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Confronting COVID-19

Rapid Response funding awarded to help confront COVID-19

The Vice-Principal (Research) announces first round of internal funding for projects supporting medical and social coronavirus related solutions.

In late March, the Queen’s University Vice-Principal (Research) launched the Rapid Response competition to fund and support research projects that will contribute to the development, testing, and implementation of medical or social countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19. Thirteen applicants have received funding in the first round. 

The successful projects range from the development of a biosensor tool to psychotherapy programs for addressing mental health issues. Queen’s researchers are also examining the government response on household finances and planning for more effective physical distancing measures. 

Congratulations to the first round of Rapid Response funding recipients, says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). These are outstanding projects that span the key research areas important to both managing the virus itself and understanding its social and economic impacts. I will follow these projects with great interest.” 

The successful projects include: 

  • Stephen Archer (Medicine)  Synthesis and preclinical testing of novel small molecule therapies for COVID-19. 

  • Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering)  Developing, validating, and implementing a portable diagnostic prototype (COVID-19 Scanner) for rapid, point-of-care detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from nasopharyngeal swabs. 

  • Nazanin Alavi (Psychiatry)  Online delivery of psychotherapy, tailored to patients' suffering from mental health problems due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Xiaolong Yang (Pathology and Molecular Medicine)  Developing of a biosensor tool using an ultra-bright bioluminescent enzyme purified from glowing deep-sea shrimp to "visualize" and quantify the interaction between viruses and cells. 

  • Amy Wu (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)  Designing, testing, and evaluating low-cost, medical grade face shields that can be easily produced by the rapid prototyping resources within our community. 

  • Tom Hollenstein (Psychology) – Examining the use of digital technology to inform universities, clinicians, and policymakers as they make recommendations for coping with the emotional fall-out of social distancing. 

  • Nicole Myers (Sociology) – The project will use official data, review government policy and legal decisions, observe virtual courts and conduct interviews to understand the changes in bail practices and discretionary release decision making in response to the pandemic. 

  • Setareh Ghahari (Rehabilitation Therapy)  Identifying the challenges that Kingston refugee youth are likely to face when attempting to reorient themselves to online learning during this unprecedented time. The goal is to provide solutions/recommendations that could help mitigate those challenges and improve the students’ online learning experience. 

  • Robert Clark (Economics)  Providing policymakers with the information necessary to adopt new measures, or to fine tune existing ones, in order to minimize COVID-19’s detrimental effects on the financial situation of Canadian households and to limit the risks to the stability of the financial sector. 

  • John Meligrana (Geography and Planning)  Developing a set of comprehensive physical distancing guidelines tailored to the gradual reopening of our cities, communities and country as well as more being more sensitive to the impacts on vulnerable communities. 

  • Warren Mabee (Policy Studies)  Creating an integrated policy response to facilitate Canadian recovery from COVID-19. 

  • Imaan Bayoumi (Family Medicine)  Exploring the hidden social, emotional and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health countermeasures on residents of Kingston and area, with a focus on marginalized groups such as those using substances, living in poverty, single parents, children or people suffering from mental health conditions, chronic health conditions and family conflict. 

  • Oded Haklai (Political Studies) Tracking and comparing the measures taken by governments around the world, examining check-and-balances on executive power that remain, and assessing the extent to which democracy can be resumed in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

For more information on the Rapid Response competition, visit the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research). 

Queen’s University opens limited outdoor facilities

The university has opened two fields and a tennis court on main campus for limited use.

Effective Friday May 22, Queen’s University will re-open the following outdoor facilities for casual, informal use. Physical distancing requirements remain in effect.

  • Nixon Field
  • Tindall Field
  • Tindall Field Running Track
  • Summerhill Tennis Courts

All other Athletics & Recreation facilities, including ALL fields and buildings at the West Campus remain closed.

Provincial Emergency Measures and City of Kingston bylaws remain in effect. 

Use of any of the University’s opened outdoor spaces remain subject to the following conditions:

  • Provincial Emergency Measures and City By-laws remain in effect
  • Physical distancing restrictions required at all times (minimum of 2 metres apart)
  • Individual activities only
  • No group or organized activity permitted (practices, games, etc.)
  • Maintain safety measures (wash hands, cough into elbow, wear masks, remove litter)
  • Bring hand sanitizer/water; wash hands before/after use of the facility
  • No dogs permitted
  • Use at own risk
  • Follow directions of Queen's Campus Security and Staff

Failure to comply with any of the conditions above may result in individuals being removed from the facilities, and/or closure of the facility.

