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Setting the stage for the artistic repatriation of Indigenous music

Queen’s scholar leads first successful effort to replace misappropriated song from copyrighted opera.

Dylan Robinson, Queen's Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts
Dylan Robinson, Queen's Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts.

In what may be a classical music first, the Canadian Opera Company (COC) and the National Arts Centre (NAC) are co-commissioning new music to replace part of a copyrighted musical work – the opera Louis Riel – to redress the misappropriation of a Nisga’a First Nations song. The decision follows a consultation process led by Queen’s University researcher Dylan Robinson that brought together Indigenous artists and community members, family and friends of the composer and librettist, and performers and artistic leadership of the NAC and COC, to discuss the song’s misuse, and how reparations should be made.

“I’m grateful for the COC and NAC’s work to support Nisg̱a’a Lisims Council of Elders’ request to remove the song from Louis Riel, and to commission Métis composer Ian Cusson to re-write this section of the opera,” says Dr. Robinson, a scholar of Stó:lō descent who holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts. “This sets an important precedent for many other appropriated Indigenous songs that remain in contemporary compositions and arrangements.”

In 1967, when composer Harry Somers wrote Louis Riel, he decided to use his previously written composition, “Kuyas”, to open the third act of the opera. Kuyas is based on a Nisga’a song—a lim’ooy̓, or funeral dirge—recorded and transcribed by Marius Barbeau and Ernest MacMillan in 1927. The song is one of hundreds of First Nations songs collected by ethnographers during the early 20th century. The majority of these songs were collected during the Indian Act’s potlatch ban from 1885-1951, where First Nations on the northwest coast were prohibited from gathering to practice their cultural traditions.

Indigenous History Month
June is Indigenous History Month in Canada.
In recognition of this the Gazette is highlighting a number of articles throughout the month.
To learn more about Indigenous Supports at Queen’s University, visit the Inclusive Queen’s webpage.
Information is also available at the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre website.

As a recent repatriation policy by the Royal BC Museum outlines, much of the material and intangible cultural heritage (including songs) were collected under duress. Indigenous people allowed ethnographers to record their songs during the time of the potlatch ban with the understanding that doing so would keep them safe for future generations of Indigenous people. Many of those who shared were unaware that the songs might be used in future compositions without their consent, and in contravention of Indigenous law.

“To sing this lament in other contexts, and without the appropriate rights to do so, goes against Nisga’a law,” says Dr. Robinson. “More broadly, Indigenous songs are often forms of law, medicine, teachings, personal family history, and are considered to have life themselves. This means that their mis-use is not only appropriation; for Indigenous peoples, hearing this most cherished aspect of our culture ‘broken apart’ can be a traumatic experience.”

Cusson, who is currently composer in residence with the COC, says he intends to create music to replace the Nisga’a song that will be faithful to the original intentions of the opera’s creators, Somers and librettist Mavor Moore.

“I am so thankful to be a part of this important and historic work of seeing this song return to the Nisg̱a’a people,” he says. “That the COC and NAC, two of Canada’s largest arts organizations, are partnering with the Moore and Somers families to enable this important act of musical redress, points to their leadership in the furthering of relations with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.”

The completed new work will be debuted by the National Arts Centre Orchestra at a concert celebrating the work of some of Canada’s leading Indigenous composers, on September 19, 2019 in Ottawa.

“This process serves as a great example of how Indigenous-led work with institutions can lead to substantive change,” says Dr. Robinson, “especially as we increase our efforts to repatriate songs back to our communities, and to foster resurgence through new Indigenous artwork. People are often surprised to learn that most Indigenous songs used in classical music were used without permission of those families and individuals who hold the exclusive rights to sing them. Many of our songs remain trapped within classical music pieces, and so much work remains to be done.”

Sending surplus food to charity is not the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Giving food that would otherwise go to landfill to hungry people does little to ensure the well-being of Canadians who are food insecure. (Photo by Chuttersnap/Unsplash)

With the recent news that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is calling for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing food loss and waste is one important action we can take. When food waste is sent to landfill, it decomposes to methane, which is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. In addition, food waste represents a tremendous loss of the energy, land, water and labour used to produce the food.

And we waste a lot of food. An incredible 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada is either lost or wasted. This is an enormous amount of food, worth almost $50 billion, according to a report by the Toronto-based food charity, Second Harvest.

The first proposed strategy, laid out by ECCC in a draft document circulated in early spring 2019 to academics and others with interests and expertise in addressing food loss and waste, is the most obvious: to reduce the amount of food that is wasted, most of which originates in food processing, production and manufacturing.

