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The Mass Collection of Information on Canadians a Cause for Concern: STU Professor Testifies before Committee Examining Bill C-59

PUBLISHED DATE: Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Human Rights professor Dr. Christina Szurlej is advocating for greater protection of individual rights within Bill C-59 which seeks to revamp Canada’s national security framework.
Bill C-59 is the government’s response to consultations on Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 to ensure “national security laws and policies reflect the rights, values and freedoms of Canadians.”
Szurlej appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in Ottawa to comment on the Bill.
“It has some positive aspects like creating an Intelligence Commissioner and National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, but other parts of the Bill overstep human rights protections, including privacy and fundamental freedoms,” says Szurlej.
The Bill allows for bulk collection of ‘publicly available’ information ‘relevant’ to the work of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) without the consent or knowledge of Canadians. No direct link to preventing threats to security would need to be established.
“This can result in or encourage commodification of personal data, where third parties sell information the individual thinks is private. Third parties can include hackers who have obtained the information through illegal means.”
Another risk is if Canadians don’t know what information has been collected, they can’t challenge its authenticity. This is problematic when advancements in computer software are making it easier to fabricate information.
Face2Face technology, for example, allows the user to superimpose their facial expressions and movements onto any face captured on video. The result is a realistic-looking video of the subject saying anything the user wants. This could interfere with the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, especially if bulk data is used to predict the likelihood of an individual committing an office.
Algorithms could even be misused to gain a significant advantage during elections by identifying undecided voters and revealing how to sway them.
“If this pillar of Canadian values falls, so too does individual security, self-fulfillment, autonomy, and a thriving democratic society,” she said.

“Today we are at a crossroad. Canadians need to ask if this is the direction we want to take as a nation.”

Presidential Advisers and the Human Brain: Diverse Research Topics Funded by McCain Award

PUBLISHED DATE: Thursday, February 1, 2018
Dr. Jamie Gillies of the Department of Communications and Public Policy (seen in photo) and Dr. Tyler Bancroft of the Department of Psychology are this year’s recipients of the Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award.
Dr. Jamie Gillies of the Department of Communications and Public Policy and Dr. Tyler Bancroft of the Department of Psychology are this year’s recipients of the Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award.

The faculty members have each received a 3 credit-hour course release to dedicate more time to their research.

A Look at Presidential Advisers

Dr. Gillies will use the course release to work on his manuscript Bankrupting America: Advisory Entrepreneurship, Fiscal Competence and the Presidency from Carter to Trump.

This research project is an extension of his dissertation research that he conducted in Washington while he was a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution and at Georgetown University. 

The project considers the roles played by fiscal policy advisers within White House administrations from Jimmy Carter through Donald Trump. It is the first sustained study of fiscal policy decision making across seven presidential administrations. 

It extends American political science research on theories of advisory systems in executive leadership and offers suggestions for how presidents might structure their White House. The study concludes with a discussion for future presidents and adviser practitioners on the need to consider strongly the benefits of ensuring advisory systems are balanced with different types of advisers.

“The fiscal policies of the past forty years offer an excellent historical and political lesson for those aspiring to enter the White House,” Dr. Gillies explained. “The case of fiscal policy has demonstrated some remarkably divergent ways in which presidents construct their advisory systems.  Viewing advisers as ‘advisory entrepreneurs’ shifts the focus from studying individual advisers to studying how presidents utilize their advisory systems."

He will use the McCain Course Release Award to complete the sections of the manuscript on Barack Obama and Donald Trump to bring the narrative to date. He hopes to complete his book manuscript in 2019.

How Brains Store Information in Memory

Bancroft will use his course release to dedicate more time to his research on the neural circuitry underlying short-term memory in humans. 

“My research focuses on developing and testing new mathematical models of how our brains store information in memory,” Dr. Bancroft explained.  “This is a major research theme in modern neuroscience, as deficits in memory occur in many medical conditions. The better we understand our brain's memory systems, the better chances we have of developing treatments.”

One of the most influential current movements in psychology and neuroscience is the movement toward formal, quantitative models of the mind and brain. The enormous complexity of the mind and brain renders this an imposing, time-consuming task but also a necessary one.

“Verbal models of how our minds/brains work are woefully inefficient and incomplete, hence the move toward formalization,” Bancroft added. “Human languages are not capable of adequately representing the function of brains that have literally, quadrillions of components that must be dealt with. The only sufficient language is that of mathematics.”

In recent years, Bancroft has been working on developing a model that is biologically detailed and based on the principles of how brains actually develop. 

He says the course release will allow him to dedicate more time to the development of the model.

The Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award was created in 1997 after the McCain family made a generous donation to St. Thomas University to pay for a six credit-hour course release in support of faculty research.