Group bookings of the facilities listed above cannot be made at this time.

Keep up to date on the University’s COVID-19 safety precautions here

Up to date information on A&R facilities, programs and services can be found here.

Global community responds to need

Smith School of Business community in China sends thousands of masks to Kingston.

Cindy Liang (Comm'23), left, delivers a shipment of masks to Ann van Herpt, director of supply chain services at 3SO.

In these trying times, there are many examples of people helping families, friends, neighbours and strangers. The Smith School of Business community – which spans the globe and encompasses students, staff, faculty, alumni, partners and more – is no different.

As a business school with deep international ties, Smith has long benefited from its relationships around the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the Smith community have repeatedly demonstrated their eagerness to join together to help those in need.

Over the past few months, there has been a well-documented shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for use by frontline health-care workers facing the threat of COVID-19. As the crisis became more manageable in China, it was only starting in North America, and health professionals in Kingston were in need of PPE. 

By April, several members of the Smith community had begun initiatives to get a supply of protective masks from China to Canada. Global partners, alumni clubs and individual students rallied to get thousands of masks delivered.

“The Smith community was quick to respond to the needs generated by the spread of COVID-19, from alumni and students pivoting their businesses and launching new initiatives to assist frontline workers and those at risk, to faculty, students, staff and local community partners coming together to support impacted businesses,” notes Dean Brenda Brouwer. “The donations of personal protective equipment from our students, alumni and partners in China further emphasize the strength and spirit of the Smith network.”

One donation, of 2,000 masks, came to Kingston from the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing. Smith’s partnership with Peking, which began in 2005, was expanded last year to allow for select Commerce students to earn a dual degree from both institutions. In a letter to Smith administration, a Peking official expressed thanks for the support the school received during the early stages of the crisis and offered to send the masks as a sign of gratitude and to provide practical help.

With thousands of business-minded alumni spanning the globe, it is no surprise that by late March, Smith alumni in China were also hard at work on a plan to help out. Members of Smith Business Club China, which represents and connects the growing number of Smith alumni in China, were eager to help out their alma mater from afar. They arranged to deliver 6,400 masks to the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) in early May.

For Smith Commerce students, international experiences are integral to their time in the program. Whether they have come to Kingston from abroad to earn their degrees or have a broadened perspective from participating in international exchange, students appreciate that they are preparing to enter an increasingly globalized business world.

This knowledge was not lost on first-year Commerce student Cindy Liang, Comm’23, who arranged a third donation of masks after seeing a tweet from KHSC regarding PPE donations. She worked with a group of former peers from her high school (Beijing’s Keystone Academy) who were interested in donating medical supplies to those in need abroad. 

“After they heard my story, they didn’t hesitate to help and generously sent many medical supplies to me, shipping a total of 14 packages to Canada,” Cindy explains.

She worked with university representatives to get the shipment into Canada and delivered 3,650 masks to KHSC.

“Looking back at the process, I have to say I am very appreciative of the help from the Queen’s community because I could not have accomplished this task without them,” says Cindy, who received help from the university’s procurement services to get the masks through customs. 

“I am glad that we could contribute to frontline medical workers in Kingston, and I am also fortunate to be part of the Queen’s community, which is filled with love and support.”

All mask donations were facilitated through 3SO (Shared Support Services Southeastern Ontario), which is responsible for sourcing and distributing PPE for the Kingston region. 

Queen’s to host virtual Homecoming 2020

Due to ongoing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Queen’s University is canceling all in-person activities related to Homecoming 2020, as well as all in-person alumni events for the rest of the calendar year.

“We know that this decision will cause great sadness and disappointment to the members of our alumni family,” says Karen Bertrand (Artsci’94), Vice-Principal (Advancement). “We had always hoped that this measure would not be necessary.”

The announcement comes as the university anticipates most undergraduate classes to be held remotely for the duration of the 2020 fall academic term.

“The health and safety of all members of the Queen’s community is our number one priority,” says Vice-Principal Bertrand. “We want to ensure that the same measures we are taking to protect our students are also in place for our alumni.” 

