What we have learned from Massey’s virtual events over the last 14 months – A Reflection
The Massey Dialogues were designed to create a space for intergenerational and interdisciplinary conversations on current issues. They also allowed us to meet new members of the community: Dr. Sunit Das, Phil Fontaine, Kumar Murty, Dr. Dianne Saxe, Dr. Juna Kollmeyer, Randy Boyagoda and Steve Paikin, among others.
The present overview summarizes what we heard during the last year, as our world struggled with so many issues: the impact of the pandemic, Anti-Black racism, residential schools and their impact on Indigenous communities, climate change, and on-going difficult issues for our democracy and international relations. The Massey program is about our continuous desire to be curious about the world, and to have access to new research and new perspectives. It also aims to celebrate books, art and music. I hope that you will enjoy this smorgasbord of ideas and perspectives that reflects a year of turmoil all around us.
Click on the heading to read about each virtual series and highlights from some of our guest speakers.
Needless to say, the Massey Dialogues looked at the pandemic and its myriad influences in our lives. We discussed a new strategy for global health, global health priority setting Dr. James Orbinski, Dr. Peter Singer and Dr. Joanne Liu, the reorganization necessary to ensure adequate supplies of protective devices, the pandemic’s impact on the economy, the transformation of work, the gig economy, racialized communities and the most vulnerable. We discussed the impact of COVID on international relations – foreign and defense policies with Margaret Biggs and Rosemary McCarney. We discussed long-term care and the need for change, the impact on learning, on the arts and the opportunities to implement basic income. We continued to learn about the “long” COVID health-wise and financially as well – we know that COVID will be with us for a long time.
COVID will have defined our time and as we continuing to learn and understand the transformative impact of a pandemic, one thing is certain – science matters. The Massey community, with its wealth of academic research and its long pedigree of journalistic excellence, was, and continues to be, ready to serve. Many community members were at the forefront of the work and shared the way in which COVID transformed the way medicine is delivered, how virtual medicine is here to stay, and the way in which health data is shared – we discussed the governance and privacy concerns with this transformation.
Looking back at our series discussing COVID, I am struck at how in the spring of 2020, we were optimistic about our ability to use the pandemic as an opportunity for meaningful change. That optimism diminished throughout the year and although there is still a desire to “build back better,” we are feeling the heavy burden of a year of disappointments. I am also more convinced than ever that interdisciplinarity is central to human progress. Medical advances about longevity must be accompanied by housing and social support investment and public health and public policy should be forever intertwined.
Vaccination and herd immunity may lift us, but we know that around the world, it will take some time. More time than some of us thought.
Conversations about the pandemic exposed deep fractures in our society such as systemic discrimination like racism and ageism which cost many lives. As the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson said, “When I saw these revelations of the long-term care home, about the neglect, about personal service workers having to have two jobs because they weren’t paid enough, it made me feel ghastly. We cannot have public personal support workers being paid minimum wages, it is exploitation of newcomers to the country and it is unfair and not right. When you have economic injustice, everything follows from that and women have suffered from that more than anything.” We also discussed the impact of the pandemic on persons with disabilities and the way in which their struggles were often forgotten, as well as the gendered dimensions of at home schooling and the “she-cession” that affects women’s work opportunities.
The Press Club discussed COVID’s implications for the media – it is a highly precarious time for journalism as we’ve known, but one that also offers opportunities. Will journalists emerge from the pandemic battle-hardened or worn down? Has the long period of working from home helped or harmed the value of traditional newsrooms? What is sacrificed when journalists can’t be at the scene of an event, and what workarounds are acceptable? What effect will the pandemic have on efforts to make news organizations more diverse, and on the rise of independent journalism?
The public policy challenges are huge, we will continue to discuss the issues of recovery for years to come: investments, social and economic change, workplace adaptation, deficits, poverty alleviation, bankruptcies, there is no shortage of subjects to study and debate in 2021-2022.
