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How to build support for ambitious climate action in four steps

Governments must expand the number of people who see themselves as ‘winners’ in the transition to a low-carbon society.


Wildfire in Portugal threatens a town
A wildfire in Portugal nears a number of homes. (Photo by Michael Held / Unsplash.com) 

Canada and the United States are suddenly steeped in policy proposals to aggressively cut carbon emissions. In the face of a climate emergency and on the heels of numerous climate disasters, this is welcome news indeed.

In the U.S., the newly minted Biden administration has unleashed a series of executive orders to tackle the climate crisis. Canada recently pledged to transition its economy to net-zero by 2050 and released an updated national climate plan. Announcements are easy — now comes the hard work.

The recipe for making headway on this new climate agenda has two key ingredients. Defuse political opposition. Build political support. But it’s not so simple.

The Conversation CanadaUnfortunately, some still believe they can gain politically by opposing climate action with misinformation. Take Texas, for example. The recent climate-related winter storm left millions without power and killed dozens.

Right-wing politicians falsely blamed renewable energy and the Green New Deal. Here’s a fact-check: The Green New Deal hasn’t been passed and freezing natural gas lines contributed most to the collapse of the electricity system.

As politics researchers, we are deeply concerned with the scale of action required to avoid climate collapse. A vital piece of a just transition to a low-carbon society will be to expand the number of people and sectors that see themselves as “winners” in this transition.

A just and socially accepted transition must protect society’s most vulnerable from climate change impacts while simultaneously shielding those whose livelihoods will be disrupted by transformation. A just transition must also diffuse rather than consolidate economic power in the midst of climate action.

Four guiding principles can help build the political support needed to meet North America’s new-found climate ambition.

1. Policy integration

Political opposition to climate action often pits economics against the environment. This false dichotomy ignores how our economic future fundamentally depends on the health of our environment.

But proponents of climate action too often feed into this narrative, engaging in what Jennie C. Stephens, a sustainability science and policy researcher at Northeastern University, calls climate isolationism. They rely on overly narrow, technology-centric solutions.

These approaches often fail to resonate. They don’t connect climate action with the issues that matter the most in peoples’ day-to-day lives: socio-economic well-being, equitable employment opportunities, racial justice, access to safe and secure shelter, child care, improved health, food systems, and transportation.

Enduring, transformative climate action requires integrating social, economic and environmental policies holistically, so that institutions can better serve their citizens. Copenhagen, Denmark, is a model city with a climate plan that integrates climate action, urban investment and job growth to create a liveable sustainable city. This model views climate transformation as a necessary opportunity to improve the lives of Copenhagen residents in multiple ways.

2. Institutional integration

Policy integration means thinking differently about how governments are structured. The Biden administration is starting to orient the U.S. federal government cohesively around climate action. The U.S. now has both domestic and international climate “czars” and is integrating climate change across departments.

Given the scale of transformation necessary to meet the Paris agreement’s goals and commitments, climate action is inherently implicated across government files. It may be better to mainstream climate action throughout the government.

Canada’s recent ministerial mandate letters are an improvement. But furthering comprehensive action means orienting more, if not all, ministries to a just transition. Crucially, the ministries of Indigenous Services, Middle Class and Prosperity and Diversity and Inclusion and Youth lack clear mandates around climate action. Provincial and municipal governments must also adapt to this new policy-making environment.

All policy is climate policy in our climate-constrained world.

3. Beyond technology

Technology and technological innovation will certainly play a sizeable role in the unfolding transformation. But technologies, like carbon capture, biofuels, renewable energy, electric vehicles and smart neighbourhoods are not silver bullets.

Technological innovation must be pursued in ways that engage communities and are geared towards social goals. This can enhance the support necessary for sustaining climate action beyond the introduction of a technology.

One only has to look as far as the Sidewalk Labs debacle in Toronto to see the pitfalls of a strategy that put technology ahead of community needs. This project failed to prioritize community well-being and civic engagement. Instead, Sidewalk Labs proposed corporate control over 190 acres of Toronto’s waterfront and did not plan to adequately protect personal data.

Effectively implementing the new aggressive climate agendas in North America means integrating technological innovation with democratic, inclusive social engagement.

4. Centre justice and equity

Durable climate action fosters comprehensive security and equity for citizens. It allows people to embrace changing and sometimes unpredictable conditions.

COVID-19 has exacerbated socio-economic disparities according to income, gender, race and geography. Canada has joined a number of countries in pledging to “build back better” and support marginalized and underrepresented groups in the context of COVID-19.

This pledge needs to go beyond rhetoric. Policy-makers should acknowledge and address anxieties towards change transparently. The communities that will be most severely affected by climate impacts or from climate action must be supported with concrete resources.

This includes stimulus for low-income families, anti-racism measures, investment in public projects and decent work for those whose livelihoods are most threatened by climate change or transition policies.

Climate ambition in North America is long overdue and welcome. Now, let’s turn that ambition into transformative action. These guidelines can help build the broad-based political support necessary in a climate emergency. That support will flow from individuals and communities imagining and experiencing improved lives through this transition to a low-carbon world.The Conversation


Sarah Sharma is a Vanier Scholar and PhD Candidate in International Relations at the Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, and Matthew Hoffmann is Professor of Political Science and Co-Director Environmental Governance Lab, University of Toronto

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.

Polar bears: A sentinel of Arctic environmental change

Queen’s researchers and partners are developing an innovative approach to studying the impact of climate change by monitoring the health and movements of polar bears.