The decision was made as public health guidance continues to emphasize not only good hygiene practices, but also minimizing close contact among groups of people to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus and ease the burden on hospitals and other healthcare providers. Queen’s Homecoming routinely attracts more than 3,000 alumni and their guests from around the world.

“We know that our alumni look forward to reconnecting and reuniting with their former classmates, housemates, teammates, and students and many of them plan their reunion activities months and even years in advance,” Vice-Principal Bertrand says. “Our Homecoming team is actively exploring virtual activities to help keep the spirit of this cherished event alive this October. We look forward to the day when we can all be together again in-person to celebrate our relationships, our memories, and our university.”

For more information on Queen’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 information website.

 

Disrupting routine thinking

Psychedelics can help reset the brain, shaking it out of old patterns. The coronavirus pandemic could have similar impacts.

An image of a male with a medical mask on.
Leaving predictability and entering into uncertainty is a threshold to transformation. (Fearghal Kelly / Unsplash)

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the widespread disruption of our usual routines. The ambiguity of when it will end, how things will unfold and what will happen in the future has resulted in a collective liminal state, a kind of a waiting area on the threshold of change.

The ConversationCOVID-19 has undermined our usual expectations and assumptions. Evidence from my work on how our brains react to psychedelics tell me the transient anxiety — which occurs when expectations collapse — may yield benefits. To gain the benefits, we must be intentional in the viewing of this era as a transformational opportunity.

I have looked at how medium-to-high doses of psychedelics can help reset the brain, shaking it out of old patterns. I wonder if our current state of uncertainty could have similar impacts on the brain — a metaphorical psychedelic dose — for new insights, values clarification and a collective reset.

The brain is a prediction machine

A recent study shows experiences with psychedelics such as psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms) can have disruptive impacts on our brains. Neuroimaging of the brain on psychedelics have revealed a state of chaos, or entropy and a loss of synchronization of brain waves.

Entropy is a measure of uncertainty and randomness or disorder. British neuroscientist Karl Friston defines entropy as a measure of uncertainty, the “average surprise.” Low entropy means, on average, that outcomes are relatively predictable.

In Friston’s view, the brain is a prediction machine. We construct the future from the past. We make predictive inferences (conscious and unconscious) to conserve energy and simplify the interpretation of a continuous input of stimuli.

We gain mastery, but at the expense of novelty.

Disrupting the patterns

Poor mental health often revolves around excessive rumination and repetition. Rumination is rigid, repetitive and negative thinking characterized by low entropy.

In 1949, McGill University psychologist Donald Hebb predicted much of what modern neuroscience would go on to prove with neuroimaging technologies. Hebbs’ postulate — that the neurons that fire together, wire together — provides a summary of the way synaptic pathways bond and are reinforced by repetition.

This repetition and rumination robs the mind of flexibility, especially when attached to memories with heightened (positive or negative) emotional resonance. Repetition-habituated brains marinate in a soup of low novelty and lack of surprise, forecasting tomorrow to be much the same as today.

Psychedelics disrupt our repetitive or ruminative ways of thinking and rewire brain communication patterns. The result is often an altered state of consciousness marked by transient confusion, followed by a high probability of novel, meaningful and possibly even mystical experiences.

When the rigid, top-down control of the ego is loosened, the anarchy of the creative unconscious blooms.

Concert goers at a rave
We construct the future from the past. (Unsplash)

How psychedelics can help

Our research group at Queen’s University recently completed a review of existing studies on psilocybin-assisted therapy. From over 2,000 records, we found nine completed clinical trials with a total of 169 participants.

Overall, the trials showed that most subjects safely tolerated these interventions and showed improved mental health. However, some experienced transient distress and post-treatment headaches. The trend suggests positive outcomes in various conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, depression, psychological distress associated with life-threatening cancers and demoralization among long-term AIDS survivors.

In short, although psychedelics can be accompanied by known adverse experiences, trials seem to indicate that psilocybin is relatively safe (with the right supports and in a supportive setting) and has a marked ability to interrupt psychopathologies.

To ensure safety and support, the majority of psilocybin trials used the PSI model (preparation, session, integration) with multiple moderate-to-high-doses sessions happening in the company of trained therapists.

