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Arts and Science

Celebrating the Class of 2021

Queen’s congratulates graduates on success in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Another academic year at Queen’s is now complete and more than 5,800 students have a big reason to celebrate, now that they have officially graduated. To help mark these achievements, the university is sharing a video message to offer congratulations to graduates and highlight their achievements and perseverance in the face of challenges posed by COVID-19.

“These have been unprecedented times, and very difficult times in which to bring an end to your course of study,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, in his remarks. “That you’ve done so in such circumstances is remarkable, and therefore all the more admirable and deserving of our congratulations.”

With strict public health measures still in place in Ontario, on-site convocation events have had to be postponed, with plans to offer in-person ceremonies later once guidelines permit. As vaccination programs continue across the country, and return to campus planning well underway, Queen’s is hopeful that ceremonies missed in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic can be held.

“I’m so honoured to be able to offer you my most sincere congratulations on the completion of your degree at Queen’s,” says Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation), who joined Principal Deane in the video. “It’s been a very challenging year, but you persevered and succeeded. You should be very proud of yourself for doing so.”

While opportunities to host future in-person ceremonies are explored, graduates can expect to receive their diplomas by mail in the coming weeks, and the names of conferred degree recipients are being shared online by the Office of the University Registrar marking their official graduation. Several faculties and schools are planning virtual events or gestures of recognition in the near term.

“I’m so pleased to celebrate the successful conclusion to your studies and recognize your earned degree, diploma or certificate,” Chancellor Jim Leech says, making the final congratulatory remarks in the video.  “You should be proud of your accomplishment and that you are now a full-fledged Queen’s alum.”

For more information on Spring 2021 graduation, please visit the office of the University Registrar's website.

Funding new frontiers in research

The New Frontiers in Research Fund supports six innovative and interdisciplinary projects at Queen’s.

Six research projects at Queen’s have received funding from the New Frontiers in Research Fund’s (NFRF) 2020 Exploration competition, a program that encourages scholars to take risks, and that fosters discoveries and innovations that could have significant impacts on our world.

Queen’s researchers will receive $1.5 million ($250,000 per project) from the fund to advance interdisciplinary projects with multiple partners and collaborators. Nationally, the NFRF competition will provide $14.5 million in grants to researchers across Canada, funding 117 projects.

The Exploration competition results will support a wide range of research projects at the university, from creating interactive museum artifacts using digital fabrication methods to breakthroughs in brain injury therapy. Listed below are the funded projects:

  • With growing demand for cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly energy sources, nuclear energy may be a viable option to power both remote and on-grid communities. Small modular reactors (SMR) are scaled-down, flexible models of traditional nuclear plants, and many models rely on molten salts to transport thermal energy created by nuclear fission. However, materials performance in molten salt environments is poorly studied. Mark Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering), Suraj Persaud (Mechanical and Materials Engineering), and collaborators will lead experiments evaluating materials in molten salts in the presence of radiation, a breakthrough for implementation of SMR technology globally.
  • Debate rages as Kingston struggles with the legacy of its most famous former resident, Sir John A. Macdonald, and his actions against Indigenous peoples whose lands and children were taken. Like communities worldwide, the city is at a historic juncture confronting cultural narratives of racism and dispossession. An interdisciplinary team led by Christine Sypnowich (Philosophy) will examine Kingston as a case study to address the social exclusion and historical trauma inherent in current understandings of heritage. Uniting conceptual investigation, health care practice, and cultural resurgence, the team of Indigenous and settler scholars will consider how community-based art practices can contribute to an inclusive heritage and help enable restorative healing for Indigenous and racialized people.
  • Pharmaceuticals have become contaminants of emerging concern through increased presence in the environment through wastewater, causing great risk to ecosystems and human health. A contributor to this issue is wastewater treatment facilities that are unable to eliminate pharmaceutical ingredients and excreted drug metabolites through their operating systems. Bas Vriens (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) and Martin Petkovich (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) aim to develop new technology that will act as a 'mega-liver', filtering out harmful pharmaceuticals in wastewater treatment facilities in a cost-efficient way to help ensure good health for our communities and environment.
  • R. David Andrew (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) is investigating the molecular mechanisms that lead to electrical failure and constriction of blood vessels, a process called spreading depolarization, caused by brain injury. By identifying these mechanisms, the research collaborators will challenge previous knowledge about brain injury therapy and treatments, and propose a method that may prevent loss of brain cells by blocking spreading depolarization, effectively reducing brain damage.
  • COVID-19 restrictions have brought about innovative ways to engage in cultural experiences virtually. Leveraging digital fabrication methods, such as 3-D scanning and printing, e-textiles and laser cutting, Sara Nabil (School of Computing) and collaborators will demonstrate how human-computer interaction can expand and enrich interactions with museum collections. The team will develop digital fabrication methods that resemble, complement, or augment traditional art. This breakthrough will make the museum experience more widely available to people with disabilities, those living in remote communities, those impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns and more.
  • Tumours that arise throughout the body called neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) cause metastatic disease in up to 50 per cent of patients, giving those diagnosed months to years to survive. However, the molecular basis of highly variable clinical outcomes is poorly understood. Neil Renwick (Pathology and Molecular Medicine), Kathrin Tyryshkin (School of Computing) and collaborators have proposed a radical new way to investigate NENs. The researchers propose using graph neural network models, typically used in computer science, to investigate the gene networks that drive or mediate tumor aggressiveness. The understanding of these molecular social networks may improve accurate knowledge of tumour behaviour and even treatment response, improving NEN clinical outcomes.

