Public Policy, Rights, and Abortion Access in Canada

by Lauren Naus on October 6, 2015

Written by guest bloggers, Rachael Johnstone and Emmett Macfarlane.

Johnstone_Macfarlane_borderWhen Canada’s now defunct abortion law was struck down in 1988, it was found unconstitutional on the grounds that it created delays and uneven access to abortion services across the country. This patchwork of services was seen to violate women’s Charter rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. Yet a different patchwork of access has emerged in the wake of the decision. The significance of this dynamic served as the jumping off point for our article. If the Supreme Court can strike down a law on the grounds that it creates unequal access to a necessary service, what happens when the resulting policy vacuum mimics aspects of the initial problem? What bodies are responsible to address such problems? And how should Canadians expect solutions to emerge?

A common tactic among social movement actors and governments, both federal and provincial, is to export potentially fraught policy questions to the courts, rather than address them in Parliament or the provincial legislatures. Using abortion access to guide our analysis, we explore some of the problems in limiting such debates to the courts. While courts continue to serve as an important platform for governments and individuals to debate rights claims, they possess neither the necessary tools nor the inclination to address the legal vacuum that surrounds abortion access. Instead, we stress the need to hold governments accountable to uphold the spirit of the Charter. Rights claims were never intended to be the sole domain of the courts – they are inherently political, and substantive rights often necessitate political action. Abortion is no exception.

While there is no abortion law in Canada, we also show that it is incorrect to suggest that abortion is unregulated or that there is such a thing as “abortion on demand”. As a healthcare issue, the provinces have significant power to shape the nature of service provision and to decide which procedures are funded and under what conditions. The federal government can also have influence over these decisions through a diligent enforcement of the Canada Health Act although, increasingly, they have been loath to do so. Moreover, significant aspects of these services fall to healthcare professionals who are themselves self-regulating. When the resulting regulations and norms produced by these bodies are considered alongside the continuing social stigma of abortion in some areas of Canada, it quickly becomes apparent that claims that abortion is an unregulated service are misleading.

This article, our first collaboration, is the beginning a larger research project we plan to undertake exploring the interrelationships between the Courts, government, and public policy in their dealings with reproductive rights in Canada. Through this work, we aim to shed light not only on the continued problems posed by challenging social issues in politics, like reproductive rights, but also on the need to hold governments accountable to address and uphold these rights according to the Charter.

Rachael Johnstone and Emmett Macfarlane’s article,“Public Policy, Rights, and Abortion Access in Canada”, appears in Volume 51 (2015) of the International Journal of Canadian Studies. Read it today on IJCS Online: or on Project MUSE –

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Written by guest blogger, Kelly To.


kelly toGeographic Information Systems (GIS) is the amalgamation of technology and discovery. It is defined as the gathering and combining of analytic and spatial data through various software to determine solutions with satellite precision, enhanced by human intuition. It is one of the few methodologies that is able to connect researchers to large scale geographic problems, especially when being physically present is not a possibility. It is also what allowed 8 undergraduates from McMaster University, to be published without sacrificing convocation.

In June 2015, I received my Honours B.Sc. In Earth and Environmental Sciences from McMaster University. The article, Delination of Paleowind Direction from Dunes in Simcoe County, Ontario, written by my peers and I as presented in Cartographica 50.3 is the first of hopefully, many successes we will achieve during our scientific careers. Our article presents three main themes as seen in many GIS focused publications: a geographical bound issue, computerized methodology and spatially significant results.

Our focus was to determine paleowind direction using modern day dunes found in Angus, Wasaga Beach and Wyevale. We used Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) to digitize parabolic dunes in Simcoe County. The linear extent of individual dune fields were averaged into dune groupings determined by kernel density maps in order to extrapolate the paleowind direction required to form the dunes in that area. Our results indicated that there are two distinct dune fields created by opposing paleowind directions in this area. This illustrates the dunes are of varying ages through a change in paleoclimate.

GIS is also used in fields outside of the earth sciences, including but not limited to military execution, marketing development and health-care allocation. Many of the problems witnessed in the suggested fields relates back to the first suggested theme shared in GIS publications; a geographical bound issue. When being present is not intrinsically available such as for disaster relief, the ability to execute a plan through effective and accessible computerized methodology is not only alluring but necessary.

We were able to achieve our results while sitting in McMaster’s GIS laboratory simply through the use of GIS. This project began while working towards receiving our degrees in June and therefore, travelling to Simcoe County to study over 100 dune fields was not possible without delaying our graduation and pouring months of funded research into 8 undergraduates. Even if this were to hypothetically be possible, finding large scale trends such as dune direction over hundreds of kilometres would have been left to chance rather than technological skill.