Participants report experiences of transient anxiety, distress and confusion, states of joy, interconnectedness, catharsis, forgiveness and wisdom experiences. In contrast to talk therapy, psychedelic sessions are experiential, meaning that we experience changed ways of both seeing and being in the world.

Being OK with uncertainty

Mystical experiences have been reported both by clinical trial subjects and by recreational psilocybin users. Mysticism can be thought of as an experience of absorption, a dissolution of separateness and a sense of deep connection. Absorption is the opposite of rumination.

Rumination carries you away on an eddy of self-referential and self-containing thoughts, while when experiencing absorption, you leave behind your narrow sense of self, experiencing something greater that is both inside and outside of you.

The psychedelic experience is a classic hero’s journey. The hero leaves the comforts of home, faces disruption and challenges to their previous way of thinking and being, has profound and transformative experiences, and returns a changed person.

Leaving predictability and entering into uncertainty is a threshold to transformation.

When predictions fail, opportunities are born

In one study, psilocybin trial subjects reported feeling more deeply connected, open and relational as a result of their entropic, and often difficult, psychedelic experiences. In another study, they have been found to hold less authoritarian political views and be more in touch with nature.

Participants in collective psychedelic rituals commonly experience feelings of deep bond, kinship and even telepathy with other participants. I believe we may be in a similar moment during COVID-19.

COVID-19 has disrupted the normative habits of society. It has forced the economic machine to pause. It has forced many to reevaluate practices and priorities. In some cases, I believe it is dissolving our normal sense of human separateness (even though we are physically distanced).

Perhaps, like the liminal psychedelic state, the uncertainty in which we find ourselves in this moment will lead to more visions of what can be.

The future does not have to remain in the past.

Those of us with the luxury of space and time have an opportunity to reset, unbind our minds, quit repeating old patterns, experience anew what life can hold and to do better.The Conversation

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Ron Shore, PhD Student and Teaching Fellow, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Research@Queen’s: Championing AI for social justice

How Queen’s researchers are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

Research at Queen's

Queen's researcher Samuel Dahan is focused on making legal services more equitable, and he knows all about winning and losing disputes in battle, and the importance of a level playing field for combatants. While researching alternative dispute resolution for his PhD in law at the University of Cambridge, this versatile, black-belt competitor won many bouts in the ring as Cambridge taekwondo team captain and a varsity kickboxer. He also earned medals in the French taekwondo nationals, and the French and British kickboxing championships.

Discover Research@Queen’s
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on how our researchers are confronting COVID-19, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research@Queen’s.

“In martial arts competition, you don’t want to fight someone less experienced than you or someone better than you. Fights are arranged so there is a balance of power,” says Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University. “But fighting is the worst scenario for settling disputes in the real world."

Dahan has teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Queen’s, to develop an AI (artificial intelligence)-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians.

In the wake of COVID-19 unemployment, Dahan and collaborators also recently launched MyOpenCourt.org, an open access app to help recently laid off workers.

Continue the story on the Research@Queen’s website.

Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zu

Samuel Dahan, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop an AI-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians. (Photograph was taken before social distancing measures were implemented.)

Queen’s summer camps cancelled for COVID-19 safety

Given the current public health environment and challenges presented by physical distancing, Queen’s University has made the difficult decision to cancel all in-person youth camps normally delivered throughout the summer.

“We understand that this is disappointing news for campers and their parents,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “The impacts and restrictions imposed on our community as we respond to the COVID-19 situation continues to be hard on everyone, and it’s been especially tough on families with young children.”

The health and safety of campers and camp staff is the university’s top priority. Based on its most current public health guidance, and given the indefinite nature of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, the decision was made not to run any in-person camps this summer. Physical distancing requirements will likely remain in place through to the end of the summer.

The university notes any registration fees paid will be refunded; parents should consult their specific camp website or administrator for details. A few camps are exploring options for online summer camp programming, but these are still in development.

Students that are unemployed as a result of this decision may be eligible for one of several federal COVID-19 emergency benefits programs. Impacted students are welcome to contact the Student Awards Office if they have questions.

The university knows that the camp experience is an important one for children and counsellors. Queen’s camps have been a popular tradition in Kingston for years, and the university looks forward to maintaining that tradition once it is safe to do so. Information on the variety of Queen’s camps can be found online.

