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New summer studies offered at the BISC

[Bader International Study Centre]
Through Castle Summer+, undergraduate students at Queen’s can take part in a six-week study abroad program at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, England. (Supplied photo)

Applications are now open for Castle Summer+, a six-week study abroad program at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC). 

Undergraduate students in their second through final years are invited to live and study at Herstmonceux Castle in southern England from May 3 to June 15. 

With smaller class sizes and the opportunity to do primary research in their chosen major, Castle Summer+ prepares students for graduate school and offers workshops and learning opportunities that are different from any other study abroad program.

“The academic experience at the BISC is anchored by the belief that there’s nothing better than learning by doing,” says Christian Lloyd, Academic Director at the BISC. “Our Experiential Learning Opportunities and Career-Ready workshops encourage our students to develop the skills they need to succeed through active participation and personal contact with primary sources, outside of a traditional classroom environment.”

Unlike other programs offered through Queen’s, Castle Summer+ brings independent research in the humanities and social sciences to the forefront. The university is committed to advancing global research collaborations, and the interdisciplinary approach of this new program hopes to facilitate international co-operation and student success within these fields. 

Students complete 9.0 units during the Castle Summer+ program, meaning this is a tremendous opportunity for upper year students to have an international experience and build their resumes and networks while staying on track for graduation. Students will also be able to apply the skills they learn over the summer to their studies at Queen’s.

The summer program includes a four-day trip to London, which allows students to travel and immerse themselves in British culture and history, as well as conduct research in world-class museums and institutions

“The Castle experience is a perfect blend of adventure and academics,” says Nick Isaacs (ArtSci’22), a former BISC student. “You really are given every opportunity to grow as you participate in classes taught by amazing professors during the week and get to explore the world on the weekends.”

BISC at 25

This summer the BISC is also celebrating its 25th anniversary. Celebrations will be held over Canada Day weekend and will include poutine, street hockey and the official opening of the new on campus Science and Innovation Laboratory. Starting in Fall 2019, this state of the art facility will allow the BISC to offer a variety of STEM courses. 

For more information about Castle Summer+ and the 25th anniversary celebrations, visit the BISC website.

Applications for the Castle Summer+ program are due by April 1.

Together We Are: Studying the past to dream our future

[Together We Are]

In this piece for the Together We Are blog, Adnan Husain, a professor in the Department of History, talks about using education to combat stereotypes, and he explains how universities provide us with the opportunity of learning from the past to build a better future.

As a historian, my reflex is to look to the past to analyze contemporary conditions and understand recent experiences. When I first began to study medieval European and Middle Eastern/Islamic History as a university student, I did not imagine that my preoccupations with how religious identities were formed through the interrelationships between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the pre-modern world would seem so relevant to so many others. My interests at the time developed from a more personal perspective as a Muslim from a religiously observant family raised in North America. I was seeking historical grounding for what seemed an eccentric problem – being what one scholar would later term a “Western Muslim.” My exploration of inter-religious interaction was meant to satisfy an internal dialogue about identity and its diverse sources and to discover ways to integrate and reconcile disparate influences of my heritage and formation.

[Adnan Husain]
Professor Adnan Husain, Department of History

It soon became clear that much more could be at stake than my own individual curiosity and exploration, even in such a remote and apparently distant past that initially seemed an antiquarian escape from modern relevance. But I discovered that so little of the surprising intellectual, humanistic and scientific achievements of pre-modern Islamic societies were generally appreciated or their profound contributions to Europe even commonly acknowledged. A diverse, complex and interconnected world of commercial, cultural, and intellectual interchange among Christians, Muslims and Jews had flourished around the Mediterranean and even sustained multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies for centuries. These untold stories and forgotten histories of the Medieval Mediterranean world hardly figured in Eurocentric narratives about our past and seemed crucial to me if we were ever to imagine a collective and cosmopolitan future.

Yet, medieval history continued popularly to be represented as entirely divided by narrow religious bigotry, crusading conflict and cultural isolation. And this vision of the past seemed increasingly attractive to extreme ideologues — nationalists and religious fundamentalists alike — emerging at the end of the Cold War. Right at the time I started graduate studies, Samuel Huntington published his infamous article The Clash of Civilizations? which attempted to use this distorted perspective on pre-modern global history to ground a conservative investment in exclusivist identitarian conflicts based on religious and “civilizational” identities.