The second proposed strategy is to enhance the donation of surplus food to feed hungry people. This strategy appears to be a simple “no-brainer,” as demonstrated by the more than 233,000 Canadians who signed a Change.org petition to end food waste. The comments on the petition website show that many Canadians believe it to be morally wrong to waste edible food, especially when some Canadians are hungry.

However, while giving food that would otherwise go to landfill to hungry people may be a convenient part of a solution to reduce greenhouse gases, it will do little to ensure the well-being of the four million Canadians who are food insecure.

Reducing food waste by feeding hungry Canadians is a simplistic solution that is deeply problematic and morally distressing. It provides the comforting illusion of a solution to hunger while the underlying problem — poverty — is not addressed.

Food insecurity

Food insecurity — the inadequate or uncertain access to food because of financial constraints — is a symptom and result of poverty. It is a public health crisis, with profound consequences for individual health and for health-care costs. It cannot be solved by food charity.

Only one in five hungry Canadians use food banks. And even when they do, they remain food insecure. When food banks and soup kitchens distribute edible food that would otherwise go to landfill, it means that some hungry Canadians are less hungry than they would otherwise be. But food charity is not a solution to the problem of food insecurity.

Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has recounted the profound poverty affecting black South Africans when he was a boy. He explained that the free school meals provided to white — but not Black — school children were often thrown in the garbage in favour of homemade packed lunches.

Watching another Black boy rummaging in the garbage to find the food that white children had rejected was indelibly marked in his memory of childhood. “It was perfectly edible food. But I knew it was wrong,” he said. For Archbishop Tutu, the idea that some people have to eat the cast-off food that others do not want is a powerful symbol of profound, systemic injustice.

I expect he would be shocked that the government of one of the richest countries in the world, with an international reputation as a just society, would consider endorsing such a proposal.

Most food waste in Canada comes from the food industry. (Photo by Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

The right to an adequate standard of living

While Canada has committed to the Sustainable Development Goal of halving per capita food waste globally by 2030 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 232 million tonnes by 2030, we must remember that we have other international obligations too.

In 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, expressed concern about the growing gap between Canada’s international human rights commitments and their domestic implementation. He recommended that Canada ensure income security for all citizens at a level sufficient to “enjoy the human right to an adequate standard of living,” which includes the right to food.

There is no reason why we cannot achieve our goals of reducing food waste and greenhouse gas emissions while also assuring all Canadians the income they need for an adequate standard of living, including the ability to buy their own food. Reducing poverty through effective public policy, such as the poverty reduction strategy introduced by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the ill-fated Ontario Basic Income Pilot project, reduces food insecurity.

In a country as wealthy as ours, it is immoral, unjust and unconscionable that the Government of Canada would endorse a plan that effectively relegates four million Canadians to second-class citizenry by recommending that they eat the garbage that no one else wants.The Conversation


Elaine Power is an associate professor in Health Studies at Queen's University

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

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

Recognizing research excellence at Queen’s

At this year’s Spring Convocation, Queen’s University is bestowing its highest form of recognition for research excellence to five faculty members. Margaret Moore (Political Studies), Tucker Carrington (Chemistry; Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy), Mark Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering; Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy), Robert Ross (Kinesiology and Health Studies), and Nancy van Deusen (History) are the recipients of the 2019 Prizes for Excellence in Research (PER). Valued at $5,000 each, the PER are awarded to outstanding Queen’s researchers and celebrate major research contributions either completed or recognized in recent years. Recipients are nominated by members of the Queen’s community and represent one of five categories: humanities; social sciences; natural sciences; health sciences; and engineering.

This year’s PER recipients demonstrate the breadth and scope of research excellence across the disciplines at Queen’s. Since the program’s development in 1980, the PER have been Queen’s signature internal research honour and represent an important investment by the university in recognizing its top scholars.

Margaret Moore

Dr. Moore (Political Studies) is the director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Diversity, and holds a cross-appointment as a courtesy in philosophy where she teaches in the Master’s in Political and Legal Theory program. Her research focuses on justice, nationalism, and the territorial rights of peoples and states. She is the author of A Political Theory of Territory, which won the Canadian Philosophical Association’s biannual book prize for 2017, and the forthcoming Who Should Own Natural Resources?

Tucker Carrington, Canada Research Chair in Computational Quantum Dynamics

Dr. Carrington (Chemistry; Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy) and his group pioneered the development of iterative methods for computing vibrational and ro-vibrational spectra. These methods are now widely recognized as methods of choice for molecules and reacting systems with more than three atoms. Iterative methods make it possible to study, at a detailed level, systems of real chemical interest. Recently he used these ideas to study CH5+, which has 120 equivalent minima separated by small barriers and is recognized as a bizarre and intriguing molecule. Established approaches for computing and analysing spectra fail completely for CH5+.

