Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Research Prominence

William Leggett receives prestigious lifetime achievement award

Dr. William Leggett.

William Leggett, professor emeritus in the Department of Biology and Queen's 17th principal, has received the H. Ahlstrom Lifetime Achievement Award from the Early Life History Section of the American Fisheries Society for his contributions to the fields of larval fish ecology.

The American Fisheries Society is the biggest association of professional aquatic ecologists in the world, with over 9,000 members worldwide.

"œIt feels good to be singled out by such large group of people who I respect so highly," says Dr. Leggett. "œI didn'™t expect to receive this award so it'™s a big honour and thrill to get it."

Dr. Leggett'™s research focuses on the dynamics of fish populations and his work as a biologist and a leader in education has been recognized nationally and internationally. A membership in the Order of Canada, a fellowship from the Royal Society of Canada, and the Award of Excellence in Fisheries Education are just some of the awards he has received for outstanding contributions to graduate education and marine science.

The Early Life History Section of the American Fisheries Society recognized Dr. Leggett'™s "œexceptional contributions to the understanding of early life history of fishes that has inspired the careers of a number of fisheries scientists worldwide and has led to major progress in fish ecology and studies of recruitment dynamics."

The award was recently presented in Quebec City at the 38th annual Larval Fish Conference held in conjunction with the 144th annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society.

 

Bird droppings provide clues to environmental change

Queen's University researchers John Smol and Matthew Duda have identified concerning trends in a vulnerable seabird.

Led by Queen’s researchers, a collaborative research team of Canadian universities (Queen’s University, University of Ottawa, Memorial University of Newfoundland) and government scientists have identified concerning trends in the population size of Leach’s Storm-petrels, a vulnerable seabird that mainly lives on Baccalieu Island, 64 km north of St. John’s, Nfld.

The study led by Matthew Duda, and co-authored by John Smol, suggests that marine wildlife, including the Leach’s storm-petrel, are not only confronting a range of recent human-induced pressures, but are also responding to longer-term environmental factors.

A sediment core collected from Baccalieu Island. (Photo by Matthew Duda)

“The seabirds act as ‘environmental engineers’ by depositing large volumes of nutrient-rich feces and other refuse, thereby changing the aquatic and terrestrial landscape,” says Dr. Smol, a biology professor and the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change at Queen’s University. “By taking sediment cores from storm-petrel impacted ponds, we can reconstruct past population trends going back centuries or millennia, where many important clues lay hidden.”

The researchers took advantage of the fact that storm-petrels build burrow nests on islands, often around freshwater ponds. Therefore, the ponds’ sediments preserve the effects of changes in the amounts of seabird fecal matter and provide a ‘history book’ of past changes in the environment.

Using a variety of biological and chemical indicators in dated sediment cores, the researchers could track changes in seabird populations going back more than 1,700 years.

Ongoing observations indicate that the seabird population has been declining in recent decades, but that striking changes have also occurred in the past, prior to human impacts.

“Our approach identified striking changes in the colony size of storm-petrels on Baccalieu Island," says Matthew Duda, Queen’s University doctoral candidate in the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL). "First, we confirmed that the population has been declining since the 1980s. More surprisingly, however, we determined that the current colony underwent marked changes in the past, including rapid growth in the early-1800s. Furthermore, we identified an earlier colony about 1,500 years ago that declined without the influence of human stressors. So now in response to the ever-increasing pressure imposed by human activity, the situation is likely even more risky for this important oceanic bird.”

The authors caution that their paleoecological data further reinforce the fragility of seabird colonies and the critical need for evidence-based management.

The research was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

A network of research excellence

  • Anna Panchenko is the Tier 1 CRC in Computational Biology and Biophysics
    Anna Panchenko, the Tier 1 CRC in Computational Biology and Biophysics, talks about how the CRC program allows her to focus on her research, gives her research visibility among her peers, and opens the door to collaborations.
  • Lindsay Morcom, is the Tier 2 CRC in Language Revitalization and Decolonizing Education
    Lindsay Morcom, the Tier 2 CRC in Language Revitalization and Decolonizing Education, discusses her research.
  • Heather Aldersey is the Tier 2 CRC in Disability and Inclusive Development;
    Heather Aldersey, the Tier 2 CRC in Disability and Inclusive Development, speaks at the first Canada Research Chair networking event.

In an effort to increase collaboration and create a greater sense of community, the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s University hosted its first Canada Research Chair (CRC) networking event. Speaking at the event were new CRC chairholders Anna Panchenko, Lindsay Morcom, and Heather Aldersey, in an effort to highlight the diversity of research happening at the university.

