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This backpack could be a life changer

mer, 2015-04-15 12:09
by Andrew Mahon

McGill student Salima Visram’s innovative Soular Backpack could help improve the educational prospects of students who don’t have easy access to electricity.

When Salima Visram had her ‘lightbulb’ moment, it came with a backpack, a solar panel, a battery and a lamp.

“I thought of the solar backpack last summer while I was studying in a café,” says Visram, an international development studies student and the recipient of a Gretta Chambers Student Leadership Award from the McGill Alumni Association.  “I was searching for an idea which would allow me to touch lives and use my education to give back.”

Visram pursued the idea and now her solar backpack ensemble is poised to make a difference in her native village in Kenya, enabling children without access to electrical power to study in the evening by the light generated from the backpack’s solar-powered lamp.

Driving the concept of the solar backpack were Visram’s vivid memories of Kenya and the struggles of families and children in her native village of Kikambala, near Mombassa.  Although Visram’s own family runs a successful business, life is much more difficult for many of the village’s 22,000 inhabitants. Education is a particular challenge. Since electricity is not available and kerosene for lighting is expensive (and dangerous), many children cannot study after sunset which, in turn, means they can’t get good grades which inevitably leads them out of school at an early age and often into a life of poverty.

That’s where the backpack comes in.

Dubbed the Soular Backpack (a combination of the words solar and soul), it’s a regular canvas backpack equipped with a solar panel on the outside and a rechargeable battery. During the day, the abundant sun charges the battery and at night the battery is able to power a small LED lamp, perfect for several hours of study.

Visram knew it was a great idea but going from lightbulb moment to prototype was quite another story.

“I contacted suppliers in China,” she says. “I started with 200 and eventually narrowed it down to three or four.”

Then there was the design and myriad considerations to take into account like ensuring that the battery was customized to connect exclusively to the study lamp (so it wouldn’t be appropriated for use with other devices like cellphones).

In December 2014, Visram took two prototype backpacks to Kikambala to do some field testing. She talked with families at meetings in villages, demonstrated the backpack and listened to feedback. Her testing confirmed the merits of the device.

“One father told me that his kids only study three times a week because he can only afford kerosene for that amount of time,” she says. Visram returned to Montreal and made modifications to her original prototype. The result is the Soular Backpack 2.0 which incorporates several design changes including a brighter lamp.

The next phase was funding. A successful crowdfunding campaign generated $50,000, enough to place a first order of 2,000 backpacks for distribution to the Kikambala village as a pilot project.

Now, with graduation on the horizon, Visram is looking for ways to keep the Soular Backpack momentum going. One idea is to create a North American version of the backpack (suitable for recharging cellphones and other mobile devices) as a means of funding her original project on an ongoing basis.

“Selling one backpack in North America could pay for a backpack for students in Kenya,” she explains.

Whatever the future holds, for Visram, it’s not about the backpack but rather about doing something to contribute to a better world. Two years ago, she convinced classmates to join her for an event dubbed “Pay it Forward” which consisted of giving free hugs to passersby on campus.

“I wanted to create an event to spread happiness and positive energy,” she says matter-of-factly. “I feel incomplete if I’m not working on something.”


Salima Visram joins four other outstanding students receiving a Gretta Chambers Student Leadership Award this year. Here are the other worthy winners:


Eric Brulé-Champagne, BSc(NutrSc)’15 has served as a Macdonald student representative on the Board of Governors and, for the past two years, has been involved with the Campus Life & Engagement program as a student life ambassador.  He has served as vice-president (internal) of the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS). An enthusiastic singer, he is a founding member of the MACappella singing group which has performed for Founder’s Day at Mac, and has also volunteered with the Farm to School project.


As president of the Management Undergraduate Society (MUS), Sean Finnell, BCom’15 and his team manage the operations of a $1.4 million not-for-profit association representing more than 2,400 undergraduate business students. He has championed the overhaul of the governing constitution and policies and led a widespread rebranding effort for events, clubs and services. He also helped lead MUS to raise over $60,000 for various philanthropic causes and is founder of the Desautels Entertainment Management Conference, which focuses on the business behind the entertainment industry.


Tara Sullivan, BA’15, has worked for several years for the Student Organization for Alumni Relations (SOAR), MEDLIFE McGill, and the Montreal World Health Organization. She served as the student chair of the McGill Alumni Association’s Alumni-Student Engagement Council and co-president of SOAR. She has also been a volunteer with McGill’s Youth Outreach Program, an initiative between McGill students and Montreal’s Batshaw Youth and Family Centres. As a member of the non-profit organization MEDLIFE McGill, she raised money and travelled with other students to Esmeraldas, Ecuador, to work on a mobile health clinic.


Valérie Toupin-Dubé, BSc(AgEnvSc)’15 played a key role in developing the Macdonald Student Ecological Garden (MSEG), helping to create a community-supported agriculture basket program and a weekly market stand on campus. Under her leadership, MSEG has become a training/educational component for students in a number of courses. She initiated the first summer camp through the Farm-to-School Club in 2014 and the program was awarded a Catalyst Award for Applied Student Research in Sustainability. She also helped make MSEG sustainable through a Seeds of Change crowdfunding campaign.

All McGill Alumni Association Honours and Awards will be presented at this year’s Honours and Awards Banquet on May 11, 2015.


How Making Waves is making waves

mer, 2015-04-15 11:05
by Andrew Mahon

Science student and Making Waves swimming instructor Rachel Gupta shares in some splashing with her young charge. (Photo: Owen Egan)

In many ways, Making Waves defies the traditional model of a not-for-profit group.

The organization comprises 14 chapters in cities across Canada (but has no offices), provides swimming lessons to more than 850 kids (and is expanding rapidly) and does all this with an all-volunteer staff of 750 students (including many McGillians).

The chief beneficiaries of all this are children with disabilities aged three to 15.

“Children with disabilities often require one-on-one instruction to learn to swim,” explains Hillary Post, BA’10, president of Making Waves Canada. “Making Waves removes the barriers for families who otherwise could not find or afford private swimming lessons for their children.”

Lessons typically cost $20-$35 per semester (a semester comprises 8-10 lessons). Parents register their kids on a local Making Waves website and lessons take place on weekends in facilities which would otherwise go unused (like CEGEP pools).  All staff are trained and a certified lifeguard is always on duty during instruction.

The idea behind the program can be traced back to a Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) club created to teach swimming to visually-impaired children. The group soon expanded to serve all kids with disabilities and became the first Making Waves chapter in Montreal in 2006, with the help of funding from the McGill Alumni Association.

In 2009, the group received a grant through Forces Avenir, a provincial program which promotes student creativity and entrepreneurship. Thanks to the grant, Making Waves expanded to Hamilton, London, Halifax, Ottawa, and Okanagan.  The group then received funding from the Clinton Global Initiative University and committed to grow the organization in Canada and abroad. That led to the first international chapters (in Lebanon and Mauritius) and also led to the establishment of Making Waves Canada, an umbrella organization to oversee the country’s chapters.

And what was the catalyst for this ambitious growth spurt?

“I began noticing that many campuses were similar to McGill, in that they were full of under-utilized student volunteers and I thought the Making Waves concept had potential,” says Making Waves Canada founder Matthew Morantz, MSc(A)’12, who oversaw the creation of eight new chapters while president of Making Waves Montreal. “Besides, I had some free time. I liked doing it and it was lots of fun.”

That mantra has proven contagious as dozens of McGill students have joined the organization over the years.

“Making Waves played a huge role in my time at McGill and is an important influence on where I am today,” says Nikki Fischer, BA&Sc’08. “I was looking for ways to become involved on campus and the program caught my eye as it combined my love of swimming and working with children with special needs.”

Fischer was president of Making Waves Montreal from 2006 to 2008. During that time, the program grew from four students to more than 40.  When Fischer moved away to further her education in London, Ontario and then Toronto, she brought Making Waves with her, either volunteering with existing chapters or starting new ones. In 2011, she founded Making Waves Toronto and then helped other students launch Making Waves Mississauga in 2012. Now a pediatrics resident at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Fischer is helping to set up a Making Waves Calgary chapter.

Arts student and Making Waves instructor Andrea Helfant looks like she knows how to make a swimming lesson fun (Photo: Owen Egan)

It’s a pattern which is common to many McGill students and alumni who bring the organization with them to new cities and communities. What makes this rapid growth possible is the Making Waves structure which is versatile enough to support the rapid growth of new chapters, without the constraints of a traditional not-for-profit organization.

“Chapters are located in cities with universities in them, as university students run all chapters,” explains Post. “Making Waves Canada is the umbrella organization and exists to connect, support, and advocate for chapters. Chapters are self-sufficient in programming. They train volunteer instructors and the children who will participate in the program. They handle pool rental and other logistical aspects of the program.”

“We’re part of a new breed of organizations,” adds Morantz, who is currently completing his law studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, but remains involved as a director on the board of Making Waves. “We have no facilities, no storefronts, no offices. We are what some may call an ‘ultra-lean organization’. This is really only possible because of the creativity of our volunteers in their use of new tools, technology and resources.”

In the future, Making Waves is aiming for more expansion so that its programs reach even more children with disabilities.

“Thanks to the passion and energy of our volunteers, we’re getting close to having 1,000 children enrolled in our programs across the country,” says Post.

Interested volunteers can learn more at www.makingwavescanada.org and/or www.facebook.com/makingwavescanada



A rising star in Quebec film

mar, 2015-04-14 15:27
by Brendan Kelly, BA’85

Film producer Nancy Grant’s Mommy, a movie directed by her frequent collaborator Xavier Dolan, recently dominated the Quebec film industry’s Jutra Awards, winning 10 prizes (Photo: Denis Beaumont/Canadian Press)

For Nancy Grant, BA’06, it’s all about the relationship with the filmmaker.

The McGill graduate is one of Quebec’s hottest feature film producers and has worked with some of our most talented auteurs, including Denis Côté, Maxime Giroux, and Anne Émond. But if she’s top of the class right now – and she is! – it’s mostly thanks to her collaborations with totally-happening cineaste Xavier Dolan.

Over the course of a recent one-hour chat with Grant at a café just down the block from the McGill campus, it was abundantly clear that Grant is one driven individual. So when she decided she was going to work with Dolan, she made sure it happened.