Mark Daymond, Canada Research Chair in Mechanics of Materials

Dr. Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering; Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy) is the NSERC/UNENE Industrial Research Chair in Nuclear Materials and the lead investigator of the Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory. His major scientific contributions have provided new insights into the mechanical behavior of, and phase transformations in, metals by the application of advanced neutron, synchrotron X–ray and electron diffraction techniques, coupled with the extensive use of numerical models to analyze and interpret the diffraction data. In addition to advancing the understanding of several life-limiting issues associated with current and future nuclear reactor designs, Dr. Daymond’s research has contributed significantly to the broader fields of materials science and mechanics of materials.

Robert Ross

Dr. Ross (Kinesiology and Health Studies) has had a major impact on the advancement of knowledge about the effectiveness of physical activity interventions for managing chronic, life-style based disease. He is the principal investigator of the Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Research Unit at Queen’s and holds a cross-appointment in the Endocrinology and Metabolism Department of the School of Medicine. Dr. Ross has led the scientific writing of consensus statements from prestigious medical and health organizations recognizing the overwhelming evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness and physical activity should be a vital sign in clinical practice.

Nancy van Deusen

Dr. van Deusen (History) is a historian of colonial Latin America and the Atlantic world who has made outstanding contributions to research in gender history, religious history, and most recently Indigenous history. Her scholarship illuminates the spiritual and material worlds of people whose voices have been left out of the historical record. Her work blends meticulous research and careful, critical reading of her sources with methodological sophistication and innovation. She is the author of four books and is currently working on a SSHRC funded project entitled “The Disappearance of the Past: Native American Slavery and the Making of the Early Modern World.”

For more information about the Prizes for Excellence in Research, see the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) website

Canada’s universities take on new Dimensions

Queen’s commits to the federal government’s Dimensions EDI program, championing equity, diversity, and inclusion across the research ecosystem.

Principal Daniel Woolf and Minister Kirsty Duncan sign the Dimensions EDI charter.
Queen's Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Daniel Woolf, and Minister of Science and Sport, Kirsty Duncan, sign the Dimensions EDI charter.

In conjunction with a $35 million national research funding announcement made at Queen’s last week by Canada’s Minister of Science and Sport, the university has signed on to Dimensions EDI – a pilot program designed to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in the post-secondary and research sectors.

During a meeting with Minister Kirsty Duncan, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf signed the Dimensions EDI charter, joining 18 other university and college heads in championing its mission.

“Queen’s, along with many institutions across Canada, publicly endorsed the charter when the program was announced last week,” says Principal Woolf, during the announcement event. “Putting pen to paper today is a sign of our commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable future for all researchers in Canada.”

The Dimensions EDI program fulfills a commitment made in the federal government’s 2018 budget, and is based, in part, on a successful UK-based initiative called the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) program. A series of national consultations, led by Minister Duncan, occurred throughout summer and fall of last year, and informed the Canadian program development. There was extensive participation by Queen’s representatives in the national consultations.

Charter signees commit to adopting the program principles, which aim to foster increased research excellence, innovation, and creativity within the sector and across all disciplines through increased equity, diversity, and inclusion. In doing so, institutions agree to address obstacles faced by, but not limited to, women, Indigenous people, those living with disabilities, members of racialized groups, and members of the LGBTQ2+ communities.

Ultimately, such principles inform policies and practices that improve access to the largest pool of qualified potential participants, enhance the integrity of a program’s application and selection processes, and strengthen research outputs and overall excellence of research.

“I want to thank Principal Woolf and Queen’s for signing on to the Dimensions EDI charter. We want as many people learning and researching at our world-class institutions as possible,” says Minister Duncan. “We strive to insure that everyone has access to equal opportunities, treatment, and recognition, and we see this as a critical step – one that we believe will change research culture for the better.”

Achieving the Dimensions EDI objectives will involve collaboration, transparency, and the sharing of challenges, successes, and practices between charter members.

“Increased equity, diversity, and inclusion are cornerstones of the continued success, excellence, and growth of our university,” says Teri Shearer, Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion). “In joining the Dimensions EDI program, our multi-pronged efforts to build on these areas will benefit from the added collaborative contributions of our sector partners.”

Learn more about the Government of Canada’s Dimensions EDI program and its guiding principles, and more about the university’s equity, diversity, and inclusivity efforts on the Inclusive Queen’s website.