“Collaborations are at the heart of science, they allow each one of us to see the big picture from different angles,” says Dr. Panchenko. “CRC events bring together CRC researchers from different fields, this opens tremendous possibilities for interactions and collaborations.”

Dr. Panchenko is the Tier 1 CRC in Computational Biology and Biophysics; Dr. Aldersey is the Tier 2 CRC in Disability and Inclusive Development; and Dr. Morcom is the Tier 2 CRC in Language Revitalization and Decolonizing Education.

Dr. Panchenko works in the field of cancer research and is studying how mutations arise in DNA and then spread throughout the body.

“These areas of study require new computational methods and techniques,” she explains. “My laboratory develops algorithms to understand cancer progression at the molecular level to come up with new targeted therapeutic strategies.”

The CRC program, Dr. Panchenko says, allows her to focus on her research, gives her research visibility among her peers, and opens the door to collaborations.

Queen’s currently is home to 46 CRC chairs and the university is taking part in a national effort to meet new equity and diversity targets amongst chairholders. The university has developed an action plan to identify potential barriers to equity and inclusion in the CRC program at Queen’s and specific actions to address them.

The Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) (OVPR) is responsible for ongoing monitoring and updating of this plan and, in concert with the Provost’s Office, Deans, and departments and units, ensuring that the it is successfully enacted.

“I believe diversity helps drive the progress in science and in the world,” says Dr. Panchenko. “Recognizing and acknowledging differences in views and opinions is a crucial step in scientific thinking, it allows scientists to overcome the confirmation bias.”

Mixing cannabis and pregnancy

New research from Queen's and Western universities show real risks associated with cannabis exposure during pregnancy.

A new study from researchers at Queen’s University and Western University is the first to definitively show that regular exposure to THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, during pregnancy has significant impact on placental and fetal development. With more than a year since the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, the effects of its use during pregnancy are only now beginning to be understood.

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, uses a rat model and human placental cells to show that maternal exposure to THC during pregnancy has a measurable impact on both the development of the organs of the fetus and the gene expression that is essential to placental function.

“Marijuana has been legalized in Canada and in many states in the US, however, its use during pregnancy has not been well studied up until this point," says Queen's University associate professor David Natale (Obstetrics and Gynaecology). "This study is important to support clinicians in communicating the very real risks associated with cannabis use during pregnancy."

The researchers demonstrated in a rat model that regular exposure to a low-dose of THC that mimics daily use of cannabis during pregnancy led to a reduction in birth weight of eight per cent and decreased brain and liver growth by more than 20 per cent. The research team was also able to characterize how THC prevents oxygen and nutrients from crossing the placenta into the developing fetus.

"This data supports clinical studies that suggest cannabis use during pregnancy it is associated with low birth weight babies," says Western University associate professor Dan Hardy. "Clinical data is complicated because it is confounded by other factors such as socioeconomic status. This is the first study to definitively support the fact that THC alone has a direct impact on placental and fetal growth.”

The researchers point out that there are currently no clear guidelines from Health Canada on the use of cannabis in pregnancy and some studies have shown that up to one in five women are using cannabis during pregnancy to prevent morning sickness, for anxiety or for social reasons.

Research @ Queen’s: Starting a scintillating search

Over the last decade, SNO+ has taken advantage of a unique piece of research infrastructure and set out on a new mission.

Mark Chen
Mark Chen, the Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics, holds a photomultiplier tube (PMT). PMTs are very sensitive light detectors, capable of sensing single light photons and producing an electrical pulse that travels to the data acquisition electronics.

 

Like a beloved book or movie that you hope has a sequel, the most successful scientific projects cry out for a second act. That is just what has happened to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), which over the last decade has reinvented itself as SNO+, led by Mark Chen, the Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics, a project that has taken advantage of a unique piece of research infrastructure and set it on a new mission.

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

Who is stronger, David or Goliath?

New research from Queen’s University says the answer depends on your culture.

New research from Queen’s University has revealed the way people evaluate an opponent in a competition can be drastically different depending on cultures.

Li-Jun Ji, a professor in the Department of Psychology, and Albert Lee, a former Queen’s PhD student (now a professor at Nanyang Technological University), have found that people around the world decipher the appearance of their opponents in competitions in different ways. For many North Americans of European descent, an opponent is perceived as threatening when he or she shows signs of strength or advantages in appearance, such as looking powerful, strong, confident, intimidating, and so on.

For many people in Asia, such as the Chinese, an opponent is perceived as threatening when he or she shows no sign of strength. It is not a tough-looking opponent that the Chinese would fear, but an opponent who looks ordinary or weak.