Since the Gulf War of the early 1990s to our own era of terrorism, interventionist warfare and massive migrations of refugees, studying the historical relationship between “Islam and the West,” as it is typically and crudely formulated, has possessed undeniable relevance and importance. However, approaching the relationships from a skewed set of assumptions like Huntington did leads dangerously towards re-enacting the bigotries of the past in the present and regarding them as natural.

At our campus, our challenge is even more immediate than this. The general absence of curriculum on Muslim societies and diasporas globally affects our intellectual and academic community rather profoundly. In my two history seminars this term — one on the Crusades and another on Muslim, Christian and Jewish in the Medieval Mediterranean world, we examine and discuss together the episodes of conflict or persecution as well as the long periods of coexistence and cooperation that patterned a shared past and allow us to consider and imagine a shared future. Rather more such opportunities are needed in our curriculum and at our campus. Education affords us the chance to critique dangerous misconceptions and to combat the stereotyped fears that fuel Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice. It allows us to reflect on important contemporary issues or share experiences in an environment of genuine inquiry and respectful discourse. These are precious opportunities that universities can provide toward dreaming and, hopefully, building a more equitable future together.

Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts brings top artists to The Isabel

[Jeremy Dutcher]
Jeremy Dutcher, winner of the 2018 Polaris Prize, will be performing at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts during the Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts. (Supplied Photo) 

The inaugural Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts, curated by Queen’s Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts Dylan Robinson, is being hosted at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts from Feb. 12 to March 24.

Supported by the Isabel and Alfred Bader Fund, A Bader Philanthropy, the Ka’tarohkwi Festival is an exciting multi-disciplinary blaze of Indigenous creativity at the Isabel celebrating the music, film, dance, multimedia, theatre, visual art, and virtual reality stories from the top Indigenous creators in Canada.

]Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts]
Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts

“ts’áts’eltsel xwoyíwel tel sqwálewel kw’els me xwe’í sq’ó talhlúwep! We gather together to experience this exceptional work by Indigenous artists from near and far,” says Dr. Robinson.  “This festival draws its name from the Huron and Mohawk word for the lands we gather on – Ka’tarohkwi. And as a xwelmexw (Stó:lō) guest here, I am grateful to the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe people for their leadership, and for these lands that sustain us and the creative work that is part of the festival.”

The festival includes top artists from across Canada such as such as Jeremy Dutcher, Tanya Tagaq, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Monique Mojica, Bracken Hanuse Corlett, Dean Hunt, Digging Roots, Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen, and Tanya Lukin LinklaterThe Festival celebrates the creation of new works, and includes world premieres in the Wani’/Lost and Niiganni-Gichigami. Ontiatarío. Lake Ontario programs.

The festival film series is presented in collaboration with imagineNATIVE film festival and the Department of Film and Media. Filmmakers include Stephen Campanelli with a film inspired by Anishinaabe writer Richard Wagamese, Terril Calder, Jay Cardinal Villenneuve, Asinnajaq, Sean Stiller, Asia Youngman, Caroline Monnet, Zoe Hopkins, and Lisa Jackson.

“These prominent artists demonstrate the vibrancy of Indigenous arts today, and to these artists I say, ‘You have power, you have a voice. Raise your voice to be sure the people hear you,’” says Associate Vice- Principal, Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill).

The Isabel presents the virtual reality installation BIIDAABAN: FIRST LIGHT VR, March 17-25, created by Lisa Jackson, Mathew Borrett, Jam3, and the National Film Board of Canada, and hosts RESURGENT VOICES: Indigenous Oration and Aurality on Sunday, March 24, 4-6 pm where Geraldine King and Beth Piatote explore the sonic impact of Indigenous oration.

The Festival is affiliated with SOUNDINGS: An Exhibition in Five Parts at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, curated by Candice Hopkins and Dylan Robinson, that includes newly-commissioned ‘scores’ by artists including Tania Willard, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Raven Chacon, Cristobal Martinez, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Olivia Whetung, Peter Morin, and Ogimaa Mikana,  and a speakers’ series, entitled “Against Hungry Listening.” The exhibition is accompanied by a specially commissioned book of scores designed by Sebastien Aubin.