She contacted Dolan via Facebook in the fall of 2012. They kind of knew each other, but they weren’t friends. At first, he said he was too busy. Then Grant told him she’d like to invest in his film Tom à la ferme, which he was preparing at the time, and, given that Dolan was the Canadian producer of Tom and was trying to cobble together the financing, he suddenly had a change of heart and agreed to meet.

Says Grant: “I invested thinking – ‘I’m bored. I want to work with this guy. If he accepts my money and we work together and it works, then maybe it’s going to be a long-term collaboration. If it doesn’t work, then, oh well, I will have attempted something and I will have failed.’ ”

But Grant and Dolan immediately clicked. One night they had dinner together and he invited her back to the editing suite, and as he edited, she started making comments about what he was doing. He appreciated the input and soon asked her to take a more active role in the film.

“That’s really where the creative collaboration began,” says Grant.

Next she produced College Boy, the controversial videoclip Dolan made for the French rock band Indochine, a heavy mini-drama starring Antoine Olivier Pilon of Mommy fame. Then came Mommy, which is the film that really propelled Grant into the spotlight. Dolan’s latest film is one of the biggest successes of the past couple of decades of Québécois film. The emotionally-charged French-language drama about a blue-collar single mother and her unstable teenage son won the Prix du jury at the Cannes Film Festival, the César (the French equivalent of the Oscar) as best foreign film, and swept both the Canadian Screen Awards and the Quebec Jutra Awards. It was also the top-grossing Quebec film of 2014.

Grant talks of the whirlwind process of making Mommy. Dolan wrote the screenplay in May and June of 2013, they went to the Venice and Toronto film festivals with Tom à la ferme in August and September, and then jumped right into shooting Mommy over 24 days. They began filming even before most of the financing was in place. The major funding agencies, Telefilm Canada and Quebec’s SODEC, hadn’t yet given them the greenlight, but Grant and Dolan decided to throw caution to the wind and just get going because they wanted to make sure it was ready for Cannes the following spring.

“Some people around us were thinking – ‘They’re crazy’ – and some people were thinking – ‘They’re so cool’,” says Grant.

Grant made agreements with various suppliers to pay them later and eventually the agencies kicked in the cash to balance the budget. At the same time, another Grant production was also shooting – Giroux’s Félix et Meira, a Mile End-set drama about a franco Québécois guy who has an affair with a married woman who’s a Hasidic Jew.

“We were shooting Félix et Meira with no money at all,” says Grant. “That was a true indie film. We were shooting it with $500,000, that’s it, and we shot in Venice, Italy, and in Brooklyn. With Mommy, we just went for it, Xavier and I. We had faith. We would tell people – ‘We don’t have money’. Then we’d come up with a helicopter [to shoot a scene] and people would be – ‘What the f—! What’s going on guys? You don’t have money.’ But Xavier re-invested everything. [Grant's company] Metafilms re-invested everything. We just felt we had the right to put this money into helicopters if we wanted to.”

Next up for Grant is co-producing Dolan’s first English-language film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, a showbiz satire with a big-name cast: Jessica Chastain, Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), Susan Sarandon, and Kathy Bates. They are currently finalizing the financing.

Grant, who hails originally from the village of Petit-Matane in the Bas-St-Laurent, has fond memories of McGill, where she studied psychology and international development in the first half of the ‘00s.

At the time, she wanted to become a psychologist. But after she graduated in 2005, she began hanging around with some budding film-scene types and decided she wanted to become a producer. She hasn’t looked back since.


The finance minister’s right-hand man

mar, 2015-04-14 13:55
by Sheldon Gordon

Paul Rochon, BA’83, is Canada’s deputy finance minister (Photo: UNICEF)

The days are counting down before the Harper government is to present its much-anticipated budget on April 21.  Finance Minister Joe Oliver, BA’61, BCL’64, keeping with tradition, is expected to buy new shoes to wear for his budget address to Parliament.  But what does his fellow McGill alumnus, Deputy Minister Paul Rochon, BA’83, buy for the occasion?

“The deputy minister wears his old shoes to the budget lock-up,” says Rochon. “Maybe the deputy minister buys a bottle of scotch at the end of the day.” He adds, self-effacingly: “Our role is to support the minister, to provide him advice.”

That’s what Rochon has been doing since he was named deputy in April 2014.  He was deputy minister of international development at the time.  His return to the Ministry of Finance, where he spent almost his entire bureaucratic career, came a month after Oliver succeeded the late Jim Flaherty as minister.

While this transition at the top echelons of Finance unfolded smoothly, the 2015 budget process did not. Rochon had to advise the government that the collapse of oil prices affected the department’s forecast for the economy as well as the tax revenues that Oliver was counting on for a budget surplus.

Oliver postponed the budget by several weeks while Rochon and his team factored in the new economic and fiscal realities.  During this extended period of budget-making, Rochon met personally with the minister every second day, and was in contact with Oliver’s office daily.  He also held budget discussions with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Oliver together.

As a career civil servant, Rochon declines to discuss issues he deems “political” — such as the government’s income-splitting policy – or sensitive – such as the loonie’s exchange rate.  But he does push back against the suggestion that the red-hot housing markets in Toronto and Vancouver may be headed for a crash.  “We’re not concerned that there’s a bubble,” he says. “We monitor that situation very closely.”

He also believes that concerns about income inequality in Canada are mitigated by findings that all income categories have experienced  growth.  “In addition to the distribution of the pie,” he says, “another important question is whether all segments of the pie are growing. For Canada, the answer is yes, pretty well across all income cohorts over the last 15 years.”

Also, he says, “inter-generational income mobility in this country is quite strong — stronger than in the U.S. and the U.K.”

Rochon, 54, was born in Quebec City and moved to Montreal in 1979 to do his BA at McGill. He liked that McGill “has a much more international student body that most Canadian universities, as well as the anglophone/francophone dimension. I had access to a great group of professors who were all very engaged and helped in my intellectual [development].”

Though he majored in history, he also took several electives in economics. Discussions with his professors persuaded him that economics offered “greater employment prospects,” so he switched into that field for graduate  school.

Rochon was a researcher at the Conference Board of Canada for three years before joining Finance in 1990. “What attracted me was dealing with a much wider array of topics,” he says.  The scope of files that one gets to deal with as a public servant, particularly in Finance, is  almost without equal.”

By 2007, he had climbed to assistant deputy minister, economic and fiscal policy branch, the senior official leading the budgetary process.  In that role, the following year, he encountered his most memorable challenge – the global financial meltdown.  “We pulled together a budget in two months in late 2008, early 2009,” he says.

“I think it was quite successful as a response to the financial crisis.  As well, the government’s decision a couple of years later to end the stimulus was also important.  It was an intense period of time.  We’re still dealing with the after-effects of it today.”





New probe hunts down elusive cancer cells in brain

lun, 2015-04-13 15:51

McGill neurosurgeon Kevin Petrecca has co-developed a new technique that might make it far easier for surgeons to track down cancer cells hiding in healthy brain tissue. (Photo: Alex Tran)

by Mark Witten

Neurosurgeons need help during operations to accurately distinguish between normal brain tissue and cancer cells that have infiltrated into healthy brain tissue. These invasive, outlier cells that extend from the main tumour into healthy tissue often can’t be detected visually, or with technologies now used clinically, like MRI. “Your task is to remove the cancer, but you can’t see the full extent of it, so invasive cancer cells frequently remain after surgery. This leads to cancer recurrence and shorter survival times for patients,” says Kevin Petrecca, BSc’94, PhD’00, MDCM’02, professor of neurology and neurosurgery, and chief of neurosurgery at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital.

A new hand-held, fibre-optic probe developed by Petrecca and Frédéric Leblond, an engineering professor at Polytechnique Montréal, promises to improve surgeries and extend survival times for brain cancer patients. The Raman spectroscopy probe enables surgeons, for the first time, to accurately detect virtually all invasive brain cancer cells in real time during surgery. It uses laser technology to measure light scattered from molecules and distinguish between the molecular fingerprints of cancer tissue and normal brain tissue. “The probe tells you with greater precision where there are cancer cells and where there aren’t. Survival time isn’t just about how much cancer you remove, it’s about how much cancer you leave behind. You can double and sometimes quadruple survival time by minimizing the volume of residual cancer,” says Petrecca.

The device was first tested on 17 patients with grade 2, 3 and 4 gliomas, which are highly invasive brain cancers. Since then Petrecca has used it on a total of over 40 patients without adverse effects. “We showed that the probe is equally capable of detecting invasive cancer from all grades of invasive glioma with greater than 90 per cent accuracy. Minimizing the residual cancer improves survival for all the grades. For patients with grade 2 and grade 3 tumours, who are often younger, you could lengthen the survival from five years to 10 years,” he says.

To show that using the probe-guided technique will help improve patient outcomes, Petrecca is launching a clinical trial at the Neuro for patients with newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma. If this results in fewer or no cancer cells remaining after surgery, some patients could also benefit by avoiding or delaying neuro-debilitating radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Petrecca and his colleagues have also begun commercializing the new device to meet a growing interest from surgeons in Canada and internationally. “We know that it works and surgeons will probably be using the probe as a decision-making tool within a year or two,” he says.



Taking stock of homelessness

sam, 2015-04-11 15:44
by Sylvain Comeau

McGill researchers recently oversaw the “I Count MTL” project, the first large-scale survey of homelessness in Montreal since 1998. (Image: iStock)

The face of homelessness in Montreal is constantly changing. Recently, the city contracted the McGill-affiliated Douglas Mental Health University Institute Research Centre to take a snapshot of the worsening situation. On the night of March 24, 800 trained volunteers went out into the cold to conduct a survey of the homeless population.

“There is a growing sense that homelessness need not be a social phenomenon that we have to accept — we can mobilize ourselves to significantly reduce it,” says McGill health economist and professor of psychiatry Eric Latimer, the co-director of the project. The “I Count MTL” project involved 60 organizations in all. The city’s network of YMCAs helped recruit and train volunteers for the project.

Following the lead of other major North American and European cities, the survey is the first of several projected annual or semi-annual events.

“This is the beginning of a long-term project; it wouldn’t be very useful to do it just once,” says Latimer.

The survey is intended to help authorities and social aid organizations get a better handle on the extent of the issue.