Funding for new discoveries

Queen’s University researchers earn over $20 million in funding from the NSERC Discovery Grants program.

Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan has announced $588 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through the 2019 Discovery Grants programs. More than 100 Queen’s University researchers received funding through the programs, totaling over $20 million to pursue research and innovation. This includes over 66 Discovery Grants totaling over $13.3 million (80 per cent success rate).

Support for Discovery
• The investment announced today includes $426 million in Discovery Grants going to more than 2,295 researchers across the full range of science and engineering disciplines, from biology and chemistry to advanced materials engineering and astrophysics
• $6.2 million in Discovery Launch Supplements will be going to 499 early-career researchers in the first year of their Discovery Grants to help them launch their careers
• $83 million in Scholarship and Fellowships to support nearly 1,700 graduate students and fellows in the early stages of their careers

“The funding announced today demonstrates our strong and enduring commitment to science and researchers,” says Minister Duncan. “Since taking office, our government has worked hard to bring science and research back to their rightful place and this historic investment in the discoveries of tomorrow is just one example of how we are achieving this goal.” 

Along with the Discovery Grants funding, Queen’s researchers received support from a number of other discovery programs including:

  • Two Discovery Accelerator Supplements worth $120,000 each
  • Two Northern Research Supplements with a value of $205,000 over five years
  • Three Subatomic Physics Grants totaling $5,858,000
  • 13 Discovery Launch Supplements worth $12,500 each

Queen’s University also received 20 NSERC post-graduate scholarships for students working in the fields of natural sciences and engineering.

“Support through programs such as Discovery are the cornerstone of research in Canada,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).  “They allow Queen’s faculty, students, and post-doctoral fellows to pursue long-term research projects that will contribute to ensuring our health, environment, economy and communities thrive.”

For more information on the funding, visit the NSERC website.

Don’t miss out on research funding opportunities, subscribe to the University Research Services Funding Opportunities listserv.

Rwanda and Sri Lanka: A tale of two genocides

A Tamil man who was paralyzed by shelling during the final weeks of the conflict in Mullivaikkal in 2009 is seen in this 2018 photo in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. (Photo by Priya Tharmaseelan)

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and the 10th year since the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka. While the 1994 Rwandan genocide has become part of the world’s collective memory, the 2009 Tamil genocide has not.

Mullivaikkal Genocide Remembrance Day on May 18, named after the village that was the site of cataclysmic violence, is a day to remember those who died in the Sri Lankan conflict. Mullivaikkal commemoration events have been taking place around the world this month.

However, 10 years and a series of United Nations reports and resolutions have made little progress toward truth, accountability or reparations for the survivors of atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka. In the aftermath of the recent Easter Sunday bombings, the spectre of ethnic violence has resurfaced.

The Rwandan genocide offers important lessons for Sri Lanka.

Tutsis slaughtered

An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutu were killed in just 100 days in 1994. Thousands more were subjected to sexual violence and tortured in a systematic campaign by the Hutu ethnic majority.

Fifteen years later, another slaughter unfolded — this time in northern Sri Lanka. The protracted civil war between the national government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was coming to a catastrophic end. The goal of an independent state for the minority Tamils was slipping away.

Throughout the conflict, both sides failed to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. Unlawful killings and enforced disappearances carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces were daily occurrences. The LTTE was condemned for its suicide bombings and forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

For most of the 2000s, the LTTE was operating as a de facto state in the north and east. By early 2009, military losses had gradually crushed the LTTE’s civil administration of these areas.

The LTTE and an estimated 330,000 Tamil civilians were trapped in a small piece of land on the northeast coast in the Mullaithivu District. The government ordered the UN to evacuate their last few international workers from the region while international media were excluded and local journalists silenced.

Carnage unfolded

Transatlantic cellphone photos and a few video clips had begun circulating with images of the unfolding carnage. Hospitals on the front lines were systematically shelled, as were food distribution lines and even Red Cross ships attempting to evacuate the wounded.

Within a few months, a brutal siege of the officially declared “safe zone” and the indiscriminate shelling of Tamil civilians concentrated there brought the war to an end. The Sri Lankan government celebrated its successful “humanitarian rescue operation.” In fact, it was genocide.

By August 2009, Britain’s Channel 4 News was broadcasting gruesome footage of summary executions and rape perpetrated by Sri Lankan soldiers. Dozens of surrendering Tamils, including senior Tiger political leaders and their families, had been shot dead by soldiers as they walked out of the safe zone hoisting white flags.

In 2012, the UN Secretary General estimated that 40,000 civilians were killed over the final five months of the conflict. The exact number, as in many conflict situations, remains contested and is likely higher.