“The arts are a powerful voice in our society, and the profound messages from these outstanding Indigenous artists transformative. The Isabel is honoured to collaborate with curator Dylan Robinson and all the artists involved for their originality and creativity in bringing this festival to fruition, as we are to work with the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre, imagineNATIVE, and Queen’s Department of Film and Media as affiliated collaborators,” says Tricia Baldwin, Director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. “We are grateful to our benefactors, the Isabel and Alfred Bader Fund, A Bader Philanthropy. This is especially poignant right now, as the late Alfred Bader, a man dedicated to artistic excellence and justice in this world, continues to inspire us forward."

View the Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts schedule or visit The Isabel website.

Festival passes and individual tickets are available through the Isabel Box Office, 613-533-2424 (Monday-Friday, 12:30-4:30 pm), and online at queensu.ca/theisabel.

The Conversation: Get Back – When The Beatles rocked the rooftop

Planned only a few days earlier, the Jan. 30, 1969 rooftop concert by The Beatles was their last. It is fitting the show included Billy Preston who symbolized their global collaborative efforts.

File 20190124 196215 opdvdm.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
John Lennon belts it out during The Beatles’ last concert, Jan. 30, 1969. (You Tube/The Beatles)

On a cold, gusty, grey afternoon half a century ago, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr climbed the five storeys of their office building at 3 Savile Row in central London. They then made their way out onto the roof, where they played an unannounced 42-minute set for friends, employees and office workers who clambered out of windows and onto adjacent roofs. A crowd steadily gathered in the street below.

There was no way of knowing it then, but Thursday, Jan. 30, 1969, turned out to be the last time The Beatles performed together in public.

Accompanying them throughout the impromptu show was the American keyboardist Billy Preston, who had been invited by Harrison to join them in rehearsals a week earlier.

Preston’s spirited playing lifted several of the songs they performed that day on the rooftop. His participation in the concert also demonstrates the ways in which The Beatles repeatedly opened themselves up to diverse creative sources that took them in new directions, and that fired their extraordinary musical and artistic growth.

The weeks preceding the “Rooftop Concert,” as it is now known, had been for the band full of both corrosive hostility and deepening lethargy, in the middle of which Harrison walked out altogether, only to return a few days later.

Yet once the four of them took to the roof and began to play, the strength and warmth of their music quickly turned them into a remarkably tight and still immensely charismatic unit even as the rain clouds and the winds — somehow symbolic — buffeted and chilled them.

They open with two different takes of “Get Back” and they close with the same song, in between which they play “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” twice, and “Dig a Pony” and “One After 909” once.

There are shaky, even laughable moments, as Lennon flubs the words on “Don’t Let Me Down,” or Ringo yells “Hold it!” just as the other three launch into the opening riff of “Dig a Pony.” But these miscues only heighten the sense of the uniqueness and unpredictability of the occasion, providing a kind of light relief before the superb quality of their songs, their musicianship and their vocals reassert themselves.

Preston’s piano solo

Yet as compelling as it is to see and hear the four of them playing in public together for the final time, it is also telling to watch for and listen to the 22-year-old Preston, clad in a black leather jacket and tucked in behind McCartney on the left.

Preston was an old friend of The Beatles. He first met them in Hamburg in 1962 when he was a teenager backing up Little Richard, and they were all playing together at the Star Club. “Right from the start, I fell in love with the Beatles,” he later said. “I was probably their first American fan and friend.”

Billy Preston behind McCartney on the left. (You Tube/The Beatles)
Billy Preston behind McCartney on the left. (You Tube/The Beatles)

On the rooftop, Preston made his biggest contribution to “Get Back,” where his electric piano solo highlights the song. Released as a single a few months later, “Get Back” was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston,” and went to No. 1 in Britain, Australia, Norway and North America.

Today, in addition to his work with The Beatles and later the Rolling Stones, Preston is probably best remembered as the co-author of the ballad “You Are So Beautiful,” which he released in 1974, the same year that Joe Cocker issued his slower and much better-known version.

Bidding the world goodbye

Preston’s relationship with The Beatles also reveals something fundamental about the band itself. The Beatles always revelled in the new and the untried, and across their career they repurposed highly disparate influences with astonishing energy and inventiveness. Rooted in the north of England, they were shaped in Germany and deeply indebted to Black American music.

Once they hit the big time, the pattern deepened as they transcended, ignored and dismantled cultural and social boundaries in the glare of global attention.

They were a western band fascinated by the East. They were the most popular mainstream band in the world even as they embraced the counter-cultural, the experimental and the avant-garde. This open and avid pursuit of innovation and reinvention enabled The Beatles to transform popular culture and modern music, and to imbue both with previously unmatched vitality and variety.

