed through with the interview, but he also sought out several other English-speaking political analysts to take part in another separate television segment — a panel discussing Saudi affairs.

A wide source-list: Saudi royals and terrorists

I know I am not alone among foreign journalists who have had similarly positive experiences working with Khashoggi. Any reporter or policy researcher who has covered the Gulf countries can attest to how difficult it is to find helpful, credible and thoughtful voices who are willing to share their insight on life inside the elusive kingdom.

In this respect, Khashoggi was a breath of fresh air. He always seemed to be fine with appearing on camera and being identified in news reports.

In this Feb. 1, 2015, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. The disappearance of Khashoggi, during a visit to his country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, raises a dark question for anyone who dares criticize governments or speak out against those in power: Will the world have their back? Photo credit AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File.

But Khashoggi was also noticeably cautious. This caution likely prompted any reporter who used him as a source to assess him with a healthy degree of scrutiny. How many journalists after all — no matter how high they are — can honestly say they have sources to both international terrorists and elusive members of the Saudi royal family?

It’s no secret Khashoggi had parallel careers as both a reporter and a government adviser. From 2003 to 2006 he was the right-hand man of the powerful Saudi prince, Faisal bin Turki, a former spy chief and ambassador to the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Clearly, he was no ordinary journalist.

Polite requests for new freedoms

But he was also no ordinary political adviser. Under his editorial direction at Arab News, for instance, he bravely published editorials that called for more personal freedoms and greater employment for Saudi youth, and allowed coverage of public demands by migrant workers and Shia minority communities in Bahrain. These are virtual no-go areas in Gulf news outlets.

It would be misleading, however, to portray him in the way some leading journalists have since his disappearance last week in Turkey. Khashoggi wasn’t “a fierce critic” of the Saudi regime.

Before he decided to start using The Washington Post last year as a platform to effect change (after being constantly suspended from writing in various Saudi media), his criticism of the leadership could probably best be described as subtle with polite reservations of the kingdom’s policies.

“Khashoggi was a smooth, articulate and polite defender of the realm,” says Madawi al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics in a column for U.K. publication Middle East Eye. “His reservations on Saudi policies have always been subtle and tolerated.”

They were especially tolerated — and no doubt appreciated by the ruling elite — when he publicly supported the Saudi position on the disastrous war in Yemen (although his recent editorials in the Washington Post take on a decidedly different tone), the execution of leading Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in 2016 and the 2011 Saudi-led military crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired activists in Bahrain.

Khashoggi’s disappearance

In the days after Khashoggi’s disappearance, it’s worth noticing that many of the experts, journalists and political officials he regularly debated with on air also expressed sorrow — and respect for what he stood for. “Jamal Khashoggi and I disagreed on many issues, but unlike many of his Saudi and UAE colleagues he was always civil and polite to me and other Iranians,” tweeted Mohammad Marandi, a professor of English literature and orientalism at the University of Tehran.

Another journalist in Bahrain who has been imprisoned numerous times for covering the violent Saudi crackdown on unarmed activists, vehemently disagreed with Khashoggi’s perception of Iranian encroachment in the region, but told me he still credits Khashoggi for trying to bring reform. “You don’t survive in Saudi if you don’t have friends. I can tell you from experience he was focused on getting the real story with all views out.”

Members of the inspection team enter Saudi Arabia’s Consulate in Istanbul, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are conducting a joint ‘inspection’ on Monday of the consulate, where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing nearly two weeks ago, Turkish authorities said. Photo credit AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris.

In the end, it was Khashoggi’s own “friends” that silenced him. And if the latest accounts of his death by Turkish media and authorities are true — that there was an assault and a struggle inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was last seen walking into — then he follows a long line of other critics who have paid tragically to speak truth to power.

It’s a vital reminder not only of Riyadh’s crazed obsession with stifling dissent, but of the need to genuinely respect and value intellectuals with diverse perspectives.

The end of scientific, rational thinking: Donald Trump, Doug Ford and Jordan Peterson

Written by David Chandross. Photo credit Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

This has been a terrible year for science and evidence-based decision making, which are the newest casualties of the growing wave of populism in North America where “postmodern thought … is being used to undermine scientific truths.”

