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Law

Winning the battle against tax season drudgery

David Foster Wallace and Art Cockfield
Queen's law professor Art Cockfield, right, recently published an academic paper taking a closer look at the work of author David Foster Wallace, left.

For most people, the idea of doing their income taxes invokes fears of hours of drudgery and outright boredom.

However, there is beauty to be found in the details says Art Cockfield, a Queen’s professor specializing in tax law, in a new academic paper that takes a closer look at the life and work of award-winning author David Foster Wallace.

In his final book, The Pale King, published posthumously after his suicide, Mr. Wallace took an in-depth look at taxes in the United States and the way the majority of society approaches them. Mr. Wallace was fascinated by how people deal with tedium in their everyday lives. No surprise then that he was drawn to taxes.

In The Pale King, Dr. Cockfield explains, Mr. Wallace looked at how earlier generations considered filling out their tax returns as a sort of “moral obligation,” that they were doing their part for the greater community.

The book takes place in the 1980s when taxes were still done by hand, rather than online. However, it addresses contemporary issues.

“The book focuses on tax bureaucrats, people who work at the IRS, but the larger purpose I think is to discuss how most of us struggle with work boredom,” says Dr. Cockfield. “No matter who we are, a big chunk of our lives are taken up by work and this notion that we are confronting tedium throughout the day is very real and one of the great challenges most of us struggle with.”

A huge fan of Mr. Wallace’s writing, in particular his award-winning second novel Infinite Jest, Dr. Cockfield was named Fulbright Visiting Chair in Policy Studies in 2013 to the University of Texas in Austin, where, it so happened, the collected works of David Foster Wallace are housed.

Dr. Cockfield says that he simultaneously read The Pale King while delving into the author’s notes and writings. He learned that Mr. Wallace felt there is beauty and great insight to be found in everyday things that we take for granted, particularly at work, he explains in the academic paper.

“So I sifted through his accounting notes and tried to see and understand how he compiled the information for his novel and this great exploration about work boredom and how it affects our interior lives,” says Dr. Cockfield. “His themes were don’t get distracted, focus on what you are up to, try to develop a passion for it.”

So, whether it is filling out a tax form or sitting at a desk performing some “drone-like tasks,” if we focus and aren’t distracted we derive something from these experiences.

And while most of us think our taxes reveal nothing more than what we earned and what we owe, Dr. Cockfield says they actually provide incredible insight about each taxpayer. “A tax return is a kind of x-ray of an individual, their hopes and dreams, not just their income; their various deductions and charitable contributions and so on,” he says. “It’s fascinating from one perspective.”

 

Homecoming for new Canada Research Chair

Alan Jeffrey Giacomin has been named the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Rheology, and for him, it’s a homecoming. Born just a few blocks from campus, the position has brought him back to the Department of Chemical Engineering and Dupuis Hall where his university studies began.

“After nearly 30 years of professorship in Texas and Wisconsin, the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Rheology has lured me back to Canada,” says Dr. Giacomin (Sci’81). “The research funds attached to the CRC chair will help me build my rheology dream lab.”

Rheology is the study of sticky, runny elastic liquids, like moulded melted plastics, and how the motions of molecules make liquids gooey. Rheometers help us decipher how these liquids change shape.

Queen's three new Canada Research Chairs, from left: Alan Jeffrey Giacomin, Grégoire Webber and Jordan Poppenk.

Along with Dr. Giacomin, Queen’s has two new Tier 2 CRCs and five renewals. Jordan Poppenk (Psychology) has been named the Tier 2 NSERC Chair in Cognitive Neuroimaging and Grégoire Webber (Law) is the new Tier 2 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Chair (SSHRC) in Public Law and Philosophy of Law.

Dr. Poppenk’s research focuses on bringing memories to life. Using emerging brain imaging methods, he observes how memories interact and links these interactions to participants’ brain anatomy.

 “In my research, I attempt to explain how our particular memory abilities help to shape our many traits - for example, our personalities,” says Dr. Poppenk. “To support this work, I draw upon novel biomarkers derived from computationally intensive analysis of brain scans. CRC funding will contribute the research focus I need to consolidate these domains, while also helping me attract and support a world-class team of trainees to engage with my research program.”

Dr. Webber’s research program on human rights, public law, and authority and obligation explores the foundations of law and government.

“It is a special privilege to be awarded the Canada Research Chair in Public Law and Philosophy of Law,” Dr. Webber says. “The chair's two research areas build on strengths at Queen's and promote the existing interactions between colleagues in law, philosophy and political studies.”