“We are borrowing on the story of Goliath (a gigantic, mighty-looking warrior) and David (a small, weak-looking shepherd) from the Bible,” says Dr. Ji. “So, if we ask people ‘Who do you watch out for in a tournament, Goliath or David?’ our research suggests that the answer depends. If you were a Canadian or American of European descent, you tend to fear Goliath. If you came from a Chinese background, you tend to fear David.”

Dr. Ji explains such cultural differences can be explained by the differences in philosophical stances between Western and Eastern cultures. Grounded in many schools of Eastern philosophy is the principle that appearance is misleading. This principle, however, is much less apparent in the Western philosophical traditions.

The new research translates into everyday life as we are often competing with others for a goal.

“We could be competing with others for a spot in hiring, a medal at a sporting event or a slice of the market if we are working in business,” Dr. Lee says. “From this angle, I believe that an average person would benefit from knowing a little more about the role culture plays in how people behave and think, especially in situations involving head-to-head encounters among people.”

The next steps of the research include broadening the scope to other areas of life, such as situations that are not competitive in their nature, but they still require people to make judgments based on appearance. The team of the researchers are also interested in investigating whether people from different cultures would choose to present themselves in different ways, especially in competitive settings.

The research was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Why it’s wrong to refer to the ‘cult of Trump’

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump is welcomed by Vice President Mike Pence as he is introduced during a rally. (Photo by History in HD / Unsplash)

The recent events in Iran have led many to rail against a supposed “Trump cult.”

But suggestions that supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump are exhibiting cult-like behaviour isn’t helpful in an era of significant political polarization.

As those of us who study new religious movements often say, a cult is just a religion that you don’t like — and that pertains to political parties too.

Since Benjamin Zeller, an American scholar of new religious movements, published “The Cult of Trump? What ‘Cult Rhetoric’ Actually Reveals” last fall, allegations that Trump has spawned a cult are appearing more frequently in the media.

One journalist called upon his peers to “to realize that when political parties and leaders begin behaving like a cult, we should think about reporting on them as such.”

There’s a #TrumpCult hashtag on social media platforms.

And Steven Hassan, a former member of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church who is now a self-described cult deprogrammer, argues in a new book that Trump is a cult leader.

What does it accomplish to allege a Trump cult?

Generally, it substitutes a value judgment in place of a sorely needed argumentative analysis of how voters generate their own political feelings, fantasies and attachments. And this feeds the cycle of polarizing political identities and political institutions.

‘Brainwashed’

Examples from Twitter, the media and in Hassan’s The Cult of Trump highlight instructive differences in how the cult concept is being used — and its impact.

Hassan argues that Trump supporters have been “brainwashed” by a charismatic leader. He sees them as deluded zealots who need his help to “wake up from the Cult of Trump.”

Hassan’s approach ignores their agency as well as decades of public education from organizations like INFORM, an independent educational charity that provides information about minority religions and has done important work on discrediting concepts of “brainwashing,” “deprogramming” and “cults.”

It’s worth remembering that the suggestion that Republican leaders were “chosen by God,” as former energy secretary Rick Perry recently described Trump, is nothing new. It was all the rage under George W. Bush and other Republican politicians who have catered to evangelicals.

Without question, Trump’s insistence that “we have God on our side” in the upcoming 2020 presidential election poses a problem for journalists and for public life.

But to describe the entire party as a cult lead by Trump is problematic. If journalists are going to heed calls to refer to the party as a cult and its supporters as cultists, they must define what “cult” means. Otherwise, they are assuming that a cult is some obvious phenomenon and everyone knows what the word means.

The term cult is used frequently by Trump critics on social media. As he criticized former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley’s defence of the Confederate flag, one commentator tweeted:

“Pretty telling that it’s a rite of passage into the Cult of Trump and the modern Republican Party that you have to publicly legitimize the Confederacy, a racist, treasonous, nightmarish dystopia founded on white supremacy and stark economic hierarchies.”

In this example, the cult comparison is incidental to the commentator’s argument about Republican ideology and partisanship. He isn’t arguing that Trumpism is a cult in any serious sense. “Cult” serves as shorthand for Trump’s base that simply adds a rhetorical flourish to a condemnation of Trump supporters on the grounds of their political beliefs.

Moral denunciation

But whether literal or figurative, “cult” discourse hurts critics’ ability to understand Trump’s appeal. The “cult” diagnosis isn’t a reasoned argument, or even an objective description: it’s moral denunciation.

There’s no question Trump policies that hurt people and endanger the world should be denounced. But the “cult” epithet doesn’t speak to those policies; it draws a line between Trump opponents and Trump supporters. And it oversimplifies the way people think and feel about their own beliefs and those on the other side of that line.