In the United States, President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false claims such as those that led to the repeal of environmental protections.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford, whose election win symbolized an overthrow of a left-leaning government, has already cancelled the “cap and trade” program for emissions control, moving Canada further away from Kyoto emissions targets accepted by the federal government.

Adding to this is bestselling author and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson who accuses the liberal left in universities as well as liberal politicians of postmodern thinking. This unrelenting attack on postmodern thinking is the core argument that propelled Peterson to fame.

Postmodernism emerged with views that Western morality and universal truths — as outlined in the modern period of Enlightenment — should be deconstructed. This created a form of skepticism in which Western morality and later science came into question.

One of the erroneous impacts of this new skepticism is the erosion of public confidence in the conclusions of scientific studies.

The science wars

Peterson’s well established critique of postmodernism misses how this arena of postmodernism has become dangerous through the deconstruction of science and outright denial of scientific facts.

Marcel Kuntz argues that this version of postmodernism has led us toward an increasing dissolution of the notion of objective reality. Social critic Noam Chomsky argues that a “turn away from postmodernism” is necessary. He says although “there are institutional factors determining how science proceeds that reflect power structures,” that does not mean we should “abuse scientific concepts”.

‘Make America Think Again’ among many placards in the March for Science in Washington, D.C. on Earth Day 2017. Photo credit Shutterstock.

What we see with Peterson, Trump and Ford is a new set of values in which science is just another factor in determining reality. Science has lost its primacy.

Scientific relativism

The political right has embraced scientific relativism. Scientific relativism is based on the idea that scientific observation and analysis are framed within unique cultural biases.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper adopted a cautionary stance against science and muzzled his own federal researchers on climate change. But even this was not the catastrophic rejection of science that has currently evolved.

Peterson refers to all forms of relativism as a form of cancer. But Peterson fails to criticize Trump’s litany of relativistic transgressions when it comes to science.

Even Peterson’s mentor, Bernard Schiff, has now said that Peterson might be more dangerous than those he attacks.

It is paradoxical that both Trump and Ford are embracing postmodernism much more than the left, which they accuse of the same sin. But the left demand factual evidence for decisions. Cap and trade was selected because the only other alternative is a regulation that denies corporations financial incentives to participate.

Peterson should challenge science relativism

One leaves a Peterson lecture with the sense that there is no coherency between ideas; the ground itself has been taken away. He mercilessly opposes unscientific thinking in his discussion of sexual and gender identity. But he then jumps to unscientific ideas like Carl Jung’s transpersonal psychology and his mystical collective unconscious in the next breath.

Is he a Jungian mystic or the embryology guy who asserts that science confirms there are only two sexes? Peterson has many followers and they participate in this sustained polemic attack on the left, claiming that moral relativism has left the world in disarray.

Peterson places all blame squarely in the hands of those who fight for social justice and who embrace progressive ideology. Resistance to change is associated with the political right and he says this is where postmodernism truly dwells.

By focusing on the moral relativism of postmodern thinking and ignoring scientific relativism, Peterson further erodes our ability to think critically. Peterson says that his aim is to build critical thinking in his readers, but his method of analysis is combative and takes no note of the virtues of depolarizing facts.

Protesters hold signs during Earth Day’s March for Science, April 22, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Photo credit Shutterstock.

Which Ford will we get today, the one who accepts climate change or the one who denies that regulating emissions is an antidote worthy of analysis? And which Trump will we get today, the one who sees Canada as a partner, or the one who demonizes our trade pacts?

Depolarizing facts are not what make Ford, Trump or Peterson fans tick. They argue for political effect, not to test their own hypothesis of the world.

One leaves both Peterson’s lectures or a Trump rally with a frightening sense of unreality, there is no place that is safe. Your own rationality is called into question. These voices remove safety and then quickly replace it with a new set of basic truths that now stabilize a weakened framework of the world.

