BTH Insight Series Ep. 3: United Way Social Procurement, the Ontario Election and Energy Governance

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This is the third episode of the BTH Insight Series, where we examine various policy topics within the hour. Topics discussed include energy governance, elections and not-for-profits and their role in their social procurement.

United Way Social Procurement

As the largest non-governmental supporter of social services in the region, United Way Toronto & York Region has recently been active in advocating for Community Benefits and connecting partners in the private, labour, and not for profit sector to make projects – like the Eglinton Crosstown Line – a reality. Community Benefit Agreements are initiatives that change social infrastructure by embedding community and social benefits criteria into public contracts, ultimately triggering systems and institutions to do things differently.

Today, we are talking with Nauman Khan, Senior Manager of Public Affairs from the Toronto & York Region chapter of United Way, on social procurement and the Community Benefit Agreements that United Way has been a part of. [Interview at 0.40]

The 42nd Ontario General Election

The 42nd Ontario general election is scheduled to be held on or before June 7, 2018. It is predicted to be a three-horse race between the Liberal Party, the Progressive Conservative Party, and the New Democratic Party led by Kathleen Wynne, Patrick Brown, and Andrea Horvath respectively. Time will tell if Wynne will lead the Liberals to their fifth straight election victory in Ontario. The election in 2018 could play out a lot differently than in 2014, since there have been several changes made in Ontario’s political environment since then. Today we are going to talk about those changes and our predictions of how the election will play out.

“Parties have to make their choices about how far they can stretch themselves without losing the support they already have.” —Dennis M. Pilon, Associate Professor, York University

Dennis M. Pilon is an Associate Professor and the Undergraduate Program Director in the department of Political Science at York University. His research has focused primarily on issues of democratization and democratic reform in western countries in both contemporary and historical contexts. Over the past decade, Professor Pilon has done considerable public speaking and media work commenting on many aspects of politics with reporters from print, radio and television, particularly on topics relating to elections and political parties. He is presently a member of the National Advisory Board of Fair Vote Canada, a citizens’ group focused on gaining more proportional methods of voting for Canadian elections, and is a member of the editorial board of Canadian Dimension magazine. He has also acted as a consultant on election issues for various legal firms, political parties, trade unions, community groups, and the Auditor General of Canada. [Interview at 15.32].

Energy Governance

The energy sector can be a complex landscape. Policy decisions reflect a hodge-podge of environmental, economic development, engineering and political considerations, yet Consumers often just see the end result on their electricity bills.

In Ontario, several decision-making bodies like the Ontario Energy Board, the Independent Electricity System Operator, and the Ministry of Energy, are some of the institutions that make important energy policy decisions.These institutions each have a unique function in Ontario’s energy system. The question remains do these institutions’ decision-making processes reflect the fundamental principles of good governance. That is, do decisions by energy institutions reflect transparency, accountability and integration?

George Vegh is the head of McCarthy Tétrault’s Toronto energy regulation practice, where he provides advocacy and advisory services to private and public sector clients. He has served as General Counsel of the Ontario Energy Board, Chair of the Ontario Energy Association and the IESO Market Forum and currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of the Association of Power Producers of Ontario. He has led a number of industry initiatives, including Task Forces on Distribution Rate Regulation, Infrastructure Renewal, Distributed Generation and Transmission Connection for Renewable Generation. George Vegh is also an Adjunct Professor of Energy Law at the University of Toronto Law School, the School of Public Policy & Governance, the University of Calgary Law School and at Osgoode Hall Law School, where he is also the Program Director for the Masters Program in Energy and Infrastructure Law.

BTH had a chance to discuss the “Report on Energy Governance in Ontario”, a report written by George Vegh for the Ontario Energy Association and the Association of Power Producers of Ontario in November of last year. Examining the current governances issues facing the sector in Ontario, I sat down with George Vegh to discuss the report and the solutions it recommends like the Energy Information Officer  to mitigate the challenges the province currently faces. [Interview at 37.13].