Queen’s will receive $200,000 per year over seven years for each Tier 1 Chair and $100,000 per year over five years for each Tier 2 Chair.

“By supporting the most skilled and promising researchers, the CRC program facilitates cutting-edge research and advances Canada as a world leader in discovery and innovation. It also allows us to both attract and retain leading researchers in their respective fields” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research).   “Our success in garnering three new chairs and five renewals is demonstrative of  Queen’s leadership in research areas that address some of the most challenging and complex problems facing the world today – from public law and climate change to the development of power electronics.”

The five CRC renewals include:

Praveen Jain - Tier 1 NSERC Canada Research Chair in Telecom Power Electronics. Dr. Jain is researching a smart microgrid platform that will address a growing demand for more eco-friendly energy sources.

Ian Moore - Tier 1 NSERC Canada Research Chair in Infrastructure Engineering. Dr. Moore’s research focuses on Canada’s huge pipe replacement and repair burden by establishing the remaining strength of deteriorated culverts, sewer and water pipes and determining the best way to repair them.

Douglas Munoz - Tier 1 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience. Dr. Munoz is using eye movements to assess brain function in health and disease and searching for novel biomarkers to accelerate the development of novel diagnostic procedures and treatments.

Ugo Piomelli - Tier 1 NSERC Canada Research Chair in Turbulence Simulation and Modelling. Dr. Piomelli is studying turbulence through computer simulations.

John Smol - Tier 1 NSERC Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change. Dr. Smol will continue to develop and apply paleolimnological approaches (the study of sediment) to examine environmental issues including climate change.

For more information visit the website.

Law students show they can perform outside of the courtroom

  • [Cabaret for the Cure]
    Cabaret for the Cure took to the stage at the Grand Theatre to raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society.
  • [Cabaret for the Cure]
    A student does a little breakdancing during the Cabaret for the Cure, hosted by Queen's Law Cancer Society.
  • [Cabaret for the Cure]
    The Cabaret for the Cure featured a variety of dance performances by law students as well as a fashion show.
  • [Cabaret for the Cure]
    A group of law students perform a routine during Cabaret for the Cure at the Grand Theatre of Friday night.
  • [Cabaret for the Cure]
    The annual Cabaret for the Cure was held for the first time at the Grand Theatre in downtown Kingston.

It was a night of dancing, music and fundraising as the annual Cabaret for the Cure was hosted by the Queen's Law Cancer Society.

Students from the Faculty of Law at Queen's University took to the stage on Friday, March 13, performing dance routines and a fashion show all in the name of fun and raising nearly $14,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society.

For the first time the event was held at the Grand Theatre in downtown Kingston.

 

A spotlight on secrets

Secret Trial 5 is being shown at The Screening Room this Sunday and Queen’s University professor Sharry Aiken has a significant role in the film, discussing the human impact of the war on terror. The film examines the Canadian government’s use of security certificates, an immigration tool that allows the government to deport non-citizens it deems a threat to national security.

Following the 4 pm showing Sunday, March 15 at The Screening Room, Professor Aiken will take part in a question and answer period.

“The film had already been conceived and the filmmakers approached me about appearing in it based on my research and advocacy,” says Professor Aiken. “I’ve been involved in efforts to challenge the use of security certificates since the 1990s."

Security certificates have been part of Canada’s immigration legislation for decades; over time, they have morphed into an anti-terrorism tool. Evidence against detainees is never fully revealed and parts of the hearings are held in secret.

Professor Aiken says the film shines a true light on these immigration procedures. “The Canadian public doesn’t know about these measures that are extremely draconian. People can expect to see a gripping film and leave the theatre angry and shocked. The film makes this situation very real.”

Secret Trial 5 examines the lives of five men who were arrested under the security certificate provision and detained for nearly 30 years combined. The filmmakers also speak with the men's family members, friends and the wider community about the impact of their arrests.

The film is also timely as the federal government debates amendments to Bill C-51, an anti-terrorism bill that Professor Aiken says could make security certificate procedures even more problematic. “The biggest obstruction to justice is the secret evidence withheld from individuals subject to immigration security procedures. Bill C-51 proposes to make withholding of evidence even easier and the process even more unbalanced,” she says.

The showing at The Screening Room is set for Sunday at both 4 and 7 pm. Along with Professor Aiken, the filmmakers will be on hand to answer questions after the screening.

An unfair system

A new report from Queen’s University law professor Kathleen Lahey shows women in Alberta have been disproportionately impacted by the 2001 shift to a flat tax in the province. As a result, women in the western province face higher income gaps, unpaid work gaps and after-tax income gaps than other women in Canada.