[Photo of polar bears]
Polar bears are the Arctic's apex predators. (Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager / Unsplash)

Queen’s researchers and partners are monitoring the health and movements of polar bears in an innovative approach to studying climate change in the Arctic.

The polar bear is an apex predator whose distribution encompasses a vast area of diverse habitats, spanning land and sea ice. Changes in its lifecycle and population declines are often seen to reflect environmental changes stimulated by shifts in global climate in the Arctic. Monitoring of polar bear activity and health in near-real time is not only necessary to ensure their persistence globally, but it also provides important insights into the state of Arctic ecosystems.

Monitoring and tracking

In 2016, Queen’s researchers Stephen Lougheed (Biology), Peter Van Coeverden de Groot (Biology), and Graham Whitelaw (Environmental Studies), and a host of community, governmental, and university collaborators, received funding from Genome Canada’s Large-Scale Applied Research Project competition and the Ontario Genomics Institute to develop a non-invasive method for tracking polar bear health in the Canadian Arctic. The project, BEARWATCH, uses a combination cutting-edge genomics and Inuit polar bear traditional ecological knowledge (TEK).

Traditionally, monitoring of polar bears has been completed through an aerial censusing of populations at 10- to 15-year intervals. For the past five years, the BEARWATCH team has been investigating a different and complementary approach, where bears can be identified individually using an innovative fecal-based molecular toolkit. A critical piece of the toolkit depends on gut-origin epithelial cells that are shed during defecation and the use of genomics to identify individual bears. Bear scat is then analyzed to obtain information about a bear’s sex, recent diet, chemical exposure, and overall health and wellbeing. This method will enable flexible and verified collection of data in near real-time, allowing for establishment of a clear baseline of Canadian polar bear health and genetic diversity against which future climate change impacts can be measured.

Partnerships for impact

The project originated from long-standing relationships between Queen’s researchers, the community of Gjoa Haven, and the Government of Nunavut. The success of BEARWATCH has built on these relationships with contributions from a more diverse set of stakeholders that span northern communities across the Arctic, Inuit organizations, the governments of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, and researchers from Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States. 

Given the degree to which Arctic Indigenous peoples are affected by climate change, and the importance of the polar bear in Inuit culture, Dr. Lougheed and his team depend on TEK and insights of local experts for wildlife conservation.

“What has struck me most is the depth and richness of traditional knowledge,” Dr. Lougheed says. “I am in awe of how attuned Northern peoples are to other species and how capable they are at persisting in these challenging environments.”

The project team also works closely with members of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG) for navigating the vast Canadian Arctic. 1 CRPG is tasked with maintaining a Canadian Armed Forces' presence in the remote communities of the north. The intimate knowledge of oft-unknown surroundings of the Rangers enables them to provide insights and samples from regions that are distant from northern communities. 1 CRPG previously helped to build research cabins in the environs of Gjoa Haven and has been instrumental in facilitating northern research for BEARWATCH and other important northern scientific work.

“1 CRPG was happy to assist in this research project. Canadian Rangers are members of their local communities and supporting this study will serve to ensure better long-term stewardship of the lands they live in,” says Capt. Chris Newman, 1 CRPG Unit Public Affairs Representative. “As experts of their local areas, being able to impart local knowledge is one of the cornerstones of the Canadian Ranger mandate.”

[Photo on location supplied by Stephen Lougheed]
One of the research cabins built by 1 CRPG in the environs of Gjoa Haven to support northern research for BEARWATCH and other projects. (Photo supplied by Peter van Coeverden de Groot)

Establishing Canadian Leadership in Polar Bear Conservation

BEARWATCH is now in its fifth year and the project toolkit is in its end stages of development and testing. The final version will include a genomics approach called genotyping-in-thousands for identifying individual polar bears from scat alone, as well as DNA metabarcoding for assessing bear diet and methods for gauging contaminant exposure. Preliminary results have indicated that scat-based tracking is effective at distinguishing individual bears from each other and understanding plants and animals consumed by bears and other indicators of health. The next step involves presenting the toolkit to northern communities and governments for feedback and eventual implementation.

This work shows immense promise for establishing Canada as a global leader in polar bear conservation and wildlife management. 

“Canada has about two-thirds of the global polar bear population and is one of only five nations with this iconic species,” Dr. Lougheed points out. "From this vantage alone, Canada is compelled to lead in polar bear protections.”

The success of this toolkit and its implementation may serve as a model for conservation efforts for other wildlife species worldwide.

The researchers are hopeful that polar bear management will become an area of true partnership and shared decision-making with Indigenous peoples, drawing on the strengths and values of both TEK and western science and perhaps taking one small step closer to reconciliation.

The Canadian Senate briefly reached gender parity – here’s why it matters

In December 2020, the Senate became gender-equal, offering up the promise that women's interests will be represented in the upper chamber.

Senate gender parity suggests women are beginning to break through the glass ceiling in Canadian politics. Canada’s Senate chamber is seen in this photo. (Flickr)

At the end of 2020, Canada quietly reached a milestone: our first-ever gender-equal house of Parliament, the Senate.

Sen. Frances Lankin noted in December that there were 47 women and 47 men in the Senate.

The balance shifted back in favour of men following the retirement of Lynn Beyak and the death of Elaine McCoy.

But given the Senate’s institutional structure, the high number of women legislators generally allows for a strong representation of women’s interests in the upper house — which is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should make strides to return it to gender parity with his next Senate appointments.