Jonah Kotzer, Host, Senior Producer, Content Editor, Technical Producer
Kayla Ishkanian, Senior Producer, Content Editor
Julia Chan,
Senior Producer, Content Editor
Sanya Ramnauth, Lead Social Media Director
Mitchell Thibault, Reporter
Jasper Parades, BTH Reporter
Ian T. D. Thomson, Reporter, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
I Hate My Generation 
by Sloan
by Rush

Social Services in the Holidays



The holiday season can be a period of warmth for friends and family: the images of chestnuts roasting around the fireplace; the gift-giving rituals to loved ones in our lives; the celebratory end to another year as we set new goals for us to reach in the upcoming one. However, for others in Canada, the holidays may not elicit the same images. Earlier this September, we learned from the 2016 Canadian Census, that when using the low-income measure (LIM)  that 4.8 million people live below the poverty line. Additionally, it was reported that in 2015, 17% of Canadian children below the age of 18, lived in a low-income household. As such, the holidays can be a period of continued challenges for many: the abuse and neglect of a child on the welfare system and the loneliness they may face as they strive to reach their potential; The struggle to make ends meet as food groups get cut from the shopping list; the dependency on social assistance to pay for high bills for rent and utilities.

As public policy students at Beyond the Headlines, we are often faced with the paradigm of the “public good”, or how best to help the public in facing the problems that people often face. This is all within the safety of the classroom. We know that policy changes have the ability to provide relief and sustainability to Canada’s most vulnerable populations. However, policies may still leave gaps in the current system and it is the community organizations, charities, and front-line support that work endlessly to provide immediate relief to community members.  In removing ourselves from the technocracy and theory of policy, today we ask: What is being done in the community to help people in the holiday season? And what can we do as citizens to help our fellow beings?

In this special holiday episode, we talk to two organizations whose goals are to help those in need in Canada and in the community; Children and youth who face obstacles to reach their fullest potential in life and people who have to cut food from their budget to make ends meet. Through the lens of how these services have to adjust to meet the demands of the holiday season, we hope you come away with an appreciation for these services as we enter the season and the new year.

Richard Matern is the director of research and communications at the Daily Bread Food Bank, the largest food charity in Toronto. Research and publications are key tools in the Daily Bread’s work with government outreach and public education. Richard and his colleagues at Daily Bread have produced a number of reports on poverty and hunger in the GTA, including the annual Who’s Hungry report. This annual report provides a profile of hunger and food insecurity in Toronto.

” Hunger does not wait for policy change.” – Richard Matern, director of research and communications at the Daily Bread Food Bank

Valerie McMurtry is President & CEO of the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, the leading national charity dedicated to improving the lives of our country’s most vulnerable youth – those who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Through the support of generous donors, Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada raises and grants funds, and delivers a wide range of high-impact programs and services, transforming the lives of over 24,000 children and youth each year. Valerie is currently leading Stand Up for Kids – Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada’s national campaign for child welfare, a$60-million effort to catalyze change for kids in Canada’s child welfare system.

“Housing supports, tutoring, education supports, youth employment help, and mental health supports are all important to us.” – Valerie McMurtry, President and CEO of the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada

Anna Amy Ho is a Crisis Counsellor and Violence Prevention Program Coordinator, Aerialist, Motivational Speaker and advocate. In addition to being a Children’s Aid Foundation Young People’s Advisory Council member, she is a Board Executive for Ryerson Radio Inc. and an advisor to the CAS Investigations Unit with the Provincial Advocate’s Office. In 2015, along with graduating with an Honours Bachelor of Social Work degree, she received the Attorney General’s Victim Services Award of Distinction in recognition of her service to victims of crime and vulnerable youth. In 2017, she received the Isadore Sharp Outstanding Recent Graduate Award which is a prestigious Ryerson Alumni Achievement Award.

Despite childhood trauma that completely altered her life, Anna’s resilience has resulted in determination and resilience that leads her to succeed in the face of adversity. One day, Anna hopes to use dance movement therapy in trauma treatment and create a therapeutic arts center where people can access arts-based forms of psychotherapy.