 “From the perspective of both fiscal stability and equity, the changes made 15 years ago to how the Alberta government collects revenues have proven disastrous,” says Professor Lahey. “In moving to a single corporate and personal income tax regime, the government has walked away from at least $6 billion in annual revenues - roughly the size of the forecasted deficit for next year – and actually increased the tax burden for those income-earners at the bottom end of the scale, who are predominantly women.”

Professor Lahey argues that these tax changes, when combined with a lack of affordable childcare spaces, a series of tax and transfer measures that essentially encourage women’s unpaid work, and the lack of effective mechanisms at the provincial level to implement gender equity commitments, have resulted in a troubling slide in women’s economic equality in Alberta since its peak in the mid-1990s.

The report concludes with a series of 14 recommendations that Professor Lahey says the government could implement in the upcoming budget to reverse the decades-long slide in gender equality in Alberta. Those recommendations include:

  • Replacing the current flat tax system with graduated corporate and personal income taxes.
  • Rejecting the introduction of new sales taxes or provincial consumption taxes.
  • Restructuring all joint tax and benefit measures that discourage women’s participation in the paid workforce.

“Alberta’s latest fiscal crisis is actually the perfect opportunity to correct the ill-advised policies of the past that have created the situation Alberta now finds itself in,” says Professor Lahey. “Fortunately, many of the same policies that can finally get the province off of its overdependence on unstable resource revenues can also begin to reverse the shameful lack of economic equality between men and women in Alberta.”

Professor Lahey is presenting the report, The Alberta Disadvantage: Gender, Taxation and Income Inequality, on Wednesday, March 4 at the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute. For more information, view the report here.

A new way to pay GRAs

Current and former graduate students who received payments as Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) between 2008 and 2012 could be receiving a tax refund from the Canada Revenue Agency in the next few months.

Effective January 1, 2013, Queen’s has changed the way it pays GRAs, who are typically graduate students who take on research positions that support their studies and provide financial compensation.

Historically, the support GRAs received for their studies was taxed as income from employment and a T4 was issued at tax time.

The university’s decision to change its tax treatment of payments to GRAs was made to reflect the fact that GRA positions are essentially research fellowships, funded directly from research grants awarded to the faculty members who recruit and supervise graduate students.

The change in tax treatment, which is in accordance with the Canada Revenue Agency’s guidelines, makes most GRAs eligible for T4A income (fellowship income) instead of T4 income (employment income).

The change, which aligns Queen’s with practices at other universities, also benefits graduate students by reducing income tax payments and increasing take-home pay. It may make some students eligible for a retroactive tax refund for the 2008-2012 period.

The change does not apply to a GRA if the graduate student held or holds the GRA for financial gain and also was or is performing work not directly related to his or her studies. Such students continue to be classified as employees receiving T4 income. If a graduate student simultaneously holds a GRA directly supporting his/her studies as a trainee and is also a research assistant whose work is not related directly to his/her studies, the student will receive a T4A for income received as a research fellowship, as well as a T4 for the income received as an employee.

Where applicable, the Canada Revenue Agency has agreed to issue retroactive refunds automatically to affected students and alumni and there is no need for anyone to re-file a tax return.

Questions should be directed by email to GRAT4A@queensu.ca

Law library renovation improves study spaces

[Law Library]
The main floor of Lederman Law Library will feature new open study space, study rooms, adaptive technology space and a new washroom following a major renovation this summer. A new bannister will be installed, which was a gift of the class of Law'14.

A major renovation to the Lederman Law Library this summer will improve study and service spaces for students.

The renovation will streamline the library to occupy two floors instead of three, with the main floor featuring new open study space, study rooms, adaptive technology space and a new washroom.

The Faculty of Law will take over the ground floor, which currently stores print journals that are to be relocated. The reconfigured space will combine individual study spaces and additional meeting rooms for law students.

“Expanding study spaces will support our growing enrolment,” says Bill Flanagan, Dean, Faculty of Law. “Not only will students have more individual space for studying and conducting research, they will have additional meeting rooms to use for moot court program and other group work.”

Other highlights of the renovation project include:

  • Air conditioning and enhanced ventilation to accommodate increased capacity.
  • Larger and improved space for graduate students.
  • Improved lighting and light flow.
  • Improved accessibility.

The project will also include a new bannister for the third floor of the Lederman Law Library, which was the graduating gift of the class of Law’14.