So why is it used so often?

It turns out that avoiding the temptation to make in-groups and out-groups — meaning dividing social groups into those who believe what we believe and those who don’t — is very difficult.

U.S. politics professor and author Lilliana Mason recently argued that it takes very little to activate a sense of group identity in people, and lead them to become hostile towards the out-group.

Indeed, the fact that we’re all susceptible to this kind of in-group/out-group thinking shows that politics is not just about reason, it is also about emotion. Political emotions are often layered with religion for Trump-supporting evangelicals who believe in a tough love that will lead to salvation for America.

To dismiss such people as being under the sway of a cult misses what Trumpism offers them. It therefore makes it harder to understand Trump’s power. It also makes it more difficult to understand the circumstances of Trump supporters’ lives. It makes other people’s feelings seem foreign, when they may be fundamentally common.

In conclusion, while there are many legitimate ways to critique Trump, demonizing his voters doesn’t help us understand why they are attracted to him, how their worldview has developed and how to do something about it.

__________________________________________________________________________

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

Sharday Mosurinjohn is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies at Queen's University.

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

Clean energy revolution

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada project funding advances research into replacing inefficient batteries.

Four years ago, Queen’s University researcher Gregory Jerkiewicz and his team of Canadian and international collaborators received a competitive $4 million Discovery Frontiers grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Funding is presented to only one project every two years and the broadly defined research subject is different each time.

The entire research team visited Queen's University just before Christmas to wrap up the project.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Engineered Nickel Catalysts for Electrochemical Clean Energy (Ni Electro Can) has generated research results that could revolutionize clean energy technology through the use of nickel, an abundant transition metal in the Earth’s crust, in materials such as fuel cells.

“Batteries, which are heavy and have a limited life span, will soon be replaced by fuel cells (in electric cars for example), which are currently very expensive,” says Dr. Jerkiewicz (Chemistry), the project leader and scientific director. “The problem is, the currently available fuel cells employ platinum nanoparticles and there isn’t enough platinum on earth to convert all batteries to fuel cells. Nickel solves that problem and allows us to create cost-effective and efficient alkaline fuel cells.”

Two other thrusts of the research included alkaline water electrolysis for hydrogen generation and electrochemical transformation of glycerol into value-added products.

International Leadership

Featuring 14 Canadian researchers from seven universities (University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, INRS Université de Recherche, University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, McMaster University and Queen’s University), nine international researchers from seven countries (Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway and the United States), and several industry partners (eg. Ballard Power Systems, CNEM Corp., Hydrogenics, Nissan Motor Company, Perkin Elmer), the project has also allowed Canada to emerge as a world-class leader in the area of nickel materials, nickel electrochemistry, and electrocatalysis, and open new research areas internationally.

Five research groups from Queen’s were involved in the project including the Beauchemin Group, Daymond Group, Evans Group, Mosey Group, and Jerkiewicz Group.

Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Kirsty Duncan visited Queen's University for the official announcement.

Project Outcomes

The project saw several research outcomes and successes. A few highlights, include:

  • Strengthening Canada’s leadership role in the area of novel materials science and engineering for clean and renewable electrochemical energy systems
  • Enabling innovative research on electrochemical transformation of glycerol, a by-product of biodiesel production
  • Disseminating newly created knowledge and transferring it to industrial partners in order to maximize the impact of discoveries, breakthroughs and inventions

The Ni Electro Can project had several other tangible results including training 135 highly qualified persons, generating well over 90 scientific papers with more still to come, creating 40 international and national internships, developing an additional 24 research projects garnering an additional $4.8 million in funding, obtaining six patents and 275 conference presentations.

“From the outset, the Ni Electro Can team set out to address challenges associated with declining reserves of non-renewable energy sources and environmental pollution, says Kent Novakowski, Acting Vice-Principal (Research). “From the outcomes, clear headway was made in research and knowledge transfer in these areas. It’s what is possible when we combine significant support from the government of Canada with leading minds in Canada and internationally.”

In terms of what’s next, the team is currently working on their final report to be submitted to the NSERC and exploring various national and international research programs that would allow them to explore new research horizons.

Haitian children abandoned by UN fathers

The voices of young victims in Haiti can now be heard for the first time thanks to a groundbreaking new research project.

Marie* was 14 years old and enrolled in a Christian school when she met and became involved with Miguel, a Brazilian soldier working in Haiti as a UN peacekeeper. When she told him that she was pregnant with his baby, Miguel said he would help her with the child. But instead, he returned to Brazil. Marie wrote to him on Facebook but he never responded.