Leanna Mora, Host, Executive Producer
Ian T. D Thomson, Host, Technical Producer, Executive Producer
Jonah Kotzer,
Technical Producer

Music Credits

Not Dead by Fine Times
I saw three ships
by Sufjan Stevens
Hanukah Blessings
by Barenaked Ladies
Maybe this Christmas
by Ron Sexsmith
Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth
by David Bowie and Bing Crosby
Christmas Party
by The Walkmen
The First Noel
by Crash Test Dummies
Auld Lang Syne by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians


Inuit Reconciliation and Self-Governance



The Government of Canada’s recent announcement of an Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee has reaffirmed the unique political predicament the Inuit peoples of Canada face. It is paramount that the reconciliatory endeavors of the Canadian government recognize and are sensitive to that uniqueness. As well as contending with a host of issues felt broadly by the Indigenous population, Inuit communities have their own set of challenges – challenges that are shaped by geographical circumstances, cultural practices, demographic shifts and political convictions. Today on Beyond the Headlines, we explore some of the policy issues faced by the diverse communities that make up Canada’s Inuit peoples. Through discussions of self-governance, innovation in Northern communities and inclusion in urban centres, we hope you come away with a deeper appreciation of the complexity of Inuit experiences and the determination of Inuit political action.

Joshua Stribbell is the President of the National Urban Inuit Youth Council. He is a member of the Board of Directors at the Toronto Inuit Association, and runs a program for Inuit youth in Toronto called Torontomiutaujugut. He was born and raised in Keswick, Ontario. His family is from Iqaluit, Nunavut.

“Need to give kids a love for the environment, and I would say the same thing for the humanities[…]if you give people love for humans then you’re going to stop these cycles of racism and marginalization.” – Joshua Stribbell, National Urban Inuit Youth Council President

Adrienne Davidson is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the School of Public Policy & Governance. She comes to SPPG from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where she was a Fulbright Visiting Researcher from 2016-17. Her tenure as a postdoctoral fellow marks her return to SPPG. Her PhD, also at the University of Toronto, focused on interdisciplinary policy research with a focus on comparative federalism in Canada and the US. Adreinne’s research also touches on Indigenous politics and multi-level governance, environmental policy, and childhood education.

“The Government of Canada has a responsibility to make sure the infrastructure is right. The regions will decide what kind of future they want.” – Dr. Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation, University of Saskatchewan

Dr. Ken Coates is Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan campus.  Ken was raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, and has long-standing professional and personal interests in Aboriginal rights, northern development, northern Canadian history, science, technology and society, and Japan Studies.



Tom Piekarski, Host, Producer
Amanda Lane, Producer, Technical Producer
Peter Huycke,
Technical Producer
Julia Chan, Technical Producer
Mitchell Thibault,
Lead Social Media Director
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
by Lost Cousins
Arctic Lover’s Rock 
by Time Hecker

Affordable Housing and the National Strategy


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This show is part 2 to the previous show on Affordable Housing and Homelessness about the landscape of affordable housing and homelessness in Canada and some of the policy responses taking place from all levels of government and community organizations. It comes as no surprise that the nation has a housing crisis in shortage of social and affordable housing and homelessness across the country, is on the rise. The costs of living in cities across Canada for not just shelter but other necessities, are increasing even as the incomes and social mobility for low, and even middle-income Canadians have been stagnant or declining – creating a severe affordability squeeze. Issues of crumbling public housing, and abandoned Indigenous housing on reserves as well as rising rates of homelessness has caused the issue of affordable housing to come into the spotlight

This past month, the Federal Government announced their long-awaited National Housing Strategy to try to address some of these issues – which drew some mixed reviews. The strategy has the ambitious goal of ultimately reducing chronic homelessness by half within the next 10 years, and part of that involves spending $2.2-billion on a revamped federal homelessness program to launch in the spring of 2019. The strategy also took a human rights-based approach calling housing that is safe and affordable something that all Canadians deserve.

Further, the federal government launched a jointly funded $4-billion Canada Housing Benefit of about $2,500 per year to each qualifying household. To be launched in 2020, the benefit will be provided directly to families and individuals in housing need, including those currently living in social housing, those on a social housing wait-list and those housed in the private market but struggling to make ends meet.

Our guests each give their take on how they are working to address the crisis in affordable housing and homelessness, as well as their thoughts on the National Housing Strategy.

David Hulchanski is a professor of housing and community development and since 1997 holds the Faculty’s endowed chair in housing, the Dr. Chow Yei Ching Chair in Housing. He served as the director of the Centre for Urban and Community Studies from 2000 to 2008. His PhD is in the social and community aspects of urban planning. In the 1980’s he was a professor of community planning at the University of British Columbia and director of the UBC Centre for Human Settlements.  He is a former North American editor of the journal Housing Studies. Professor Hulchanski’s research and teaching is focused on housing need, homelessness, neighbourhoods, community development, and social and economic rights. He teaches courses on housing, homelessness, community development, and a PhD seminar on research design and the conceptual framing of research.

