Terror in a peaceful time

The world isn’t becoming more dangerous. It just seems like it.

The world isn’t becoming more dangerous. It just seems like it.

It’s been over thirteen years since terrorism made its way into the public consciousness through the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Yet, despite tightened security, increased antipathy towards Muslims, and years of war and torture, the slew of recent terrorist activity makes it seem like the West’s attempt to subdue extremist militant behaviour has only served to alter the nature of terrorist activity. Instead of methodical, large-scale attacks, over the past year we’ve seen a rise in guerilla-like, small-scale attacks using any means necessary.

Just last week: Boko Haram used a 10-year-old girl as a suicide bomber, killing up to 20 people in a crowded Nigerian market and massacred two thousand more; two brothers claiming to work for al-Qaida attacked the Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, while a third person murdered a police woman and took several hostages and killed four in a kosher market.

According to Prime Minister Steven Harper, it’s clear that “[t]he international jihadist movement has declared war. They have declared war on anybody who does not think and act exactly as they wish they would think and act.”

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Some Thoughts on Some Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

Photo credit: wallonews.com

The recent terror attacks in France have, apparently, opened the floodgates for opinions from both sides of the political spectrum on the values and risks of freedom of speech. Across countries and continents, Twitter trolls and Facebook stalkers alike have begun to self-identify as either a French cartoonist, or not-a-French-cartoonist. I find the whole exercise extremely unnerving given the timing, which is why I’m writing this to present a third option to this debate, though admittedly, one which lacks the je-ne-sais-quoi of a trendy hashtag.

Many publications seem to be suggesting that freedom of speech should have some limits when the offence or harm done to individuals so strongly outweighs the validity or purpose of the written or spoken material. The argument is that when an image or statement is inherently hurtful to a particular group, it shouldn’t be allowed only because freedom of speech exists. Without some additional purpose or validity to the offending material, perhaps it is preferable to not antagonize a population by publishing it. This argument has a lot of validity, especially when we consider that many materials that do offend in such a matter are already banned under the label of “hate speech.”

Other publications offer a different point of view, that freedom of speech is an established right which must be rigorously upheld and defended. The view is that this freedom is a fundamental element of democracy, since it allows us to publicly contest opinions we oppose, and promote the opinions for which we stand. The argument of the “jesuischarlie” crowd is, essentially, that an attack on a controversial publication strikes at the most fundamental protections of freedom of speech, the protection of objectionable speech, and cannot be tolerated. The outpouring of support for this perspective likely stems from more general attitudes regarding the importance of liberty and freedom which are pervasive in Western cultures. An attack so directly linked to the destruction of these values can only be expected to result in such an intense pushback.

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The Obiter Goes Abroad: Martin Hui in Beijing

Osgoode has an extensive list of partner schools with formal exchange agreements. Apart from these, there are summer programs, as well as semester exchanges with York University’s partner schools. But did you know that you can arrange your own exchange agreement with a non-partner institution? Of course it will take some leg-work, but the individualized and unique experience will be worth all the effort.

The picturesque campus of Tsinghua University’s School of Law.

This week we travel to Beijing with JD/MBA ‘14 grad Martin Hui, who arranged a semester abroad with Tsinghua University’s School of Law. He was able to do so through approval of a Letter of Permission. Martin’s arrangement, as well as his existing interest for continued Osgoode-China involvement, led to talks between the two institutions which are now formalizing an exchange agreement between Osgoode and Tsinghua. The collaboration was made possible by the contributions of Professors Jinyan Li and Francois Tanguay-Renaud.

Osgoode students have a history of interest in exploring China. For instance, the Teach in China Program has sent two graduates to teach law at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, Sichuan every year. The Hong Kong University exchange program has been an annual popular success among students, and now the Tsinghua exchange program is sure to appeal to many more students in the coming years.

For Martin, China was a top choice for a number of reasons. Firstly, his Chinese heritage gave him the desire to experience his parents’ motherland. In previous years, though he had visited China, his stays had never been long enough to truly be able to learn about his home country through immersive living. He comments that in Canada and the West, the realities of living in China are known only by second-hand information, and much of it remains a black box for most. However, as a rising economic superpower, the significance of seeing the true China has never been greater. This was exactly Martin’s biggest reason to go to China – to know the country, because if you’re not physically there, it is very hard to really know it. Continue reading

A Post-Modern Approach to Political Reform

Hong Kong’s Social Awakening

The streets of Hong Kong have been emptier as of late, from Mong Kok to Admirality. A movement for political reform that initially drew tens of thousands has been largely stifled by police presence and arrests.