In December 2020, Canada was tied with Australia for the second-highest percentage of women legislators in the upper house (with the Caribbean’s Antigua and Barbuda taking the top spot).

In 2019, women made up only 24 per cent of legislators globally. Recently, the Canadian House of Commons reached 100 women MPs for the first time, amounting to 30 per cent female representation.

Prime ministers have long used Senate appointments to make up for the lack of diversity in the House of Commons. The Senate was initially created, in fact, to protect the interests of minority regions. More recently, though, it’s become a chamber where the interests of marginalized groups are protected.

Senators generally speak up for marginalized groups by introducing legislation that protects their interests, and by scrutinizing and amending government legislation. That certainly isn’t always the case — Beyak retired from the Senate earlier this year amid a controversy over her remarks about Indigenous people and residential schools. But it was other senators, including Murray Sinclair and Mary Jane McCallum, who pushed for the departure of the Stephen Harper appointee.

Since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced in 1982, Canadians have come to see themselves as belonging to groups that stretch across provincial borders. We tend to identify with each other based on our gender, ethnicity and language, and there have been growing calls for our politicians to better represent us in that regard.

The significance of women in the Senate

But why should we care about the gender of our legislators? Don’t we need people best equipped to do the job?

In 1995, political theorist Anne Phillips wrote about “the politics of presence.” She maintains that there is a difference in the lived experiences of men and women, and the representation provided by individuals is influenced by their experiences.

In studies of representation, diversity is increasingly seen as beneficial for the policy-making process. Women senators bring unique viewpoints to the table that will shape legislation and policy in Canada. Gender cannot be the only reason a woman is chosen, but being a woman should not be a barrier due to outdated masculine selection criteria.

Researchers continue to investigate whether women legislators truly represent and look out for women in politics. There is mounting evidence suggesting that the representation of women’s interests is not only about the number of women in a legislature, but also about the presence of legislators who will work to represent women’s policy preferences.

Female politicians are more likely to be the legislators who act on behalf of women, which makes it all the more important that the Senate reaches gender parity again soon.

Men can certainly represent women’s interests, but empirical evidence shows that they usually don’t take up women’s causes on their own initiative. However, research has shown that male legislators’ advocacy of women’s issues increases as the number of women in legislatures grows.

That means that as more women join the Canadian Senate, there will be more opportunities for them to work together as well as collaborating with like-minded male colleagues to advance women’s interests.

Senators have defied government wishes

There’s also hope that senators are in a better position to represent women’s interests than elected legislators in the House of Commons. Evidence from around the world supports the theory that party discipline hinders the promotion and representation of women’s interests.

But party discipline is relatively weak in the Canadian Senate. Senators are appointed, and they don’t have to toe the party line to ensure re-election.

More than half of Canadian senators don’t belong to a national party caucus. That means that in most cases, senators are not subject to party discipline at all. Therefore, they have the freedom to act for other groups seeking representation, including women, and in a non-partisan manner.

We’ve already seen examples of senators thwarting the government’s wishes to protect women’s interests. Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government’s Bill C-43 advanced anti-choice abortion policy in Canada. Famously, the bill died in the Senate after a tie vote in 1991, when multiple Progressive Conservative senators, including three women, voted against the bill.

More recently, in 2017, senators pushed to eliminate sex discrimination in the Indian Act, amending Bill S-3 to do so. While the initial amendment was rejected by the government, senators’ efforts led it to reconsider its policy and ultimately include their changes.

There is already some evidence of heightened feminist activity in the Canadian Senate as the number of women senators rises. Through interviews with senators in 2019, I unearthed a network of feminist legislators forming among newly appointed women senators.

Given the important role played by women senators, it’s imperative that gender parity in the Senate is restored. Trudeau’s next Senate appointments will be ones to watch. It will be increasingly important to look for indicators that our senators are representing otherwise marginalized groups.The Conversation


Elizabeth McCallion, PhD Candidate, Political 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.

Canada Foundation for Innovation funds Queen’s researchers in their pursuits of exploration and discovery

More than $10 million has been secured by Queen’s researchers for infrastructure that will help to combat climate change, treat cancer, and understand the fabric of the universe.

The federal government is continuing its investment in Canada’s research infrastructure with the announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of $518 million in support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Innovation Fund. Two projects led by Queen’s researchers have received close to $10 million to significantly advance their research. Queen’s is also a collaborator on a third project, led by Carleton University.

CFI’s Innovation Fund 2020 competition was designed to provide strategic investments in research infrastructure, from supporting fundamental research to technology development. With a look towards a post-pandemic future, the federal government through the CFI was focused on supporting research that would build a healthier, greener, and more economically robust society while continuing to pursue exploration and discovery.

“This support will allow Queen’s to build on exceptional international strengths and have a direct impact on how we live and understand the world around us," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice Principal (Research). “Thank you to the Government of Canada for investing in the tools that advance research.”

ExCELLirate Canada

The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) and Queen’s researcher Annette Hay (Medicine) and Jonathan Bramson, of McMaster University, have received CFI support of more than $5 million for their project to develop a national cellular therapy translational research platform, the first of its kind globally. ExCELLirate Canada: Expanding CELL-based Immunotherapy Research Acceleration for Translation and Evaluation is a collaboration between Queen’s, McMaster University, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, Université de Montréal, and Canadian Blood Services. CFI funds will support research activities from novel cell therapy development to point-of-care cell manufacturing and multi-centre clinical trial testing for cancer treatment. This project aims to develop cell therapies as safe and viable treatment options through identifying biological mechanisms affecting safety and designing cost-effective methods for the harvest, expansion, manipulation, purification, and delivery of the cells.