On March 31, 2020 we began Massey Dialogues with a discussion of anti-Black racism and policing. That was before George Floyds’ murder, and it serves as a reminder that all the signs were there.
Our conversation about anti Black-racism continued throughout the year. We looked at what was happening at Massey itself, and in the higher education world. From the history of anti-Black racism to being Black in politics, and on racism and resistance in the arts scene. The messages were clear: the time for action is now.
Excerpts from the conversations:
It is very poignant to listen to Former AFN Chief Phil Fontaine’s views on reconciliation with Junior Fellow Mia McKie and Senior Fellow Bob Rae, in light of current events. Such wisdom about the challenges ahead as they exchanged views on a roadmap toward reconciliation, the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ role as a founding people of Canada, the repeal of the Indian Act, respect for treaties, the creativity necessary to ensure autonomy of Indigenous Nations and respect for their political and legal systems, particularly in the context of resource development.
On November 11th, we looked at the relationship between Indigenous communities and the military, a fascinating conversation about a long history of heroism and transformation.
Through our partnership with the Mississaugas of the Credit, we also organized a week of discussions on Indigenous issues. The week was an occasion to reflect on the struggles of Indigenous Peoples throughout Canadian history. We heard from Jeannette Corbiere Lavell who challenged the gender discrimination in the Indian Act and brought her legal case all the way to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. We heard from her daughter, Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Ontario Native Women’s Association who continues to work on remedying the legacy of gender discrimination under the Indian Act. Christa Big Canoe described the work of the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. “A challenge to all Canadians is to listen to the stories or read the reports, to learn – at a minimum – specific calls to justice because those are the foundational pieces to build understanding and work towards reconciliation. Until we do that, we’re not actually a country or society that has the interests of every member on its mind and not upholding their human rights,” said Christa Big Canoe.
Ceda Turan and Senior Fellow Peter Russell described the process of treaty-making designed to trick Indigenous communities into conceding lands so that they could be cheaply acquired. Chief Commissioner Celeste Haldane of the BC Treaty Commission described the process of modern treaty-making which seeks to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People through more respectful means. We discussed Indigenous policing and the instalment of “peacekeepers” from the community to assist with law enforcement in accordance with Indigenous laws with Chief Stacey LaForme from the Mississaugas of the Credit. Retired Justice Harry Laforme explained how difficult the current arrangements are as they prevent enforcement of Indigenous by-laws. Junior Fellow James Bird talked about the future, “The way forward is difficult within the existing systems. But it is possible with widely available access to information and the willingness of other Canadians to learn the history and treasure the contributions that Indigenous people can bring to Canada.” We also had the chance to discuss Metis rights with the President of the Ontario Metis Association Margaret Froh, Professor Signa Daum Shanks and Metis Alum Kia Dunn.
Being comfortable and being accurate when talking about the past is a great obligation,” Dr. Signa Daum Shanks.
We looked at a beautiful virtual tour of the Chapel Royal with an explanation of its significance. We also had the opportunity to listen as part of the Chapel Royal Symposium to the enchanting music of Moe Clark.
Thanks to Ambassador Rosemary McCarney and Dr. Dianne Saxe, we prepared for COP-26, the international meeting on climate change that was supposed to take place in November 2020 and was postponed to this year. The Massey program on climate change was extraordinary: we heard from attendants to past international meetings, Ministers, scientists, musicians and artists, Black activists, curators, and ambassadors and activists. There was a simulation of negotiations for climate change and an examination of artifacts at the ROM that speak to climate change.
Here are some highlights:
On Canada, we discussed the role of the new Ambassador to the United Nations, Senior Fellow Bob Rae, with Junior Fellow Keshna Sood. We expressed our concern about the impact of social media on the operation of (Canadian) democracy; had a conversation with the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin about justice during the pandemic; had an analysis of the state of the media; and debated the issue of freedom of expression with John Ralston Saul, Haroon Siddiqui and Junior Fellow Jona Zyfi. We also discussed Canada’s linguistics regimes and Canada’s diversified Arab population. Thanks to Tom Axworthy, we had a very thoughtful discussion on water security.