 Photo credit: Justin Chin/Macleans.ca

Photo credit: Justin Chin/Macleans.ca

“Success isn’t necessarily measured in result, but in the collective social awakening, and we’ve achieved exactly that,” says Jason Y. Ng, a University of Toronto law alumnus who moved back to his ancestral home of Hong Kong after working as a securities lawyer in New York.

In October and November of last year, Ng toured universities in both Canada and the US to talk about the movement. He was a regular fixture at these sites, penning the stories of fellow protesters for the South China Morning Post and his blog, As I See It.

He laments the Western media’s ignorance of the largely peaceful protests, attributing it to a lack of “sexy” scenes of violence that make for good TV.

“There was some interest in first week when the term “umbrella revolution” was coined. The fact that students were peaceful, organized, and polite grabbed headlines. Though in the absence of violence that you would maybe see in Egypt, the coverage has faded.”

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The Curves on the Yellow Brick Road

I was having lunch with some law school friends last semester. We were discussing some of the careers our peers had before coming to law school. I noted that one of our classmates had been a food blogger in her pre-law school life. My friend shouted, “that’s my dream job!”Her exclamation made me laugh. What on earth are you doing in law school, I thought, if you really want to be a food blogger? In my naiveté, I thought everyone at law school wanted to be Chief Justice. Are there others at law school who aren’t following their passion? What options do students have if law school and being a lawyer isn’t for them? Alternatively, if you are committed to law school, but are not set on a type of practice, what options are out there?

The hardest part of law school is getting in, as the saying goes. Currently, it is nearly impossible to flunk your way out of law school. Only 5% of us will get Ds or Fs, and the Fs are not mandatory in marking. Generally, if you study, you will pass.  This is contrasted with the welcome given to Osgoode students a generation ago which said “look to your left, look to your right. One of you won’t be here by the end.”We now, more or less, have the choice of whether we want to complete law school. Dropping out is usually a result of different kinds of pressures now.

Keep calm and follow the yellow brick road...

Keep calm and follow the yellow brick road…

My LSAT prep course was taught by a young man who had dropped out of law school after first year. He aced his LSAT and was accepted into most schools but, once there, he learned that he didn’t like the environment. He didn’t like the competitiveness or the subject material (needless to say, he didn’t go to Osgoode).  I appreciated his honesty about leaving law school to pursue an alternative career. He was lucky enough to take a position at his father’s consulting firm while he was figuring out what to do next. He appeared happy with his decision. Most of us are not fortunate enough to have something to fall back on but if you find yourself truly unhappy, leaving law school to pursue the career you actually want, though drastic, may be the best option.

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The Role of Ontario’s Secondary School Students in Advocating for Access to Justice

In November 2014, the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice launched a new series on the A2J blog titled Access to Justice Advocates. The series is a response to recent reports that have underscored the importance of innovation and imagination in the pursuit of access to justice. At CFCJ, we understand that such efforts come down to people–to the diverse advocates working in different and important ways across the access to justice landscape.

The CFCJ had the exciting opportunity to visit these advocates where they work in order to learn more about their unique perspectives on the issue. One of our most recent interviewees, Nat Paul, is a Program Manager at the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) where he has a special interest in helping teachers create effective and thought-provoking learning experiences for their secondary school students.

OJEN is a public legal education organization which focuses on providing general information for the legal system and making partnerships between individuals in the justice sector and those in the education sector. As a Program Manager, Nat supports high school law teachers in using OJEN services to engage students with the legal system.

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Toronto Real Estate, Russian Imperialism, and Economic Mobility

I came across a story this weekend that struck me on a personal level for several unexpected reasons. The story began with a real estate listing, a semi-attached commercial space at 716 Gerrard Street East, listed for $539,000. I didn’t know the building, nor was I familiar with the area, but it was the subject of the story, the late resident of the space, that drew my attention.

The exterior of 716 Gerrard Street East, where Grand Duchess Olga of Russia lived in Toronto. Photo credit: Matthew Sherwood for National Post.

The exterior of 716 Gerrard Street East, where Grand Duchess Olga of Russia lived in Toronto. Photo credit: Matthew Sherwood for National Post.

From the early 1920s until her death in 1960, the upper floor of 716 Gerrard served as the residence for Russian Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the last surviving sibling of Tsar Nicholas II. Staring at the picture of the building, I found it almost hard to believe. Like something out of a movie, here in Toronto had lived the member of a royal family, cast into poverty by national uprising and revolution.

I immediately wondered if my grandmother knew she was here. My great grandparents had left Russia for Canada at the turn of the century, while the Tsar was still in power, and settled in Toronto in the 1920s as well. Did they know that a member of the family that inspired their migration was now in the same city? Did they know she had gone from a $453-million St. Petersburg palace to a dilapidated flat a few neighbourhoods away? These questions fascinate me, but I’ll never know the answer.