“In Montreal, many people have the impression that they see more homeless people on the street. And we know, for example, that the number of beds in shelters, and their occupancy rates, have been going up in recent years,” says Latimer.

“But, beyond that, we don’t have much hard data. This survey is the beginning of a process to track the evolution of the phenomenon.”

Latimer cites a number of reasons for the apparent rise in homelessness, including the fact that rents have increased at a faster rate than the minimum wage.

The ambitious survey has a number of goals, including illuminating the composition of today’s homeless population.

“We want to measure changes over time — age, sex, ethnicity, sources of income. We also asked about their history of homelessness — has it been less or more than three years?”

Volunteers were recruited through a media blitz and website, and received training in areas such as safety precautions and sensitivity. Project coordinators initially thought it might take months to find enough volunteers to cover the 221 different sectors of the city that the survey would encompass. It only took 10 days.

“We told [the volunteers] to treat these people like just another person, and to be conservative in their classifications; when in doubt, don’t count someone as homeless,” explains Latimer. “The volunteers were also asked to learn the questions ahead of time, so that they could ask them as part of a conversation.”

Those who agreed to participate in the survey were asked: “Do you have a regular place to sleep tonight?” to which the follow-up question was: “And what sort of place is that?” Volunteers were also instructed to ask whether the person intended to sleep there that night.

“Someone may have a place to stay, but are currently not going there for a number of reasons, for example an infestation of bed bugs, or an abusive spouse or partner.”

Volunteers were instructed to use the term “residentially unstable” rather than “homeless,” as the former is both more accurate and less potentially offensive.

“It’s a term that encompasses the broad spectrum of people who are either homeless or at risk,” says Latimer. “It includes what we call ‘hidden homelessness’. That could mean people who are couch surfing — crashing at the homes of friends — or living in rooming houses, in which you have a roof over your head, but you don’t have the legal protections of a long-term lease. There are also some prostitutes who live in hotels and motels.

“We want to get a clear picture of the many sub-categories of homelessness.”

Zeina Althawabteh is a McGill master’s student in urban planning who volunteered to be part of a surveying team for the project. She says that the experience quickly dispelled any stereotypes about who makes up the ranks of the homeless.

“The diversity of people in this situation was striking; young, old, men, women. I found it disconcerting and surprising to meet homeless people close to my own age, in their early twenties.

“It made me realize that no one is completely safe from homelessness; under certain circumstances, it can happen to anyone.”

The survey’s findings will be presented to the city in June.

Latimer is also the lead economist in the ongoing “Chez soi/At Home” national research study on homelessness and mental illness. That project uses the Housing First approach, in which government resources are focused on getting homeless people into a residence, to break the cycle of chronic homelessness.


Can this “dragon” help bring back the Expos?

ven, 2015-04-10 14:42

Caesars Interactive Entertainment CEO Mitch Garber is rumoured to be part of a group of Montreal business leaders who are hoping to resurrect the Montreal Expos (Photo: Vincenzo D’Alto)

by Joel Yanofsky, BA’77, MA’81

Mitch Garber, BA’86, is between private jets. The 50-year-old CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), one of the world’s largest online gaming companies, recently sold his old Learjet 60 and is currently renting a plane so he can make his twice-monthly commute from Montreal to Las Vegas.

Garber’s positions with the Caesars gambling empire – he’s also CEO of the Caesars Acquisition Company – has him overseeing legendary hotel-casinos like Bally’s and Planet Hollywood, as well as events like the World Series of Poker. But while his business success is indisputable, the secret to that success is more complicated. According to Garber, everything he’s accomplished, he’s accomplished without being really great at anything.

This isn’t him being especially self-deprecating, by the way. In fact, Garber, outspoken and unfailingly confident (he recently caused a stir on the TV show Tout le monde en parle by openly questioning Parti Québécois leadership candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau’s business skills), sounds a lot like he’s boasting when he points out what an unspectacular student he was.

“I recently looked up my CEGEP transcript – my son asked about my marks – and it was average. I probably just slid into university. McGill didn’t come looking for me,” says Garber from his corner office overlooking downtown Montreal.

After McGill, Garber went on to earn a law degree from the University of Ottawa and during the nineties worked full-time as a lawyer while pursuing a part-time career as a sports broadcaster. He did well in both, but acknowledges he didn’t stand out in either.

Since the early 2000s, Garber has worked for or run a series of e-commerce and online gaming companies, culminating in 2009 with CIE, which he built, from “almost nothing,” into a $2 billion business. Wikipedia estimates Garber’s net worth at $200 million, a figure he confirms is in “the right neighbourhood.” Despite all this, Garber’s assessment of himself as a businessman is, again, measured. He’s been good, in other words, not great.

“There’s a lot to be said for putting yourself in a position of doing everything you can. It’s true, I don’t think I’m great at anything, but if you’re good at a lot of things and work really hard, great things happen. What I’ve done is done everything.”

That includes being the new “dragon” on the currently airing fourth season of Dans l’oeil du dragon, Quebec’s French-language version of the CBC TV hit Dragon’s Den. Part game-show, part reality-TV series, Dans l’oeil du dragon assembles a panel of successful local entrepreneurs to judge and sometimes invest in the pitches of aspiring entrepreneurs/contestants.

Garber wasn’t interested in being a dragon initially, but the producers pursued him. In the end, he didn’t require much convincing. He eventually did what he eventually does – said yes to a new challenge.

The potential of the show to educate young people – his two teenage sons are fans – appealed to Garber. “It has frustrated me for many years that kids don’t learn anything about money. In school, we teach them about volcanoes and earthquakes, but not how to write a cheque or do their taxes.”

Dans l’oeil du dragon also got Garber back in the public eye – “I really like television,” he confesses – and matched up well with his commitment to investing in Montreal. When Garber was hired by Caesars, he had enough leverage – not to mention a private jet – to do the job from anywhere in the world. He chose the city he loves.

“I came back to Montreal voluntarily. I was living in beautifully tax advantageous jurisdictions like Israel and the U.K. Here, I pay millions of taxes every year and do it willingly.”

For Montreal’s sake, he also seems willing to say yes to another significant challenge – bringing back major league baseball. A recent La Presse story identified Garber as a part of a small group of local business leaders (Dollarama CEO Larry Rossy, BA’65, was also named)  interested in reviving the Expos franchise. The obstacles that originally doomed the team – no downtown stadium, unreliable ownership – are ones Garber is betting can be overcome.

But betting may prove to be another obstacle for Garber, according to veteran Montreal sportscaster Mitch Melnick. Melnick was instrumental in getting Garber into radio and TV in the nineties and appreciates Garber’s “business savvy” and ability “to make things happen.

“But I’m not sure he’d be able to stake a claim to an ownership group unless he moved away from the gaming industry,” Melnick explains in an email. “[Major League Baseball] is sensitive to anything gambling-related. But I love … that [Mitch] is involved at some level. It makes it all the more believable that we’ll have – one day – a positive outcome.”

Indeed, on the subject of the Expos, the usually loquacious Garber chooses his words carefully. “Let’s just say: there’s a group of Montrealers who have been financially fortunate, who love baseball and who, if the opportunity of a franchise presented itself, would, I believe, want to participate.”

Garber likes to borrow a baseball term to describe his success. “I’ve filled in the money scorecard,” he says, then adding, “it’s only one.” Still, money drives him; it always has.

“As a teenager, every night I went to bed wanting to make a lot of money. There probably aren’t many people who’ll look you in the eye and tell you that,” Garber says.

His father’s example provided all the motivation he’s ever needed. Steve Garber, a prominent Montreal restaurateur and businessman in the sixties and seventies, owner of the Rib N’ Reef Steakhouse, was a multi-millionaire at 26 and bankrupt at 33.

“There was a lot of screaming in my house about unpaid rent. My father killed himself at 46 – I was 23 – over money. I haven’t seen many shrinks in my life, but I don’t think I need to see many to figure out why money has been so important to me.”

And, of course, it continues to be, given that Garber’s job is inextricably linked to money – winning and losing it. “At Caesars, we don’t stick our heads in the sand about the risks of gambling. But, frankly, there’s also enough alcohol in most people’s homes to kill them. You can go online and bust every credit card you have.

“Moderating behaviour where addiction is possible is essential… We try hard to do that. We take responsible gaming seriously.”

But Garber also believes the risks associated with online gaming are often overrated. “Online, the limits are much lower. Online, we can track people more easily. Offline, you can disappear into the shadows. Online, we know everything you’re doing.”

Still, he recognizes the business he’s in requires accountability. He has welcomed invitations to speak about the future of responsible Internet gaming to the British House of Lords – “When you get an email from a Lord, you answer it” – and the Canadian Parliament.

Garber is also busy these days filling in other scorecards. He’s committed to donating $500,000 to $1 million to charity annually. This year’s contribution includes establishing the Garber Family Post Doctorate Fellowship in Hereditary Cancer at McGill University Faculty of Medicine. Again, though, Garber isn’t exactly calling himself a great philanthropist.

“No one should be able to live a life of luxury without some degree of guilt. For me, the best way to alleviate that guilt is to give away a lot of money. That way, I don’t have to feel at all badly about living a life of luxury.”


Fashion house’s esthetic rooted in nomadic youth

mer, 2015-03-18 13:07
by Sheldon Gordon

Jamil Juma and his sister Alia (Courtesy: JUMA)

When Jamil Juma, BSc(AgrEng)’02, graduated from McGill with a degree in biosystems engineering, he went to work as an investment strategist at a securities firm in Toronto. But 18 months into the job, he took what he thought was going to be a temporary detour, one that would result in him taking bows on fashion runways around the world.

Juma left his position to give his younger sister Alia a helping hand. Alia was launching a fashion design house under the JUMA label.

“She needed help with manufacturing,” recalls Jamil.  “I thought I would do it on the side; I wasn’t thinking about it as a career. But eventually it became a full-time thing.”

It’s proven to be a highly effective collaboration, yielding global success.  As design director, Alia focuses on JUMA’s product design and development. As creative director, Jamil heads manufacturing, logistics, finance and marketing.  But the roles are fluid: Jamil also gets involved in design.

JUMA is designed for young, affluent shoppers.  Its casual ready-to-wear collections include dresses, pants, T-shirts, scarves and bags. Fashion insiders have praised the line’s adventurous approach and vibrant designs.