Science rejection

There is new evidence that science can neutralize polarizations. This depolarization through independent science may be the antidote for a political sphere that seems about to shatter any form of debate. Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli historian says that although false narratives are nothing new, citing the dogmatic acceptance of religion as an example, he cautions us to use science as a final arbiter.

Stripped of basic rational coordinates we have no shelter, no starting point for making sense of the world. Similarly, leaving a Ford press conference or a Trump rally (they are interchangeable), one has the same disquieting sense that there is nothing left, all maps have been burned. There is only Ford’s truth, Trump’s declaration or Peterson’s harsh admonitions. They deny us any factual compass.

Instead we have a series of memes and parables, not the pressure gauges and coordinates by which to navigate the challenges that life provides. What has happened to belief in inquiry, and to refutation of that which has no evidence? It has, like a photograph long exposed to light, lost its hues.

Rationality is on the executioner’s block, and the results are predictable if Maoist China is any example. This is the ferment of totalitarianism and by vilifying the left, and ignoring the emotional ramblings of the right, there is little one can do in this intellectual vacuum that remains, but to suffocate. And like a kill on the savannas, suffocation is the pretext to being consumed by a predator.

Building housing on flood plains another sign of growing inequality

Written by Deborah de Lange, Ryerson University. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn. Originally published in The Conversation.

A woman gets back into her flooded car on the Toronto Indy course on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto on July 8, 2013. Housing developers are building housing on known flood plains in cities around the world.

Many cities around the world face a lack of affordable housing in and around expensive central business districts. Employers want cheaper labourers, who need more affordable housing in accordance with their lower salaries, to live nearby. So developers are invited to build on flood plains, without consequences. And often there is no public involvement in the decision.

Flood plains are easy to build on because they are flat and, in cities, they tend to be close to amenities. Yet all parties involved in housing know that cities are facing more rainfall and flooding due to climate change. Cities are now starting to prepare for catastrophic floods. and research has estimated flooding losses in the United States to be increasing dramatically.

Irresponsible and autocratic choices made by elites, at Waterfront Toronto for example, leave unsuspecting, lower-paid professionals in dangerous circumstances with rising insurance costs and potentially bad investments. That’s because, in the future, flood insurance may become prohibitively expensive or insurers may decide not to cover such high-risk properties, making them difficult to sell.

Flood risks worldwide

Difficult housing choices are reflective of a broader loss of worker power and associated income inequality. Research shows that densely populated areas are more vulnerable to disasters — the same disaster affects more people in dense environments. And where there is income inequality, there are more victims of natural catastrophes.

Cities dominated by appointed, un-elected officials, such as the board members of Waterfront Toronto, are helping to generate this inequality.

In the U.K., where there’s an ongoing housing crisis, government has approved building on flood plains as long as the new homeowners are made aware of the risks in advance. At least the British are having an honest conversation about it. In Toronto, we are not.

New Orleans has long relegated its poorer populations to lower elevations by the Mississippi River, where floods and subsequent disease have devastated the city. The terrible treatment of Hurricane Katrina’s victims in New Orleans is a continuation of an enduring history of racism.

Research also describes how in the flood plains of Bangladesh, income inequality is related to a higher risk of flooding and lower preparedness to deal with floods.

In South China, increasing rainfall has left millions of the poor living in such dangerous low-lying areas that China’s president has called in the army.

Public space can be climate-adaptive

Today, most North American coastal cities are in danger of climate-related sea level elevations and storm surges. Hurricane Sandy caught New York’s elite off guard because they became victims too. It didn’t matter whether you were in the Upper East Side or in Harlem.

In wealthy south Florida, saltwater rises not only directly from the sea, but also up through porous limestone, so Miami cannot use the same climate adaptation approaches as in some other cities, like adding green space. Miami is working to add pumps and other infrastructure instead.

Toronto could turn its remaining waterfront space into parkland, instead of housing developments, as a protective barrier.

New York City is going to build a wall around the lower part of Manhattan, and add a park. The Dutch are using public space to absorb floodwater. New Orleans is building parks to double as reservoirs for floodwaters, on the advice of the Dutch.