“Charter of rights and freedoms is silent on social and economic rights. Health is a recognized right by Canadians but so is housing. The fact is that we do have the right to housing it just has to be implemented.” – David Hulchanski

Janet Mason is a Professor of Policy in Action at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. She joined the school from the Ontario Public Service, where her career spanned more than three decades and included roles as Assistant Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Cabinet Office and Training Colleges and Universities. In 2015, Janet was appointed to Mayor John Tory’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing Corporation to offer advice on “how to strengthen and support the delivery of housing to its residents, now and in the future.” Over the course of the year, the Task Force heard from over 1,000 tenants and community members, almost 100 different stakeholder groups, officials from the City, the Province and Federal governments, and housing experts from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. The final report was tabled in January 2016 includes a total of 29 recommendations directed at the City, the Province, the Federal government and TCHC on a range of issues

“What cities really need are better partners from senior levels of government to set up programs that are sustained over long periods of time, rather than money dribbled out in portions over time.” – Janet Mason


Katerina Kalenteridis, Host, Senior Producer, Technical Producer
Kevin Hempstead, Technical Producer
Mary Shin,
Technical Producer
Mitchell Thibault, Lead Social Media Director
Leanna Mora,
Executive Producer


Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Can’t Leave the Night by Badbadnotgood
It’s a Beautiful Day
by Michael Buble


BTH Insight Series Ep. 2: Cryptography, Abortion Access and Disability Rights in the Labour Market

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This is the second episode of the BTH Insight Series, where we examine various policy topics within the hour. On today’s show, we discuss the barriers Canadian women face in accessing the abortion pill Myfegimiso, the public security, safety, and privacy implications of cryptography, and the labour market barriers faced by people living with disabilities.

Abortion Access Barriers from the Nursing Perspective

In the two-part series, BTH examined abortion access barriers in Canada. In part one, BTH provided listeners with an on-the-ground look by talking to non-profit organizations and activists to see how accessing abortion is still an issue in Canada. In part two, a deeper look into these issues was examined, addressing many of the systemic barriers preventing women from accessing abortion services, particularly at a government level.

In a follow-up from the two-part series, BTH examined abortion access services from the nursing perspective.

Josette Roussel is a Senior Nurse Advisor for the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). Josette provides leadership in advancing the nursing profession to build a better future for Canadian health care. Her current role as a Senior Nurse Advisor is pivotal to CNA’s work in transforming research findings into evidence-informed nursing policy. She is an expert with advanced practice nursing. [Interview at 1:41].

The Policy Implications of Cryptography

Encryption has become an increasingly sensitive policy issue over the past decade. Concerns over the security of communications have, at times, pitted the ideas of freedom and state security against one another. Encryption has caused states to become concerned about its use for planning criminal activity. To that end we ask: what powers should security apparatuses be afforded in monitoring communications and what impact can this have on the public?

Lex Gill works at the intersection of technology, law, and social change as a research fellow to the Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary research laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. She is a former Google Policy Fellow to the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic and a former affiliate and researcher to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Lex holds an undergraduate degree and graduate diploma from Concordia University, and a B.C.L./LL.B. from McGill University’s Faculty of Law. [Interview at 19:29].

Labour Market Barriers to People Living with Disabilities

People living with intellectual, physical or any other disabilities often face labour market barriers, and on average, are not afforded the same professional opportunities as able bodied individuals. One reason for this is that employers often hold a negative attitude about people living with disabilities as they equate disability with low productivity and higher costs to society. In the event that a worker with an intellectual or physical disability requires accommodations, such as greater flexibility in their work schedule or wheelchair accessible work environment, employers often do not want to commit the necessary resources to accommodate for these needs. This leads to occupational segregation, which limits the earnings potential of people living with a disability as they are often forced to work in low-skilled occupations that tend to pay lower wages. On top of that, depending on the nature and degree of the disability, people living with these disabilities could often face additional barriers to education. Taken together, these factors contribute to labour market inequality that is unfavourable for people with disability.