“Our product is quite niche, it’s not for everyone,” says Jamil.  “It’s a particular look and a particular vibe.  We have a specific group of people that enjoy it within each country.”

Financed by crowd-funding website Kickstarter, the sartorial siblings put on a well-received show during New York Fashion Week in 2011.  (The crowd-funding campaign offered investors limited edition digital print bags, scarves, posters, and backstage experiences as rewards.) Soon after, the Jumas relocated the design business to NYC.

The JUMA collection is now carried by such upscale retailers as Harvey Nichols (Hong Kong), Ron Herman (L.A.), Aishti (Dubai), Calypso (New York) and Another Edition (Tokyo). JUMA fashions have been spotted on celebs Nicki Minaj (she wore JUMA while touring), Solange Knowles and Rachel McAdams.

“I don’t think there was a ‘breakthrough’ moment,” says Jamil.  “There was just a slow build. Season after season, year after year, from the number of stores we started working with, to the number of products we’re getting into.  This business is always a challenge.  I’m probably working harder now than I did at the beginning.”

JUMA is extending its brand to home accessories such as pillows, throws, curtains and artwork.  It is also making a major retailing push in China. Jamil recently moved full-time to Shanghai (Alia divides her time between China and North America).

JUMA has done its global production in China for five years, but in the last year-and-a-half, it has begun selling in the world’s largest potential consumer market. It began with a temporary “pop-up” store in Beijing’s Four Seasons Hotel that has become a permanent store.  Next will be a store in Shanghai and online retailing.

However, being in China isn’t only a matter of business, emphasizes Jamil.  “We actually enjoy being here.  I find the work environment quite appealing because of the optimistic attitudes of fellow creative entrepreneurs.”

JUMA’s Mosaic Mint Tiles leather clutch was inspired by Turkish ceramics and tiles

China is just the latest home base in the siblings’ peripatetic lives.  As children, they lived for three-year intervals in Kenya, Kazakhstan and Congo with their parents, who ran operations there for a family business.

The JUMA brand’s graphic digital prints, bold colours and flowing fabrics reflect the siblings’ multicultural upbringing. They’ve also lived in New York, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

Says Jamil: “We were influenced by two different worlds — the indigenous culture [of Africa and Asia] and the contemporary design culture of North America.  Mixing the two together formed the basis of JUMA.”

Now 37, Jamil looks back fondly on his McGill days. “McGill didn’t offer a fashion degree,” he says, “but I developed relationships there that became sounding boards for me in choosing a career and getting help with our fashion business. Just being in Montreal and interacting with an international community opened my mind and gave me a different perspective.”



How a McGill elective led to a Tony Award for costume designer Linda Cho, BA’95

Designer Tanya Taylor, BCom’07, got her first taste for fashion at a Desautels Faculty of Management charity show


Let me prescribe you a video game for that

mer, 2015-03-18 11:51

Dig Rush is a new video game developed by Ubisoft in collaboration with a McGill research team. The game was created as a treatment for amblyopia.
by Diana Kwon

Adults with amblyopia, or lazy eye, have long been told that their condition might be untreatable. A group of McGill researchers, in collaboration with the gaming company Ubisoft, have now developed an unexpected remedy: a video game.

They created a tablet game, “Dig Rush,” where players control moles digging for gold. It works as a treatment for amblyopia by harnessing adult brain plasticity.

“We always thought the brain was plastic as a child and not as an adult. But now we know that it’s still quite changeable as an adult,” explains Robert Hess, the director of the McGill Vision Research Unit and the project’s lead researcher. “That means we should be able to develop new ways of recovering function that’s been lost, either in childhood or as a consequence of some vascular accident or trauma.”

Amblyopia affects about three per cent of the North American population. It is the leading cause of visual impairment among children and, if unsuccessfully treated, a leading cause of blindness for adults. It results from poor processing in the brain that leads to one eye being favoured over the other.

Currently, the primary treatment for amblyopia involves placing an eye patch over the stronger eye to force the weaker eye to work. It is available only to children and is moderately effective; about 60 per cent of individuals improve, but 25 per cent regress once the patch is removed.

Dig Rush involves a completely new approach for treating amblyopia. Rather than attempting to improve vision in one eye, it gets the two eyes to work together. This is accomplished by showing different stimuli to each eye. Reducing signal strength to the good eye by showing it weaker stimuli alleviates suppression in the weaker eye and encourages both eyes to function collaboratively.

Robert Hess is the director of the McGill Vision Research Unit

Physicians can adjust the contrast of blue and red in the game using stereoscopic glasses, so that one eye sees some images better than the other. As the patient’s vision improves, game settings can be modified to promote further progress. Unlike patching, this treatment is effective in both children and adults.

Patients in trial runs saw dramatic improvement after playing an hour a day for about six weeks, and the improvement persisted even after they stopped playing the game. The long-lasting effects provide evidence of the treatment’s ability to promote plasticity in the brain.

Hess and his research team began working on this treatment almost 10 years ago, developing the scientific foundation and testing preliminary versions of the game. The prototype used an adaptation of the popular puzzle game, Tetris, where the weaker eye would see the falling blocks while the stronger would see the ground blocks. The strength of the signal to each eye was varied, but both inputs were needed to play the game.

“We found that not only were the two eyes working together again, but vision in the poor eye had also improved. Some people even had 3D vision for the first time,” says Hess.

Once the treatment was developed, it was patented by McGill and licenced to Amblyotech, a startup. Ubisoft, the gaming powerhouse behind such bestsellers as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, was recruited to translate the McGill team’s research findings into an engaging game that patients would want to play daily. Once Health Canada and the FDA approve the game, it will be distributed as a prescribed medical treatment.

“As a game producer, it’s exciting to work on such a product,” says Ubisoft senior producer Mathieu Ferland. “Knowing that Dig Rush has the potential to improve the sight of millions is quite satisfying.”



These McGill graduates make sure that the science depicted in video games isn’t too farfetched



Football hero gets his due

mar, 2015-03-17 19:42

Some of Michael Soles’ former McGill Redmen teammates recently led a fundraising initiative to create a new award to honour Soles. From left to right: Wayne McRae, Hagen Mehnert, Michael Soles, Bruno Pietrobon, Vincent Gagne and Joff Elkas.

by Andrew Mahon

The McGill Redmen’s 1987 dream football season will probably be remembered for many reasons: a Vanier Cup victory, an offensive line with a reputed penchant for Milk-Bone dog biscuits (more on that later) and a lasting friendship forged among five players which has resulted in a remarkable, if bittersweet, legacy for their teammate, Michael Soles, BA’89.

In 1987, Soles led the Redmen to a 47-11 Vanier Cup win over the UBC Thunderbirds, earning the team its last national championship.  The all-star running back was named game MVP, was subsequently selected in the 1989 CFL draft and went on to play 11 seasons professionally for Edmonton and Montreal.

Since 2005, Soles has battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Last August, five of Soles’ teammates (Joff Elkas, BA’89; Vincent Gagné, BA’88; Wayne McRae, BCom’88; Hagen Mehnert, BA’89 and Bruno Pietrobon, BEng’89) got together on a conference call to brainstorm ideas to recognize Soles and his McGill legacy.

“We wanted to do something that was both unique and personal,” says Pietrobon, who (along with his four ex-teammates) is winner of this year’s E.P. Taylor Award, awarded by the McGill Alumni Association to volunteers who have demonstrated outstanding voluntary service to the McGill Annual Fund. “It had to be something that would specifically honour Mike and be a fitting tribute. It had to be memorable and it had to be lasting.” Soles will be a co-recipent of the E.P. Taylor Award, for inspiring the initiative that his former teammates settled on.

The “aha” moment was an idea to create an endowment for a Michael Soles Football Award, to be given to deserving players on an annual basis. The ideal vehicle for the project was McGill’s Seeds of Change crowdfunding platform.

“It was the perfect fit,” says Wayne McRae. “It allowed us to easily reach out to people inside and outside the McGill community.”

McGill Redmen teammates Bruno Pietrobon and Michael Soles celebrate their Vanier Cup victory in 1987.

The project goal was $80,000, a sizeable challenge, but within just four weeks the goal was reached and donations continued to come in until the total surpassed $214,000.

“None of us expected we would do it that quickly,” adds McRae. “We didn’t even need to ask people to donate, we would just tell them the story and they offered to give. They wanted to help. It’s really a tribute to Mike and the kind of person he is.”

That “kind of person” is someone whose personality and character transcends his gridiron exploits.

“Mike wowed everyone with his passion and performance on the field,” says McRae, who was Soles’ business partner for several years.  “And that’s what you got off the field too. When he speaks about his family, his kids, his friends — you’re wowed by his passion.”

“We were all inspired by his resilience, his courage, and by his refusal to let his condition defeat him or define him,” adds Pietrobon.

As a result of the successful crowdfunding campaign, the Michael Soles Football Award will be established to promote the McGill Redmen Intercollegiate Football program by providing direct funding in the form of an annual award to eligible student athletes in good academic standing. The recipients will be selected by the McGill Athletics Awards Committee.

When talking about Soles, his legacy and the award, conversation inevitably leads back to memories from that now-legendary Vanier Cup season 28 years ago.

“The response from the McGill community after we won the ’87 championship was a surprise to all of us,” recalls Pietrobon. “We were really touched to see the way the McGill community reached out and congratulated us.”

It’s something all five players would like to see rekindled for the Redmen.

“The team has been through difficult times,” says Pietrobon. “But the program can be built up to succeed. It just requires commitment from the entire McGill community including support from alumni. I hope the good news about the Michael Soles Award becomes a foundation for a positive future for football at McGill.”

As for the story of the Milk-Bones, it all stems from the nickname of the team’s offensive line (The Crazy Dogs), which prompted a player to show up on the practice field one day with a bag of dog biscuits – just as a joke.

The linemen ate the biscuits. Crazy Dogs indeed.

The McGill Alumni Association Honours and Awards celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of student and alumni volunteers. The 2015 awards will be presented at this year’s Honours and Awards Banquet on May 11, 2015.