After learning that she was pregnant, Marie’s father forced her to leave the family home and she went to live with her sister. Her child is now four and Marie has yet to receive any support from the Brazilian military, an NGO, the UN, or the Haitian state. Marie provides what she can for her son but she cannot afford to send him to school. She works for an hourly wage of 25 gourde (around 26 US cents) so that she and her son can eat. But she needs help with housing and paying for school fees.

Sadly, Marie’s experience is far from unique. In the summer of 2017, our research team interviewed approximately 2,500 Haitians about the experiences of local women and girls living in communities that host peace support operations. Of those, 265 told stories that featured children fathered by UN personnel. That 10 per cent of those interviewed mentioned such children highlights just how common such stories really are.

The narratives reveal how girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by peacekeepers and then, as one man put it, “left in misery” to raise their children alone, often because the fathers are repatriated once the pregnancy becomes known. Mothers such as Marie are then left to raise the children in settings of extreme poverty and disadvantage, with most receiving no assistance.

Mired in controversy

The UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – the longest-running mission by the organisation in the country (2004-2017) – was originally mandated to assist local Haitian institutions in a context of political instability and organised crime. Its mandate was then extended due to natural disasters, most notably an earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, both of which added to the volatility of the political situation in the country. After 13 years of operation, MINUSTAH closed in October 2017, transitioning to the smaller UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).

MINUSTAH is one of the most controversial UN missions ever. It has been the focus of extensive allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. A shocking number of uniformed and non-uniformed peacekeeping personnel have been linked to human rights abuses including sexual exploitation, rape, and even unlawful deaths. (For the purposes of this article, we use MINUSTAH personnel, agents, and peacekeepers interchangeably to refer to uniformed and non-uniformed foreign staff associated with MINUSTAH.)


This article is part of Conversation Insights
The Insights team generates long-form journalism derived from interdisciplinary research. The team is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects aimed at tackling societal and scientific challenges.

 


With regard to public health, it is undisputed, and now officially recognised by the UN, that peacekeepers also inadvertently introduced cholera to Haiti. More than 800,000 Haitians are known to have sought medical attention for cholera and at least 10,000 died from the disease.

Various media organisations have reported that minors were offered food and small amounts of cash to have sex with UN personnel, and MINUSTAH was linked to a sex ring that operated in Haiti with seeming impunity: allegedly, at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007. As a result of this story, reported by the Associated Press in 2017, MINUSTAH became a classic example of lack of appropriate response to allegations of sexual abuse. In the wake of this report, 114 peacekeepers were returned to Sri Lanka, but none were ever prosecuted or charged after repatriation.

Extensive research has demonstrated that children born of war are often raised in single-parent families in precarious economic post-conflict settings. The association with the (absent) foreign father, along with birth out of wedlock, often result in stigma and discrimination for the children.

Yet little is known about the impact of being a mixed-race child fathered by peacekeepers. Even less is known about the experiences of the so-called “Petit MINUSTAH”, or Haitian-born children of foreign UN peacekeepers. This is one of the reasons we set out to bring to light the stories of those affected by the UN mission.

Our study

We collected stories by asking participants to tell us what it’s like to be a woman or girl living in a community that hosts a peacekeeping mission. We audio-recorded the resulting stories, and then participants interpreted their experiences by responding to a series of pre-defined questions. This allowed us to better understand the circumstances and consequences of their interactions with peacekeepers.

Participants could share any story they chose, about anyone, and were not prompted in any way to talk about sexual abuse or exploitation. Narratives were captured by trained Haitian research assistants in the communities surrounding ten UN bases in Haiti in the summer of 2017. About 2,500 Haitians were asked about the experiences of local women and girls living in communities that host peace support operations. A variety of positive and negative experiences were captured, but 265 (10 per cent) of all stories were about peacekeeper-fathered children. This is particularly noteworthy since the survey did not ask about sexual relations with peacekeepers or about children conceived through such relations.

This would suggest not only that sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeeping personnel is not rare, but also, as one Port-Salut research participant said in her own words: “There are many young women who have children with the MINUSTAH.” This was echoed by a man in Saint Marc who told us: “MINUSTAH gave us many children without fathers.”

Map of stories. © Sabine Lee/Susan Bartels, Author provided

Some stories were first person, shared by those who had given birth to children fathered by UN personnel, while other stories were told by family members, friends or neighbours about women and girls raising children fathered by peacekeepers. To the best of our knowledge, these stories make up the first empirical research to bring forth the voices of families affected by sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers.