Toronto’s recent floods a wakeup call

Toronto has had a few waterfront floods over the years, including this year and last, damaging the Toronto Islands in 2017. The city faced several storms in 2018 with violent winds and flooding downtown. Some wealthy Torontonians leave the city for private lakefront properties in cottage country, but others live within limited space affected by the aftermath of catastrophes.
The Toronto Islands recovery, for example, is still ongoing and has not yet been fully paid for.

Toronto’s east-end beaches flooded badly in 2017 amid a rainy spring. Housing developers are nonetheless building housing on known flood plains, in Toronto and around the world. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young.

Meanwhile, new Toronto lakefront condominium developments are proceeding in the Quayside and Portlands neighbourhoods, near the Islands, on flood plains historically contaminated by heavy metals, oil and coal. “Workforce housing” is a required part of the plan.

Will Flessig, former Waterfront Toronto CEO, says that middle-income professionals are expected to settle in the waterfront condominiums so that they can be closer to where they work.

But no one in Toronto is talking about the flood plains, since elected officials apparently consider the issue resolved. Based on a plan developed in 2007, the federal and provincial governments are investing $1.185 billion to reconstruct the mouth of the Don River so that the water safely flows into Lake Ontario.

However, the waterfront area still remains a flood plain, and is still affected by storm surges associated with climate change.

Building on flood plains has serious consequences, including future uninsurable buildings as insurance companies anticipate they won’t be able to afford the payouts. A single major flood causes a great deal of damage and requires insurance companies to pay all at once. With a higher frequency of catastrophic floods and the corresponding required payouts, the pool of insurance premiums collected to cover the losses dries up, and insurance companies face bankruptcy.

Klever Freire, left, and Gabriel Otrin pose for a photograph in the building where they were trapped in a rapidly flooding elevator during a heavy rainstorm in Toronto in August 2018. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov.

Before that happens and buildings are left derelict, people and property are endangered. We recently saw life-threatening flooding of buildings in Toronto, and there are limited rescue personnel to address all of the issues at the same time when mass floods happen.

Simultaneously, damage to personal property can be overwhelming — for example, to cars and contents within condominium lockers in underground parking garages. In Toronto, we have also seen streetcars submerged in water recently with people trapped inside.

Flooding stops a streetcar on King St. W. in Toronto on Aug. 7, 2018. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shlomi Amiga.

Fixing the damage therefore adds costs to public transit. Water quality and disease concerns are also heightened as storm sewage systems cannot handle increasing rainfall volumes. Over the longer term, repeated flooding also weakens building foundations.

Hard to manage water levels

On a broader scale in the Great Lakes region, the ability to adapt to changing conditions is reduced. That’s because the ability of water officials to manage water levels is much more difficult when condominiums and other housing is built on flood plains.

For example, water flows are somewhat controlled in the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River watersheds through an international agreement called Plan 2014. If buildings are in the path of water flow, this complicates and limits the range of adjustment options.

We know now what we’re confronting. Let’s learn from past mistakes. In the best interests of homeowners, the public and climate adaptation, what’s left of Toronto’s waterfront should be public parks, not condominiums billed as “workforce housing.”

How to use anger as a defence against ageism

Written by Joe Recupero. Photo credit Alison Webb (Author provided). Originally published in The Conversation.

The author, Joe Recupero, as he competed in the Tough Mudder race in 2014.

We have been taught from the time we are children that outbursts of anger are unproductive and socially unacceptable. But if channelled properly, there is an upside to anger — and is most often evident in sport.

The field of play is where healthy aggression and combat has always been an acceptable outlet. We compete as athletes, weekend warriors and casual recreational players at sport and events like Tough Mudder to fulfil needs, to seek out camaraderie, attain a sense of team and community, to test our bodies and our limits and to blow off steam from our everyday lives and workplaces.

Tough Mudder is an extreme endurance event which comprises a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course run and is an example of this connection between sports, masculinity and modern capitalism.

When competing in any athletic or recreational sport there is a battle of wills and bodies to achieve success and be the ultimate warrior. We learn this from an early age in the schoolyard, playgrounds and fields of play and we then take this into adulthood and our careers.