The NFRF’s Exploration competition supports research that defies current paradigms, bridges disciplines, or tackles fundamental problems from new perspectives. A key principle of this stream is the recognition that exploring new directions in research carries risk but that these risks are worthwhile, given their potential for significant impact.

“With the support of the NFRF, Queen’s researchers are bringing new ideas and methodologies to critical issues from wastewater treatment to rethinking cultural narratives,” say Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). “The potential impact and application of this work will be enhanced and advanced through collaborations that cross disciplinary boundaries.”

The NFRF is an initiative created by the Canada Research Coordinating Committee. It is managed by a tri-agency program on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. To find out more, visit the website.

Why we need to seriously reconsider COVID-19 vaccination passports

Vaccine passports may soon be required for travelling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Like biometrics, they’ll likely become a permanent part of our daily lives — and there’s barely been any debate about them.
Vaccine passports may soon be required for travelling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Like biometrics, they’ll likely become a permanent part of our daily lives — and there’s barely been any debate about them. (Unsplash / Artur Tumasjan)

In 2003, Canada’s immigration and citizenship minister, Denis Coderre, declared that “the biometrics train has left the station,” making reference to new technologies like facial recognition and retina scans.

Coderre’s statement demonstrated the perceived inevitability, along with the innocent embrace, of new biometric technologies.

It’s eerily similar to contemporary statements about vaccine passports. And, much like the rollout of biometrics, the solutions promised by these technologies outweigh the public’s appetite for debate. So what’s changed in the past 20 years, and why should we care?

Proposed vaccine passports are moving forward with little scrutiny due to their promise to solve many travel-related challenges during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergence of biometrics and surveillance in post-9/11 border security tells a similar story.

Currently, vaccine passports are presented as a relatively simple technological solution to our current travel woes. However, like biometrics, vaccine passports will likely become permanent parts of our daily lives. That means meaningful public debate and discussion about their merits and problems is essential.

‘Function creep’

There is growing scholarly trepidation with “function creep” — the way technologies are gradually used for much more than their originally intended purposes.

These concerns dovetail with related fears about the rapid erosion of privacy. They should not be ignored, nor should they be considered trade-offs for political promises of safer and more efficient travel. Regardless of how effective vaccine passports may be, concerns about their use demand public conversation.

Intensified security at borders and in airports was believed to be a necessary evil of the post-9/11 world. Biometrics and surveillance provided a “sorting” function that improved travellers’ experiences. They promised to streamline interactions with reinforced border security. This positive dividend overlooked the wider social sorting functions of these technologies.

Largely ignored was the way travellers and populations were categorized along lines of race, gender and class. Similarly, in the face of nationwide lockdowns, the promise of a return to safe and efficient travel quiets criticism.

Personal privacy

Such technologies also challenge how we negotiate personal privacy. They contribute to enhanced law enforcement powers, and are increasingly presented as acceptable trade-offs for rediscovered mobility.

The pandemic, together with related government responses, have exposed the inequities in our society.

As a result, we should be troubled by the open embrace of vaccine passports. The lessons of the past two decades of surveillance in society have shown us that identification technologies such as biometrics have consequences that go well beyond their intended use.

A person holds a phone that says COVID-19 Digital Immune Passport.
Vaccine passports will probably live on our smartphones. (Wuestenigel/Flickr, CC BY-SA)

Contemporary vaccine passports will bear little resemblance to the handwritten vaccination cards of the past. Instead, they will likely reside on our smartphones.

Responsibility rests with us

That means the responsibility for them rests squarely with the citizen. Decidedly different than the responses to security challenges after 9/11, vaccine passports are not products of large transnational corporations.

Instead, regular citizens with programming skills who engage in “participatory democracy” on GitHub, an internet platform that hosts software development through volunteer programming, are proposing solutions. In the months following the first media mentions of vaccine passports, more than 40 related projects were launched on GitHub.