Once the conflict ended, hundreds of thousands of Tamils were interned in squalid camps in the northern Vanni region. Even today, thousands of Tamils remain displaced in their own country.

‘War without witness’

If the Rwandan genocide was a genocide foretold, yet no action was ever taken by the international community, then the Tamil genocide was deliberately hidden and dubbed the “war without witness.”

In both cases, the UN and the European Union had direct warnings but opted against taking action. The international community’s inertia in Rwanda and Sri Lanka has been acknowledged as “grave failures.”

The establishment of an international criminal tribunal was an explicit attempt to grapple with Rwanda’s past. Convictions were secured in the cases of 61 “ringleaders.” A groundbreaking decision on sexual violence as an act of genocide was among its many rulings. Local “gacaca courts” conducted some two million trials. A truth commission continues efforts to promote reconciliation between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples.

While highly imperfect, these transitional justice mechanisms have generated a record of what really happened and why it happened.

In contrast, Sri Lanka has repeatedly reneged on pledges to investigate and prosecute war-time atrocity crimes. Abductions, torture in custody and sexual violence remain rampant amid a long history of failed promises.

Occupied land not returned

The harassment of Tamil activists as well as targeted violence against the Muslim community continue. Commitments to demilitarize and return occupied land are unfulfilled. Weak state structures, the lack of an independent judiciary and a culture of impunity remain significant obstacles.

As Harvard University scholar Martha Minow suggests, the relentless repetition of atrocity requires a pathway between “too much forgetting” and “too much memory,” between vengeance and forgiveness. In Sri Lanka today, memory and memorialization are radical counterpoints to official state narratives that resist accounting for the past.

Holocaust survivor Primo Levi once said:

“It happened; therefore, it can happen again… it can happen everywhere.”

So long as impunity and the failure to address the root causes of atrocity crimes continue in Sri Lanka, lasting peace will remain elusive. Acknowledging the past must be a precondition to meaningful reconciliation.

A poem in Cheran’s anthology In a Time of Burning evokes the challenge of closure in the wake of mass violence:

“there is neither sea nor wind

for us to dissolve the ashes

proclaim an end

and close our eyes.”The Conversation


Sharry Aiken is an Associate Professor of Law at Queen's University and Cheran Rudhramoorthy is an Associate Professor at University of Windsor.

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.

U.S. college admissions scandal means more skepticism of genuine invisible disabilities

Admissions consultant William Singer is alleged to have helped his clients game the admissions system, including advising parents to get medical documentation stating their child had a learning disability. (Photo by Unsplash / good-free-photos.com)

Many have been shocked or disgusted to see a parade of privileged U.S. parents face charges after an alleged $20 million in bribes was paid between 2011 and 2018 by people seeking to cheat the normal college admissions process.

Admissions consultant William Singer is alleged to have helped his clients game the admissions system, including advising parents to get medical documentation stating their child had a learning disability, which can give students more time on tests or allow test-taking without regular supervision.

Abuses of disability diagnoses like these cheat students with genuine disabilities who may now be more likely to face skepticism about their diagnoses or be forced to revisit struggles they faced regarding accommodations. They also spotlight larger questions of fairness regarding accommodations for invisible disabilities in post-secondary education.

Since at least the mid-1990s, after groundbreaking anti-discrimination laws were introduced in the U.S., both journalistic investigation and academic research has examined signs that some people exploit accommodations designed for invisible disability diagnoses (such as learning disabilities or ADHD) to gain advantage.

Studies warned how easily students could feign learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).

As a researcher, I’ve studied clinician bias and issues that interfere with accurate diagnosis of ADHD and learning disabilities.

I also work as a clinician at an assessment centre that helps students with learning disabilities transition to and succeed in post-secondary education.

Financial privilege and diagnoses

In 2000, the California state auditor reported that rates of learning-disability-related accommodations provided on college entrance exams were heavily skewed towards rich, white students throughout the state: by contrast, the number of learning disability accommodations provided to students in inner-city Los Angeles schools was zero.

This pattern is repeated throughout the U.S.: high parental income correlates with high rates of learning disability diagnosis and associated academic accommodations. These discrepancies don’t prove fraudulent diagnoses, but they do raise questions regarding why higher rates of learning disability diagnoses are associated with financial privilege whereas rates of physical disabilities show no such association.

According to a The New York Times report, Singer allegedly told one client that for $4,000 or $5,000 he could get a psychologist to write a report stating the client’s daughter “had disabilities and required special accommodations.”

This suggests psychologists were available who could either produce diagnoses on demand or who could be duped.