The fabulous Series on the Arctic led us to recognize how the Arctic, at the forefront of climate change as it is, is also a place of tension and innovation on international relationships. I want to thank Rosemary McCarney and Tom Axworthy for the very rich and in-depth discussion of this issue. I also want to thank Michael Valpy for bringing us Nunavut’s response to COVID.
We also held a special series on Cities discussing their role in our constitutional framework.
International issues and relations were also addressed: we were fortunate to review Canada’s emerging relationship with the US and President Biden and Canada and China’s relationship in higher education. Senior Fellow Nurjehan Mawani discussed the voices of women in Afghanistan and we looked at a very special photography exhibition for the anniversary of the Dayton Accord on Bosnia.
Here are some tweetable moments:
And then, Massey continued to be curious about the world: we were curious about old water on the moon which may help explain the possibility of life, explorations of the cosmos the social relationships of snakes; and the convergence and divergences of world philosophy; looked back at radio programming about ideas; and brain injuries in sports – how we know what to do but continue to tolerate violence in sports.
We held a Book Club Gala with Margaret Atwood and our 2020 Jack McClelland Writer-in-Residence Susan Swan. We launched a new series called “Massey Loves to Read” which allowed us to celebrate books written by community members, public policy books about health policy, equalization, the future of democracy and Canadians around the Globe, as well as fiction. We reread Fifth Business, learned about the policing of Black Lives and listened to music, music composed by our Junior Fellows and alumni and fabulous international journeys of music through the Indigo Project.
A few tweetables:
Science and Curiosities
We also held a Series on Ethics co-directed this year by Tom Axworthy, Senior Fellow at Massey, and Don Gibson, a United Church Minister, expert in organizing ethics roundtables. The Series sought to engage the Massey community in a discussion of practical ethical decisions. The format was a single panel expert, knowledgeable about ethical frameworks, in dialogue with additional panel members (decision-makers and activists). Discussions centred around how ethics informs their approach to real-life experiences.
The Series, which drew on the Principal’s Installation theme, The Ethics of Community, featured: Indigenous Scholar Tracey Lindberg, late disability activist Christine Karcza, Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch, philosophy professor Daniel Weinstock and scientist Molly Soichet.
In 2020 -2021, four sessions were organized:
While it is difficult to summarize such rich discussions over many months across several ethical issue areas but several themes did emerge for these focused events:
Thank you to our many volunteers. Particularly those who have led our series this last year.
I also want to thank all the speakers that contributed over the course of the year to the Junior Fellow Lecture Series: Adan Moran MacDonald, Rushay Naik, Cam Calindo, Sam Minden, Maeve Palmer, Shane Saunderson, Liz Cunningham, Seshu Iyengar, Jenna McKellips, Sam Minden, Monica Jean Henderson, Julian Posada, Gavia Lertzman-Lepofsky, Martine Lokken, Paul Chen, Maddy DeWelles, Stephanie Bertolo, Sourojeet Chakraborty, Keshna Sood, Anne-Marie Fowler, Sumner Alperin, Avnee Paranjape, Keith Gerein (Journalism Fellow) and Aaron Wendland (Visiting Scholar). A very special thank you to coordinators Anne-Marie Fowler and Christine Tran for organizing and facilitating!
I’ve mentioned only a fraction of what we have accomplished this year – we couldn’t have done it without you and it has been my pleasure to collaborate with so many of you.
I am proud of our community and how we have come together online in spite of this pandemic to nourish learning and serve the public good. We continue to look forward to when we are once again able to gather together safely, in the meantime it is my hope that we have kept you engaged and informed throughout these difficult times. Massey continues to be where people and ideas intersect because of you.