[Photo of an immunofluorescence stain]
Art of Research PhotoImmunofluorescence Stain by Shakeel Virk and Lee Boudreau, CCTG Tissue Bank


Queen’s civil engineering researchers Andy Take, Canada Research Chair in Geotechnical Engineering, and Ian Moore, Canada Research Chair in Infrastructure Engineering, are aiming to improve the future resiliency of Canada’s civil engineering infrastructure in the face of climate change with their project CASTLE. The Climate Adaptive infraStructure Testing and Longevity Evaluation (CASTLE) Innovation Cluster is a collaboration between Queen’s and the Royal Military College of Canada, which received close to $4.5 million in funding from CFI. As Canada’s landmass spans diverse geographic regions, current and future infrastructure must be made resilient against the unique impacts of climate change affecting remote northern regions to southern urban centres. The objectives for CASTLE are to improve storage of mine waste, ensure safety and improve resilience of transportation infrastructure, such as roads, railways, and pipes, and coastal defense structures, as well as ports and harbours, against the direct and triggered geotechnical hazards of climate change.

[Photo of a light tunnel]
Art of Research PhotoA New Light by Robert Cichocki, GeoEngineering Lab

Dark Matter Detector

In furthering Canada’s leadership in the field of dark matter, Queen’s is a collaborator on a project to develop the next generation liquid argon dark matter detector and an underground argon storage facility at SNOLAB. Understanding the nature of dark matter, which makes up 85 per cent of the universe, is one of science’s unsolved mysteries. This project will include upgrades to the DEAP-3600 experiment, contributions to the Darkside-20k experiment, and the development of the ultimate ARGO detector at SNOLAB. By enabling further scientific discovery at SNOLAB, the location where Queen’s researcher Arthur McDonald conducted his Nobel Prize winning research, this project has the potential to develop technical and commercial innovations in digital light sensors and offer training opportunities to junior researchers and students.

For more information on projects funded through the Innovation Fund 2020, visit the CFI website

The art of dark matter

A new exhibition and residency project, generated by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the McDonald Institute, and SNOLAB, brings together artists and scientists in the quest to understand dark matter.

In the 1930s, researchers first proposed the seemingly impossible concept of dark matter, the “glue” that holds the universe together. Dark matter is made up of material that does not emit light or energy, making it invisible. Even though about 80 per cent of the matter in the universe is composed of this indiscernible substance, we barely understand how it behaves or influences other entities.

The mysteries of dark matter are being unlocked by scientists and engineers at the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute at Queen’s University and SNOLAB, located in an active nickel mine two kilometres below the surface, near Sudbury. This work has inspired a new collaboration with Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

  • Artist Nadia Lichtig photographing the drift entrance to SNOLAB. Photo: Zac Kenny
    Artist Nadia Lichtig photographing the drift entrance to SNOLAB. Photo: Zac Kenny
  • Artist Jol Thomson documents researchers working on CUTE (a Cryogenic Underground Test Facility) at SNOLAB. Photo: Gerry Kingsley
    Artist Jol Thomson documents researchers working on CUTE (a Cryogenic Underground Test Facility) at SNOLAB. Photo: Gerry Kingsley
  • Artist Josèfa Ntjam and SNOLAB staff scientist Dimpal Chauhan discuss ancient water. Photo: Zac Kenny
    Artist Josèfa Ntjam and SNOLAB staff scientist Dimpal Chauhan discuss ancient water. Photo: Zac Kenny

To explore the “known unknown” from different angles and demonstrate the interrelatedness of science and art, McDonald Institute, SNOLAB, and Agnes launched a residency and exhibition project, called Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Drift, an ode to the mining term for a horizontal tunnel, collaborated with four nationally- and internationally-acclaimed artists, Nadia Lichtig, Josèfa Ntjam, Anne Riley, and Jol Thoms, to partner with Queen’s and SNOLAB researchers searching for dark matter and create unique pieces inspired by these exchanges.

The first stage of the residency took place in July and October 2019. It involved two extended site visits, at Queen’s and at SNOLAB, during which the artists, scientists, and staff participated in presentations, hands-on research experiments, and field trips. The visits provided ample opportunity for Lichtig, Ntjam, Riley, and Thoms to connect with world-renowned physicists, chemists, engineers, and other scholars, including Dr. Arthur B. McDonald, co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics. Discussions ranged from the basics of dark matter and neutrino physics to articulations of racialized, Indigenous, and entangled identity, prioritizing mutual exchange of knowledge and insights. The subsequent months of the residency were focused on digital discussion among collaborators and home studio production for artists.   

Josèfa Ntjam, Luciferin Drop, 2020, glass, metal, ABS filament and luminescent liquid and Myceaqua Vitae, 2020, video with sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes
Josèfa Ntjam, Luciferin Drop, 2020, glass, metal, ABS filament and luminescent liquid and Myceaqua Vitae, 2020, video with sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes

“The experience was unique for several reasons. Firstly, I was able to travel to Canada and then go two kilometres underground, together with the miners. Then the fact I was able to visit the research facilities and speak with the researchers, and later able to deepen the discussions with the researchers invited in the context of the residency,” says Nadia Lichtig, one of Drifts artists-in-residence. “The whole experience was very inspiring.” 