Honest psychologists can be fooled. Clinicians are generally inclined to regard their clients as honest. Some research suggests that someone who reads slowly or with difficulty, or seems to have problems processing information will often capture a disability diagnosis and get awarded the extra test-taking time that goes with it.

When is a fair accommodation fair?

Accommodations at the post-secondary level are supposed to ensure that those with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate; they ensure access, not success.

In the case of physical disabilities, the principle of equal opportunity is easier to grasp. For example, having an exam provided in braille means a student who is blind can read the questions. Such an accommodation would confer no advantage to those who can see: if a person pretended to be blind and accessed a braille exam, there’s no benefit.

Advocates of learning disability accommodations have asserted that accommodations don’t provide an unfair advantage.

But, in fact, research has suggested giving more than 25 per cent extra time provides a competitive advantage to reading disabled students relative to their university peers, and extra time in general helps all students including those with ADHD.

Singer allegedly told a client “wealthy families…figured out that if I get my kid tested and they get extended time, they can do better on the test. So most of these kids don’t even have issues, but they’re getting time.” For those feigning a disability, any amount of extra time gives a leg up on peers.

Feigning in Canada

To my knowledge, no comprehensive research exists about the prevalence of gaming disability accommodations in Canadian universities.

But suggesting there is less opportunity to game the Canadian system misses something: the possibility of students with no learning issues using disabilities accommodations to gain extra test time in courses before applying to highly competitive undergraduate or graduate programs, or before writing standardized tests like the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).

In one study of 144 cases of post-secondary students undergoing testing for learning disabilities or ADHD, my colleagues and I found definitive evidence that 15 per cent were feigning or exaggerating. That percentage is a bit higher than the estimated range suggested in a survey of disability services personnel at 122 Canadian post-secondary institutions: the majority (90 per cent) reported they suspected fewer than 10 per cent of students to be feigning disabilities; however, a sizeable minority (10 per cent) of respondents suspected that between 10 – 25 per cent of students receiving accommodations were not genuine.

Respondents felt learning disabilities and ADHD were the most vulnerable to feigning, followed by psychiatric disorders. A sizeable number also believed parents were diagnosis shopping to get the diagnosis they wanted for their child.

Certainly, it’s understandable that in the face of unexpected learning struggles students (or their parents) would search for answers. But why might students or parents intentionally exploit a diagnosis? The rewards at the post-secondary level include not only more time on tests, but also memory aids for exams, a government bursary to purchase a new laptop or financial supports and government-funded disability bursaries.

Even when students are being honest, many studies show that clinicians have a diagnostic bias: for example, a survey of 119 clinicians who authored learning disability or ADHD-specific documentation submitted by students seeking academic accommodations at Canadian universities found 55 per cent of clinicians already believe that the purpose of an evaluation is to help secure accommodations for their clients. This same study found that 14 per cent of psychologists admitted that they would lie (or at least bend the rules) in order to obtain accommodations for their clients.

What should change?

We need to find a way to ensure equal access for students with genuine disabilities while de-incentivizing false disability diagnoses among post-secondary students. This means rethinking how we evaluate students.

Let’s start by getting rid of time as a test-taking variable. Let’s also give all students use of word processors when writing essay-type tests.

The U.S. College admissions scandal has shown that accommodations for invisible disabilities are set up in a way that could allow non-disabled people to exploit such diagnoses for a perceived benefit. This is not what disability accommodation was supposed to do.The Conversation


Allyson G. Harrison, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Queen's University and Clinical Director, Regional Assessment & Resource Centre.

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.

Supporting the future of research

Federal Minister Kirsty Duncan visits Queen’s to make major national funding announcement in support of graduate and post-doctoral research.

  • Banting Vanier announcement
    The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, announces more than $35 million in funding for the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowships during a special event at Queen's University's Mitchell Hall. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Banting Vanier announcement
    Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, speaks with Banting Post-doctoral Fellowship recipient Jeremy Strachan and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipient Megan McAllister during a tour of Mitchell Hall. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Banting Vanier announcement
    Minister Kirsty Duncan speaks with participants in the Dunin-Deshpande Queen's Innovation Centre's Summer Initiative on Thursday, May 16. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Banting Vanier announcement
    Front from left: Fahim Quadir, Vice Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies; Minister Kirsty Duncan; Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research); Megan McAllister, Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipient; and Kelly Taylor, CIHR, Director General, Program Design and Delivery. Back row from left: Mark Gerretsen, MP, Kingston and the Islands; Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf; Barbara Crow, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science; and Banting Post-doctoral Fellowship recipient Jeremy Strachan. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Banting Vanier announcement
    Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf speaks during the funding announcement for the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowships. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Banting Vanier announcement
    Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research) speaks about the importance of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowships. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Banting Vanier announcement
    Students, staff, and faculty fill the atrium of the recently-opened Mitchell Hall on Thursday for the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowships funding announcement. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Banting Vanier announcement
    Fahim Quadir, Vice Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies, claps alongside Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, and Mark Gerretsen, MP, Kingston and the Islands. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, visited Queen’s University to talk about the promising future of university research across the country. At a special event, inside the newly-opened Mitchell Hall, the minister officially announced more than $35 million in funding for the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships (166 in total) and the Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowships (70 in total). This includes support for four Queen’s researchers who have earned Canada’s most-coveted prizes for PhD and post-doctoral scholarship.