Strength and conditioning coach Matt Nichol, BEd’98, counts NHL stars and Olympians among his clients

According to a McGill study, 78 per cent of athletes who think they had concussions, didn’t seek medical attention



The man behind the scares

mar, 2015-03-17 11:38

Novelist Andrew Pyper, BA’90, MA’91, says he is in “the insomnia business” and there are few writers out there who are more skilled at causing sleepless nights. Haunted houses, demonic entities, malevolent spirits — Pyper’s most recent books have ventured into decidedly supernatural terrain and he can hold his own with the best in the business. His last book, The Demonologist, was awarded the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel, besting a fellow named Stephen King in the process. His new book, The Damned, was recently praised by USA Today as “damned scary” and “chill-inducing.” McGill News contributor Tiffany Pope interviewed the man who so successfully gives his readers the heebie-jeebies.


A tour of tasty treats

ven, 2015-03-13 16:45

Mélissa Simard introduces her customers to some of the offerings at the Librairie Espagnole during one of her recent Iberian food tours (Photo: Alex Tran)

by Maeve Haldane

That Montreal is one of North America’s great cities for food is hardly a secret. But how much do you really know about the city’s culinary riches? Sure, you could probably make your way through some dinner party chitchat about famous spots like Schwartz’s or Au Pied De Cochon, but do you ever find yourself wishing you had access to someone with a detailed understanding of this city’s savoury nooks and crannies? Someone who could steer you towards some delicious new discoveries?

Someone like Mélissa Simard, BA’08.

A professionally trained cook and a natural-born storyteller, Simard is the driving force behind ‘Round Table Tours, which offers excursions involving some of Montreal’s most iconic food places, as well as some of its less heralded scrumptious sites.

Simard grew up in small pulp mill towns in British Columbia. Her childhood was spent shucking oysters, eating sea cucumbers, collecting mussels, digging clams and crabbing. She and her chemical engineer mum would canoe into the rough waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island with a loaf of bread and harvest the rest of their lunch from the sea.

Simard headed for Montreal after she met a guy from Verdun in a bar in Jasper. They hitchhiked and picked fruit on their way east, then during a stint in a Katimavik program, she applied to McGill.

While completing her degree in Canadian studies (she did minors in Spanish and environmental studies), she started to work in kitchens. As she cooked for cash by night, she reflected on culture and identity by day, not yet aware how these distinct interests would merge into the intimate tours that are now labelled a top tourist attraction by Trip Advisor.

During her time at McGill, Simard was greatly influenced by English professor Natalie Cooke, who taught “Food Representation in Canadian Literature” and let Simard have run of her library of historical cookbooks. Another significant teacher was historian Andrée Lévesque, who looked at the working class and underbelly of Montreal, particularly among women.

After McGill came cooking school and an internship in Calabria with celebrity chef Luigi Quintieri, who was refreshingly relaxed and respectful compared to the harried, high-pressure drama of Montreal kitchens. “He made it a joy,” says Simard, who’s still in regular contact with him.

Upon returning to Montreal, Simard worked in places like 55 degrees, Graziella, Del Canale, and briefly, Le Filet. But she found herself tiring of life in the kitchen. “You don’t have contact with the public, you don’t see people eat what you cook,” Simard says. “I wanted to do something more on the social side of food.”

Inspired by a West Coast bike trip in which she visited farms and artisanal food makers, Simard thought of giving similar food tours near Montreal. Then, she was hired to co-develop a gastronomic tour of The Main with bike company Fitz & Follwell Co., and created her own ’Round Table Tours in 2012.

“I try to explore cultures, neighbourhoods, and food genres through the stories of chefs and entrepreneurs,” she explains. Aside from her four regular tours (food trucks, Iberian, Jewish, and living foods), she tailors tours for corporate clients.

Simard credits her time at McGill with giving her the ability to thoroughly research a topic and interview people. Instead of just scratching at the surface, her tours dig deep.

People learn through Simard’s tales, by meeting experts, and by tasting. Lots of tasting. For the Iberian tour, participants visit a small-scale chorizo producer behind a depanneur, snack on acorn-fed ham, and sit down for tapas at three restaurants.  On the Jewish tour, they’ll compare the world-renowned Fairmount and St Viateur bagels, nosh at Wilensky’s Light Lunch, and eat pastries from Cheskies. Simard supplies bikes and helmets for her Food Truck tour, and her Living Foods tour includes a lecture by a food scientist, a visit with an urban beekeeper, meeting a mushroom grower in his lab, and finishing with a vegan five-course Thai meal at Chu Chai. “People really step into another universe they didn’t expect,” she says. “They meet young innovative entrepreneurs who are building businesses out of their ethics. ”

During Simard’s tours, she’s calmed down excitable participants, been hit by a bike, and smoothed the way for two people to fall in love (they’re still together nine months later). On one memorably fraught tour, a naturopath, a nutritionist, and a soda pop industry worker got into a heated debate about what constitutes healthy living. “It was kind of a run-in, though everything finished off on a great note,” she says.

Simard is currently developing tours on pioneering women, tea, and Chinatown. “I want people to have that connection with where they’re eating. So they experience a kind of intimacy with the place, and they understand better why they do things the way they do,” Simard says. “Food is meant to bring people together.”


Mirella Amato, BMus’98, is the woman to turn to if you want to get adventurous with beer

How a badly cooked omelet helped Top Chef’s Gail Simmons, BA’98, become a TV star


The sexting generation

ven, 2015-03-06 10:09


For many young people, sexting has become almost commonplace (Image: Istockphoto)
by Shannon Palus, BSc’13

Being a kid has become a lot more complicated in an era of Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. One of the big, brand-new challenges: navigating a world of sexually explicit messages and pictures, or “sexting.” What’s the best way to handle initially innocent flirtations that can quickly get out of hand? Thanks to smartphones and selfie-sticks, intimate photographs can spread halfway around the school – and the world – with alarming speed. The fallout can be tragic. In extreme cases, incidents related to sexting have been linked to highly-publicized suicides.

Shaheen Shariff, an associate professor of integrated studies at McGill, is one of Canada’s leading experts on cyberbullying. She has shared her perspective with House of Commons committees examining cyberbullying legislation and is affiliated with the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. She is currently serving on an expert committee advising Quebec premier Philippe Couillard’s government on issues related to cyber-intimidation.

She leads a team of McGill researchers at Define the Line, a project that addresses the challenges of being a kid in a digital world, while examining public policy as it relates to cyberbullying and social media. Her new book, Sexting and Cyberbullying: Defining the Line for Digitally Empowered Kids, takes a nuanced look at why kids sext, what to do about it and why the laws being used to address sexting might be creating as many problems as they solve. The McGill News recently interviewed her about the book.


You originally intended for this to be an update to your 2009 book on cyberbullying. But you ended up writing a whole new book instead. What changed so dramatically in just half a decade?

A lot has changed. There was less awareness about sexting in 2009. It’s become almost commonplace now for kids to sext. I decided to focus the book on one aspect of cyberbullying rather than all of it.

In the introduction to your book, you mention that one of your doctoral students described sexting as almost a modern-day equivalent to young couples kissing in the backseat of a car at a drive-in.

Well, our research suggested that for kids between the ages of 9-12 and 13-17, [sexting] is often seen as a normalized activity. It gets more complicated, because within their social peer groups there are certain standards that have developed. For example, within a peer group it’s acceptable for a girl to send a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend. But if he breaches that trust and distributes it online, she is the one who gets blamed, not him. Suddenly, she is “slut-shamed” for doing it, supporting the scholarly literature on “slut-shaming” as being endemic in misogynist society, that also manifests among teens.

Fifty years ago, if you were kissing in the backseat of a car, it was just you and your boyfriend and the biggest risk was getting pregnant or getting caught. Whereas [with sexting], what happens is it’s a permanent record. It’s very difficult to get rid of it once it’s online, once it’s distributed, saved on people’s computers, retrieved and spread.

Legally, [social media sites] are considered to be distributors, not publishers, of this content, so they’re not legally obliged to take it down unless there’s a court order. The federal government’s Bill C-13 will allow the police to get a court order for social media sites to take [images and videos] down sooner.

Why do some young people distribute these images and videos?

The research we’ve done shows that when kids engage in sexting and the non-consensual distribution of images, they’re doing it to get attention within their peer groups. So, the criminal intent is often not there. They’re not [necessarily] doing it to hurt the other person. There is so much going on online – to get any kind of social attention and to entertain friends, kids have to be more and more outrageous as the norms and threshold for insults, sarcasm, sexism and misogyny have shifted to be more accepting of those forms of communication.

You talk about how child pornography laws are now being applied to cases of sexting. What are the factors behind that?

There are many unprecedented legal issues that emerged with sexting and cyberbullying. After the 2010 rape case in Maple Ridge [a 16-year-old girl was allegedly drugged and raped by several young men and images of the assault were posted online], the authorities started to use child pornography laws to address it. Child pornography laws were created to be applied against pedophiles who prey on children. The purpose of these laws is to protect children from being sexually exploited by adults.

But because there were no laws to address things like the distribution of rape videos or photographs taken [of children] by peers, the police started to apply child pornography laws in these instances. Anyone who is caught with these videos can be charged with possession of child pornography. That’s become common in the U.S., in Canada and even in England.

You have expressed concerns about applying these laws to cases involving young people and sexting.

What the courts in the U.S. have said is that it’s like fitting a square peg in a round hole. The laws were created to protect children and now they are being applied against children. Prosecuting alone is not the solution.

The solution is prevention. The solution is education and awareness and finding ways to get young people to understand why [sharing a private image] is most likely guaranteed to affect their reputation, and that they might be demeaned and publicly humiliated if the images are spread online. The one thing that my research has shown is that adults telling kids not to do this is not going to make any difference. You can’t be didactic about it. You’ve got to engage young people in the discussion.

Kids are very confused about intent, about consent, about ownership of online content. Should we really be putting kids in jail when they don’t realize that what they’re doing could get them in trouble?

When I testified at the House of Commons [about Bill C-13], I expressed my concerns that the bill might be overkill and that we also needed to have educational programs that made sense. I talked about how important it was to engage with kids on these issues. The only thing [the government] has addressed [with the bill] was the non-consensual distribution and giving the police more power to confiscate smartphones and computers.

How do you talk to young people about these issues?