“We are excited to partner with the Faculty of Law on this project because the renovation supports the Library and Archives Master Plan (LAMP) recommendation of retaining and strengthening the library as a laboratory for legal research and a valued sanctuary for study,” says Amy Kaufman, Head, Lederman Law Library. “The law library will retain its well-loved reading room and gain some lovely redesigned space for all students to use.”

The consolidation will require relocating some of the law journals currently shelved on the first floor. High-use or core print-only journals will remain in the law library and will move to the main floor. Other journals, now available online, will move to the library’s existing storage space in the basement of Stauffer Library. Extremely low-use print journals are destined for remote storage.

Law library staff will begin moving many of the journals destined for storage during reading week, Tuesday, Feb. 17-Friday, Feb. 20. The law library aims to have all of the material relocated from the first floor by the end of April 2015 so that construction can occur over the summer.

The main and upper floor of the Lederman Law Library should remain quiet during the move for students who want to study in the facility over reading week. All other campus libraries also remain open during reading week. If students can’t find material they require while materials are being moved, Lederman Law Library staff would be happy to provide assistance.

More information about LAMP, including concept plans for the redesigned main floor of the law library, can be found online.

If you have questions, contact Ms. Kaufman by email.

New downtown digs for Queen's legal clinics

  • [Dean Flanagan and Principal Woolf]
    Faculty of Law Dean Bill Flanagan and Principal Daniel Woolf address a full crowd at the official opening of the Queen's Law Clinics in downtown Kingston.
  • [The Hon. Gordon Sedgwick and Art Cockfield]
    The Hon. Gordon Sedgwick and Queen's law professor Art Cockfield catch up at the opening of the Queen's Law Clinics.
  • [Rachel Floyd and Colin Wright]
    Rachel Floyd, Law'16, who works in the Prison Law Clinic, chats with Colin Wright, the independent chairperson at Joyceville Institution.
  • [Karla McGrath and Judi Beaman]
    Karla McGrath (left), LLM'13, director of the Queen's Family Law Clinic, discusses her work with Judi Beaman, Law'75.
  • [Tanya Lee]
    Tanya Lee, Director, Policies and Programs, Law Foundation of Ontario, participated in the grand opening. The clinics receive generous financial support from LFO, Legal Aid Ontario and private donors.

The university’s five legal clinics now occupy the top floor of the LaSalle Mews Building in downtown Kingston. The sleek, modern space feels like a professional law office, which is by design, according to Bill Flanagan, Dean, Queen’s Faculty of Law.

“Working in a law office setting under the close supervision of review counsel will prepare students for the challenges, and responsibility, of representing real clients with real legal problems while developing good judgment,” he says.

The Queen’s Law Clinics co-locates five individual clinics – Queen’s Legal Aid (QLA) and the Queen’s Business Law Clinic, Elder Law, Family Law and Prison Law clinics – in a location that is central for many clients. The offices occupy the 6,000-square-foot top floor of the building at 303 Bagot St. and feature 12 offices for lawyers and staff, four interview rooms, a meeting room that doubles as a classroom, and 24 student workstations.

The student workroom is bright and spacious with comfortable furniture. Several rooms offer stunning views of the downtown, Fort Henry and Lake Ontario. While the office is an attractive place to work and meet with clients, Queen’s Law Clinics offers additional benefits for the students’ growth and development as legal professionals.

“For students, the co-location will facilitate the sharing of knowledge, best practices and creative problem solving in a learning environment that prides itself on high-quality legal services,” Dean Flanagan says.

The Faculty of Law held an official opening on Jan. 29 where community leaders toured the space and learned more about the positive impact Queen’s students have on local residents, businesses and organizations.

The clinics, which provide students with a broad range of experiential learning opportunities, receive financial support from Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, and private donors. In particular, a class gift from Law’81 provides annual funding to enhance programs and support special projects for the clinical programs.

Queen’s Faculty of Law is a top-tier Canadian law school that develops outstanding and innovative legal professionals. Unique experiential learning opportunities allow students to immerse themselves in an environment that fosters not only learning but also the spirit of giving back.

Visit the Faculty of Law website for more information about each clinic and the services they provide.

Students improving family law services

The Queen’s Family Law Clinic opened its doors just a few short months ago, but it’s already having a positive impact on local residents self-representing in Family Court.

[Brittany Chaput]
The new Queen's Family Law Clinic is providing students like Brittany Chaput (Law'15) with valuable experiential learning opportunities. 

“The level of appreciation clients have for our work, and the significant demand for assistance have both been surprising to me,” says Brittany Chaput (Law’15), one of eight Queen’s law students working in the clinic with an additional six law students joining the program as volunteers in the coming weeks. “It is clear to me that our assistance has allowed our clients to become more confident in their abilities as self-representing advocates and has helped to provide clarity in an otherwise bewildering process.”