The majority of them are apps that use a smartphone’s algorithms to collect sensitive data such as name, date of birth, vaccine brand, dosage and mailing addresses. As one volunteer programmer writes: “I decided to stop enduring the effects of the pandemic and start to act.”

A trend is emerging: programming-savvy citizens who code for corporations by day now do so for public safety by night. The political significance of this cannot be understated.

The next generation of entrepreneurs are technologically savvy. These citizen-programmers imagine a future where safety, mobility, freedom and the dream of the return to pre-pandemic normalcy may intersect. But this intersection will be on the smartphone.

Post 9/11 consequences

The consequences of biometrics and surveillance rolled out in response to the security challenges of the post-9/11 world had widespread consequences. Similarly, leveraging smartphones as the vehicle for vaccine passports will be fraught with rights and civil liberties violations.

Research over the past two decades into surveillance is clear — it threatens individual freedoms and amplifies social differences. Social sorting technologies like biometrics not only verify that “you are who you say you are,” they also assess risk and categorize each of us in the process.

Proposed to solve problems related to enhancing secure and efficient travel, the consequences of vaccine passports are much broader. Surveillance and biometrics assign worth and opportunity. They also assign differential access to goods, services and places.

Vaccine passports provide the opportunity to add health data to our mobile personal data devices. While the promise of improved pandemic travel will likely be kept, there will also be a series of policy challenges, privacy concerns and troubling consequences of social sorting.

Real debate is needed

The absence of meaningful debate about turning to consumer technology as a vehicle for vaccine passports is serious. In the early 2000s, questioning the reliance on biometrics and surveillance was often regarded as suspicious, speculative and even anti-modern.

Today, public criticism and deliberation about vaccine passports is also overlooked and even discredited. Concerns over vaccine passports are sometimes conflated with anti-mask and anti-vaccination sentiments.

Safe and efficient travel is the coveted prize. However, failure to have fulsome public conversations about the long-term societal impact of vaccine passports will leave our privacy and civil liberties exposed.The Conversation


Tommy Cooke, SSHRC Postdoctoral Researcher, Digital Privacy, Queen's University and Benjamin Muller, Associate Professor in Political Science and Sociology, Western University

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

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Innovating to improve virtual teaching and learning

Queen’s is receiving funding from the Government of Ontario for the creation of digital educational material for students in many different areas of the university.

As the past academic year has shown, digital innovations in teaching and learning can have a powerful effect on both students and instructors. Queen’s will now be developing 32 projects to improve online education at the university thanks to over $2 million in funding from the Government of Ontario's Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS) initiative, which is supported by eCampusOntario.

“Queen’s success in securing Virtual Learning Strategy funding shows the dedication of our faculty and staff to pursuing innovative methods to enhance teaching and learning, especially as the pandemic has forced us to adapt to virtual models of course delivery,” says Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce. “Even once it is safe to return to in-person instruction, the new materials created by this funding will support the teaching and learning environment at Queen’s for years to come.”

The VLS funding enables Queen’s to produce a variety of new online educational resources, including full courses and training modules, that will benefit students at many levels and in many different areas of the university. The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS), the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS), the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Faculty of Education, the School of Graduate Studies, and the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre all submitted successful projects.

The digital educational material will teach students about a wide array of topics, including robotics, artificial intelligence, race and migration in Canada, and sustainability.

The funded projects will also support several areas of focus across the university, including equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenization (EDII). One project, “Modular Supports for Underrepresented Individuals to Access Internships and Work Integrated Learning,” will create modules that can be strategically integrated into relevant programs across Ontario to improve equitable access and inclusivity. The project is a joint initiative from FEAS, FAS, Career Services, the Human Rights and Equity office, and external collaborators.

The Provincial Virtual Learning Strategy

The VLS initiative was announced in December 2020 as a $50 million investment by the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities intended to drive growth and advancement in virtual learning across the province’s post-secondary institutions.

eCampusOntario is a provincially-funded non-profit organization that leads a consortium of the province’s 48 publicly-funded colleges, universities, and Indigenous institutes to develop and test online learning tools to advance the use of education technology and digital learning environments.

Learn more about the VLS on the eCampusOntario website.

Caribbean food security during COVID-19 can only be ensured through debt relief

International border closures, which prompted the near-total shutdown of air and cruise travel to curb the spread of COVID-19, dealt a catastrophic blow to the Caribbean's tourism industry.

A woman shops in the produce section of a Caribbean grocery store
People visit fruit section of a grocery store on Guadeloupe, an island group in the southern Caribbean Sea. (Shutterstock)

The pandemic and global trade disruptions have highlighted the growing vulnerability of Caribbean states when it comes to importing food items. Annually, Caribbean states import food items valued at nearly US$5 billion for food security.

International border closures to curb the spread of COVID-19 meant restricted access to these imported food items which make up more than 80 per cent of the region’s food system.