Inviting Preston to join them on the rooftop was typical of the band, and mutually beneficial. Preston was Black and gay. Fifty years ago, that might have made a difference to many, but it didn’t matter to the Beatles. Preston is clearly at ease with them as they are with him, and he takes a supporting role on the stage even as they showcase his brilliant playing.

The Beatles idolized older American musicians such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. And they knew and accepted that their recently deceased manager Brian Epstein was gay. “Brian was a beautiful guy,” Lennon later remarked.

The Beatles disbanded just 15 months after the rooftop concert, but our fascination with them and their music continues unabated. Among their greatest legacies is the way in which, from the start and to the core, they had a international ethos that grew even more expansive when they achieved fame, and that always fuelled their remarkable productivity and creativity.

There is much about the rooftop concert that is magical: Lennon, McCartney and Harrison singing three-part harmony on the chorus of “Don’t Let Me Down” always stands out. It is also clear that Preston is an intimate part of the magic. On that chilly and dull January day, Billy Preston played a central role in helping them to catch fire even as they were bidding the world goodbye.The Conversation


Robert Morrison is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature. 

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

Alumna passionate about sharing black history

Judith Brown has been advocating for the African and Caribbean communities on campus and in Kingston for decades.

Judith Brown has been advocating for the African and Caribbean communities on campus and in Kingston for decades.
A tireless supporter of the Kingston and Queen's black communities, Judith Brown this year’s recipient of the Jim Bennett Award from the Kingston Branch of the Queen’s University Alumni Association. (University Communications)

If there is a Black History Month event in Kingston, odds are Judith Brown (Arts'70) is organizing it, speaking at it, attending it, or all of the above.

She has been an advocate for the African and Caribbean communities, both on campus and in Kingston, for decades. For the past few years, she has been co-organizing the Black History Month Opening Ceremony.

“Black history is Canadian history,” says Ms. Brown, who helped create the Afro-Caribe Community Foundation of Kingston which raises funds for the Robert Sutherland Bursary and Alfie Pierce Admission Award at Queen’s. Now retired after a 40-year career as an educator, she serves as a mentor to members of black student groups. She was also recently elected as a trustee to the Limestone District School Board. “I am passionate about black history because it was never taught in schools. I think many people — blacks and everybody — know very little about it. That’s why I try to spread the stories.”

Her tireless work supporting Kingston’s black community is one of the reasons she was named this year’s recipient of the Jim Bennett Award from the Kingston Branch of the Queen’s University Alumni Association.

The Queen’s Black Alumni Chapter (QBAC) leadership team collectively nominated Ms. Brown for the award in recognition of her decades of mentorship to students. “She has spent years advising a wide range of Queen’s students in their personal and academic lives, directly shaping the next generation of leaders,” says QBAC co-founder Yinka Adegbusi (Artsci’13).

About five years ago, Ms. Brown helped the Queen’s Black Academic Society and the African and Caribbean Students’ Association expand their Black History Month event. It was originally held on campus, but Ms. Brown felt it was important to turn it into a community event. She struck a committee, found space off campus at the Renaissance Event Venue, and started working with the two student groups to create what is now the Black History Month Opening Ceremony.

She has become such a respected mentor that it is not uncommon for students to go to her house for Thanksgiving dinner or to stay overnight when returning to campus for convocation.

Ms. Brown says the Jim Bennett Award is especially meaningful because she has a personal connection to Mr. Bennett, who was a Kingston Township councillor in the 1990s. After the 1998 ice storm, he became chair of the Kingston Area Ice Storm Relief Fund and asked Ms. Brown to serve on the committee.

To Ms. Brown, the appointment was a recognition of her community work, and a small step toward making Kingston a little more inclusive. “I will never forget what Jim Bennett did for me,” says Ms. Brown. “Here is this man recognizing me as a black woman. I was soaring. Jim Bennett was walking the walk (by promoting inclusivity) before it became popular.”

This story originally appeared on the Queen’s Alumni website.

IGniting curiosity

IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will feature talks on oral history and climate change Jan. 31 at The Isabel.  

At its series launch event in November, IGnite captivated its audience with lectures on neutrinos and medical miracles. This Thursday, IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will showcase local history and research into climate change. 