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program provides funding to help Canadian universities attract high-profile doctoral students from across the country and around the world. While the Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowship program provides funding for the best post-doctoral applicants, both internationally and nationally.

The national announcement, which was livestreamed, highlighted the work of the Queen’s recipients Krista Clement, Alex Veinot, and Megan McAllister who have earned Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, while Jeremy Strachan has earned a Banting Post-doctoral Fellowship.

Dimensions EDI
Prior to the announcement event, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf signed the Dimensions EDI charter. Announced last week by Minister Duncan, the Dimensions EDI program is a pilot, made-in-Canada approach to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in the post-secondary sector. The Charter will also help drive change within the research ecosystem. For more on the Charter and Queen’s implementation of its principles, watch the Queen’s Gazette in the days to come.
Showcasing our research and innovation initiatives
Following the announcement, the Minister and podium party toured the state-of-the-art research facilities in the Beaty Water Research Centre in Mitchell Hall. The BWRC is an inter-disciplinary research centre dedicated to water-related environmental issues and is committed to fostering an environment that encourages collaborative research spanning both traditional water-related disciplines, as well as non-traditional and emerging disciplines. The Minister also had the chance to visit the interdisciplinary cohort participating in the Dunin-Deshpande Queen's Innovation Centre (DDQIC)’s Summer Initiative Program. The program offers a valuable opportunity for individuals to start their own business or further their current venture while being paid and receiving seed funding.

“In many ways, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are the lifeblood of the research ecosystem. Support through initiatives such as Banting and Vanier allow Canada to retain and attract highly-qualified persons to our institutions to actively contribute to scholarship and discovery in our country,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University. “My sincere congratulations to the recipients at Queen’s and across Canada.”

Queen’s Vanier and Banting recipients will focus their research projects in a number of different areas:

Krista Clement (Environmental Studies) - Canada is facing environmental challenges due to pollution, invasive species, habitat fragmentation, and increasing threats posed by climate change. Clement will engage in community-based research to explore how Indigenous organizations draw upon traditional knowledge for environmental decision-making. She will then analyse how this knowledge is recognised and taken into account by state actors in environmental planning and governance processes.

Megan McAllister (Kinesiology and Health Studies) - In her research, McAllister is studying if people have an inherent preference for moving in symmetric ways or if symmetric movements are preferred because they are the most efficient. The work will help explain how the nervous system controls movement and could help form new rehabilitation programs and robotic aid designs.

“As graduate students, we are the life of the research in our lab – we are involved in the challenges and help in answering tangible questions that have a great impact on Canadians,” says McAllister, who spoke at the announcement. “The federal support will create opportunities for me to travel abroad, serve as a visible role model to other young women in science, and one day become a world-class researcher and leader in my field.”

Alex Veinot (Chemistry) - Copper metal is used extensively in the manufacturing of electronic devices. Devices are becoming smaller, which presents a challenge when introducing a thin film of copper to the device. Veinot’s research involves developing new strategies to produce thin copper films of superior quality for use in microelectronic devices.

Jeremy Strachan (Cultural Studies) - Since the 19th century, composers have resourced the songs, stories, and cultural wealth of Indigenous people. Unfortunately, these acquisitions have often occurred under duress and without proper consent. Strachan’s research aims to open new paths towards Indigenous cultural sovereignty by facilitating processes of redress for the misuse of Indigenous song by settler composers, and to develop frameworks for partnerships and protocols between composers, institutions, and stewards of traditional intellectual and cultural property.

“As a settler scholar of music, I’m grateful for this chance to contribute to the decolonization of Canadian music history,” says Strachan, who also spoke at the announcement. “Perhaps more than ever, as emerging scholars and creators navigate an increasingly uncertain terrain, federal support for research in the humanities and social sciences remains vital for new ideas to thrive.”