A household survey commissioned by Caribbean governments in April 2020 to explore the impact of the pandemic on regional food security revealed that global border closures increased barriers to food security by augmenting food prices and decreasing income and employment levels. The survey data also revealed that more than half of all respondents experienced income or job loss.

The impact of international border closures on food security

Tourism supports a large percentage of economic activity in the Caribbean. International border closures, which prompted the near-total shutdown of air and cruise travel to curb the spread of COVID-19, dealt a catastrophic blow to the Caribbean’s tourism industry.

The decline in tourism led to decreased spending by tourists, hotel and associated tourism service closures and job losses for community members. Such outcomes translated to higher levels of indebtedness, unemployment and psychological stress, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations throughout the Caribbean.

All of these factors made many residents anxious about their ability to ensure food security in the coming months, because without money they cannot afford to buy food.

Shopping centre
Pictured is the largest grocery store in San Jose De Ocoa, Dominican Republic. (Shutterstock)

The downward economic spiral

Downward growth spirals across vital economic sectors like tourism prompted Caribbean states to turn to international development institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Funds (IMF) for emergency loans during the pandemic.

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, highlighted concerns back in April, 2020 about the emergency loans stating “borrowing is not the answer to confront this crisis. Caribbean countries need grant support fast. There is need for urgent intervention to ensure liquidity.”

According to Bárcena, Caribbean countries are spending between one per cent and four per cent of GDP to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Growing external debt burdens to replace income and ensure social outcomes, like food security, worsened the Caribbean’s debt to GDP ratio, which averaged 68.5 per cent in 2019.

The growing debt problem

The rising debt burden facing Caribbean states is largely because most hotels and restaurants in the region’s tourism sector import bulk supplies of low-priced food items. The priority for cheap imported food for tourist consumption means that as much as 80 cents from every dollar generated in the Caribbean’s tourism sector leaves the region each year.

While the pandemic disrupted tourism growth, the extreme external debt levels facing Caribbean states are increasing. And governments are becoming more responsible for social outcomes like food security.

Over the past 12 months, the IMF provided more than US$1 billion to Caribbean countries.

Relative to annual foreign exchange earnings in a thriving island economy, US$1 billion in emergency loans seems immaterial. However, in just paying the interest on external debt accumulated on emergency loans offered by development institutions like the IMF, some Caribbean island states allocate up to 54 per cent of their annual budgets to external debt servicing.

Small islands, like the Bahamas are spending up to US$ 1 million each week on food assistance programs — all while increasing financial support on health spending for COVID tests, treatment, vaccinations, surveillance and protective equipment.

In shifting the responsibility for social welfare from people to the state, COVID-19 is worsening the growing external debt problem across small Caribbean states.

Shopping centre with cars
Coki Point Plaza, a shopping centre in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. (Shutterstock)

Food security in the post-Covid-19 economy

In April 2020, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, issued a call to international development institutes, like the IMF, for alternative development approaches, he said:

“The economic burden for our countries has been unsustainable because of the high levels of debt. We don’t have the capacity for printing money and our policy instruments are very limited. What is required at this point is some level of support from international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”

Debt relief would improve Caribbean states response to global crises. Less debt means that governments can increase spending on social services that would improve economic conditions to ensure food security. It really is the only solution.

A post-pandemic recovery pathway to ensure Caribbean food security involves the IMF and other development entities recognizing the unsustainable debt situation across Caribbean island states and including the region in considerations extended to other developing countries for debt relief.The Conversation


Kasmine Forbes, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning, Queen's University

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

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Giving graduates a jumpstart on new careers

The Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston program, a one-year, salary paid, career apprenticeship helps new graduates jumpstart their careers while helping small business attract and retain highly skilled talent in Kingston.

In 2018 the Faculty of Arts and Science partnered with Kingston Economic Development in 2018 to create QCA:K, a program supported by Ottawa-based business leader and philanthropist Alan Rottenberg. 

Applications are being accepted for the upcoming year. 

Graduates apply to local companies; companies receive four months of funding towards salaries and successful applicants have a guaranteed full-time job for one year.

“‘Where/how do I get experience if no one is willing to hire me?’ is an all too familiar question,” says Chandra Erickson, Experiential Learning Coordinator, Faculty of Arts and Science. “Most entry-level positions ask for experience creating a common hurdle for new graduates during their initial job search. QCA:K bridges this gap by connecting new graduates with local employers, providing meaningful first work experience(s) and keeping our graduates in Kingston.”

The project was piloted in 2018-19 with eight jobs created in Kingston. The pilot year proved successful, with seven of eight positions turning into permanent employment – three of whom remain with the original employer. Since the initial pilot, student applications have grown from 28 to 173 and the number of business partners from 15 to 25, with the number of positions posted doubling from 18 to 32.