However, this is not to take away the necessity of being present. In order to truly study anything, conducting field research is always a requirement. Geographic information technologies just allows us to find important generalizations within multiple smaller yet, incredibly significant spatial discoveries. GIS takes the concept of “looking at the big picture” without forgetting that intricate details are just as important.

The ability to gather data to find significant patterns introduces a fourth theme in GIS related issues: human intuition. Like all sciences, the methodology used may be repeatable but it is up to the researcher’s discretion to understand the full extent of the discovery. What makes GIS interesting is that this researcher can be anyone with a computer and data. Especially with the trend of free-range data provided by most governments and the ability to create your own data, the accessibility of GIS can only increase from here. That availability is what makes GIS and related technologies enticing and a well-planned progressive step in modern-day problem solving. GIS truly is a rightful depiction of discovery and technology.

Kelly To’s article, “Delineation of Paleowind Direction from Dunes in Simcoe County, Ontario” appears in Volume 50 Issue 3 (2015) of the Cartographica. Read it today by clicking here:

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1438963924209By Lynette Reid

Economic inequality is growing and this matters for health. Occupy Wall Street, the protest movement launched in 2011, made the slogan “we are the 99%” familiar. Piketty’s 2013 Capital in the 21st Century showed us the science behind the slogan, breaking down the the picture of both wealth and income for “the 50%” (think precarious service workers), “the 40%” (skilled white and blue collar workers), “the 10%” (professionals with secure employment, entrepreneurs, and those who live from their own wealth—“capitalists” in the classic sense)—and for orders of magnitude above that—the 1%, the 0.1% and so on. Together with collaborators in inequality studies around the world, Piketty has assembled impressive documentation and attempted a grand structural explanation for the phenomena we see around ourselves every day: the entanglement of our own lives and the fate of the economy with household debt and inflated mortgages; the growth of an economic super-elite while prospects for the middle class and the “precariat” stagnate or worsen; the increasing importance of inheritance in shaping life opportunity. In the United States, inequalities of income are reaching heights not seen since the 1920s, with the UK and Canada joining the US in pulling away from Europe in this trend).

Structurally, the issues Piketty highlights go beyond income inequality. He shines a light on the importance and growth of accumulated wealth. The economy now contains more wealth—presented in accounts as “national wealth” but concentrated overwhelmingly in private hands—than it did before the key progressive policies eroded and redistributed wealth, and the sheer force of two world wars destroyed it, in the 20th century. What many of us grew up with as a “normal” world of opportunity was an historical anomaly—the only generation (post WW II) where “the living were wealthier than the dead”—where the power of inherited wealth had been so moderated that the living could in effect fashion the social contract anew, with generous social state benefits and social mobility.

My review essay in the current issue of IJFAB summarizes Piketty for you, comments on some of the key criticisms that have been raised—and then raises questions about what this emerging world means for issues of concern to bioethics. What does it mean for women and reproductive rights when inheritance once again becomes a substantial conduit for wealth? When the “war on cancer” took off in the 70s, one key step advocates took was to capture the attention of government, where the real money was—what does it mean for research ethics and global health when private foundations can easily outstrip government spending? This question doesn’t arise just at the global level—at the local level, charities, educational institutions, and nonprofits are increasingly beholden to large donors. While Piketty’s criticism of the austerity response to the financial crisis is welcome, what’s missing from Piketty’s grand narrative is any kind of global accounting for care labour, which is the resource governments are drawing on when they cut back the social state.

Piketty means to start a social conversation about what egalitarianism means in a world dominated by wealth. We haven’t had such a conversation since the communist states tried out their solution to the puzzle: putting all capital in the hands of the state. For most of history the story about wealth for the bottom 50% has been the same: it owns very little (5% of wealth at the most) or it owes more than it owns; the next 40% are the only folks who gained in the 20th century, now owning real estate and pensions—but our lives built around these assets are increasingly precarious; the share of the 1% is beginning to rise (at whose expense?) and the share of the 0.1% in wealth in the US has reached the levels last seen in the 1920s (Saez & Zucman 2014). Here the situation historically was reversed: Europe was the world of old accumulated and concentrated wealth, while North America enjoyed a broader distribution of wealth up until the 1950s. Piketty ascribes this to our youth as a society, but others might note it has something to do with the largest seizure of capital in the history of the planet—seizure of lands from the inhabitants of the continent. Piketty fosters this conversation by talking about the great novelists of the 19th century, the last era where pursuing inheritance was the way to make your mark in the world.