It teaches us how to relish our victories, but also how to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments, which we can also translate into our professions, ambitions and corporate boardrooms.

I have worked in sport media and production for nearly 30 years. For many years I worked at CBC TV Network Sports as a producer and had the privilege of working on 13 Olympic Games, many other multi-day sporting events and World Cups and championships in almost every sport.

During the last 10 years, I have taught sports journalism and production, and I’m the Program Director of Sport Media in the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University. My creative and research interests focus around resiliency and diversity in sport and media.

I have often used sport as a source of resiliency when going through anything traumatic in my own life. Running marathons helped me cope with the stresses and anxieties of school, work and even the early deaths of my parents. Sport and endurance races also have a subliminal effect of outrunning old age, illness and death. If you can only keep active and regularly exercise and keep running then the bad stuff can’t find you.

A few years ago, when I joined the half century club by turning 50, I was in a career transition. After one job interview, someone told me I was “not the right fit.” I interpreted this as a subliminal form of ageism because on paper I fit all the criteria. This created a low-grade depression. I did what I had done many times before — I dug in deep and channelled my anger into pursuing an athletic challenge.

Ageism and sport

A recent article and study in Zoomer magazine looks at the toxic effects of ageism in the workplace and society and addresses how not only is it bad for the health for those over 50, but also for the younger millennial set who face a disconnect about getting older.

Enter a friend who was in rehab for a knee injury with the suggestion that I join him and three of his buddies for a Tough Mudder event. It was only three months away and the biggest question was would I be ready in time?

The author, Joe Recupero, second from right, with his Tough Mudder team. Photo credit Alison Webb, Author provided.

The last couple years had put me in a fitness deficit and I was definitely not in shape to do a half marathon (which had become more my speed in the last decade), let alone a Tough Mudder, which I knew very little about. I did a bit of homework and found obstacles with fear-inducing names like “Ring of Fire,” “Electric Shock Therapy” and “Arctic Enema.”

What I neglected to pay attention to was how much upper body strength training was advised. I have always been more concerned with cardio workouts — running, playing sports and biking. But the Tough Mudder is non-stop monkey bars and jungle gyms for miles. I now have huge respect for all those people who paid attention to strength training and its benefits especially for those of us later in life.

Sport as resiliency

Come race day, we found ourselves in a sea of millennials, many sporting the different coloured Tough Mudder headbands that indicated how many you had previously completed — the badge of honour. I knew the goal was to walk out at the end of the day with one of those headbands.

We were clearly the oldest team competing, but did not let that sap our energy and enthusiasm. In fact, we let that fuel us. We knew we were old enough to be parents of most participants, but as we went through each obstacle and “earned our way in” we would catch the looks of surprised staff and teams who must have thought we somehow ended up on course by mistake.

But with age sometimes comes some wisdom. Through some climbing and water obstacles we were also able to point out smarter, faster ways of working. A couple of our teammates were the first to easily mount “Everest” — a half pipe snowboarding obstacle which required you to run up the curved wall, grab the top and throw yourself over and straddle. They were able to grab onto and help over many younger competitors that struggled getting over the lip of the half pipe.

Yes, we were all older and our bodies definitely not as lean, muscular or imposing, but we were there slogging through Tough Mudder just like the rest of them.

In a sporting arena where ageism can be so prevalent, the mere sight of older folks is a bit disconcerting to some. Sport can be a tremendous source of support and resiliency and somehow becomes the great equalizer out on the playing field. It can also challenge stereotypes and dismantle a lot of myths around ageing.

Crawling through one of the last and most challenging obstacles, “Mud Mile,” was definitely the moment I thought “what am I doing here?” But we persevered and finished the course.

Getting through Tough Mudder turned out to be one of the proudest physical achievements in my life. At the end of the day, as we tried to shower off the never-ending mud in the huge communal outdoor showering area, I let the water wash over me and I felt euphoric.