Laura Murray (English Language and Literature) will take us back in time to Kingston’s historical Swamp Ward district with “History at home: Community research in action in Kingston.” Using research of past environments to illuminate evidence of climate change,

IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will feature talks on oral history and climate change Jan. 31 at The Isabel. Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change John Smol (Biology) will present “Back to the Future: Using the past to inform environmental policy.”

IGnite is a collaboration between the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and the University Relations portfolio. Each event features two researchers from different fields discussing their projects and research experiences, while also including interactive demonstrations and poster presentations from students and additional researchers. The series offers a public platform where researchers can share what first ignited their curiosity and motivates them to pursue their research.

Dr. Murray explains that for her IGnite offers an opportunity to share her methodology and how it relates to the community.

“My research draws on the knowledge of the community, and it’s a primary goal of mine to give it back,” she says. “Through oral history we discover the real lives of the city, going far beyond names and dates and buildings and accomplishments to what it has meant to live here in the past, and what it might mean to live here in the future. Oral history is also a wonderful research methodology in that non-academics can do it too.”

For Dr. Smol, it is the emphasis on public engagement that motivates him to participate in the series.

“Events such as this provide an important vehicle for knowledge translation to the public – a group of people who, by and large, paid for the research in the first place,” he says. “In universities we search for evidence - we search for truth.  If facts and information are not prized and communicated, then ideology will trump evidence.  And if you don’t value truth, then you don’t value democracy.”

The event, the second in a three-part series for the 2018-2019 academic year, will take place Thursday, Jan. 31, 6:30-9 pm at The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Registration is free on Eventbrite and light refreshments will be served.

For more information on the series, visit the McDonald Institute’s website

The Conversation: The urgent need for Democrats to embrace progressive policies

The Democratic Party needs a revised image, grounded in a new reality, that will address basic issues of inequality, access, and fairness.

[U.S. Capitol Building]
The Democratic Party gained a majority in the House of Representatives following the 2018 midterm elections. (Photo by jomar/Unsplash)

The vigorous agenda of social reform and expanded government services, particularly in health and higher education, promoted by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, and now by a new class of Democrats in Congress, has much in common with mainstream European social democracy.

That senior Democratic Party politicians perceive it as radical suggests that a big part of the party’s problems lie in its commitment to an ideology of free markets and deregulation of capital, and a concurrent lack of concern for issues of class and inequality.

This has left the Democratic Party’s liberalism excessively focused on issues of equal access for racial and ethnic minorities, women and sexual minorities.

[The ConversationIt’s all created an opening for Republicans and the political right to denounce the party as led by disconnected “liberal elites” promoting “affirmative action” and “political correctness” while ignoring the interests of ordinary working- and middle-class Americans.

The Democratic Party needs a revised image grounded in a new reality that will address basic issues of inequality, access, and fairness. The central focus of a progressive program of reform must be to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, regardless of their race, gender or sexuality, and expand opportunities for personal and social mobility.

Real campaign finance reform will be critical in levelling the playing field. Sanders and other politicians have demonstrated that it’s possible to raise substantial funds by accepting only small donations. It is better for the democratic process to raise $150 million from a million citizens than from 50 or fewer millionaires.

Tax corporations

In terms of economic policy, the value of public goods needs to be recognized again. A necessary first step will be to restore the tax on corporate profits to its previous level and refashion genuinely progressive income tax, returning even to the levels of the 1950s, a period marked by vigorous economic growth and increasing real income for most Americans.

This will make possible a significant increase in public revenue for public purposes.

This should be accompanied by a broad-based increase in the minimum wage and a restoration and reaffirmation of collective bargaining rights for public and private sector workers. A revival of anti-trust laws and a closer regulation of finance capital will restore competition, curb risky speculation and help prevent a repeat of the financial crisis of 2008.

Inequality is the underlying problem that is eroding social trust while devastating the well-being of individuals and communities across the country. After declining in the post-Second World War years, inequality since the 1980s has grown to grotesque proportions that have resulted in a tiny plutocracy with a combined wealth equal of more than 90 per cent of Americans.

In their book The Spirit Level, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson document the heavy toll that persistent and growing inequality is taking on individuals, communities and on society as a whole.

Eroding prosperity

Further, in his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, author Robert D. Putnam vividly demonstrates how growing inequality and declining public resources have eroded the well-being of children and families in a mid-sized American city.

Renewed progressive policies need to make economic equality, health care and education central. The goal must be to eliminate poverty and discrimination that leave a large part of the population incapable of making the necessary productive contributions to tackle the challenges of the next 30 years.