One thing that we’ve done is engaged kids in developing video vignettes where they tell us how they would define the line in certain situations. We might give them a case study and ask them when does a situation cross the line from just joking to intentional harm. When does it become a criminal matter? We had some people come in from the National Film Board of Canada and they gave 25 kids [some training] in the morning on how to make these video vignettes and in the afternoon, the kids made some really impressive videos. It was only one day. If we could do something like that on a more long-term basis, maybe as a semester-long project, I could see kids coming up with some really amazing stuff.

You say that young people aren’t the only ones who are confused around these issues.

There is a real need for legal literacy. There’s very little legal literacy and knowledge or understanding among teachers in schools or among school administrators. What is criminal intent? What is consent? There needs to be development of courses at the teacher education level in universities, in teacher preparation programs and in professional development for teachers who are already in the system. Then also, we need to find ways of integrating legal literacy and critical media literacy for children in school curricula.

What can parents do to help their kids navigate these issues?

One example I give is about how you teach your kids to cross the road. You tell them to be careful and to look both ways because you can’t be with them all the time. You want them to carefully consider the dangers that might be coming before they cross.

It’s the same kind of thing when you teach your kids about what they post online. Tell them to really, really stop and take the time to consider what they are about to post. Could it get them in trouble? Could it get someone else in deep trouble?


A half-hour of extra sleep helps kids to be more alert and less moody

Young children are much better at lying than their parents realize


Seeds of Change is bearing fruit

mer, 2015-02-18 16:59

McGill students are interning with a health and conservation centre and mobile clinic in Uganda’s Kibale National Park, one of many projects supported by the Seeds of Change crowdfunding initiative.

by Megan Martin

Only six months after launching, McGill’s new Seeds of Change crowdfunding platform has resulted in 12 fully-funded projects, and brought in $271,387 from more than 1,000 individual gifts to McGill. Put simply – it’s off to a good start.

The Seeds of Change website provides a virtual space to connect entrepreneurial McGill students working on philanthropic projects with people in the greater McGill community who want to promote the kind of generosity and growth that Seeds of Change allows for.

One of the best aspects of the platform is that it’s completely centered on students. Any student who is working on a project that reflects the University’s principles and is philanthropic in nature is welcome to apply to have their initiative posted on the site to help raise awareness and support.

“We want the platform to be viewed as a tool for students who are investing their time and energy into initiatives that make a difference on campus and throughout the world,” says McGill Annual Fund officer Melissa Forster. “We’re here to provide support to efforts that are in line with McGill’s values and help these amazing students reach their goals.”

In many ways, Seeds of Change is a catalyst, granting exposure and helping students achieve the goals they’ve set out for their philanthropic projects. Moreover, by providing participating students with access to the dynamic online platform, they’re are able to post updates throughout the duration of their campaigns, so that donors can track progress in real time; the result is an uniquely interactive experience between donors and the groups running the projects.

To date, Seeds of Change has supported a broad range of initiatives. The platform has already successfully funded projects for experiential learning and entrepreneurial experiences, mental health and wellness, and initiatives aimed at acquiring much needed equipment for a variety of faculties. The benefits of many of these projects can be felt far beyond the McGill gates, extending into the Montreal community.

For instance, one of the very first successful crowdfunding initiatives was the Strategic Planning and Community Involvement Fund, which provides support, funding, and resources for McGill medical students and student groups seeking to engage in community-based initiatives.

“SPCI is set up with a dual mission of both improving the function of the Medical Students’ Society as a student governance body, as well as empowering students in leading community initiatives,” says second-year medical student Amy Huang, the co-president of the SPCI committee. “In the past, SPCI has funded several successful initiatives such as Vitamin Sports, which organizes weekly sessions for elementary school kids to get active and be engaged in sports, as well as the Save the Mothers Walk/Run, which held its inaugural event in Montreal last May to raise funds for improving maternal and child health in developing countries.”

This year, SPCI will be funding community projects like the Indigenous Human Rights Conference and Oral Health for Veterans. The SPCI committee  has also recently started a special projects fund which is used to support initiatives that have a more academic focus, such as Global Surgery Conference and Dean and Advocacy.

Another project with a presence both on campus and within Montreal is the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) McGill Chapter initiative, which is presently active on the crowdfunding site. EWB McGill consists of teams of students aiming to make the next generation of graduates a group of conscious consumers, informed voters, socially responsible professionals and most importantly, leaders for positive change within the community.

“We have been depending on the funds raised from Seeds of Change to cover the costs of sending our selected junior fellows overseas to gain priceless experience,” says Chloe Grison, a civil engineering student and EWB McGill’s vice-president of fundraising. “The crowd funding platform this year has broadcasted our message even further while raising awareness of our campaign and EWB McGill’s other work.”

In addition to its junior fellowship program, EWB McGill hopes to expand its outreach efforts in the coming years, including its fair trade team, which works to raise support for small scale farmers and producers, and their youth engagement initiative, which addresses social issues in Montreal high schools.

The crowdfunding platform also has a slew of other initiatives up, including the Kibale project, which supports McGill students interning with a health and conservation centre and mobile clinic in Uganda’s Kibale National Park.

Forster says the Seeds of Change crowdfunding initiative appeals to donors interested in supporting causes at the grass-roots level.

“Donors are now able to give through McGill to sponsor the projects that are closest to their hearts,” says Forster. “It’s a completely new way to support students.”

For more information, visit Seeds of Change.


A school for spies and saboteurs

mer, 2015-02-18 11:06
by Linda Sutherland

Evelyne Brochu (left) plays Aurora Luft, one of the lead characters in X Company, the CBC’s new Second World War adventure drama. The show’s co-creator, Stephanie Morgenstern, BA’88, says Luft is “a more gutsy version of me.”

As a successful TV producer and an accomplished screen, television and stage actor, Stephanie Morgenstern, BA’88, is at ease in front of the camera and behind it. But she readily admits that she will have first-night jitters when her latest television project –  X Company – premieres on CBC on February 18.

“I’m feeling really proud of the show, but I’ve got butterflies. You can never be sure how something will be received,” says Morgenstern, who co-created the series with her longtime collaborator – and husband – Mark Ellis. So far, the show is generating a lot of positive buzz. The Globe and Mail calls it “vastly entertaining.”

This is the second television series that Morgenstern and Ellis have created. Their first, a Toronto-based police drama called Flashpoint, ran for five seasons on CTV and CBS – it became the first Canadian TV drama set in Canada to air in prime time on an American network. The show earned a pile of prizes from the Canadian Screen Awards, including being named Best Dramatic TV Series in 2013.

Their new show is a World War II adventure drama that follows five highly skilled young recruits – Canadian, American and British – who have been trained at an elite international spy school that is modelled on the real-life Camp X, the first spy training facility in North America.

A top secret paramilitary and commando training installation, located on a farm near Whitby, Ontario, Camp X was established in 1941 through the cooperative efforts of the Canadian government and the British Security Coordination (BSC), headed up by spymaster extraordinaire, Sir William Stevenson.

A Canadian from Winnipeg, Stevenson was the real-life inspiration for the character of James Bond (007 author Ian Fleming was rumoured to have been a trainee at Camp X), and a close confidant of British prime minister Winston Churchill, who instructed him to create “the clenched fist that provides the knockout blow” to the Axis powers. Camp X was one punch of that fist.

“The show is set at the point in the war where Hitler’s forces were dominating Western Europe, and there was a real fear that they would prevail,” says Morgenstern. “The Allies knew that conventional warfare alone would not be enough for victory over the Nazi regime.  What they needed were secret agents, who could be dropped into enemy territory to gather intelligence, organize the resistance, and cause chaos through any means possible.”

Camp X opened on December 6, 1941, one day before the U.S. was forced into the war by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. This established it as not just an espionage boot camp for Britain, the U.S. and Canada, but also as a key international intelligence hub. So comprehensive and effective were its programs that Camp X became the secret training ground for agents from the FBI and the Office of Strategic Services (a predecessor of the CIA).

Like the more than 500 men and women who trained at Camp X, the five agents in X Company are proficient in a wide range of espionage activities, from sabotage, subversion, and surveillance, to burglary, interrogation, close combat, and assassination. We follow them as they parachute behind enemy lines, risking capture, torture and execution as they engineer one dangerous operation after another.

X Company‘s Alfred Graves has synesthesia, a brain condition he shares with his co-creator, Morgenstern.

Much of the action centers around Alfred Graves, a vulnerable young man with synesthesia, a brain condition that cross-wires his senses. This gives him a virtually infinite memory, which proves to be a powerful secret weapon in his line of business. “In creating the character of Alfred, I wanted to explore how someone with such extreme sensual awareness could function in a stressful environment like that of Camp X,” says Morgenstern, who, a number of years ago, discovered – quite by accident – that she has a certain type of synesthesia.

Morgenstern’s interest in exploring her characters’ emotional dimensions comes naturally; her father, Gert Morgenstern, BSc’54, MDCM’58, DipPsych’65,is a highly respected child psychiatrist who studied under Jean Piaget and practiced at McGill’s Douglas Mental Health University Institute for more than 20 years.

Fighting at Alfred’s side is Aurora Luft, the show’s fierce and feisty female protagonist, who, like Morgenstern, is half Jewish-German, half French Canadian.  “I think of Aurora as being a more gutsy version of me.”

Morgenstern is certainly no shrinking violet, especially when it comes to pursuing her dreams. At the age 12 she was already involved in acting. “I was part of a children’s theatre troupe, and we wrote and scored our own plays. It was a very empowering experience – realizing that words and music could come from me,” she recalled.

By the time she attended McGill, where she majored in English, taking film and German electives, Morgenstern was juggling her classes with work on French and English television. “Among the professors whose ideas influenced me were Paisley Livingston and Michael Bristol. Their courses focused on popular culture, and – as someone involved in the entertainment industry – I was very interested in investigating the underlying theory.”

Over the years, Morgenstern has appeared in films by some of Canada’s most accomplished directors. She played Alison in Atom Egoyan’s Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter and Claire, a neurotic Norwegian grad student, in Denis Villeneuve’s Maelström. On stage, Morgenstern has played ingénues and leading ladies at the Stratford Festival, the Théâtre Français de Toronto, and the Globe Theatre in Calgary.