Drift successfully opened dialogue between artists and physicists, revealing shared values, goals, and habits and highlighting new perspectives and comprehensions of advanced scientific theories being explored and developed nationwide. The residency culminated in several artworks – installation, sculpture, textile, and video – that offer a multisensory experience of dark matter science and the “how” and “why” of that which cannot be sensed directly.

Jol Thoms, Orthomorph (Tunneling), 2020, digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
Jol Thoms, Orthomorph (Tunneling), 2020, digital print. Courtesy of the artist.

“From a curator’s perspective, I believe we have reached a historical moment when the modes and motivations of producing culture need to be reconsidered, and with this project, we’re participating in a broader movement of artists and institutions making forays to explore much wider contexts and different constructions of knowledge,” says Sunny Kerr, Curator of Drift and Contemporary Art at Agnes. “This exhibition is a crucial step at the beginning of longer conversations between art and science.”

For those interested in experiencing the exhibition in person, it is on view at the Agnes until May 30, 2021. It will then tour across Canada to galleries with McDonald Institute and SNOLAB affiliations in Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, and Sudbury. 

Nadia Lichtig, Blank Spots, 2021–ongoing, frottage on canvas, theatre lights, sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes
Nadia Lichtig, Blank Spots, 2021–ongoing, frottage on canvas, theatre lights, sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes

Drift: Art and Dark Matter also takes the form of an online exhibition that can be found on Digital AGNES. The digital exhibition showcases the meeting of theories and voices that informed this exciting transdisciplinary residency and features behind-the-scenes videos, interviews, and interactive activities.

Agnes is open: Agnes reopened its doors to the public on Feb. 20. In addition to Drift, visitors can experience two other exhibitions, From the vibe out: Neven Lochhead and Radicals and Revolutionaries: Artists of Atelier 17, 1960s as part of the Agnes’ current season offerings.

Josèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula (detail), 2019, carpet, photomontage. Collection of the artist.
Josèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula (detail), 2019, carpet, photomontage. Collection of the artist.


IGnite Virtual set for March 4

The IGnite series, hosted by the McDonald Institute and Queen’s University Relations, is returning virtually for 2021. The free online forum showcases stories of discovery from researchers at Queen’s University. Speaker presentations are engaging and geared toward a wide variety of audiences, making IGnite accessible for anyone who is interested in attending.  

The next installment, IGnite Virtual, will be held on Thursday, March 4, 7-8:45 pm on YouTube. Panelists include astroparticle physicist Nahee Park (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) and her former student, Emma Ellingwood, who will discuss their work on high energy cosmic accelerators. Biomechanical engineers Kevin Deluzio (also Dean of the Engineering and Applied Science) and Elise Laende, postdoctoral fellow with Mechanical and Materials Engineering, will share their research on motion capture and understanding how people move through time and space. The event will feature behind-the-scenes science tours and an audience question and answer period.

IGnite Virtual is open to all and no registration is required to view the YouTube livestream

To learn more, visit the McDonald Institute website.

[Promotional Graphic: IGnite Virtual - March 4 7 - 8:45 PM EST Streamed on YouTube]


COVID-19 leaves youth forced out of foster care even more vulnerable

The Conversation: The Ontario provincial government announced a moratorium on ending foster care at age 18 during the coronavirus pandemic, but this is due to end on March 31.

A homeless youth holds their head while sitting on the ground.
Once they turn 18, youth in foster care are required to fend for themselves. This includes finding shelter and services. (Shutterstock)

During the pandemic, Canadians have been asked to stay home to stay safe, yet thousands of youth are facing homelessness. Each year in Ontario, 800-1,000 youth age out of the child welfare system.

For most of these young people, turning 18 coincides with an abrupt withdrawal of their social supports as they simultaneously have to secure affordable housing, manage finances and finish high school.

Youth exiting the child welfare system are significantly less prepared to face these challenges than their peers, and many fare poorly. In Ontario, 58 per cent of these youth experience homelessness, 46 per cent report coming into conflict with the law and only 44 per cent of youth exiting the system graduate from high school.

In the early months of the pandemic, the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition (OCAC) and allied partners lobbied the Ontario government to stop the practice requiring youth to leave their care placements when they turn 18. In June 2020, the Ontario government placed a moratorium on this policy until March 31, 2021. Yet the pandemic continues and the clock is running out.

We research policy and work with youth and adults who are ensnared in the Canadian criminal justice system — many of whom have had contact with the child welfare system.

Challenging conditions in state care

Children who are deemed by child protective services (CPS) as experiencing abuse or neglect may be removed from their caregivers and placed under the guardianship of the state. Based on 2011 census data, there are 11,375 children in the child welfare system in Ontario. Black and Indigenous children are highly represented, with Indigenous children comprising 30 per cent of kids in care in Ontario.

Many children and youth under state guardianship report moving among multiple homes and sometimes cities. Youth reported to us that they can count on having at least one move for every year that they’re in the child welfare system, and some move multiple times in a year. Frequent moves can disrupt education, resulting in low rates of high school completion. Youth who don’t complete high school face challenges and are more likely to experience poverty and rely on government assistance.

This instability can create low levels of attachment, trust and relationship-building. Many youth contend with mental-health challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that have an impact on their mental, emotional, social, spiritual, physical and occupational wellness and development. It’s unsurprising that many youth describe feeling vulnerable and angry in these circumstances. Often youth are labelled oppositional and criminalized due to the way they behave, but this is in response to trauma and their circumstances.