Olga Alexandrovna was born in 1882, younger sister to Tsar Nicholas II, who had four children whom Olga attended to during her teenage years. Youngest daughter of Alexander III and Empress Marie, the Grand Duchess lived in Russia until 1920. After Nicholas II and his family were executed in 1918, Olga went into hiding, moving first to Denmark until threatened by Stalin and accused of corroborating with Germany. Olga left Europe for the United States and eventually settled in Cooksville, Ontario, and then Toronto. In the city, she lived with Russian friends who ran a beauty salon on the main floor of a semi-attached apartment, at 716 Gerrard.

The highest ranking member of the Russian imperial family to come to North America, Olga lived out her days in a small room on the second floor of the building until she passed away from cancer at age 78. Having once owned a palace complete with its own church, greenhouse, and 70-person staff, she lived modestly after the collapse of the Russian Empire. During the height of the family’s reign, Nicholas II had a personal wealth over a trillion dollars. When Olga came to Canada, according to a family friend, she gave possessions away with little regard, eventually settling on Gerard with only a couple trinkets and a photo of her husband, Colonel Kulikovsky, in hand.

The apartment is now up for sale, likely to be gutted and refitted for commercial use. I don’t know if there’s one morale that jumps out of this story, but it strikes me that Olga’s tale says a little bit about a lot of things. I can’t imagine that as she strolled through the hallways of her palace she ever contemplated winding up in a room on Gerrard Street, and yet that’s where she ended up spending most of her life. I also can’t imagine that my great grandparents would have ever dreamed their daughter would one day have more wealth than the Grand Duchess of Russia, but as it turned out, Olga lived and died with none of her family’s fortune.

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Os-Sustainability Week

Raising Awareness on Everyday Environmentally-Friendly Initiatives

When Osgoode students were asked to name a sustainability initiative on campus, the majority were able to name at least one or two great projects. For instance, many knew that reusable cutlery, mugs, and plates are available in the Bistro to minimize packaging waste. But did you know that the Bistro also offers a twenty-five cent discount on coffee when you bring a travel mug? Or that it only uses cage-free eggs in its meals?

Building awareness of these diverse sustainability initiatives is one of the principal goals of the Osgoode Sustainability Committee. As a subset of the Osgoode Environmental Law Society, the Sustainability Committee has been working with Aramark (the company that runs the Bistro) and Osgoode Facilities Management to make students’ voices heard. For instance, last year, the Sustainability Committee worked to ensure double-sided printing options were available in the library and introduced an organics bin in the Bistro.

Building on the Sustainability Committee’s past successes, this year marked the first annual Os-Sustainability Week. Beginning on Monday, November 19, Os-Sustainability Week was a celebration of environmental and social awareness on campus.

Students, faculty, and staff who brought a mug to campus enjoyed free fair-trade coffee and tea during the Monday and Wednesday lunch breaks. In addition, those who visited the Os-Sustainability Week booth were invited to spin the sustainability wheel to win great prizes. Visitors were given a sustainability question either revolving around the sustainability initiatives present in the Bistro or opportunities to live more sustainably at home.

With the generous support of Aramark and Legal & Lit, the Sustainability Committee gave away over $150 in Bistro and Starbucks gift cards as well as reusable take-out containers and travel mugs.

Although the Os-Sustainability Week is only one week a year, the Osgoode Sustainability Committee hopes the event will draw attention to the simple, environmentally-friendly practices we can engage in every day. Moreover, to help keep this spirit alive throughout the year, the Sustainability Committee has partnered with the Obiter Dicta to bring you the “Green Tip of the Week.” Going forward, the Sustainability Committee will draw attention to one environmentally-friendly practice, activity, or event on campus each week.

Have ideas for the Green Tip of the Week? Or want to get involved in upcoming Sustainability Committee events and projects? Just email EnvironmentalLawSociety@osgoode.yorku.ca.

The Obiter Goes Abroad: Aryeh Samuel in Jerusalem

This week, the Obiter travels to one of the world’s oldest cities, a cradle of human history, and origin for three of the world’s most widespread faiths: the beautiful, timeless, and stately Jerusalem in Israel.

An aerial view of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem captures the scale of the campus in its surroundings.

An aerial view of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem captures the scale of the campus in its surroundings.

Giving us a first-hand glimpse into the heart of this ancient place is Aryeh Samuel, currently in the third year of his Juris Doctor, who hails from New York and holds and undergraduate degree in Economics. Aryeh participated in the exchange program to Hebrew University in Jerusalem (one of the many offered through Osgoode’s partner schools across the globe) for the summer of 2013.