“Our Strategic Plan identifies experiential learning as an important part of the student experience,” says Jill Atkinson, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning). “We are committed to increasing access to both work-integrated and community service learning. The QCA:K program is a valuable addition to the Faculty of Arts and Science’s work-integrated opportunities because it extends beyond university providing a bridge to the workforce.”

Apprenticeship opportunities for 2021 so far include:

  • Rogers & Trainors Commercial Realty Inc. Brokerage - Executive Assistant

  • Maureen McBratney, Sun Life Financial - Administrative Assistant

  • Sherlock’s Escapes – 1) Operations Manager and 2) Digital Media Coordinator

  • Little Giant’s Rockin’ Dog Town – Manager of Operations and Social Media

  • Cher-Mère - Digital Media Coordinator

  • MaxSold – Content Writer

  • Kinarm – Knowledge Translation Apprentice

“When I signed up for this program, I had no idea it was going to be so life-changing,” says Nour Mazloum (ArtSci’19), Communication and Events Officer at Kingston Economic Development Corporation. “I have loved every minute since I started my career with Kingston Economic Development. All the social events, the connections, the support from my colleagues and mentors and just the overall memories that have shaped me to be the woman I am today. I will be forever grateful for starting my career through this program.”

To hear another testimonial from 2019 QCA:K apprentice Justin Karch watch the YouTube video.

Erickson adds the goals for the QCA:K program include being top of mind for businesses in Kingston so when they are looking to recruit recent graduates, they think of QCA:K and that when graduating students think about starting their careers, they consider staying in Kingston.

The Government and Institutional Relations team at Queen’s shared information on the program with MPP Ian Arthur, who, in early March rose in the Legislature with a Member’s Statement to showcase the QCA:K and the collaboration between Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science and Kingston Economic Development.

To learn more about the program, see the 2021 job postings, and hear testimonials from QCA:K graduates visit the website.

Ghana needs to rethink its small-scale mining strategy

The devolution of small-scale mining decisions to municipal and district assemblies working in collaboration with traditional authorities is key to saving the industry in Ghana.

Gold is key to the economic survival of millions of Ghanaians. Knut-Erik Helle/FlickrCC BY-NC

Ghana is among the top two gold producers in Africa. What has caught little attention, however, is the fact that more than 35 per cent of total gold output in Ghana comes from artisanal and small-scale miners. Artisanal and small-scale mining is estimated to support the livelihoods of some 4.5 million Ghanaians, about 12 per cent of the population. They account for more than 60 per cent of the country’s mining sector labour force.

Artisanal and small-scale mining is a low-tech, indigenous and often informal. It occurs in over 80 mineral-rich developing countries. Up to 100 million people globally work in this sector.

Artisanal and small-scale mining has a long history in Ghana. It was only in 1989, however, that government recognised its legitimacy through the Small-scale Mining Act (PNDCL 218), later integrated into the current Mining Act 703 (2006). The act provides a blueprint for its formalisation. It also reserves small-scale mining for Ghanaians. The law requires prospective local miners to apply for a licence to mine up to 25 acres of land in designated areas.

Government’s intention to formalise the sector has had very little success. More than 85 per cent of all small-scale mining operations in Ghana are carried out by unlicensed operators.

Due to the sector’s evolving nature, the distinction between artisanal and small-scale mining has become contentious and blurred. To avoid any complications, most scholars now use them interchangeably. Some use the level of sophistication employed to make a distinction. But in Ghana today one sees rudimentary tools (traditional artisanal mining) and modern tools (small-scale mining) being used on a single mining site.

Jackboot approach

Government’s response to illegal mining has been to use the military to raid small-scale miners. There is a long history to such a combative approach in Ghana. It dates as far back as the British colonial administration which enacted the Mercury Ordinance of 1933 to ban and criminalise native miners.

In 2013, the then president John Mahama formed the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce to “flush out” illegal miners, which led to many arrests and the expulsion of illegal Chinese miners. The use of force intensified under the current president, Nana Akufo-Addo, who vowed in 2017 to put his presidency on the line to fight illegal mining in Ghana. This culminated in the setting up of Operation Vanguard, the largest centralised military-police joint taskforce to combat illegal mining in Ghana.

The real problem, however, is government’s failure to implement its legislative framework for the formalisation of small-scale miners.

Barriers to formalisation

Government first introduced a framework for the formalisation of small-scale miners more than 30 years ago. But it has very little to show for it. Less than 15 per cent of small-scale mining operators have been able to acquire the requisite mining licences. Many don’t bother to apply due to the tedious and cumbersome nature of the regulatory process.