Sex for one meal

Some sexual encounters between local women and girls and UN peacekeeping personnel were described as sexual violence. For instance, a male community member in Cité Soleil recounted: "All day, I heard women who are complaining about the sexual violence that MINUSTAH did to them. And they had given them AIDS through sexual violence. There are also some of them who are pregnant."

There were not only stories of women and girls being sexually assaulted by MINUSTAH but also of men and boys being similarly abused. But in our research, sexual assault was in the minority of reported sexual encounters. Instead, our data highlighted a much more pervasive problem, albeit one that has been reported less in the media – transactional sex with UN personnel.

One married man from Cité Soleil described a common pattern in which women received small amounts of money in exchange for sex: “They come, they sleep with the women, they take their pleasures with them, they leave children in their hands, give them 500 gourdes.”

In other cases of transactional sex, women and girls received food in exchange for having sex with members of MINUSTAH, highlighting the extreme poverty that contributes to these sexual encounters. One male community member in Port Salut reported: “They had sex with the girls not even for money, it’s just for food, for one meal.”

Evolving relationships

Another narrative that has received far less attention in previous reports is how consensual sexual relations between members of MINUSTAH and local women evolve. In some instances, these were casual dating relationships that resulted in a pregnancy, as was the case in this story, shared by a man in Port Salut: "I had a sister who was dating a MINUSTAH soldier. My whole family knew about it, my mother as well as other people. She became pregnant … Ever since, my sister’s life is a mess."

Other relationships were described as being more committed and loving, such as in this story shared by a woman in Cité Soleil, who said: “I was living in Cité Soleil and I was in a love relationship with a MINUSTAH. I became pregnant from him.”

We found that intimate relations with fair-skinned peacekeepers and having fair-skinned children were sometimes perceived as desirable. A woman in Leogane described “rumours” about girls having relationships with MINUSTAH and having their children because they “wanted these children to be beautiful”.

Calico beach, which became notorious as a location for transactional sex. © Chantel Cole, Author provided

Regardless of whether the relationship was consensual or transactional in nature, particular patterns were noted in how and where the interactions took place. For instance, meeting on the beach or in a hotel was common, as in this story shared by a woman in Cité Soleil, about a friend of hers: “He used to go to the beach with her, now the white man paid for a hotel for her, the white man goes to the hotel with her, he comes to have sex with her.”

Also of great concern is that many of the mothers giving birth to and raising children fathered by UN peacekeepers were themselves adolescents and not old enough to give consent for sex. One woman in Cité Soleil told us: "I see a series of females 12 and 13 years old here. MINUSTAH impregnated and left them in misery with babies in their hands. The person has already had to manage a stressful, miserable life."

Abandonment

After learning of a resultant pregnancy, most shared stories indicated that the MINUSTAH personnel were repatriated by the UN. One woman in Port-Salut told us: "One of my sisters gave birth to a child of the MINUSTAH. My sister had a baby with him because she met him, fell in love with him, he took care of her, but you know, they were sent away. That is why he stopped sending her things."

A male participant in Hinche described a similar experience for a girl he knew, saying: “She was pregnant from a soldier of the MINUSTAH … [He] was moved from his station and left his post and was never seen again.”

After the departure of the peacekeeper fathers, most young women were left alone trying to raise the children in extreme poverty. Some described being fortunate enough to receive support from their families, although certainly not all.

In almost all cases, access to education was beyond the mother’s or the family’s means, as described by one woman in Port Salut: "I started to talk to him, then he told me he loved me and I agreed to date him. Three months later, I was pregnant, and in September he was sent to his country … The child is growing up, and it’s myself and my family that are struggling with him. I now have to send him to school. They put him out because I’m unable to pay for it."

A man in Cap Haitian said: "The soldiers destroy these young girls’ futures by getting them pregnant with a couple of babies and abandoning them. Basically, these actions of the soldiers can have a negative impact on the society and on the country in general because these young girls could have been lawyers, doctors or anything that would have helped Haiti tomorrow … Now some of them are walking in the street, or in the flea market and other places with a basket over their head selling oranges, peppers, and other goods in order to raise children they have with the MINUSTAH soldiers."

In a few extreme cases, community members described women and girls who were left with little option other than to engage in further sex with peacekeepers in order to provide for the MINUSTAH children they were already raising. A man in Port-au-Prince shared one example: "He left her in misery because when he used to have sex with her it was for little money, now his term reaches its end, he goes and leaves her in misery, and then now she has to redo the same process so she can provide meals to her child, can’t you understand."

There were many requests in the stories we collected for MINUSTAH and the Haitian authorities to help support these children. One man in Port-Salut stated his request very clearly: “I would like to ask the head of MINUSTAH to take responsibility for the children of MINUSTAH members … We are just doing what we can but you cannot raise children like this…”

Power and exploitation

Our research has underlined what is implied in much of the academic literature on peacekeeping economies – namely that poverty is a key underlying factor contributing to sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
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.