This conversation belongs in bioethics too. We focus a lot on economic inequality and health, but we need to think about the difference between income and wealth—what does wealth do for people, distinct from a good wage? And what does debt do to people? And specifically in relation to health, and in relation to our power or disempowerment as we encounter the institutions of medicine and health care? Many of our conversations about commodification and the body turn on an analogy between e.g. paid research participation, surrogate labour, incentivized organ donation and risky labour. Piketty focuses for us that the choice isn’t between selling your kidney and working in the oil fields. It’s between selling your kidney and nothing, for those in the 50% who have no capital to turn to as an alternative. It’s quite predictable that some (like me) will see this as strengthening the case for calling this exploitation of the poor, while others will undoubtedly make the opposite argument.

Piketty’s 600-page Capital in the 21st Century is a page-turner—really, it is—but if you don’t want to read that much, he has a shorter book, more of an introduction to the field, just out this summer, The Economics of Inequality. As for what can be done about this, you can turn to Piketty’s mentor, Antony Atkinson, who has just released a book of policy proposals, Inequality: What Can Be Done. And for the impact of inequality in health, and what can be done about that, Michael Marmot’s The Health Gap: Challenge of an Unequal World is out now.

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Written by guest blogger, John Maclachlan.


john maclachlan

Have you ever been asked by an editor to write a journal article for a special issue in eight weeks? Most of us would consider that a reasonable timeline if we had all of the background research compiled and necessary data collected and analyzed. What if you were asked to write the same article but you had not completed the data analysis? That might make you a little less confident but you would likely feel it was possible. Now, what if the editor came to you and asked you to create a research question, collect and analyze data, complete all the background research and write a paper ready for publication in a mere 8 weeks? Most of us would think the editor is being unrealistic and unceremoniously delete the e-mail. Now imagine all of this occurring during the last semester of your undergraduate career. This is exactly what was asked of the students in the McMaster University School of Geography and Earth Sciences 4th year undergraduate course ‘Glacial Sediments and Environments.’ When I told the class of the plan I was met with some understandable skepticism but that quickly turned into excitement when the process was explained to them. This was an optional assignment and students had the option of completing a more traditional report but the buy-in was apparent when over 90% of the class of 40 students opted to write a journal article.

To allow everyone to work to their strengths, collaborative writing groups were created allowing for students to get involved in projects that they may have previously avoided. For example students in the class that had little background in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) now had the opportunity to work on projects that included advanced spatial analysis. While I often run into students in the hallways of McMaster I may never forget the student who was walking to GIS Lab with a box of cupcakes on her way to a group meeting excited that she was learning what GIS could actually do and contributing to original research.

In a recent special edition focusing on student papers, Cartographica (Student Papers: Glaciers, Geomorphology, and Sedimentology) published six original research papers authored by McMaster University School of Geography and Earth Sciences undergraduate students. As the students had full control over their research questions a wide range of topics are explored. Two papers explore current practices of assessing geomorphological (“Morphological Interpretations of Glacial Forms by Spatial Analysis in the Area Surrounding Lake Simcoe, Ontario”) and geologic data (“SketchUp as a Construction Tool for Large-Scale Subsurface Structures: Three-Dimensional Visualization of the Parry Sound Domain, Grenville Province, Ontario’’) and offer commentary on best practices moving forward. The glacial history of Simcoe Country in southern Ontario is investigated through the special analysis of both dunes (“Delineation of Paleowind Direction from Dunes in Simcoe County, Ontario’’) and, the ever controversial glacial landform, drumlins (“Quantifying Eroded Sediment Volume during Drumlin Formation in Simcoe County’’). Not all research is based on Canadian content. Two papers use Icelandic data to address timely scientific questions. The first assesses the impacts of a subglacial volcano in Iceland (“Mapping the Impacts of Iceland’s Katla Subglacial Volcano on the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier’’) and the second looks at lake levels in response to a melting glacier (“Potential Environmental Effects of Expanding Lake Jökulsárlón in Response to Melting of Breiðamerkurjökull, Iceland’’).

I see this project as belonging to the students and the overall experience is well summed up by one of the authors, Christine van Beest:Christine Van Best

Being given the opportunity to have a published scientific article as an undergrad is a rare occurrence, and I was honoured to have the support from my professor and peers to achieve this accomplishment. I learned how to work with a group of peers to achieve a singular large goal as well has how to better self-critic my academic work. Overall being published has made me want to continue my academic journey in environmental science, and I plan on pursuing a Master’s degree in the field.


John Maclachlan’s article, “Student Collaborative Writing Groups: Mapping Glacial Geomorphology and Glacial Sedimentology” appears in Volume 50 Issue 3 (2015) of the Cartographica. Read it today by clicking here

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Toronto Gas Tax

by cmacmillan on August 28, 2015

Implementing a regional gasoline tax in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) would help reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and traffic accidents concludes a new study published in the latest issue of Canadian Public Policy, Canada’s foremost academic journal examining economic and social policy.