As a filmmaker, Morgenstern has twice been nominated for a Genie Award, first for directing the short film Remembrance (on which X Company is based), which she co-wrote and co-starred in with Mark Ellis, and the other for co-directing (with her brother Mark Morgenstern) the short film Curtains/Rideaux, which she also wrote and played the lead in.

Was she ever tempted to head south of the border after Flashpoint was picked up by a US television network? “No, not at all. I don’t consider working in Canada as a stepping stone to Hollywood,” says Morgenstern. “What we have produced here has the potential of selling in the U.S., but it has a uniquely Canadian perspective – one that sets us apart. I’m proud of that.”



The professor provocateur

lun, 2015-02-16 14:53

Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies Henry Mintzberg (Photo: Owen Egan)

by Andrew Mullins

“Communism is the exploitation of man by man,” writes Henry Mintzberg, BEng’61, in his new book, Rebalancing Society, turning an old joke on its head: “Capitalism is the opposite.”

McGill’s Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies in the Desautels Faculty of Management, Mintzberg is one of the most highly regarded experts in his field and he has a long list of accolades to prove it – 15 honorary degrees, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association and the distinction of being the first scholar specializing in management studies to be named a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. That said, he’s always been something of an iconoclast as well – he is a frequent critic of MBA programs and management education, and delights in lampooning the cult of corporate leadership.

Now in this latest work ­– subtitled “Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right and Center” – he’s taking on a society that he says has been thrown out of balance, a crisis driven largely by unchecked capitalism and one which he argues is degrading our environment, our democracies and ourselves.

The book began life as a free e-pamphlet, published much in the spirit of the polemical pamphleteers of revolutionary America and France. While Mintzberg is not calling for revolution, from the opening pages, it’s clear he is not pleased with the state of our world.

“Enough of the pendulum politics of left and right,” he writes. “Enough of the economic globalization that undermines sovereign states and local communities.” There’s a sense that it’s a frustration that has been building over decades, and the book flags a historic milestone as a symbolic tipping point for what’s led us to our current state.

When the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, those hammer strokes meant freedom to the people of East Germany and the rapid collapse of communism. Some claimed they signalled the ultimate triumph of capitalism as well. Not so fast, says Mintzberg.

“Capitalism is not good because communism proved bad. Carried to their dogmatic limits, both are fatally flawed.”

He argues that we are reaching that limit with the system of “predatory capitalism” that has steadily flourished since 1989 and is now hijacking democracy.

Who’s to blame? Mintzberg’s vision is severe as he lays out a chronicle of widespread political corruption and a system of legally sanctioned bribery driven by lobbyists, corporate social and environmental irresponsibility, emasculated government that has lost the faith of the people, and a meek populace that acts mostly out of self-interest.

Do universities shoulder any responsibility, having educated many of those who are rigging the game? “A university degree is no guarantee of ethics,” he says, even if one tries to teach ethical behaviour.

“Every school is doing it, but they think if they introduce a class in corporate social responsibility that everybody’s going to become responsible. I think that’s naïve.”

Mintzberg instead lays out the path forward through what he dubs the “plural sector” – a label used to complement “public” and “private” sectors, not just because of the logical and alliterative punch it provides, but to brush away the fuzziness of terms like “third sector” or “civil society”.

The plural sector mostly gets hidden in plain sight, the oft-forgotten wallflower of today’s political discourse. But it’s made up of a sprawling and potentially powerful network of NGOs, foundations, co-ops, unions, universities, hospitals, small community groups, and broader grassroots and global movements for social change.

For Mintzberg, it is one of three essential pillars of a rebalanced society that includes a reimagined government whose role is respected rather than denigrated, and a vibrant private sector that is not ruled by corporate avarice and the day-trading whims of shareholders.

The radical renewal he calls for must begin in this plural sector, through social movements that challenge destructive practices, “the entitlements that lie behind these practices, and the dogma used to justify these practices.” To rebalance society, he says, these targeted social movements need to steer our governments back on track.

“Governments aren’t going to do it, businesses aren’t going to do it, and people are going to have to wake up if they care about their kids and their grandchildren,” Mintzberg says.

Where to start setting things right when so much seems wrong can appear overwhelming. One finance manager friend of Mintzberg’s certainly feels that way, leading to what he calls “the Irene question”: what can I do?

The answer is a lot. You can start by changing your own behaviour: look past personal entitlements, says Mintzberg, help a neighbour, join a community group.

Others may be able to effect change working from a broader base, like Dr. Joanne Liu, MDCM’91, IMHL’14. Liu is a graduate of Mintzberg’s International Master’s in Health Leadership program and now head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) worldwide – thanks in part to the IMHL program, whose students helped build her leadership campaign. Liu and MSF were leading voices in the recent Ebola crisis, sounding the alarm against initial government inaction.

In addition to the important role such NGOs have to play, Mintzberg calls for “slingshot movements” to challenge the private sector and global corporations when they behave badly.

“David didn’t picket Goliath. Or write articles saying we really must do something about these giants. He brought down one giant.”

“I think we have to find intolerable behaviour and bring it down. And the way to bring it down is, for example, a total boycott on anything to do with that company. You do that a couple times and watch behaviours change rather dramatically.”

Another such slingshot attack Mintzberg cites is the case of Brazil taking on pharmaceutical companies over the exorbitant cost of HIV medications by threatening to break patents and manufacture the drugs themselves. Eventually the World Trade Organization conceded members should not be prevented by intellectual property rights from protecting public health. The UN Commission on Human Rights also sided with Brazil, unanimously agreeing that access to AIDS drugs were a human right, with only the U.S. abstaining from the vote.

Mintzberg has recently become active on Twitter and writes a blog that continues to explore aspects of the book and what he calls the Big Question: “How to consolidate the disparate efforts of the plural sector into a movement for radical renewal?” Next up is a MOOC he is preparing for Fall 2015 as part of McGillX called “Social Learning for Social Impact” that is intended to inspire more initiatives for social change.

He is modest about his influence but says even corporate culture is starting to pay attention. “I don’t get through to the mainstream, I’ve never been mainstream.  But I think there are a lot of people who appreciate my work – chief executives who approach me to say I really like what you’re doing.”

“I’m the tortoise against the hare. I think my stuff is gaining ground, but there’s an awful long way to go.”


Rebalancing Society and the original e-pamphlet are available through www.mintzberg.org. Follow Henry Mintzberg on Twitter @Mintzberg141.

For more information on the Social Learning for Social Impact MOOC, see the program site.


Exploring civil disobedience on the Internet

ven, 2015-02-13 16:11
by Andrew Mahon

McGill doctoral student Molly Sauter’s new book examines the use of denial-of-service actions as a form of political activism (Photo: Owen Egan)

Molly Sauter recalls the family car trips of her youth and her younger brother’s habit of getting attention by saying, over and over again, “Hey Molly! Hey Molly! Hey Molly!”

“That’s a denial-of-service action,” explains Sauter, a doctoral student in McGill’s communication studies program whose research focuses on hacker culture, digital activism, and depictions of technology in the media. “In this instance, the younger sibling plays the part of a computer program targeting me (a website) over and over again until I can’t stand it and am unable to carry on conversations with others in the car. When you have several siblings doing this simultaneously, it becomes a Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS.”

The action of targeting computer servers or websites with multiple requests until an online service is disrupted and rendered inoperable is not new (it will be readily identified by Star Trek devotees as a tactic employed by Kirk and Spock to defeat an android/server named Norman).

“DDoS is a tool,” says Sauter, “and, as such, it can be used for extortion, harassment and censorship. There are no ethical safeguards built into the tactic.”

It’s also illegal. Participating in DDoS actions in Canada can lead to stiff fines and/or prison terms.  For Sauter, it’s the history and practice of DDoS as a tool of political activism which is intriguing and forms the basis of a recent book based on her research, The Coming Swarm: DDoS, Hactivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet.

Sauter’s formal introduction to DDoS began in 2010 while she was a research assistant at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.  It was just after the granddaddy of DDoS actions: Operation Payback.  The Operation Payback chain of events went like this: WikiLeaks (along with a number of newspapers) began releasing classified documents originating from the U.S. Department of Defense; a number of financial institutions (including PayPal) then stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks; the loose-knit activist and hacker group, Anonymous, subsequently got involved and launched a number of DDoS actions against multiple websites including VISA, Paypal and Amazon.com.

“My boss told me it was my job to figure out just what was going on and how it happened,” says Sauter. “For me, that’s when DDoS got interesting.”

The history of DDoS spans at least two decades and the list of DDoSers includes individuals, groups, and governments. One of the first instances was the Strano Network Net Strike in 1995 which involved an Italian activist group (Strano) attacking the website of a French nuclear power company.  Since then there have been many DDoS actions against diverse targets including the online host of a Basque publication (in 1997), the World Trade Organization (WTO) websites during the globalization protests in 1999, and Lufthansa’s website homepage in 2001 (because of the airline’s role in the transportation of deported immigrants from Germany).

The common thread in these actions is the intentional disruption of commerce or business activities, a necessary and contentious facet of DDoS.

“People don’t like being disrupted,” says Sauter. “That’s understandable but it’s also what makes the tactic effective and powerful.”

Though DDoS is relatively novel, Sauter contends that its use as a tactic of civil disobedience fits within a centuries-long tradition of breaking laws and disrupting “business as usual” to make a point. It’s a tradition which includes the U.S. Civil Rights movement, anti-Vietnam War protests and even the Suffragette movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.

“If you compare some DDoS actions with tactics employed by Suffragettes, the reactions are not that different,” say Sauter. “One Suffragette in England interrupted the Epsom Derby by trying to attach a flag to a horse belonging to King George V. In the U.S., women chained themselves to the railings of the White House. Many people did not understand why women were doing these things, but Suffragettes engaged in those disruptive actions because they did not have a voice.”

In the same way, DDoS is often employed because it’s viewed as the only way to get an issue on the public agenda.  And, as with traditional acts of civil disobedience, DDoS actions are often accompanied by a larger campaign of activities (videos, social media, public relations, traditional protests etc.).

As for the future of DDoS, Sauter believes the tactic has a limited role and probably a limited lifespan.

“This will stay a fringe tactic because it’s illegal,” she says.  “I think DDoS will decline in popularity as a political tactic, but I believe it will remain as a low bar of entry for participation in political action online and civil disobedience.”