Hebrew University is the second oldest post-secondary institution in Israel, and is considered the best university in Israel by several rankings. The Faculty of Law, located at the Mount Scopus campus, offers students from its partner schools the ability to participate in an exchange semester. Courses are offered in English or Hebrew.

“I wanted to experience legal education in a different setting,” writes Aryeh. “I wanted to be able to appreciate what assumptions I have about the world and law, that may not be assumed in another culture or legal system.” Seeing beyond the limits of an insular legal education found in a single university setting was not his only reason to go to Hebrew University. For Aryeh, the exchange was attractive in that it was heavily subsidized, provided three credits towards his degree, and because of his personal connections to Jerusalem.

Aryeh described some of the most anticipated parts of the trip. The city is home to a number of important historic heritage sites: the Western Wall, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum, the shooque (or the old market), and the pristine beaches in northern Israel. Visiting these places was the highlight of Aryeh’s exchange.

And of course, no coverage of another country is complete without talking about the food. Israeli cuisine is unfamiliar to many Canadians, save a select number of wildly popularized items like hummus, falafel, shawarma, halva, pita bread, and maybe even more recently, shakshuka. Canadians are in dire need of a better introduction to the cuisine of Jerusalem. Aryeh gives his suggestions: a Yemenite dessert called mufleta and an Israeli staple called sabich, a sandwich combining an unlikely pair of egg and eggplant.

An extended stay away from home can be difficult, especially considering that studying abroad is commonly a student’s first time being completely independent in a radically different place, but some things can help to avoid homesickness. “When we were away, Toronto had been hit with a major rain storm, one of the biggest in its history,” Aryeh recalls. “[In Toronto,] buildings had flooded, highways were completely submerged in water. It was a bit sad not to be home experiencing that with my family, but otherwise I was not homesick at all.”

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A year in review: ISIQ, ISIL, ISIS and IS

How did it come about, what is it doing, and where is it heading?


These modern day warriors have traded their horses and swords for Soviet T-72s and Stinger missiles.

Islamic State (IS) introduced itself to the Western world this summer through the infamous beheading videos. The official name for the group is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Arab acronym of Da’ish, or the self-termed IS). It is a Sunni caliphate, comprised of international extremists waging a “jihad” against all those who oppose it. The group controls territory in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and the Sinai Peninsula. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the European Union, the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Turkey, and the UAE, and accused by Amnesty International of committing grave human rights abuses including ethnic cleansing. Groups located outside territories currently claimed by IS have self-identified as supporting them or have pledged allegiance, including Boko Haram, the Iraqi Ba’ath Party (the former ruling party of the country), and others hailing from Pakistan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Libya, Tunisia, and Gaza.

The group originated in Jordan in 1999, becoming a decentralized network during the Iraqi insurgency in which foreign fighters were widely thought to play a key role. In 2004, it became al-Qaeda in Iraq, taking part in attacking coalition forces and Iraqi security forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After merging with other groups, the Islamic State of Iraq was born in 2006. After a decline due to its aggressiveness, in 2013, the group changed its name to ISIS, growing under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. However, given its violent methods, including suicide attacks on civilian targets and the widespread killing of prisoners during its involvement in Iraq and the Syrian Civil War, al-Qaeda disowned ISIS in February 2014, partially because of the latter’s attempt to bring the al-Nusra Front into its sphere of influence, stating “al-Qaeda does not have an organizational relationship with [ISIS] and is not the group responsible for their actions.” In June, IS proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate – a single theocratic one-world government to overthrow the world’s current political systems.

The beheadings which first captivated the West included those of James Foley (an American freelance war correspondent during the Syrian Civil War), up to seventy-five Syrian soldiers from a captured base, Steven Sotloff (a journalist for TIME magazine and the Jerusalem Post), David Haines (an aid worker assessing a refugee camp near the Turkish border), Hervé Gourdel (a French mountaineering guide in Algeria), and Alan Henning (a British humanitarian aid worker). These beheadings follow the policy espoused by ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani to attack citizens of countries participating in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State.

One name in particular has been closely tied with the beheadings – that of Jihadi John, a member of the so-called Beatles (a terrorist cell within ISIS). He is alleged to be a UK national who appears in the videos speaking English with an British accent, and is responsible for the actual executions. Along with other Beatles, he guarded Western hostages while handling communications with their families. He was identified by the FBI in September, but his name has yet to be released publicly. British PM David Cameron has ordered MI5, MI6, and GCHQ to track and capture him.

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