“A regional gasoline tax, similar to the one in Metro Vancouver, could shorten commutes, provide cleaner air, and prevent injuries, while raising revenue that could be used to reduce other taxes, fund public transit, or reduce the provincial debt” said Joel Wood, study author and Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University.

The study, Is It Time to Raise the Gas Tax? Optimal Gasoline Taxes for Ontario and Toronto, argues that gasoline taxes are levied for two important reasons: to raise revenue for government in a minimally intrusive way and to reduce the negative effects of driving (e.g., traffic congestion, air pollution, and accidents). Recently, there have been proposals to implement a 5 cent per litre gasoline tax in the GTHA to pay for public transit infrastructure, notably Metrolinx’s The Big Move plan. The study surveys estimates of how consumers respond to gasoline taxes, the costs of traffic congestion, the costs of air pollution, and many other parameters, and then uses these estimates in an economic model to calculate that a regional gasoline tax in the GTHA should be around 15 cents per litre (a total gasoline tax bill of 40.57 cents per litre).

“An additional 15 cent tax may seem high to Toronto drivers, but it is on par with the regional gasoline tax levied in Metro Vancouver. The existence of a similar tax in Metro Vancouver is suggestive that a regional tax of this value is a real possibility for the GTHA,” said Wood.
The study also notes that the Ontario gasoline tax has not changed since 1992 and the federal gasoline tax has not changed since 1995. The study also calculates a value for the Ontario-wide gasoline tax if a regional tax is not introduced and concludes that a five cent increase is justified.

“Gasoline taxes haven’t been raised since the early 1990s and have not increased with inflation; whereas, income tax paid increases as incomes adjust to inflation. Drivers in Ontario have paid gasoline taxes that were much higher in inflation adjusted terms in the past,” Wood said.

The study considers two possibilities of what could be done with the resulting revenue from higher gasoline taxes: Reducing income taxes or funding public transit. It is noted that the Metro Vancouver gasoline tax is earmarked to funding Translink, the regional transportation authority. The choice of what is done with the revenue does not affect the technical results of the study. However, the study notes that using the revenue to fund public transit could benefit lower income groups who may be negatively impacted by the tax.

“Funding transit may help build public support for the tax by mitigating possible regressive impacts. There also may be gains in public support if the earmarking is done in a transparent manner so taxpayers can see that the money is not going into general revenues,” said Wood.

The full article can be found at CPP Online and has been temporarily made open access and free to read.


Media Contact:

Joel Wood

Assistant Professor, School of Business and Economics, Thompson Rivers University

Telephone: (250)-371-5583


Twitter: @JoelWWood

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Does Law Matter for Tax Collection in Developing Countries?

August 19, 2015

Written by guest blogger, Wei Cui.   How much does law—legal institutions, legal rules and norms, and behavior oriented towards them—matter to tax administration? In advanced economies, we take it for granted that taxation is governed by the rule of law. Indeed, a fundamental reason many people would offer for why they pay tax is […]

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The Dawn of Tomorrow: A Reflection from CJH/ACH ‘s 2015 Graduate Essay Prize Winner

August 10, 2015

Written by guest blogger, Cheryl Thompson.   I have a PhD from McGill University in Communication Studies. My interdisciplinary research includes Media Studies and Visual Studies, Consumer Culture, Black Canadian History, and Racial and Gender Stereotyping. In 2015, after the initial submission of dissertation on Canada’s black beauty culture history, I stumbled upon the Canadian […]

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What Makes Canada’s Literature “Canadian”?

June 29, 2015

What makes a piece of literature “Canadian”? Is a piece of writing considered “Canadian” if it takes place in Canada? If the author is a citizen? If it’s the author’s birth place? This question has been long debated amongst Canadian Studies scholars and may never have a conclusive answer. Over the years, the International Journal […]

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From Pop Culture Obsession to Published Article in Three (not so) Easy Years

June 8, 2015

Written by guest blogger, Anna F. Peppard, PhD Candidate, York University I have a confession to make: I am obsessed with The A-Team. I began watching the show more than a decade ago, as a second-year undergrad with access to cable television for the first time, in my first apartment. Initially, I was compelled by […]

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Metadata – How to choose Keywords

May 1, 2015

In this series of blog posts we will be talking about how to make your article more discoverable by giving it rich, descriptive metadata. If you missed it, read our first post about what metadata is and how search engines use it, our post on how to write a great title, and our last post […]

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