Principal Patrick Deane shares details of Fall 2020 planning

Senior leadership meets with hundreds of faculty and staff online to talk about the coming year.

Principal Patrick Deane held a virtual town hall for Queen’s faculty and staff to discuss ongoing planning for the Fall 2020 term. Joining the Principal were Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green, Vice-Principal (Finance and Operations) Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Research) Kim Woodhouse, and Special Advisor on COVID-19 David Walker. Together, they shared their thoughts on how the university will be responding to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and answered question on topics ranging from autumn program delivery methods and research, to health and safety and employee supports.

Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion), hosted the discussion, following a welcome and introduction from Janice Hill (Kanonysyonne), Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation).

“The strength of our institution depends on the health, happiness, and prosperity of everyone in it,” said Principal Deane during his opening remarks to over 1,300 employees who joined in the virtual gathering. “In the shadow of a global health crisis like this we all feel vulnerable, so any opportunity for certainty gives us consolation. Our community of staff, faculty, and students has showed remarkable resilience, patience, and dedication as the university continues to respond to this complex global health crisis, and while we continue to move forward senior leadership will be doing all that we can to provide further clarity and support.”

Principal Deane highlighted that the most pressing issue expressed by faculty and staff was preparation for the fall semester.

“The university is planning for a number of scenarios, and our primary concern remains the health and safety of our community,” he said. “Our hope, of course, is that operations will resume as normal, but this is not realistic. We will most likely see a phased-in approach to our return to campus, with many, if not most courses being delivered remotely.”

What will Fall term course delivery look like?

In planning for a variety of Fall term scenarios, university leadership is working closely with local and provincial government and public health authorities to look at how the institution can advance our educational and research mission while maintaining full support of the city’s management of the current health and economic challenges.

“It is becoming increasingly unlikely that public health circumstances will allow a return to normalcy by the fall,” says Provost Green. “While this does challenge the in-person experience for which we are renowned, I am confident that our spirit of innovation and collaboration will guarantee an outstanding fall semester for our students.”

Discussion of fall planning also extended to issues relating to faculty and staff, with questions posed to the speakers about employment outlook and an eventual return to the workplace.

“The university is about its community and, as we find ourselves in this situation, preserving that community has been of paramount importance to me and the senior leadership team,” says Principal Deane.

Employees who could work from home have been doing so for many weeks, and essential workers continue to do exceptional work on campus, however a small number of those whose jobs depended upon services that can no longer be provided in a remote workplace have been issued a temporary lay-off.

“We are seeing this as temporary and we expect to have all of our employees back to campus as soon as it is possible,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “The planning for a phased-in return to operations is moving ahead and will incorporate measures to see the community back together as health and safety guidelines permit.”

The university continues to work with these employees to assist them in accessing federal relief programs, like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Following evolving public health advice

In planning for a phased-in return to operations, the university is in close consultation with public health officials. Though the term will be largely remote for most students and many employees, certain programs in the Faculty of Health Sciences and a limited number of graduate research programs will be offered in person.  Some students will be on campus for these programs and others may choose to return to the city even if their studies are largely remote.

“So far, Queen’s and Kingston has done excellent work on prevention, which will now have to be amplified by our ability to monitor this situation as some students return in the fall,” says Dr. Walker. “We continue to work closely with public health officials on these plans and are looking at many strategies that will help mitigate risks, as faculty, staff, and students eventually transition back to campus.”

A video recording of the townhall session will be made available on the Principal’s website in the coming days. Those questions submitted but not answered during the live broadcast due to time constraints will be shared anonymously with senior leadership and be addressed as well.

More information on planning for Fall 2020 can also be found in an update on the Provost’s Office website.  

Connecting youth to the Queen’s experience

The Enrichment Studies Unit is linking elementary and secondary school students with resources that introduce them to university studies. 

Photo of a laptop, notebook, and pens.
The Enrichment Studies Unit has compiled over 100 online learning resources.

The month of May is usually a time when the campus is bustling with students from grades 5 to 12, spending a week at the university with the Enrichment Studies Unit (ESU). These students experience what university is like by taking classes and living in Queen’s residence. But due to COVID-19, ESU cannot bring students to Queen’s this spring. So instead, ESU has found ways to bring the Queen’s experience to them.