“Every year since the Americans with Disabilities Act has been in place (which is now over 25 years) employment rates have declined and earnings have basically stagnated” – David Pettinicchio, U of T Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and School of Public Policy & Governance.

Professor David Pettinicchio is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, with a cross-affiliation at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. Professor Pettinichio’s research is focused on the ways in which political entrepreneurship and political institutional arrangements shape policy agendas. He has written extensively about disability policy and the impact such policies have on the labour market. [Interview at 41.39].



Julia Chan, Host, Senior Producer, Content Editor, Technical Producer
Kayla Ishkanian, Senior Producer, Content Editor
Jonah Kotzer,
Senior Producer, Content Editor
Hiba Siddiqui, Lead Social Media Director
Aniket Kumar,
BTH Reporter
Tony Yin, BTH Reporter
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Everything Now 
by Arcade Fire
On the Level 
by Mac DeMarco
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) 
by Arcade Fire


Abortion Access Barriers Part 2

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This is part 2 of a 2 part series.

On our last show about abortion access barriers in Canada, we provided listeners with an on the ground look by talking to non-profit organizations and activists to see how accessing abortion is still an issue in Canada. This week, we take a bit of a deeper look into these issues by addressing many of the systemic barriers preventing women from accessing abortion services, particularly at a government level. Our guests this week are Dr. Supriya Sharma from Health Canada, Karen Segal from the Women’s Legal Education Action Fund, and Kandace Hagen from the PEI Abortion Rights Network. Each guest breaks down the role policy plays in either helping or hindering abortion access across the country.

Karen Segal is counsel to LEAF. With a longstanding commitment to social justice and women’s equality, Karen has advocated for women’s rights in human rights tribunals and courts, in the areas of labour law, constitutional law, and human rights. She has also worked with community organizations seeking to end violence against women and advance the rights of marginalized workers. Her commitment to feminism, equality and race justice inform her work at LEAF.

Kandace Hagen, from PEI Abortion Rights Network, is an activist, writer, and perpetual student. Kandace Hagen had been active in the abortion movement in Prince Edward Island since the fall of 2010.


“Fighting for what you believe in and what is right does cause solid change.” – Kandace Hagen from PEI Abortion Rights Network.


Dr. Supriya Sharma assumed the responsibilities of Chief Medical Advisor to the Deputy Minister at Health Canada in August 2015.  She took on the role in addition to her responsibilities as Senior Medical Advisor within the Health Products and Food Branch, a position she’s held since March 2013. Prior to that, Dr. Sharma has held a number of positions in Health Canada over the past decade in both the pre-market and post-market health product regulatory areas including Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of HPFB and prior to that Director General of the Therapeutic Products Directorate, which had the regulatory responsibility for pharmaceuticals (prescription and non-prescription) and medical devices. She has also worked as a Senior Policy Advisor as part of the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy in Health Canada. Recently, she has returned to Health Canada following a leave of absence to work in an academic research group focusing on health innovation adoption in the Canadian Health system.

Trained as a pediatrician in both Canada and Australia, Dr. Sharma was a research fellow in hematology focused on clinical research relating to thalassemia and sickle cell disease and has worked on a number of large multi-centre clinical studies, including research in collaboration with Oxford University on a project in Sri Lanka. She then went on to complete a Masters of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health with a concentration in International Health and an interest in Health Policy.

Kayla Ishkanian, Host
Majenta Braumberger, Technical Producer
Kevin Hempstead,
Technical Producer
Sanya Ramnauth, Lead Social Media Director
Leanna Mora, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Can’t Leave the Night
by Badbadnotgood
Quarry Hymns
by Land of Talk
7/4 Shoreline
by Broken Social Scene

NAFTA in the Digital Era



The election of Donald Trump has brought renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement to the forefront of Canada’s trade priorities. Discussions have ranged from our agricultural supply regimes to tariffs, but one potentially transformative aspect relates to digital rights.

NAFTA, which came into force in January of 1994, was the first international trade agreement to include obligations to protect intellectual property rights. This was to ensure that intellectual property law enforcement is consistent with free trade principles such as market access and non-discrimination. If a country doesn’t respect the intellectual property rights, trade is inhibited.