From a youth we interviewed:

“[Being in the child welfare system] really changed my character. It really just changed who I was as a person.… I’ve been in [at least] 20 different places and you know, it’s just so much [stuff]. And that’s the thing. Like all this stuff, people don’t realize … for somebody like me, I’ve been so thrown around, like [basically] tossed around, like here, there, everywhere.”

Emerging adulthood

When youth under guardianship of the state turn 18, they are required to leave their foster care or group home placements. Some young people may continue to receive financial support after they turn 18 through the Continued Care and Support for Youth (CCYS) program. This financial support stops abruptly when they turn 21.

Psychologist Jeffrey Arnette’s theory of emerging adulthood recognizes a period of prolonged transition between late adolescence and fully independent adulthood. Emerging adulthood helps to explain shifting societal trends in recent decades.

Many emerging adults rely on their families for financial, housing and social support longer than in the past, often well into their 20s. More young people seek post-secondary education, face higher rates of unemployment and rising housing costs, and marry and have children at a later age, on average.

Despite these broader societal trends, currently youth in the child welfare system are required to leave their placements when they turn 18. While other young adults are able to gradually transition to independent adulthood, young people leaving care are abruptly forced into adulthood.

When asked how prepared they were for “independence,” one young person shared: “We all got like a Tupperware container, or a tub full of pots and pans and dishes and stuff like that. But yeah, there wasn’t really any preparation.”

Another added: “I just had to learn how to be a human on my own. Like, I had to learn everything that like a mom or like a parent or guardian is supposed to teach a kid from young.”

After the moratorium

Once the moratorium lifts on March 31, 2021, there will be a flood of young people leaving their homes and heading into a decimated housing and employment market.

Heather O'Keefe, executive director at StepStones for Youth, says:

“The devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have created further vulnerability for youth from the child welfare system with the lack of safe housing options, the loss of jobs, the inability to make rental payments and purchase essential items, and increased isolation and seclusion. The toll on the mental health of these youth has been exacerbated with the closure of libraries and schools, reduced services for people living in poverty, fewer opportunities to meet with counsellors and psychotherapists in person, and increased anxiety and suicide ideation.”

Our work with these young people underscores that the moratorium should be extended indefinitely. Rather than maintaining arbitrary age cut-offs for support, the provincial government should implement a readiness model.

This approach would work with every young person from the minute they enter the child welfare system to encourage better outcomes once they decide they are ready to be fully independent rather than being forced to leave care once they turn 18.

Youth leaving state guardianship have always been vulnerable. And with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, youth aging out of care will be in a much more vulnerable position, with potentially more severe impacts.

Cheyanne Ratnam co-authored this article. Cheyanne is the co-founder and executive lead of the OCAC, and an expert in the area of child welfare, homelessness and interconnected systems. Cheyanne also grew up in the child welfare system, experienced youth homelessness and was briefly engaged with the youth justice system.The Conversation


Marsha Rampersaud, PhD Candidate, Sociology, Queen's University and Linda Mussell, PhD Candidate, Political 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.

Exploring the future of Blackness

CBC's 21 Black Futures features film by Queen’s assistant professor that imagines a future in which calling the police is not the only option in an emergency.

The Witness Shift film team: Actor Uche Ama, playwright Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, and director Sarah Waisvisz
Queen's assistant professor Sarah Waisvisz directs actor Uche Ama in film adaptation of Donna-Michelle St. Bernard's play Witness Shift for CBC and Obsidian Theatre's 21 Black Futures. (Supplied photo).

Over the past year, shocking killings by law enforcement and waves of activism sparked a mainstream discussion about ‘defunding the police’. At its core, the concept asks us to imagine if calling the police weren’t the only option during a crisis – an idea explored in a new short film called Witness Shift, directed by Queen’s assistant professor Sarah Waisvisz for Obsidian Theatre and CBC’s 21 Black Futures.

The 21 Black Futures is a theatre-film anthology project that united 21 Black directors with 21 Black playwrights, and 21 Black actors to create 21 monodramas exploring the question: What is the future of Blackness?

“This project was so life-giving,” says Dr. Waisvisz, whose scholarly work has explored Afro-Caribbean traditions, community, ritual, and storytelling. “I can’t tell you how amazing it was to work on something in the company of so many Black and BIPOC creators all committed to the same vision of honouring and uplifting the Black-Canadian experience.”

Her film, written by acclaimed Canadian playwright Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, stars Uche Ama as a senior emergency services dispatcher – called a Witness – as they train a new recruit on how to respond to emergency calls. Ama’s character fields calls from people experiencing a range of problems – anything from a request for protection to a lost dog or mental health distress – dispatching social workers, therapists, activists, or community supports as each situation demands.

“Isn’t there another way to serve and protect our communities so we can meet the needs of the most vulnerable?” reads Dr. Waisvisz’s director’s note on the CBC website. “This play offers us a model to explore the steps we need to take to transform our society so each of us can truly be seen in our full humanity.”

Dr. Waisvisz also directed the entire film via video call – an experience akin to her new role as a faculty member of the Dan School of Drama and Music.

“I am thrilled to be part of a dynamic department and to teach inspiring students, but of course being a pandemic-year new faculty member means my life is all Zoom, all the time,” says Dr. Waisvisz, who joined Queen’s in July 2020. “I am amazed though by how much intimacy is nevertheless possible through video call if trust is built and nurtured – whether it be with actors or students. It’s not simple, but I’m so glad to be able to create meaningful work and engage meaningfully with my students even from afar.”