Queen’s Law launched the Family Law Clinic in September with funding from Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) and additional support from Pro Bono Students Canada and the Law’81 Alumni Fund. The clinic supports LAO’s commitment to enhancing much-needed family law services for low-income Ontarians.

In the heart of the city
Queen’s Family Law Clinic is co-located on the fifth floor of the LaSalle Mews Building (303 Bagot St.) in downtown Kingston along with the other Queen’s law clinics: Queen’s Legal Aid, Prison Law Clinic, Business Law Clinic and Elder Law Clinic.

The Queen’s Family Law Clinic assists an increasing number of litigants who can’t afford a lawyer but are above the income cut-off line for a legal aid certificate. The clinic also supports people who qualify for financial assistance with a legal matter not covered by Legal Aid Ontario.

Karla McGrath (LLM’13) serves as the director of Queen’s Family Law Clinic. She notes that self-representing litigants lack legal experience, which puts pressure on the judicial community.

“Litigants who prepare their own documents might not properly ask for what they want or when they appear in court they ask for something that is different than what they asked for in their court documents. This can be frustrating for them as well as for judges, clerks and administrative staff,” she says. “We’re minimizing that frustration and working to ensure the documents are thorough and accurately reflect what the clients are seeking from the process.”

In addition to preparing court documents and letters of opinion, Queen’s Family Law Clinic students guide their clients through the various steps of the court process. Even though they can’t represent clients in court, the students attend Family Court and shadow private bar or Legal Aid Ontario staff lawyers who assist self-representing litigants. The students also take a class relating to their clinic work and visit local agencies to inform professionals and clients about the services their clinic provides.

Ms. Chaput anticipates that participating in the hands-on learning experience offered by the clinic will ultimately make her a substantially better advocate.

“I have gained confidence in my ability to work with clients in difficult situations, identify the issues in a matter, and effectively communicate the facts,” she says. “I have become significantly more familiar with court procedures and court dynamics. Further, I have developed an insight into the practice of family law and considered the issue of policy reform in this area.”

Fostering the giving spirit of Giving Tuesday

With the holiday shopping season upon us, a movement now adopted by Queen’s University is aiming to prove that it is better to give than to receive.

Giving Tuesday is a self-declared movement of charitable giving and volunteering that opens the season of giving the day after the consumer-frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

This year, for the first time, several Queen’s faculties and schools are taking part in Giving Tuesday. Each faculty or school has its own specific initiatives, but the central purpose is to request philanthropic gifts to support students.

The Faculty of Arts and Science is focusing on Dean Susan Mumm’s highest priority: increasing the number of admission scholarships.

This year’s goal is to offer Admission Scholarships of $2,000 to all qualified students.

“We ask that you join us to support our goal in any amount possible,” says Dean Mumm.

From small gifts to funding a scholarship yourself, the campaign is determined to make scholarships happen.

The new Admission Scholarships for the Arts will attract exceptional students to Queen’s, grow the caliber of the Arts and Science student body, and offer students new opportunities that would otherwise not be possible.

Queen’s School of Business is asking for gifts to support four separate funds for students. Donations to the Commerce Legacy Fund for Student Health and Wellness support student health and wellness initiatives like seminars, workshops and increasing the availability of individual counselling.

Donations are also encouraged to the QSB Commerce Bursary Fund, MBA Scholarships Endowment Fund, and the Dean’s Innovation Fund. Each of these funds provides assistance to students in financial need and helps recruit the brightest students.

QSB has a few twists to Giving Tuesday. First, all individual donations between $1,000 and $25,000 will be matched by the Dean’s Matching Fund. Also, any gifts in this same range from QSB alumni who graduated since 1994 – typically identified as “young alumni” – will be ‎doubled.

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science is using Giving Tuesday as a way of highlighting the 10th anniversary of the Integrated Learning Centre and raising funds for the Dean’s Excellence Fund. Students are calling attention to the Centre, as home to the Engineering Society, Engineering Student Lounge and Tea Room, as a hub for student experience and learning.

The Faculty of Health Sciences is asking benefactors to support Giving Tuesday through gifts to its three Schools.

The Rehabilitation Therapy Student Experience Fund helps students cover their expenses while they learn away from Queen’s on placements. The Nursing 75th Anniversary Fund supports a variety of causes including bursaries, scholarships, equipment, and professorships. Finally, the Medical School Excellence Fund supports new educational initiatives, simulation and clinical learning, research and provides student support.

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