But intellectual property takes on new dimensions given the digital economy and the Internet. Intellectual property rights are intended to encourage innovation and creativity through the ownership and protection of ideas by way of patents, copyrights, or trademarks, depending on the nature of the idea. In a world of new technologies and a knowledge-based economy, ensuring Canadians have rights to their inventions and access to leading technologies are key to our economic growth.

Since the inception of NAFTA, the United States has developed strict protocols related to intellectual property protection. During negotiations for the now scrapped Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S. pushed for stronger copyright protections, stricter enforcement measures to combat counterfeiting and piracy, and longer patent terms. It’s expected that the U.S. will use these as a starting point for NAFTA 2.0 negotiations.

On our side of the border,  Canada has been more moderate with its IP protections. During the TPP talks, Canada was the middle ground between the U.S. and developing countries, striking a balance on areas such as pharmaceutical data protection and Internet service provider liability for third-party copyright infringement.

But so what? How does IP affect us? What does NAFTA mean in today’s digital world? How would changes to NAFTA impact Canadian innovations? We’re here to break these questions down for you. In today’s episode, we’re joined by two policy experts to help us better understand the implications of certain NAFTA reforms, and what these mean for Canada.

Richard Owens is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. He’s a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property and technology and is a past chair of the board of directors of the University of Toronto Innovations Foundation, Senior Munk Fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and a member of the advisory committee to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. He is also a member of the board of the Center for Innovation Law and Policy at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and has been a long-serving director of the International Technology Law Association. Richard has written and published widely on the law of intellectual property, information technology, privacy, and the regulation of financial institutions–and has been repeatedly recognized as one of Canada’s leading technology lawyers. [Interview at 5:03]

“We want rules that will encourage our innovating economy.” – Richard Owens, University of Toronto Law Professor and Director of the International Technology Law Association

Peter Loewen is the Director of the School of Public Policy and Governance and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His work encompasses questions on elite and citizen behaviour, and the role of technology in improving governance and representation. Previously, Peter served as the Director of the Centre for the Study of the United States at the Munk School of Global Affairs. [Interview at 27:50]

Majenta Braumberger, Host
Kevin Hempstead, Host
Shirin Bithal, Producer
Julia Chan, Technical Producer
Jean-Paul St. Rose, Lead Social Media Director
Ian T. D. Thomson, Technical Producer and Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Ode to Viceroy 
by Mac DeMarco
Salad Days 
by Mac DeMarco
Over My Head
by Fleetwood Mac
Weighty Ghost 
by Wintersleep


Rainbow Refuge: LGBTQ Refugees in Canada


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The significant growth in LGBTQ rights organizations around the world has led to advances in LGBTQ rights and calls for further changes. However, there has also been increase in systemic discrimination and violence against LGBTQ populations in certain regions around the world. It is illegal to be gay in over 75 countries around the world, and in 5 countries being gay can even be punishable by death. In many of these countries, policies and laws reflect how the state conveys their perception of sexual and gender non-conformers. Often times LGBTQ communities are framed in a criminal lense, which is a contributing factor to fostering public stigma and prejudice against LGBTQ people. Increases in violence, negative stereotypes, and criminalization of the LGBTQ populations are forcing them to seek safe haven in other parts of the world, including Canada.  So, how is Canada rising to these challenges? Why have Canadian policies allowed Canada to become a primary destination for individuals who make refugee claims on the basis of sexual orientation persecution?

Mr. Arsham Parsi is the founder of Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees which provides services to all self identified Iranian LGBTQ peoples. Mr. Arsham Parsi is a well-known Iranian gay activist who has dedicated himself to help LGBTQ/queer Iranians who has fled their country because of the government’s violent homophobic and transphobic policies. In 2004, while still living in Iran, Arsham founded the first Iranian gay group that later called the Iranian Queer Organization – IRQO. Having been pursued by the police because of his gay activism, Arsham fled to Turkey in 2005, where he continued his work to publicize the plight of LGBT Iranians. He was eventually granted asylum in Canada and he pursued his work for the cause while being interviewed extensively by media and featured in two documentary films, the CBC’s (Out in Iran); and Parvez Sharma’s (A Jihad for Love). In 2008, Arsham was twice honoured, first by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)’s Felipa Sousa Award for pioneering gay activism and then by Toronto Pride with its award for Excellence in Human Rights. [Interview at 3.18]


“Crucial to have an understanding of the local context when implementing resettlement policies.” – Petra Molnar, Refugee and Human Rights Lawyer.