To gain a better understanding of why the formalisation process has not achieved much, an aspect of my PhD research sought to unearth local perspectives on the underlying conditions for the creation of these informal local mines. It examines how these underpin persistent informality.

There are two problems. The first is that the current formalisation blueprints fail to adapt to the conditions of the majority of local miners. The second is that the blueprints make it very difficult or too costly for small-scale miners to comply. They are therefore a disincentive to formalise.

Only a small segment of small-scale miners can raise the amount of money required to become formal operators. The costs include application fees as well as the money required for the preparation and processing of the application. Then there are costs for environmental permits, the hiring of surveyors and for the acquisition of business documents. A prospective small-scale mining licensee could spend at least US$4,000 to secure the requisite legal status.

When unofficial payments (bribes) are included, according to small-scale miners, the costs of getting a licence to mine 25 acres can balloon to as much as US$7,000. A burgeoning body of research has shown that artisanal and small-scale miners in Ghana are driven to mining by poverty.

The second challenge revolves around a centralised bureaucracy and lack of effective engagement with all stakeholders. Despite the administration of small-scale mining being decentralised into nine mining districts across the country, only the national head office can issue a small-scale mining licence. Key local stakeholders like municipal and district assemblies with better understanding of the complexities play no effective role in the licensing process.

Again, the creation of a centralised taskforce to address a localised problem runs parallel to existing local structures. This undermines effective policing, monitoring and accountability.

Finding solutions

President Akufo-Addo’s call for a dialogue on illegal mining in his January 2021 state of the nation address portends a potential shift.

To create the enabling policy environment for a blooming artisanal and small-scale mining industry that is environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial to the state and citizens, greater engagement with local actors is the path to chart.

The solution is the devolution of small-scale mining decisions to municipal and district assemblies working in collaboration with traditional authorities.

This will facilitate greater recognition and inclusion of local actors in the licensing process. It will also open dialogue with local miners since municipal and district assemblies are the local development agents. This will bring decision making processes closer to small-scale miners and enhance the effective policing and monitoring of the sector.

The reform of the licence regime for small-scale mining should be driven by the need to match the costs of formalisation with the complex socio-economic dynamics of the majority of operators. This is attainable when policy treats small-scale mining as a survivalist sector rather than a platform for wealth creation. Artisanal and small-scale mining has also suffered because of its portrayal by the media and public misrepresentation as a vehicle for “quick money”.The Conversation


Richard Kwaku Kumah, PhD Candidate, School of Environmental Studies, Queen's University.

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

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Queen’s professor co-curates National Gallery of Canada’s first major Rembrandt exhibition

Stephanie Dickey plays lead role in developing Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition which features works by the world-famous artist and his contemporaries.

Rembrandt van Rijn's painting called The Blinding of Samson, 1636
Rembrandt van Rijn's painting The Blinding of Samson, created in 1636. (Photo provided by: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main)

The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) will soon present its first-ever exhibition of masterpieces by the world-renowned artist Rembrandt van Rijn, marking the country’s first major loan exhibition focused on Rembrandt since 1969. Co-curated by Queen’s Professor Stephanie Dickey, Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition charts the central decades of the artist's career within the context of the thriving Amsterdam art market, bringing Rembrandt’s art into context alongside works by other artists who were his friends, followers, and rivals in Amsterdam.

“I am really excited to introduce Canadian viewers to remarkable artworks that have never been shown here before,” says Dr. Dickey, the Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art. “This exhibition picks up perfectly from Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges, which debuted at Queen’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre in 2019. The Agnes show, curated by Jacquelyn N. Coutré, former Bader Curator and Researcher of European Art, examined Rembrandt’s early years as an emerging artist in his hometown of Leiden. In 1632, he made the decision to move to Amsterdam, a larger city that was fast becoming the commercial and cultural capital of Northern Europe. The National Gallery exhibition explores how Amsterdam’s stimulating creative environment inspired Rembrandt to reach his full potential as an artist, teacher, and entrepreneur.”

Thirty lenders from across Canada, the U.S., and Europe have contributed to the works on display. Three paintings from Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s Bader Collection – one each by Rembrandt and his associates Govert Flinck and Nicolaes Maes – will join the installation, which features 21 paintings, eight drawings, and dozens of prints by Rembrandt and works by 20 of his contemporaries.

Notably, the exhibition also integrates newly-commissioned and acquired works by contemporary Indigenous and Black artists based in Canada that reflect on the impact of colonialism in Rembrandt’s time and beyond.

“Exhibiting European art of the colonial period is something we can no longer take for granted,” Dr. Dickey says. “The global trade empire that fueled Dutch – and European – prosperity was part of a culture of colonialism that created much suffering, including the exploitation and enslavement of Indigenous peoples in Africa, Indonesia, and North America. We have added new dimensions to this show by including contributions by Black and Indigenous scholars and contemporary artists, and we hope to present one of only 11 preserved examples of the Two-Row Wampum, a sacred Indigenous record of the first treaty between the Haudenosaunee people and Dutch settlers.”