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and the Banting Post-doctoral Fellowships are funded through the three federal research granting agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). These annual programs are both administered through CIHR.

“Our government is proud to encourage innovative Canadian researchers who are building a better Canada,” says Minister Duncan. “Our goal is to create the right conditions so that they can access a wealth of opportunities including good paying jobs, where they can use their hard-earned skills and knowledge to solve global challenges and strengthen our communities.”

Full list of Vanier Scholars and Full list of Banting Fellows across Canada.

National research funding announcement on May 16

A national funding announcement for graduate and post-doctoral research will be made at Queen’s University on Thursday, May 16 at 10 am.

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, will make the announcement at Mitchell Hall. Attendance is welcome.

A livestream of the event will be available through the Queen’s University Facebook page.


Funding new scientific frontiers

New Frontiers in Research Fund fuels Queen’s research in topics ranging from Lyme disease to climate change.

Early-career researchers are the backbone of Canada’s research infrastructure. Recognizing this area of research strength and its potential, the Government of Canada has launched the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) to support early-career researchers as they pursue the next great discovery in their fields.

[Minister Kirsty Duncan]
Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport

Seven Queen’s University projects earned a $1.72 million portion of the $38 million in NFRF funding announced by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, earlier this week. The successful Queen’s researchers are: Chantelle Capicciotti (Chemistry) and Mark Ormiston (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), Robert Colautti (Biology), Samuel Dahan (Law), Lindsay Morcom (Education), Jessica Selinger (Kinesiology and Health Science), Kevin Stamplecoskie (Chemistry), and Laura Thomson (Geography and Planning).

“I am pleased today to celebrate the very first researchers to benefit from the New Frontiers in Research Fund. Our government’s vision is for our researchers to take risks and be innovative,” says Minister Duncan. “We want our scientists and students to have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, and we want the halls of academia to better reflect the diversity of Canada itself. This new fund will help us achieve that vision.”

Drs. Capicciotti and Ormiston are studying how cancer cells change the sugars that they express on their surface to avoid detection by the immune system. The researchers will work to develop technology to screen hundreds of sugar structures, with the ultimate goal of creating new cancer therapies that function by boosting an individual’s immune response.

As a member of the Canadian Lyme Disease Research Network (CLyDRN) based at Queen’s, Dr. Colautti is leading a diverse and multidisciplinary group of researchers to disrupt the way that tick-borne diseases are identified and managed in Canada. Their approach includes the use of handheld DNA sequencers and cloud computing for rapid detection of known or potential tick-borne pathogens, summarizing this information into a risk assessment framework for medical practitioners, public health officials, and the general populace.

Professor Dahan, in collaboration with Xiaodan Zhu (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and a team of 25 data scientists, Artificial Intelligence researchers, and law students, is working on an open source AI-tribunal for small claims in Ontario. This digital dispute-resolution platform will provide predictive legal services and negotiation support for self-represented plaintiffs. The NFRF funding will help develop the first stage of the product, focusing on severance pay and termination negotiation.

Using the skills of an interdisciplinary team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and visual and digital media artists, Dr. Morcom and her team will work to create a network of virtual reality spaces across the country. The newly-created spaces will be used to stage cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, and cross-generational encounters.

Dr. Selinger has formed an interdisciplinary team that combines expertise in fundamental human biomechanics, clinical rehabilitative medicine, and applied robotic control. The research has the potential to revolutionize the next generation of rehabilitation strategies by focusing on how people re-learn to walk after a stroke.

Focusing on a new area of research, Dr. Stamplecoskie and partner Guojun Liu (Chemistry), are researching new electrochemical devices, capable of capturing the tremendous amount of energy available in rainfall, waves, and evaporating water. The research is working to create new devices capable to meeting global energy demands.

Dr. Thomson has amassed an interdisciplinary team that will integrate modern glacier research practices and inter-generational perspectives on climate, to improve environmental monitoring in Canada’s high-Arctic. This initiative will provide open-access, real-time climate data for the first time in this part of the Arctic, and provide public access to rare historic data.

All of the Queen’s projects are funded under the Exploration stream of the NFRF program. The second stream is the Transformation stream that provides large-scale support for Canada to build strength and leadership in interdisciplinary and transformative research. The third stream, International, will come online later, according to Minister Duncan.

“Through the NFRF program, early-career researchers at Queen’s are bringing new ideas and methodologies to critical issues from Lyme disease to climate change,” say Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “Importantly, they are increasing the potential impact and application of their work by collaborating across disciplinary boundaries.”

For more information, visit the NFRF website.

Don’t miss out on research funding opportunities, subscribe to the University Research Services Funding Opportunities listserv.


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