Instead of access to health and education being rationed by cost, it must be enshrined as a fundamental right of citizenship and a critical foundation of the public interest.

[Woman with placard at protest]
A woman holds up a placard during the Women's March protest in New York City ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. (Photo by Mirah Curzer/Unsplash)

In specific policy terms, a number of initiatives would flow from this commitment.

In addition to minimum wage, tax reforms and the restoration of collective bargaining, an educated population equipped with the skills required for the modern world is obviously of critical importance.

Public education must be reinforced with resources and up-to-date facilities. We need to reverse the trend of declining public support for secondary and higher education.

Policies that divert public resources to private schools managed by community groups and provide tax and financing incentives to profit-making companies across a range of trades — from beauty schools to training for medical assistants, paralegals and mechanics, many of which rely on federal funds for tuition — should be curtailed or eliminated.

Fund public education

Instead, public education must be funded in ways that reduce what has become a ruinous trend of student debt.

In its present form, the American health-care system is financed through a ramshackle mess of private and public funding that’s a laughing stock among other advanced countries.

It should be replaced by a coherent single-payer public health- care insurance system that provides quality levels of care for all citizens and regulates the behaviour and costs of the pharmaceutical industry.

A reformed tax system that distributes individual and corporate responsibilities in a fair and equitable fashion would provide growing resources to meet the individual and collective needs of all Americans.

This is the time to begin implementing the policies to meet these urgent priorities.

Commentators on the right often complain that such ideas are too costly, that they’re unaffordable.

And it’s true — these are not priorities for the right. The right’s solution is to push the costs on to users.

But the result is that health care and higher education have become unaffordable for many Americans. And the institutions of U.S. democracy are the collective property of all citizens. A reformed tax system that distributes burdens in a fair and equitable fashion would provide more than enough resources to put health care and education within reach for American citizens.

The time has come for Democrats to start vigorously pushing these urgent priorities and restore the promise of a secure and decent future for all Americans.

________________________________________________The Conversation

Bruce J. Berman is a professor emeritus of Political Studies and History at Queen's University,and Daniel Levine is a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.

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

The Conversation: Fossil fuel era is ending, but the lawsuits are just beginning

An American coal company is suing the Canadian government over Alberta's plan to combat climate change.

Trucks at a coal mine]
Trucks make their way along a makeshift road at a coal mine in Indonesia. (Photo by Dominik Vanyi/Unsplash)

“Coal is dead.”

These are not the words of a Greenpeace activist or left-wing politician, but of Jim Barry, the global head of the infrastructure investment group at Blackrock — the world’s largest asset manager. Barry made this statement in 2017, but the writing has been on the wall for longer than that.

Banks know it, which is why they are increasingly unwilling to underwrite new coal mines and power plants. Unions and coal workers know it, which is why they are demanding a just transition and new employment opportunities in the clean economy. Even large diversified mining companies are getting out of the business of coal.

The only ones who seem to have remained in denial are President Donald Trump and non-diversified mining companies like Westmoreland Coal. The Denver-based firm made a bad bet in 2013 when it purchased five coal mines in Alberta. Now it wants Canadian taxpayers to pay for its mistake.

Alberta’s coal phaseout

Three years ago, Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP) committed to what some have described as “the most ambitious climate plan in North America to date.” In addition to the development of an economy-wide carbon price, the province is phasing out coal-fired power by 2030. Without the infrastructure to export coal, the climate plan has also resulted in a de facto phaseout of local thermal coal mining.

To ensure support for the plan, major utility companies in the province were provided with “transition payments” to facilitate the switch to gas and renewable energy. Westmoreland did not receive a government handout, because coal mining companies have no role to play in the energy transition. The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection for its investments in the United States in October, doesn’t think this is fair.

NAFTA’s investment chapter

Because Westmoreland is an American company, it can rely on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for protection from “unfair” treatment. NAFTA allows a foreign investor to use a process known as “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) when government action harms its business in some way.

ISDS allows foreign investors to bypass local courts and bring claims for monetary compensation to an international tribunal. The system is not unique to NAFTA; it is found in other trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and thousands of bilateral investment treaties (known as Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements in Canada).

ISDS is hugely controversial. Concerns have been raised by a wide range of actors about both the process of ISDS, and the way the system can infringe on the sovereign right of states to regulate to protect public health, human rights and the environment.