The treaty marks the first diplomatic contact between Dutch settlers and Indigenous peoples in the area around what is now Albany, New York. It dates to 1613, during Rembrandt’s lifetime, creating a powerful link that prompts reflection on the role of North America within the global story of European colonialism.

A major exhibition like this one takes several years to come together. Dr. Dickey was involved at all stages of the project, from researching and selecting the works to be featured, to contributing to and co-editing the exhibit’s accompanying catalogue. She also worked together with the NGC and Städel teams on exhibit design, programming, and marketing.

“The theme for this exhibition grew out of my own research and teaching here at Queen’s, and I am delighted that it captured the interest of my colleagues at the National Gallery and the Städel,” Dr. Dickey says. “A major museum project like this involves a lot of people and an extraordinary level of teamwork that is quite different from my usual, rather solitary, life as a scholar. It has been an exciting process that gives me great respect for the complicated work done by museum professionals.”

While Dr. Dickey is an internationally-recognized expert in Dutch art, she is also a professor deeply committed to sharing her passion for the history of visual culture with Queen’s students.

“Students in Canada rarely have a chance to learn in such close proximity to major masterworks from the European historical tradition, so exhibitions like this, and the work leading up to them, provide unique opportunities for our students to engage with important artworks,” says Norman Vorano, Head of Queen’s Department of Art History and Art Conservation. “Professor Dickey is not only an internationally-recognized expert, but she has a wonderful gift in being able to connect with students and to make these 400-year-old paintings ‘relatable’ and relevant to new and diverse audiences. I want to congratulate her and the National Gallery of Canada.”

During the years spent developing the exhibit, many of Dr. Dickey’s students assisted with research that informed its creation through class assignments and independent projects.

“There are many ways to approach art history, from theory and cultural context to technical examination, and putting together a museum exhibition requires developing all of those skills,” Dr. Dickey says. “Most of all, a project like this one, with broad public appeal, shows students the real-world applications of what we do.”

Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition is scheduled to run in Ottawa from mid-May to Sept. 6, 2021. The original opening date of May 14 has been delayed by Ontario’s current public health guidelines in response to COVID-19. A new opening date will be announced as soon as it is available.

For more information on the exhibition, related public programs, and on-line resources, visit the National Gallery of Canada website.

Transforming the global academy

Principal Patrick Deane on how the SDGs are helping break down silos, provoke dialogue, and unite us all in a common global purpose.

[Photo of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]
Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University

As a member of the international group tasked with updating the Magna Charta Universitatum – the declaration of university freedoms and principles that was first signed in Bologna in 1988 – I am struck by the extent to which the intervening three decades have altered the global consensus about the nature and function of universities. Where the original document spoke eloquently to the fundamental values of the academy, the new Magna Charta Universitatum 2020 reaffirms those values but also expands upon their social function and utility. I would summarise the shift this way: we have moved from an understanding of universities as defined primarily by their ability to transcend historical contingency to a more complicated view, which asserts that timeless principles such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the platform from which the academy must engage with history.

If the situation in Europe and around the world in 1988 made it important to speak up for the freedoms without which teaching and research would be impoverished, by 2020 it had become equally important to speak of the responsibilities incumbent on institutions by virtue of the privileges accorded to them. The reality of rapid climate change has brought urgency and authority to this new view of universities, as have parallel trends in the social, cultural, and political climate, and “education for sustainable development” has emerged as the increasingly dominant model for global higher education – one which fuses the concerns of environment, society, and economy.  

Recent columns in Times Higher Education have admirably described the diverse ways in which the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been intrinsic to this reorientation of the global academy: as a rallying point for students and staff, as an accountability framework, and as a global language for political action, for example. Here at Queen’s University, the SDGs have been an important frame for our current planning process, and in all of those ways have influenced the manner in which we understand and wish to articulate our mission.

At one point in the process, an influential and valued friend of the university expressed some irritation to me about the way in which the SDGs had come to dominate and disrupt the university’s normally untroubled and inwardly-focused dialogue with itself about mission and values. “And in any case,” came the throwaway dismissal, “there’s nothing original or new about aligning with the SDGs.” Of course, that is true in 2021, but is it relevant? If a university is able to maximise its global impact, does the inherent originality or novelty of its planning parameters matter? In such exchanges – still occurring, I’m certain, on campuses everywhere – we can see that the changing consensus about which I wrote at the start is not yet complete.