Petra Molnar is a Refugee and Human Rights Lawyer, a Research Associate with the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and an Affiliate at the Detention and Asylum Research Cluster of the Refugee Research Network.  She holds a Master of Arts in Social Anthropology with a diploma in Refugee Studies from York University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Toronto. [Interview at 28.20]


“I like to put my best foot forward, share my story, and that is the best way for me to be an advocate.” – Biko Beauttah, Kenyan-born trans woman, activist, and champion of refugee and sexual minority rights.


Ms. Biko Beauttah is a Kenyan-born trans woman, activist, champion of refugee and sexual minority rights, and student of jewelry arts at George Brown College. In 2006, Biko sought asylum in Canada because it is a crime to be LGBTQ in Kenya. She has promoted tolerance and equality as a panelist at the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Refugee Pride Convention. Biko is also a board member of Pride Toronto and The 519, an organization committed to the health, happiness, and integration of LGBTQ communities. Prior to her involvement with Pride Toronto, Biko began advocating for LGBTQ rights by lecturing for a gender studies course and acting as the Women and Trans Persons representative at George Brown College. Biko is currently working on Trans Workforce, the world’s first job fair geared towards people who identify as Trans and Gender Nonconforming. An initiative she is determined to launch so as to get transgender people out of underground economies. [Interview at 47.00]

Amanda Lane, Host, Technical Producer, Junior Producer
Dimitri Treheles, Technical Producer,
Nuri Kim, Junior Producer, Technical Producer
Mary Shin, Host, Junior Producer
Leanna Mora, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Can’t Leave the Night
by badbadnotgood
Main Girl
by Charlotte Cardin
Keeping Running
by Tei Shi


flickr /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Witchcraft and Zombie Laws


How do we decide when the occult and the paranormal are real or fake? Is that the place of the criminal justice system? When do we deem someone’s religious practises “authentic”? Today, to discuss witchcraft legislation, social stigma and bill-C51, we will be joined by criminal defence attorney Jordan Palmer and tarot card reader Vanessa Robak. We will dive deeper into the history of the laws around “fake” witchcraft, its’ use in the Canadian legislative context and gain some first-hand understanding of the practise.

Some may ask, “what are zombie laws?”. In short, these are laws which are still in the criminal code which have been struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada. As these laws remain in the criminal code even after being struck down, they have lead to some confusion.

Recently, Bill C-51 was introduced to Canada’s Federal Parliament to fix some of this confusion and update the criminal laws in Canada. The bill aims to amend the criminal code, introducing some changes to sexual assault laws and removing a number of redundant, “zombie laws” from the books. Some of the more archaic, outdated or moralistic laws being removed are those banning duels, practising fake witchcraft and publishing crime comic books. The latter, reflecting the moral panic regarding the impact of comic books in the mid-20th century.

[Hear Host Jonah Kotzer’s In-depth monologue on the topic at 0.39].

Jordan Palmer is a practising lawyer specializing in civil litigation‎ in Ontario. Prior to re-entering the legal profession, Jordan earned his PhD in Law from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a student member of the SSHRC-funded worldwide Religion and Diversity Project. His academic specializations include religious diversity issues, human rights, and access to justice. [Interview at 11.31].

 “Anytime there’s criminalization of someone’s religious practices or beliefs, without criminalization of other people’s religious beliefs, there are some very some unsavoury and improper connotations to that law.” – Jordan Palmer, Civil Litigation Lawyer, in reference to section 365 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Vanessa Robak is a Toronto-based tarot card reader who has been practicing for over 15 years. She is currently offering professional readings under the name “Dogma + Ritual“, as well as hosting weekly music interview podcast Crystal Ballroom on the Bunz Podcast Network. [Interview at 39.57].

“Historically, witchcraft has really been the realm of the other… a lot of folks who don’t find themselves in the main demographic of power find themselves in these places where they can regain it in one way or another.”- Vanessa Robak, tarot-card reader.

Jonah Kotzer, Host, Technical Producer, Senior Producer
Dimitri Treheles, Technical Producer,
Nuri Kim, Technical Producer
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer
Leanna Mora, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead by Fine Times
International by Mono Threat
Long Time Running by The Tragically Hip
Ballad of the Weird Sisters by Blood Ceremony

Housing and Homelessness

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This week’s show is about affordable housing and homelessness in Ontario, the GTA, and across the country.