Uncovering the many faces of Anonymous


Windows to the past

ven, 2015-02-13 13:05
by Linda Sutherland

McGill’s Hosmer Collection of pre-modern stained glass windows is the largest of its kind in Canada and the subject of a new book published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. (Photo: Owen Egan)

A new, lavishly illustrated book, The Stained Glass of the Hosmer Collection, McGill University, sheds light on one of McGill’s artistic treasures – a priceless collection of antique stained glass that is displayed in the Macdonald-Harrington Building, home to the School of Architecture and the School of Urban Planning.

The catalogue raisonné is the culmination of 39 years of scholarship by co-authors Ariane Isler-De Jongh and James Bugslag, and the first of three volumes exploring the history of stained glass in Canada. It is both an academic treatise on this important collection – the largest grouping of medieval stained glass in Canada – and a fascinating piece of scholarly detective work on the provenance of each of the 39 small-scale hand-painted medallions, most dating back the 16th and 17th centuries.

“King Herod and the Magi” dates back to the mid-17th century (Photo: Owen Egan)

“It is fitting that the Hosmer Collection should have found a home in a [School] of Architecture, since stained glass is a quintessentially architectural art – made to be installed in buildings,” said Bugslag, one of Canada’s most respected stained glass experts.

Originally created by various glass painters in present-day Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, the works were removed from their original locations towards the end of the 18th century, when a revived interest in decorative stained glass created a new market for them. Many were acquired by dealers and sold to wealthy art lovers. By the end of the 19th century this practice had crossed the Atlantic, where it became fashionable for architects to install antique glass in the homes of prosperous nouveaux riches clients.

The stained glass works in the Hosmer Collection were purchased from a London art dealer by Edward Maxwell, one of Canada’s most renowned architects, who, in partnership with his brother William, was responsible for such Montreal landmarks as Windsor Station and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  The Maxwell brothers also designed more than 30 magnificent mansions in the city’s most elite enclave of the time – the Golden Square Mile.

In 1901, Maxwell installed the works of stained glass in the mansion he built for Charles Rudolph Hosmer, one of the wealthiest inhabitants of this prestigious residential area. With its early Renaissance style exterior, made from imported red sandstone, and its sumptuously decorated interior, Hosmer House – located at 3630 upper Drummond St. (now Promenade Sir William Osler) – was considered the most flamboyant of the Maxwells’ grand city mansions, and a particularly ostentatious example of the style made fashionable by the Billionaire District of New York during the 1890s.

The centerpiece of the home’s Gothic-style dining room was a large triple window with transom featuring leaded glass into which some of the antique glass roundels had been placed. The remaining pieces of glass were incorporated into three windows overlooking the grand staircase.

Following Hosmer’s death in 1927, the mansion remained in the family until 1969, when it was bequeathed to McGill. Its formerly grand and lavishly decorated interiors were emptied and converted into classrooms for the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy. The windows in the dining room and staircase remained in place, largely because their value was by then long forgotten.

It was only in 1976 that the historical and artistic significance of this pre-modern stained glass was recognized. The discovery – initially met with skepticism – was made by Ariane Isler-de Jongh, a graduate student in art history at l’Université de Montréal, when she was touring Hosmer House with the Women Associates of McGill.

“The Resurrection of Christ” from the early 17th century (Photo: Owen Egan)

When her findings – which provide the scholarly foundation for this book – were made public two years later, an article in the McGill Reporter (25 January 1978) stated that: “the 39 medallions [were] apparently unnoticed for at least 75 years before someone pointed out that they were not just a conventional assortment of old coloured pieces of glass.”

Following their discovery, concern over the panels’ security was raised and they were removed for safekeeping. In 1987, after being conserved and restored, the glass panels were installed in various locations on the second, third and fourth floors of the Macdonald-Harrington Building. The most impressive of these is at the end of a third floor corridor, where the dining room window from Hosmer House is displayed in a back-lit cabinet.

“Art means a great deal to many of us at McGill,” says Wendy Owens, the director of McGill’s Visual Arts Collection. “Instead of being housed in a museum, this unique stained glass collection and the University’s thousands of art works – including paintings, prints, sculpture and drawings – are displayed across our two campuses, where they can be easily seen and appreciated by students, staff, alumni and visitors. McGill is a museum without walls.”








McGill’s public art collection is a feast for the eyes

Discover the McGill buildings that never were


A tale of two James McGills

jeu, 2015-02-12 16:23
by Andrew Mahon

Our James McGill

The name James McGill is synonymous with the famous trader, pioneer and philanthropist whose vision led to the creation of McGill University in 1821. However, the premiere of the Breaking Bad spin-off series, Better Call Saul — which became the highest-rated cable debut in US TV history featured another, somewhat less distinguished James “Jimmy” McGill (aka Saul Goodman).  In the interests of avoiding any confusion between the two McGills, we thought we’d offer our readers these useful tips to help them tell the two apart.

James McGill

Displayed a lifelong love of new ideas and studied at Glasgow University although he left university without completing a degree (likely due to his family’s poor fortunes).

James “Jimmy” McGill

Displayed a master of arts degree in political science from the University of American Samoa (an institution which does not exist).

James McGill

Established himself in North America and entered the rough-and-tumble world of the fur trade.

James “Jimmy” McGill

Established himself in a strip mall and entered the rough-and-tumble world of criminal law.

James McGill

Spent several years in almost constant danger, navigating the rivers and lakes of the Great Lakes frontier.

James “Jimmy” McGill

Spent several years in almost constant danger, navigating the drug dealers and kingpins of the criminal underworld.

James McGill

Settled in Montreal, Canada.

James “Jimmy” McGill

Settled in Omaha, Nebraska.

James McGill

He was a volunteer colonel with the Montreal militia, he led the defense of Montreal during the War of 1812. He served as a city magistrate for many years, making him part of a council that was the de facto government of Montreal at the time. He was also a member of a committee that reported on the need for a Legislative Assembly for the colony of Lower Canada, to which he would be elected three times.

James “Jimmy” McGill

He was a Cinnabon manager.

James McGill

His legacy was a bequest to the Royal Institute for the Advancement of Learning (RIAL) for the founding of a college which became the governing body for McGill College, which was officially established in 1821.

James “Jimmy” McGill

James “Jimmy” McGill

His legacy was a loan-out corporation called Ice Station Zebra Associates which was “totally legit.”

James McGill

Famous motto: Grandescunt Aucta Labore

(By work, all things increase and grow)

James “Jimmy” McGill

Famous motto: “Better call Saul!”

(Better call Saul!)



Make-believe McGillians: Meet some fictitious McGill grads who have turned up in books, on TV and in film.


How rethinking the food chain can thwart Ebola

mer, 2015-02-04 13:30
by Louise Fabiani, BSc’80

One of the factors involved in the spread of the deadly Ebola virus is its ability to move from one species to another (Image: Istockphoto)

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 60 per cent of all human pathogens can be classified as zoonoses: bacteria, viruses, and other parasites that are transmitted from nonhuman animals to people. These include common childhood diseases like measles and chicken pox, as well as anthrax, rabies, SARS, malaria, toxoplasmosis, and TB. Furthermore, zoonoses comprise 75 per cent of all emerging infections. West Nile virus, Lyme Disease, and HIV are some infamous examples.

According to recent research, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has caused almost 9,000 deaths so far, might have originated with insect-eating bats in Guinea. Scientists have long speculated that bats serve as Ebola’s reservoir—that is, the animal that maintains the virus in the ecosystem—with the disease spreading from reservoir (e.g., bat) to intermediary host (e.g., chimpanzee) to humans.

There is no doubt about the link between the deadly virus and indigenous wildlife, especially the nonhuman primates that are hunted in many African countries. The epidemiology of Ebola, like so many zoonoses, tells a complex tale of poverty, ravaged forests, slaughtered wildlife, insufficient health care, and tremendous misinformation.

Colin Chapman, McGill’s Canada Research Chair in Primate Ecology and Conservation, studies zoonoses and ecosystem health in Africa. His focus is on the great apes and monkeys of Uganda’s Kibale National Park, where he has worked for the past 25 years. In addition to his research projects with nonhuman primates, he has set up a clinic that is funded by McGill students and a mobile clinic (a modified ambulance shipped from Canada) that travels around the park. The best way to stop the spread of Ebola, he says, no matter where it arises, is to use mobile clinics to treat affected patients in their villages. The key is “diagnosing those people early, and thus containing the disease at the boundaries of parks, rather than having people getting [it and] saying, ‘I’m sick, I have to go to the capital city.’” Once infected individuals enter high-density areas, the virus has a much easier time finding new victims.

Screening at airports may make foreigners feel better, but it has little proven benefit.

To prevent the next pandemic, what’s desperately needed is the “one health” system Chapman espouses: “the health of people, the environment, and animals” studied together.

In this highly specialized world, it is a formidable challenge to coordinate seemingly disparate disciplines—including biology, anthropology, epidemiology, and virology—for a common cause, let alone to promote the idea that the human realm and the natural one are contiguous. But it has to be part of the next paradigm shift.

Chapman said that merely “reacting” to each crisis then “fixing” the transmission route will never work in the longer term. We need a predictive model, one that nips the problem in the bud, or prevents it from happening in the first place. That means employing ecological principles, as he outlined in a 2014 paper in Evolutionary Applications. Local people can be part of the ecosystem, not unnatural impositions on it.

At the same time, they also unwittingly tear the food web, allowing animal diseases to jump the species barrier previously kept in check by impenetrable forests or relatively low human population. The chain of Ebola transmission can start when someone handles fresh bushmeat (wild animals killed for human consumption), primarily local chimpanzees, which also get sick and die from the virus. Among Africans, bushmeat is more a cultural commodity than a source of sustenance, perhaps explaining its continued appeal to emigrants. It is exported—in tons annually—to places like Paris and New York, as luxury meat for expats. So we have “the legitimate right to close it down” says Chapman. “It’s… eaten by the rich: …people [who] don’t need the protein.”

Chapman warns that Ebola and related zoonoses will continue to flare up unless we address this issue.

The good news, says Chapman, is that the 2014 epidemic is making us more aware of the extent of the bushmeat trade. It is also forcing us to take emerging diseases more seriously.

Although we will eventually contain this outbreak, “it’s going to erupt again,” he says. “Let’s use this as a warning.”