Is 50 the half way point, mid-life? This is what I have heard from many of my friends as they attempt to make me feel better about getting older. Previously, I would disagree: “How many 100-year-olds do you know?”

After conquering Tough Mudder I plan to be one of those 100 centenarian still fighting the good fight and not giving in to ageism.

Trump-Trudeau tiff is the latest in a history of President-PM disputes

Written by Ron Stagg, Ryerson University. Photo credit The Canadian Press/Justin Tang. Originally published in The Conversation.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G7 leaders summit on June 8, 2018. Trump sent angry tweets about his Canadian host shortly after the summit ended.

Canadians were puzzled by Donald Trump’s suggestion that national security concerns required tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum — and then stunned even more by the U.S. president’s personal attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the aftermath of the G7 summit.

What perhaps was more bewildering was Trump’s threat to punish Canada for Trudeau’s rather mild rebuke about the tariffs. Even some Americans were so shocked that they leapt to the defence of Canada.

The short-term effect of this one-sided confrontation is causing a drop in value of the Canadian dollar, and calling into question the success of NAFTA talks with a belligerent U.S. administration.

While this very public spat is perhaps the most publicized disagreement between an American president and a Canadian prime minister, there have been notable confrontations in the past.

JFK and Dief disliked each other

In the modern era, perhaps the spat that came closest in tone to the current one was between John F. Kennedy and John Diefenbaker, only in that case both sides were confrontational.

The reasons for the animosity were numerous. Diefenbaker, from an earlier generation, came from a modest background. He saw Kennedy as a spoiled rich kid. Kennedy felt that Diefenbaker, who spoke in language suited to the 19th century and tended to lecture, boring and pedantic.

The Canadian was an anglophile who regarded the United States as a brash upstart which was a danger to the Canadian economy. The late 1950s saw a surge in American investment in Canadian natural resources. The Kennedy administration wanted Canada to cut ties with post-revolutionary Cuba, which it had refused to do, and to accept nuclear weapons under American control, stationed on Canadian soil.

Kennedy visited Ottawa in 1961, hoping to pressure Ottawa on these and other issues. He pronounced Diefenbaker’s name incorrectly, which offended the thin-skinned prime minister, and accidentally left behind a memo listing ways the Canadians could be “pushed” to accept the American position.

When the memo was found, this only confirmed Diefenbaker’s worst ideas about the Americans. Reportedly, Kennedy had scrawled “SOB” in the margin, no doubt in frustration. Kennedy’s description of Diefenbaker to his confidants was, as they say, not suitable for a family newspaper.

Another irritant for Diefenbaker was Kennedy’s friendly relationship with Diefenbaker’s opponent, the Liberal leader Lester Pearson. The Liberals had changed their position to one of accepting nuclear weapons. They got along so well that the Kennedy administration assisted the Liberals to defeat Diefenbaker in 1963 by sending Kennedy’s personal pollster, an early expert in the field, to assess what the public wanted.

Did LJB grab Pearson by the lapels?

However, Pearson had a falling out with Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson. Though Pearson’s government sold war materials to the United States, its position was that the United States should withdraw from Vietnam.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and President Lyndon B. Johnson talk with the media at Camp David in 1965. The day before this picture was taken, Pearson had delivered a speech that questioned the U.S. role in Vietnam. Photo credit the Associated Press.

The Canadian government did not heavily emphasize this position, because it didn’t want to create a rift with its ally, but in 1965 Pearson gave a speech at Temple University in Pennsylvania in which he suggested it would be best if the United States withdrew. Johnson requested that Pearson come to see him and then tore into Pearson.

Accounts of the meeting vary, in terms of whether Johnson grabbed Pearson by the lapels or not, but he definitely said something like, “don’t come into my room and piss on my rug.”

Pierre Trudeau angered Nixon, Reagan

Pierre Trudeau was the prime minister who incurred the anger of two presidents.

In his youth, Trudeau had visited China in the 1950s, when it was unusual for foreigners to go to the newly communist country, and as prime minister he had a friendly relationship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, arch-nemesis of American conservatives. Trudeau was regarded by these conservatives — and even some who were not conservative — as a leader who was, at best, soft on communism and, at worst, a fellow traveller.