More than 900 ISDS cases have been launched by investors since the early 1990s, including 27 against Canada that have so far cost Canadian taxpayers at least $315 million. There is one ongoing dispute that concerns a ban on gas fracking in Québec, but the Westmoreland claim is the first brought in relation to a policy explicitly designed to combat climate change.

Westmoreland argues that part of the reason it invested in Canada in 2013 was to diversify its holdings in response to regulatory risk. At the time, the Obama Administration was taking action under the Clean Power Plan to reduce the reliance of American utilities on coal. The company’s failure to anticipate similar regulatory action by its northern neighbour is remarkable.

A key battleground

If governments respond appropriately to the urgent warning issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October, efforts to phase out fossil fuels will have to ramp up considerably — and quickly. We should expect the industry to fight these efforts through a variety of means. ISDS may become a key battleground.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA or CUSMA, depending on who is talking about it), which may replace NAFTA (it has been signed, but has not been ratified), does not retain the process of ISDS between Canada and the U.S.

While this is good news in the long run, some have suggested that there will be a “rush of filings” before access to ISDS for already established investors expires (three years after USMCA comes into force). Canada will also be exposed to claims from investors under other agreements such as the CPTPP and Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Other countries, particularly poorer nations, face an even higher risk of ISDS claims and have far less resources available to fight them. It is notable that big oil companies have retained some access to ISDS against Mexico in USMCA, after lobbying hard for it.

[Oil rig works as the sun sets]
An oil rig pumps crude oil as the sun sets. (Photo by Zbynek Burival/Unsplash) 

A climate of fear?

If Westmoreland’s case proceeds to arbitration, it will not have direct implications for Alberta’s climate policy. An investment tribunal cannot require the provincial government to reverse the coal phaseout; it can only award the company damages. Westmoreland is asking for US$470 million. It is the federal government, rather than Alberta, that would have to pay compensation to Westmoreland if the company’s claim was successful. However, Ontario did agree to pay the award in a recent NAFTA case.

What is more concerning than any potential payout is that Westmoreland’s suit could hinder efforts to implement similar plans to combat climate change in other jurisdictions.

Regulatory chill” is a phenomenon that has been observed in several jurisdictions around the world. A notable example is the decision of the New Zealand government to delay the introduction of legislation to require plain packaging of tobacco products until Australia won its ISDS case against the tobacco company Philip Morris International. This delay of regulatory action — out of fear of expensive litigation — may have cost lives.

As recent forest fires and floods have demonstrated, delays in action to combat climate change can also be deadly.

____________________________________________________________The Conversation

Kyla Tienhaara is a Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment and an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies and the Department of Global Development Studies at 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

Three math professors named fellows of the Canadian Mathematical Society

[Math Professors]
Professors Ram Murty, Greg Smith and Peter Taylor have been named Fellows of the Canadian Mathematical Society.

Three professors from the Queen’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics have been named to the inaugural class of Fellows of the Canadian Mathematical Society (CMS).

Professors Ram Murty, Greg Smith and Peter Taylor are honoured to have been chosen among the class of 49 inaugural fellows.

The fellowship recognizes CMS members who have made excellent contributions to mathematical research, teaching, or exposition, as well as having distinguished themselves in serve to Canada’s mathematical community.

Founded in 1945, the CMS is the main national organization whose goal is to promote and advance the discovery, learning and application of mathematics. 

Queen’s remembers Gerrit (Gerry) Wilde

[Gerrit Wilde]
Professor Emeritus Gerrit (Gerry) Wilde

The Queen’s community is mourning the death of Professor Emeritus Gerrit (Gerry) Wilde (Psychology), who died Jan. 1 while on vacation in Mexico. He was 86.

Flags on campus will be lowered in his honour on Sunday, Jan. 20.

An internationally-renowned researcher, Dr. Wilde’s research interests were focused on, but not limited to: ergonomic psychology; traffic behaviour and accident causation; and the effect of alcohol and sleep deprivation upon performance; as well as the psychology of risk taking.

Born in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1932, and obtaining his PhD cum laude in 1962 at the University of Amsterdam. He arrived at Queen's in 1965 and was made a professor emeritus upon his retirement in 1997.

A memorial service will be held for Dr. Wilde on Sunday, Jan. 20, at 3 pm at Sydenham Street United Church. 

His obituary was published in the Globe and Mail.


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