Reaching Higher is a new catalogue of more than 100 free online resources, compiled by staff who are Ontario-certified teachers, to help students and families easily access high-quality educational content on a variety of subjects. The academic areas range from pathology and engineering to languages and history, and include a wide array of engaging learning options, such as virtual tours of museums and labs, educational games, documentary films, and apps.

“This is a time when parents and students may be looking for educational activities that can help them make the most of their time at home,” says Morgan Davis, Manager, Enrichment Studies Unit. “There’s a lot of material out there, so we have curated what we think are some of the best resources available for free online. Through Reaching Higher, students will be able to get a sense of the subjects they can learn about at university.”

A number of the resources were developed by Queen’s staff and faculty. For example, participants interested in learning more about art can take a virtual tour of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Those looking to learn about engineering research can virtually explore some of the research facilities in Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. For those interested in Indigenous cultures, there are Indigenous teaching and learning resources developed by the Queen's Faculty of Education.

“We can’t completely recreate the Queen’s experience without bringing the students to campus, but we hope Reaching Higher provides students with a glimpse of how dynamic and exciting it can be to study at Queen’s,” says Davis.

The collection can also connect younger students to places around the world, at a time when many are spending most of their time at home. Some of the learning materials take students inside renowned institutions such as the Louvre, NASA’s Langley Research Center, and the Canadian Museum of History.

To learn more about the Enrichment Studies Unit and to explore the new Reaching Higher catalogue, visit their website.

Queen’s launches AI-enhanced tools for those affected by pandemic layoffs

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, helps out-of-work Canadians to understand their legal rights and options.

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business,
MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, millions of Canadians are out of work and facing uncertainty about returning. These circumstances can put workers, particularly those in ‘gig economy’ jobs, in situations where their legal rights are unclear. 

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, will now help these workers understand their rights – and options. 

“Most Canadian workers cannot afford an employment lawyer, or live in areas with few skilled employment law experts,” says Samuel Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and a professor in the Faculty of Law with a cross-appointment to Smith. “Since COVID-19’s arrival in Canada, we have seen nearly 2 million jobs lost with terminations and layoffs across many different sectors, and decided to launch our tools to help Canadians who have lost work.”

MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. Both are available at the project site at myopencourt.org

The “Am I an employee or contractor?” application can determine the likelihood that a work arrangement is an employment relationship or that of a contractor through a fast, anonymous questionnaire.

Workers who believe they have been wrongfully dismissed can use the “How much severance am I entitled to?” tool to calculate reasonable notice for dismissal.

“These tools are as valuable for employers as they are for workers,” Professor Dahan says. “Navigating employer-contractor relationships is challenging, and severance is difficult to calculate. We hope to provide both workers and employers with ways to avoid pitfalls and find equitable solutions to the challenges created by the pandemic.” 

Powerful AI technology lies behind both tools. Working from thousands of Canadian employment law cases, MyOpenCourt can make predictions that can offer guidance to workers in these uncertain situations. While these applications cannot take the place of a lawyer, they can help users understand if they have a case before contacting one.

Should a user discover they have a case, MyOpenCourt will automatically connect the user to a partner law firm at no cost. 

The MyOpenCourt tools have been developed by students and researchers at Queen’s Law, the Smith Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence, Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and partners like McGill University and institutions based in the U.S. and Europe. Professor Maxime Cohen of McGill and Professor Jonathan Touboul of Brandeis University provided data science expertise, helping to translate the case data into predictions.

“We are thrilled that the Conflict Analytics Lab has been able to launch this platform, at a time when these tools will be able to help many Canadians,” says Yuri Levin, Executive Director of the Analytics and AI ecosystem at Smith and an instrumental player in the creation of the Conflict Analytics Lab.

 MyOpenCourt reasonable notice calculator cannot currently be used to generate case outcomes for Québec-based users.

To learn more about the work of the Conflict Analytics Lab, visit conflictanalytics.queenslaw.ca

About Conflict Analytics Lab

The Conflict Analytics Lab (CAL) strives to build a fairer future by improving access to justice.

We are experts in applying artificial intelligence to help resolve conflicts in a transparent, consistent, and innovative manner all over the world.

Housed at Queen’s University, the CAL combines academics, technology experts, and the legal industry to revolutionize the way we approach conflicts and better serve those who cannot afford traditional justice. 

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