Richard Nixon, who had been a supporter of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy during the latter’s anti-communist crusade of the 1940s and ‘50s, looked on the flashy and long-haired Trudeau with suspicion. It didn’t help that Trudeau gave a speech in the early months of the Nixon administration, claiming the anti-ballistic missile system the United States was developing would threaten world peace.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduces President Richard Nixon to members of the welcoming line at Ottawa airport on the U.S. president’s 1972 trip to the Canadian capital. Photo credit CP PHOTO/Peter Bregg.

While generally not paying a lot of attention to Canadian-American relations, Nixon was angered when the Trudeau government introduced a motion in Parliament condemning the 1972 renewed bombing of North Vietnam. Nixon continued to have a personal dislike for Trudeau (whom he privately referred to as “that asshole”), but subsequent economic threats by the United States were worked out amicably.

After good relations during the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter years, another strong anti-communist, Ronald Reagan, took office. Ever the gentleman, Reagan did not engage in public criticism of Trudeau.

Reagan opposed Canada’s NEP

This situation was helped by the fact that Reagan generally did not engage in the development of policy, which could lead to conflicts. However, he listened to those who did and this led to a confrontation over Canada’s National Energy Policy (NEP), introduced shortly before Reagan took office.

Designed to decrease the revenue of (largely American) oil firms and to subsidize exploration by Canadian firms, leading to the Canadianization of the oil industry, the NEP caused an immediate backlash from American firms, which began to withdraw exploration equipment from Canada.

Reagan showed little frustration in public, but confided his feelings to his diary. Combined with the Foreign Investment Review Agency, which screened major purchases of Canadian firms by foreign buyers, the NEP represented to the Reagan administration an anti-American shift in Canadian policy. Relations remained strained until Trudeau left office in 1984.

What distinguishes all of these hostile disagreements from the current one is the very public nature of the disagreement, and the public threat to punish Canada for its prime minister’s rebuke of the American president.

The question is, will this rift prove as transitory as previous ones or will it lead to a prolonged period of political or economic instability in Canadian-American relations?

Gender parity and queer awareness needed in mathematics

Written by Anthony Bonato, Ryerson University. Photo credit Twentieth Century Fox. Originally published in The Conversation.

Hidden Figures, the movie, showcased the importance of Black women in mathematics.

Equity, diversity and inclusion — EDI — is a trending concept these days. Many institutions now have policies, initiatives and even vice-presidents devoted to EDI — including my own institution, Ryerson University. There is much discussion about how EDI affects productivity and innovation.

Recently, EDI in mathematics was brought to the public discourse. Last month I sat on a panel for EDI in Mathematics at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences. Also, Ryerson Science and the Canadian Science Policy Centre recently released the report: Forging Paths to Enhanced Innovation which I highly recommend you read.

We, unfortunately, have an EDI crisis within mathematics. For example, the average Canadian mathematics department has on average fewer than one-fifth female professors. There are only a handful of gay, bisexual or lesbian mathematics professors in Canada that I know. My own department has only three women faculty out of 21 tenured or tenure-track professors: Our percentage of women math faculty members is only 14 per cent.

A visualization created by the 10 and 3 on mathematics departments in Canada’s universities (2015). Image credit http://www.the10and3.com/where-are-the-women-professors-in-canadas-math-and-science-departments/

I’m a gay mathematician. I’ve faced challenges in my journey to full professor of mathematics and I talk about these challenges when I can. I am hoping to inspire others to do the same.

Up until now, I’ve found the silence on EDI in mathematics, especially on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans issues, deafening. I had no role models or advocates as I progressed in my academic career. No one talked about EDI in mathematics departments and few professors or students were public about their identities. There are, however, a few vocal advocates for EDI right now, like Dean Imogen Coe at Ryerson. That makes me think we are on the right track.

The landscape in context

To better understand why there are so few LGBTQI2S voices in mathematics, I gathered together some statistics that might shed light. First, to make a broader point, I start with some shocking statistics related to gay youth.