The nation is currently in a housing crisis as the housing market lacks supply of social and affordable housing.  The costs of living in cities across Canada for shelter and basic necessities is steady increasing. Additionally,   incomes and social mobility for low and middle-income Canadians have been stagnant or declining, creating a severe affordability squeeze.

While these issues persist, it becomes crucial to address social housing issues and homelessness across Canada. The guests on this episode each give their take on how they are working to address the crisis in affordable housing and homelessness. This work includes the National Housing Strategy to be unveiled by the federal government, research into youth homelessness, and lastly community building within low-income communities in Toronto and across the province.

To help us tackle the questions of housing and homelessness we are joined by Jeff Morrison, Director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, Mike Bulthius, Director of the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab co-led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada and Curran Stikuts, Community Organizer for the 519 Community Centre in Toronto.

Curran Stikuts is a community organizer for the 519 Community Centre in Toronto. Curran has represented the 519 on various committees and working groups, including Toronto Police Service’s LGBTQ Community Consultative Committee, Parks, Forestry and Recreation’s Facilities Master Plan advisory group, and neighborhood-based associations. The 519 is a City of Toronto agency with an innovative model of Service, Space and Leadership, striving to make a real difference in people’s lives, while working to promote inclusion, understanding, and respect especially in regard of the LGBTQ community. Curran has worked as a key member of the Moss Park project, a community center that the 519 is establishing as part of the redevelopment of one of Toronto’s low- income neighborhoods in the Downtown-East. Curran has also held various consultations with community stakeholders, networks, and social service agencies to best identify the needs of the Moss Park community.

“Most important is to create adaptive spaces and create programming that responds to the needs of the community” – Curran Stikuts, community organizer for the 519 Community Centre

Jeff Morrison is the Director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. CHRA undertakes research, develops policy, makes recommendations and advocates on behalf of its members to compel decision-makers to make the kinds of choices that will lead us to a future where all Canadians can access and afford the type of housing they need. Before joining CHRA, Jeff was Associate Director, Federal Affairs with Glaxo SmithKline, and before then, served as Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs with the Canadian Pharmacists Association for five years. In this role, he was responsible for advocacy, stakeholder relations, policy development, media relations, and external communication for the association. Jeff has held many other senior positions in the nonprofit world, including President of the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies and Director of Government Relations and Director of Environment for the Canadian Construction Association. Jeff has also worked for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and several Members of Parliament in the 1990s.

“Need to put in a place a subsidy so that housing units are provided at below-market rent so that they’re accessible” – Executive Director CHRA Jeff Morrison

Jeff, who is bilingual, holds a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and History and a Masters of Arts in science politique canadienne from the University of Ottawa. He is very active in the Ottawa community, serving as President of the Board of Directors of the Centretown Community Health Centre for two years. In 2014, he ran for Ottawa City Council in Somerset ward, finishing 2nd out of 11 candidates. He currently also sits on the Board of Directors of Operation Come Home and Bruce House.

Mike Bulthuis is the Director of the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab – an initiative co-led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada.  Launched in April 2017, the goal of the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab is to identify ways to ensure that all young people have housing stability, as well as family and other supports to stay in school or to access training and employment, to enable healthy pathways to adulthood. Previous to this, Mike was the Executive Director of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa, working with communities to generate ideas and solutions to help end homelessness in Ottawa. Earlier, Mike served in the federal government, in Policy development with Infrastructure Canada and with the National Homelessness Secretariat at ESDC.

“Looking at the pathways that we know have worked and listening to what the youth is telling us helps us address these issues”- Mike Bulthuis, Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab Director

His background includes a Bachelors degree in Political Science and International Development at Dalhousie University, a Masters degree in Political Science from Carleton University and further graduate studies in urban and social geography at the University of Ottawa.

Katerina Kalenteridis, Host, Technical Producer, Senior Producer
Leanna Mora, Technical Producer, Executive Producer
Ian T. D. Thomson, Technical Producer
Majenta Braumberger, Technical Producer
Pam Abeysekara, Technical Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead by Fine Times
Can’t Leave the Night by badbadnotgood
1234 by Feist
Ironic by Alanis Morissette


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