In many cases, the power differential between foreign peacekeepers and local populations allows foreigners, knowingly or unknowingly, to exploit local women and girls. The prevalence of transactional sex in our data underscores the significance of the structural imbalances – peacekeepers have access to some of the resources that are desired or needed by the local population and so they are in a strong position to exchange those for sex.

While many of the stories cited above were collected in Port Salut and Cité Soleil, similar narratives were shared across all interview sites in Haiti and the phenomena described are not unique to the Haitian context. Our preliminary work in the Democratic Republic of Congo suggests a comparable situation.

In its zero-tolerance policy, the UN acknowledges the existence of socioeconomic and other power imbalances and their potential to render “intimacies” between peacekeepers and local women exploitative. In essence, the policy bans almost all sexual relations between peacekeepers and local women. In addition to suggesting that this blanket ban is ineffective, our data indicates that a more nuanced approach with targeted training of UN personnel is required alongside tackling the impunity that still surrounds peacekeeper wrongdoing.

Another key finding is the need for more effective mechanisms allowing victims of sexual exploitation and abuse and their children (as well as children of consensual and non-exploitative relations) to access support. This could potentially break the socioeconomic downward spiral that traps victims – and in particular children – in circumstances of extreme economic hardship, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

The UN Base in Cité Soleil, 2019. © Chantel Cole, Author provided

Child support

In January 2018, the Haitian-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed paternity suits in Haitian courts on behalf of 10 children fathered by UN Peacekeepers, with the aim of lobbying the UN to secure child support payments for those children. A year later, an open letter from the bureau to UN Victims’ Rights Advocate Jane Connors betrays their frustration with the UN’s lack of responsiveness and co-operation in the paternity suits, which “has made it nearly impossible for our clients to obtain justice”.

Evidencing the UN’s refusal to furnish results of DNA paternity tests that are vital to the mothers’ cases despite a Haitian court order compelling it to do so, the letter concluded that the UN was sending “an alarming message of lack of respect for the Haitian judicial system and the rule of law”.

This raises questions regarding the UN’s rhetoric about supporting the dignity and rights of those affected by sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by UN peacekeepers. It also calls into question the effectiveness of interventions of the Office of the UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, which exists to advocate for the rights of victims and to bring their needs to the forefront of the UN’s fight against sexual exploitation and abuse.

Recommendations

The findings from our research have led us to make three key recommendations.

1) Training of UN personnel must include a cultural awareness aspect to enhance understanding of the impact of power differentials in fragile peacekeeping economies, the perceived desirability of having a child fathered by a peacekeeper, and the socio-economic consequences for a vulnerable woman being left with a peacekeeper-fathered child.

2) The UN practice of repatriating any UN personnel implicated in sexual exploitation or abuse must stop as it has a double-negative consequence. First, it removes the alleged offender from any effective prosecution in the cases of alleged wrongdoing, and second, it removes them from any jurisdiction within which the victim/child/mother of a child would have any chance of securing the appropriate financial support for the child.

3) The recent appointment of a Victims’ Rights Advocate for those affected by sexual abuse and exploitation must be followed by a policy that will allow the advocate to tackle some of the injustices created by the exploitation and abuse at a structural level. At the same time, they must be allowed to become a powerful voice of the victims, speaking and working on their behalf within the UN and in collaboration with the host countries and the troop contributing countries.

Many of the participants interviewed expressed similar sentiments around the need for recognition of and support for children fathered by UN peacekeepers in Haiti. One man said: "I know a lot of young women, young girls, children, who are living with MINUSTAH children in their care… I would like for them [the UN] to take responsibility, to take the initiative to look for and rejoin those young girls so that they can help them with the children."

* Names have been changed to protect participants’ anonymity.The Conversation

_______________________________________________________________________

Sabine Lee is a professor in Modern History at the University of BirminghamSusan Bartels is an emergency physician and clinician-scientist at Queen’s University. She is an associate professor of Emergency Medicine and holds a cross-appointment in the Department of Public Health Sciences.

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

Discoveries, collaborations, and award-winning scholarship

Research prominence at the national and international level is a key driver for Queen’s and in 2019 Queen’s researchers continued to make headlines for their discoveries, collaborations, and award-winning scholarship.

As we near the end of the year, the Gazette highlights some of the research and people who captured our attention.