According to Egale, a LGBTQI2S advocacy non-profit, about one-third of LGBTQI2S teens have attempted suicide, compared to seven per cent of youth in the general population. About half of LGBTQI2S teens have considered suicide, and 19 per cent of trans youth had attempted suicide in the previous year. Almost 70 per cent of trans youth reported verbal harassment over their gender identity, and about half of LGBTQI2S teens were harassed over their sexual orientation. One in five LGBTQI2S adolescents were physically assaulted.

Out of 195 countries in the world, homosexuality is criminalized in 72 of them. That’s 38 per cent. Same-sex marriage is a good indicator of a positive environment for LGBTQI2S folks, but only 23 countries (that’s seven per cent) have legalized same-sex marriage. We are all waiting to see the results of the Australian same-sex marriage referendum this week.

One of my undergraduate professors said that mathematics is a byproduct of luxury in a society. People will not do mathematics if they are struggling with other more basic issues like personal safety or acceptance.

It’s tough to encourage youth to study calculus when they are getting beat up for being who they really are. When your government criminalizes your identity, it makes it that much harder to think about number theory.

There are no surveys that I am aware of specifically regarding LGBTQI2S folk in mathematics. None, and it’s 2017. There is only one relevant survey: Queer in STEM, which was a U.S. national survey, published last year in the Journal of Homosexuality and written about last year in Wired magazine.

The survey had 1,400 responses to a 58-page questionnaire and we may glean some interesting things from it. A majority of participants (57 per cent) were out to their colleagues, which is slightly higher than the U.S. workforce at 47 per cent. That’s positive news.

Also, when there was better gender parity in an academic department, participants reported a higher degree of openness. So better EDI in your STEM workplace makes LGBTQI2S folks more open. When there was a higher degree of openness, participants reported a safer and more welcoming environment.

Changing the culture

There are a number of measures we can take to support EDI.

We need an articulated strategy to achieve gender parity in mathematics departments in the not-so-distant future. To do this, we need to pay special attention to academic hiring, which has a lasting impact on departments owing to the long-term nature of tenure. The process — the way in which we do this outreach and hiring – is incredibly important, as are the outcomes for greater diversity.

Photo credit Shutterstock.

There must be greater attention to EDI in senior roles such as mathematics department chairs. I did a stint as department chair and encourage my colleagues, especially my women colleagues, to do the same. We also need to see greater diversity in all levels of university administration and in the leadership in professional societies.

There should greater emphasis on EDI in endowed research chairs. Given the poor track record of universities nominating women for Canada Research Chairs, the Government of Canada introduced new measures for greater EDI in these positions. I hope one day there will be endowed chairs in mathematics specifically aimed at LGBTQI2S people. An Alan Turing Chair has a nice ring to it. The same holds for student scholarships both within and outside the university.

We need to work to make sure our LGBTQI2S know they are not alone. They need to know they are just as capable of progressing successfully in mathematics as their heterosexual or cisgendered counterparts.

Mathematics is a difficult subject regardless the context you are working in and we need as many minds as possible to advance the subject. A proof of the Riemann hypothesis is possibly sitting in some transgendered teens brain as I write this. What an incredible tragedy if that proof never comes to fruition.

There are a small set of groups devoted to queers in STEM. Spectra is one group I know of supporting LGBTQI2S folk in mathematics. Other organizations focus more broadly in STEM, such as LGBT STEM, National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals and Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Implementing the ideas described in the recent Forging Paths report by Ryerson Science and the Canadian Science Policy Centre, such as changing perceptions and challenging stereotypes within STEM-based professions, would send us in a positive direction.

We have a long way to go, but I am convinced that with collective effort, EDI in mathematics is achievable. We can no longer hide behind claims that mathematics is genderless, racially neutral and independent of LGBTQI2S issues. Mathematics is studied by people, and its application affects people.

Mathematicians need to embrace our diversity as a strength, not as a burden or weakness.

Diversity gives new perspectives and challenges the status quo. Isn’t that what mathematicians actually do for a living? We can and we must do this.