In addition to her position at Queen’s, Dr. Waisvisz is an accomplished playwright and performer. She continues to tour her solo show Monstrous about mixed-race identity, and her play Heartlines, about fighting white-supremacy and fascism, opened at Ottawa’s Undercurrents Festival to sold-out audiences.

You can view Dr. Waisvisz’s film Witness Shift on CBC Gem as well as the entire 21 Black Futures project.

Creativity in the online classroom

Classics professor Barbara Reeves holds excavating tools as she sits on an orange Kubota tractor.
In her first-year archaeology class, Barbara Reeves (Classics) has travelled all over Kingston filming herself talking about archaeological methods and procedures in interesting locations. (Supplied photo)

With the ongoing pandemic, professors and instructors in the Faculty of Arts and Science have had to rethink the ways they connect with students. Several courses have been adapted to the new world of online learning including redesigning the use of textbooks, using Zoom technology for performances, and exploring archaeology virtually.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the landscape of education across the country,” says Barbara Crow, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science. “Not only have many of us learned new technologies and pedagogies, it has also been challenging for faculty with uneven access to WIFI, parenting with small children, parents in long term care and the longer hours to learn. They have also found new and innovative ways of delivering their courses and course materials. I continue to be amazed by the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity of our teaching and instructional design teams, and I am always pleased to hear and share their stories”

What follows is just five stories that show how our educators are enriching the student experience in unique and creative ways:

Barbara Reeves (Classics) brought a unique teaching twist to her first-year archaeology class. She travelled all over Kingston filming herself talking about archaeological methods and procedures in interesting locations.

One week she introduced excavation tools while standing in front of a fake ruin in a friend’s backyard. Another week Dr. Reeves discussed survey techniques next to an abandoned railway track in farmer’s field. In other weeks she filmed in city parks, in front of construction sites, and on Queen’s campus. In each case she sought out an interesting location to support the learning of that week’s material.

“Both the students and I really enjoyed the result and I think such videos will now be part of my teaching even when we return to the classrooms,” says Dr. Reeves. “I feel there is too much focus on the problems and difficulties with remote teaching so I’m hoping we can counter that with some good news stories such as my own.” 

The Dan School of Drama and Music commissioned librettist Donna-Michelle St. Bernard and composer Afarin Mansouri to write a mini Zoom opera specifically for students in Colleen Renihan’s Music Theatre Ensemble. These students are experimenting with ways to capture online, aspects of community, co-presence, and immediacy that are valued in live music theatre. 

"This is an incredibly difficult time for performing artists but rather than simply press pause and wait for some semblance of normalcy to return, my students and I are leveraging the possibilities of the digital space to re-imagine our preoccupations with liveness, co-presence, and immediacy,” says Dr. Renihan. “Guided by these industry professionals, we are discovering what remote collaboration and performance can look like for music theatre in this new space."

The Department of Psychology recently redesigned PSYC100 with the aim of bringing contemporary and rigorous insights to students in such a way that promotes access. As part of this redesign, PSYC100 now uses a free Open Access textbook, with chapters written by leading experts across the world.

The course instructor, Meghan Norris, along with her undergraduate and a number of graduate teaching assistants, create rapport through weekly booster videos designed to address common facts from the course discussion board in the previous week. PSYC100 also uses informal check-ins through onQ to see how students are doing, and to look for ways to tweak the course to meet the needs of students studying all over the world.

Isabelle St-Amand (French Studies) is currently developing a course for the French for Professionals Certificate, titled Indigenous Arts and Contexts. This ASO online course is intended for distance students who are professionals working in relation to Indigenous arts and contexts (artistic and cultural organizations, education, government). It is designed to provide learners with the oral and written skills necessary to accurately understand and effectively engage with Indigenous arts and contexts in the workplace.

“The innovative aspect is how the course offers students multiple encounters with Indigenous artists who produce work in French, in an Indigenous language, or in translation, and with the diversity of course format (video recordings, film previews, short texts, interviews, etc.),” says Dr. St-Amand. “The course was developed with great care to maintain connections I have developed over the years with artists and organizations from the Indigenous arts community, to showcase and to reflect their work and vision. It could be described in some ways as an effort to Indigenize the French language for students studying it as a second or third language.”

In the Dan School of Drama and Music John Burge used Feedback Fruits Video for asynchronous preparation of a fall-term course on Mahler Symphonies, in which the class prepared ahead by watching videos that he had annotated with commentary and questions. Dr. Burge noted that because Feedback Fruits is available in onQ, it was an easy matter to select YouTube videos for this purpose. Additionally, any marks generated from the activity were connected directly to the onQ grade book and it was simply a one-click process to publish the grades.

“Mahler Symphonies are between 60-90 minutes long and with so many great performances of these works on YouTube, it was easy to feature a different orchestra and conductor for each Mahler Symphony,” says Dr. Burge. “The annotated videos included multiple choice questions drawn from that week’s assigned reading or by asking comparative questions with earlier symphonies. You could easily use Feedback Fruits Videos to increase student attention to any course’s video content and I will certainly be using it again in the future.”

This article was first published by the Faculty of Arts and Science. If you have an example of innovative and creative teaching techniques within the Faculty of Arts and Science, email anne.craig@queensu.ca for inclusion in the Faculty of Arts and Science’s monthly feature.

Partnering with industry to advance technological innovation

Over $6 million has been awarded to Queen’s researchers through NSERC’s Alliance grants to collaborate with industry partners in areas such as computing, wireless communications, and nuclear power.