It seems to me, in fact, that much of the value of the SDGs as an organising framework for universities resides in their not being proprietary or “original” to one institution, or to an exclusive group of institutions. It has often been pointed out that they now provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research. Adoption of the SDGs, however variously that is done from institution to institution, is turning the “global academy” from a rhetorical to a real construct, and I can’t imagine why it would be in the interests of any university to hold itself aloof from that transformation. Having watched our planning process unfold at Queen’s over the last two years, I can confirm that what the SDGs do at the global level, they do also at the level of the individual institution, providing a common language that provokes and sustains dialogue – not only between disciplines, but between the academic and non-academic parts of the operation.

I want to end by commenting on the excitement generated when siloes are broken open and when people and units understand how they are united with others in a common purpose and in service to the greater good. To cultivate that understanding has been the primary objective of planning at Queen’s for the last two years, and preparing our first submission to the Impact Rankings has been an intrinsic part of that process of learning and self-discovery. Naturally, we are delighted and excited by where we find ourselves in the rankings, but we are energised in a more profound way by the knowledge of what synergies and collaborations exist or appear possible both within our university and in the global academy.

The first 16 SDGs point to the areas in which we want to have impact. The 17th tells us what the whole project is really all about: acting in community for the communal good.

This op-ed was originally published in the Times Higher Education supplement.  

Queen’s community comes together to illustrate social impact

THE Impact Rankings submission measures the university’s overall contribution to global sustainability.

[Graphic image with a "Q" of the Queen's community]

Times Higher Education (THE), the organization best known for its World University Rankings, sees universities as representing the greatest hope of solving the most urgent global challenges. In 2019, they moved to create the Impact Rankings – an inclusive evaluation of post-secondary institutions’ commitments to positive social and economic impact measured against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This year, out of more than 1,200 participating institutions worldwide, Queen’s placed first in Canada and fifth globally in the 2021 Impact Rankings. It is the first time Queen’s has participated in this ranking exercise, and our performance is a result of the campus community’s united effort to create a comprehensive submission package for Impact Rankings adjudicators.

THE Impact Rankings

While many traditional ranking processes are designed with research-intensive universities in mind, the Impact Rankings are open to any institution teaching at the undergraduate or post-graduate level. Using the SDGs as a means of gauging a university’s performance, THE developed a methodology involving 105 metrics and 220 measurements, carefully calibrated to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons between institutions across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.

“The Impact Rankings are unlike any other ranking. They offer a global platform to acknowledge and celebrate the partnerships integral to advancing international initiatives, developing the leaders of tomorrow, and working towards an inclusive, diverse, and sustainable future,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations) and co-chair of the Queen’s Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “On behalf of the Steering Committee, thank you to the community for your support and collaboration in advancing this initiative.”

In their submissions, universities must demonstrate progress toward meeting at least three SDGs, as well as toward SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. THE evaluates each institution’s submission, drawing on the quantitative and qualitative data provided, as well as bibliometric research datasets provided by Elsevier, a data and analytics company.

The Queen’s Submission – A Community Effort

“Participating in the Impact Rankings requires self-reflection. We are asked to contemplate our current impact and think about what we want to achieve for the future,” says Sandra den Otter, Vice-Provost (International) and co-chair of the Queen's Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “These results testify to the work we have done together. I hope this is a moment for recognizing the progress we have made, and to furthering our aspirations as a university and as members of a global community committed to change.”

To lead its submission process, Queen’s established a Steering Committee, Project Team, and Working Group, comprised of leadership, staff, and faculty from across the university. This team set about gathering over 600 unique pieces of evidence, representing the efforts of over 70 departments and portfolios. Queen’s chose to submit evidence in support of all 17 SDGs – a decision that led to top-100 rankings in 14 of 17 SDGs, including top-10 in three categories (Zero Hunger, Sustainable Cities, and Life on Land) and being ranked first – globally – for SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. 

Metrics and measurements were unique for each SDG, with each goal requiring a specific combination of quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative evidence integrated research bibliometric data and key words that measured number of publications, co-authors, and field-weighted citations. Other quantitative measurements looked at water consumption per capita, energy and food waste measurements, university expenditure on arts and culture, the number of first-generation university students, and number of employees from equity-seeking groups.

Qualitative evidence spanned institutional policies and individual courses, to the missions of research centres and institutes, community volunteer initiatives, and strategic plans, all demonstrating how we are advancing the SDGs. Metrics often required evidence of local, national, and global-reaching initiatives to illustrate full impact.

More than 400 internal links pointing to Queen’s websites were supplied as publicly accessible evidence of Queen’s research, outreach, teaching, and stewardship efforts. Additionally, nearly 100 external links were included in the submission, each reflecting the university’s extensive partnerships: internally with student-led clubs, locally with Sustainable Kingston and United Way KFL&A, nationally with the Government of Canada, and globally with the Matariki Network of Universities.

Learn more about Queen’s performance in the Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings.


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