Research Leadership

Each year, Queen’s faculty and researchers receive national and international recognition for their work and dedication to pushing the boundaries of knowledge.  The university continues to rank second in Canada for awards per faculty member (2020 Maclean’s University Rankings), and 2019 saw Queen’s researchers win some of Canada’s top awards and honours for research excellence.

NSERC Brockhouse Award recipients
The winners of the 2019 Brockhouse Canada Prize, from left: Michael Cunningham, Pascale Champagne, Philip Jessop, and Warren Mabee.  

This spring, Michael Cunningham, Pascale Champagne, Philip Jessop, and Warren Mabee garnered the competitive NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering for their work in enhancing the value and sustainability of our renewable resources through collaboration.  September saw four researchers – Rosa Bruno-Jofré, Margaret Moore, Kim Nossal, and Grégoire Webber – elected as Fellows and Members (College) of the Royal Society of Canada, and three researchers, John Smol, Wendy Craig, and Heather Stuart honoured by the Governor General for their work on bullying, mental health, and the Arctic.

Researcher Will Kymlicka recently received the SSHRC Gold Medal. One of the highest honours for the social sciences in Canada, Kymlicka was recognized for his groundbreaking work on the link between democracy and diversity. Internally, five Queen’s researchers – Mark Daymond, Robert Ross, Nancy van Deusen, Tucker Carrington, and Margaret Moore – were honoured with the university’s highest form of recognition for research achievement, the 2019 Prizes for Excellence in Research.

Major Initiatives

The Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative public discussion of the took place at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in front of a sold-out audience, and over 2000 online viewers. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

In September, a sold-out crowd packed the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts for the rare opportunity to hear two Nobel Laureates discuss their roads to research success, together with Canada’s Chief Science Officer Mona Nemer, and award-winning journalist André Picard. The event featured laureates Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Queen’s own Arthur McDonald,  2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, as part of the first-ever Canadian tour of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative, an international outreach program striving to connect Nobel Laureates with scientific and student communities at universities and research centres worldwide.

Throughout the year, Queen’s researchers continued lead dialogue and provide fact-based insights on their areas of expertise with contributions to The Conversation Canada, the international news platform. In 2019, 62 researchers penned 93 articles with almost 1.5 million reads on The Conversation Canada site and dozens of republications.

For 19 undergraduate students, summer 2019 was an opportunity to gain valuable experience in discovery-based learning and to develop their research skills through the annual Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships (USSRF). The beauty and creativity of research shined once again with the fourth annual Art of Research photo contest.

Finally, late-2019 saw the launch of the university’s new central Research@Queen’s website. From in-depth features to the latest information on the university’s researchers, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research.

Notable Discoveries and Advances

New discoveries and research publications this year contributed to national dialogues, challenged the status quo, and opened new research vistas.

Through the Cadenza Practice App piano teachers and students can collaboratively plan each practice week and assign homework.

A first-of-its-kind, First Nations-specific report, co-authored by Michael Green (Family Medicine), showed the number of First Nations people in Ontario living with diabetes is at an all-time high at 14.1 per cent. Queen’s researcher Dylan Robinson (Languages, Literatures and Cultures) led the first successful effort to replace misappropriated songs from copyrighted operaLouis Riel.

Vicki Friesen (Biology) and former postdoctoral fellow Debbie Leigh sounded the alarm over the increasing loss of the genetic variation that allows species to adapt to the rapid and drastic environmental changes being generated by human activity.

P. Andrew Evans (Chemistry) and collaborators discovered a way to use pollen to deliver light sensitive drugs that could combat the problem of antibiotic resistance.

An important social innovation initiative based on pedagogical research, the Cadezna app, developed by Rena Upitis (Education) and collaborators, was created to support music learning in studios, ensembles, and classrooms.

Funding Future Research

Lee Airton
Lee Airton's (Education) speaks at the announcement for the SSHRC Insight Development and Talent grant programs. (University Communications)

Queen’s continued to attract leading researchers and competitive funding and awards through a number of national and international programs. The university also had the honour of hosting three national funding announcements: the SSHRC Insight Development and Talent grant programs, the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowships, and the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) Ecosystem Fund.

The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), based at Queen’s, was awarded $25 million from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The only non-American partner to receive direct funding to conduct trials, the monies will allow CCTG to continue its work leading major cancer clinical trials in Canada and develop new large-scale trials under CCTG leadership.

In May, the Government of Canada announced that seven Queen’s projects received $1.72 million from the first round of the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF), designed to support early-career researchers as they pursue the next great discovery in their fields

Queen’s University welcomed three new and eight renewed Canada Research Chairs as part of the Government of Canada’s June announcement of a diverse group of Canada Research Chairs.

For more information on research at Queen’s, visit the website

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Research Prominence