The Government of Canada recently announced its investment of $118 million in funding through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) inaugural Alliance grants program. More than $6 million was secured by 12 Queen’s researchers, with four projects awarded more than $1 million each. Of the 20 projects that received more than $1 million, Queen’s and the University of Calgary tied for attracting the largest individual investments.

The Alliance grants program was established in 2019 to provide resources to support greater collaboration in research and development between researchers and partner organizations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. The goal is to develop collaborative teams with different skills and perspectives to generate new knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering and accelerate the real-world application of research results.

“My congratulations to our researchers and industry partners on their extraordinary success in the new Alliance program,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice Principal (Research). “Through their work, we will advance knowledge in fields critical to the prosperity and economic growth of Canadians.”

The four Queen’s projects that received more than $1 million in funding are:

Edge Computing

[Group photo with a large cheque]
Researchers Hossam Hassanein and Sameh Sorour (Computing) with partners from Kings Distributed Systems, including President Dan Desjardins (PhD'15). 

Queen’s researcher Hossam Hassanein, Director of the School of Computing, has received $1.2 million to develop “A Framework for Democratized Edge Computing and Intelligence” with industry partner and Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation collaborator, Kings Distributed Systems (KDS). Edge computing is a distributed, open IT architecture that has significant impact on user quality of service and will likely be a necessary component of all digital business by as early as 2022. This project will focus on creating distributed edge computing clusters that will make this technology accessible to all, reduce existing monopoly power of cloud service providers and network operators, and open an entirely new market for Canadian businesses and governments. Working with KDS, Dr. Hassanein also intends to train more than 20 highly qualified personnel to further advance edge computing technologies and applications.

[Photo of Praveen Jain in the ePower centre]
Praveen Jain, Canada Research Chair in Power Electronics

Renewable Nano Power Grid

A team of researchers led by Praveen Jain with Majid Pahlevani and Suzan Eren at the Queen’s Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePOWER) received $1.2 million in funding to partner with Cistel Technology and EION Wireless to develop a “Renewable Nano Power Grid for Wireless Communications.” Modern communications networks employ wireless towers at remote locations where grid power may not be available. Dr. Jain and his team are venturing into the next-generation renewable nano energy grid that will provide “five nines” availability required in the communications networks.

Nuclear Energy

Queen’s researcher Suraj Persaud, UNENE Research Chair in Corrosion Control and Materials Performance, secured funding for two projects related to nuclear energy. The first is a partnership with Bruce Power, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Ontario Power Generation, and UNENE, with $1.4 million in support, to investigate “Corrosion Control and Materials Performance in Nuclear Power Systems.” In collaboration with the University of Toronto, Dr. Persaud will investigate metallic corrosion, in particular the combined effect of irradiation and corrosion on material performance in nuclear power plants and small modular reactors. Application of innovative microscopy methods will be a key component to identify the effects of stress and corrosion on materials degradation at the nanoscale. The team will leverage state-of-art research infrastructure, such as the proton accelerator and microscopy facilities, available at the Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM) in Toronto and the Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory (RMTL) at Queen’s.

[Photo of Suraj Persaud]
Suraj Persaud, UNENE Research Chair in Corrosion Control and Materials Performance

Dr. Persaud’s second project applies the same focus on nanoscale corrosion and materials degradation to the safe disposal of nuclear waste, an often-cited drawback of nuclear energy. With $1.03 million in funding, Dr. Persaud has partnered with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to collaborate on the “Advanced Characterization and Modelling of Degradation in Nuclear Waste Canister Materials” with an interdisciplinary scientific approach and a diverse team of senior and early-stage researchers. NWMO is the organization mandated to develop a plan for disposal of spent fuel, which is currently focused on design and commission of the deep geological repository (DGR) where spent nuclear fuel is stored in a multi-barrier system. Dr. Persaud and his team will work with NWMO scientists to employ novel microscopy, experimental and modelling methods, and state-of-the-art facilities to study micro-to-atomic scale interactions and the performance of materials proposed for DGR application with the ultimate goal of ensuring Canada’s safe and responsible disposal of nuclear waste.

Nine other projects were funded through the program, including:

Researcher Partner(s) Project Title Amount
Kevin Mumford (Civil Engineering) McMillan-McGee Enhanced in situ thermal treatment of soil and groundwater: high temperature treatment and combined remedies $320,000
Mark Daymond, Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Materials and Mechanics of Materials  Kinectrics Mechanistic understanding of hydrided region overload cracking $292,000
Yan-Fei Liu (Electrical and Computer Engineering)  GaNPower International, Magna International Technology development for high efficiency high power density EV DC – DC converter $259,190
Victoria Friesen (Biology) African Lion Safari, Wildlife Preservation Canada Population management and recovery of the endangered loggerhead shrike $118,632
Carlos Saavedra (Electrical and Computer Engineering) Guildline Instruments Broadband gallium nitride power amplifier for microwave calibration instrumentation $111,000
Laurent Karim Béland (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Development of artificial neural networks to analyze micrographs of zirconium-based alloys and hydrides for nuclear power applications $90,000
Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering) Correctional Service of Canada, Spectra Plasmonics A portable illicit drug detection device for Correctional Service Canada $60,000
Kimberley Mcauley (Chemical Engineering) National Research Council of Canada, Natural Resources Canada Variability and uncertainty analysis of wood waste as a feedstock for gasification $40,000
Julian Ortiz (Mining; Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) ArcelorMittal Mining Canada G.P. Geometallurgical modeling of mining complexes: testing causal hypothesis to improve plant performance $40,000

For more information about the Alliance program, visit the NSERC website.


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