A Narrow View: STU Prof and Two Recent Grads Publish Peer-Reviewed Article About the Conceptualization of Sexual Problems in Human Sexuality Textbooks

PUBLISHED DATE: Friday, January 26, 2018
Left to right: Brittany Stairs (BA’13), Dr. Monika Stelzl, and Hannah Anstey (BA’17). The researchers are concerned about how the meaning of “sexual problems” is described in undergraduate human sexuality textbooks and their work has now been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
A STU professor and two recent graduates are concerned about how the meaning of “sexual problems” is described in undergraduate human sexuality textbooks and their work has now been published in a peer-reviewed journal. 
Psychology professor Dr. Monika Stelzl, Brittany Stairs (BA’13), and Hannah Anstey (BA’17) surveyed 16 undergraduate human sexuality textbooks to see how the meaning of sexual problems was explained.  
Their peer-reviewed article, “A narrow view: The conceptualization of sexual problems in human sexuality textbooks,” was published in a special issue of the Journal of Health Psychology that focuses on sexual health. (Read the full article here:

“We were interested in examining undergraduate sexuality textbooks,” explained Dr. Stelzl, who is currently teaching Sexuality and Diversity at STU. “We explored how the textbooks presented the meanings of sexual problems. In other words, we were interested in how textbooks defined and described what sexual problems meant.”
Unique Student Experience

Dr. Stelzl worked on this research with recent Psychology grads Brittany Stairs (BA’13) and Hannah Anstey (BA’17). She says it’s wonderful for students and recent graduates to get hands-on experience with different parts of the research process – in this case, manuscript preparation, which includes writing, submitting, and revising the manuscript.

“For our students, this a pretty unique experience at the undergraduate level. Typically, it is not until graduate school that students get invited to collaborate on a manuscript,” she says.

“By being involved in research and manuscript preparation, students start developing their research skills early on in their scholarly journey. In addition, it helps them understand the energy and time involved in conducting and publishing one’s research and, thus, they are better equipped to make decisions about their professional future.”

Advocating for a Holistic Approach to Understanding Sexual Problems

The researchers found that sexual problems were largely framed by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Alternative views of sexual problems were sometimes included. Although, when they were it was to a much lesser degree. 
“Our findings contribute to the existing research by showing that textbooks tend to reproduce and privilege mainstream and dominant ways that sexual problems are defined,” she adds.
“The meaning of sexual problems can be constructed in multiple ways, yet textbooks tended to not incorporate alternative definitions and focused primarily on the medical description. Thus, the findings of our study are important as they encourage those who teach and study human sexuality to use critical thinking when teaching and learning about sexual challenges.”
The researchers also found these results especially concerning because these textbooks are aimed at undergraduate students.
“It is important to know that there are different definitions and understandings of sexual problems for a number of reasons. The textbooks’ privileging of one specific (i.e., medical) way that sexual problems are described may encourage students to accept this one way as the only way of what sexual problems mean. This can influence their understanding of sexual problems in a broad sense – such as what students come across in media, other courses, and even in conversations with friends and family,” Stelzl explains.
“But this can also impact how students make sense of their own sexuality. By knowing that sexual problems can be defined beyond the language of medicine and pathology (i.e. sexual problems as sexual disorders), students of human sexuality have more options in terms of understanding their own experiences – be it on their own or in relationships.”

The authors are advocating for textbooks to revamp their section on sexual problems.
“Rather than positioning alternatives as ‘other’ or not equal to medical discourses, we advocate for substantial incorporation of alternative discourses. Discourses of diverse bodies and diverse sexual possibilities as well as discourses of health and pleasure need to be given the same attention as discourses of pathology and medicine in human sexuality textbooks.”

Bringing New Brunswick Authors to High School Classrooms: Tony Tremblay Develops New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English

PUBLISHED DATE: Friday, November 17, 2017
By Monica Furness, BA’18

Dr. Tony Tremblay hopes that his newest project, the New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English, will promote greater awareness and appreciation of the province’s rich literary history.
The curriculum is a free web resource for teachers, students, and others interested in learning more about New Brunswick literature. Tremblay was inspired to create the resource while teaching courses about the subject.
“Every time I taught that course I would begin with a little survey. What I discovered was shocking – that the vast majority of students couldn’t name one New Brunswick writer,” he said.

“And the students were perturbed by that. They wanted more content. A majority of St. Thomas students come from New Brunswick, so they had been introduced to some of this content, but not in the depth that they wanted. They felt sort of short-changed as a result. That led me to the idea to put a resource together.”  
Tremblay, who recently completed his term as the Canada Research Chair in New Brunswick Studies, set about changing this by developing the curriculum.
Designed for use in New Brunswick high schools, the curriculum features 44 authors and poets who were from, lived in, or wrote about the province, such as modernist poet Elizabeth Brewster and Miramichi author Ray Fraser.
It includes selected readings, biographical information, and strategies for teachers who wish to use the material in their classrooms.
The resource has also been placed online for everyone – not just educators – to access in its entirety.
“My interpretation of my Canada Research Chair was to develop resources that people in the province could use,” he said.
Tremblay worked closely with several students to create the curriculum and ensure it met curriculum guidelines for use in the New Brunswick education system.
“All the projects that I’ve done have had a large student component,” he said.
He hopes that the curriculum, which he considers to be the capstone of his term as a Canada Research Chair, will be adopted by teachers, and that New Brunswickers will use the resource to learn more about their literature, their history, and themselves.
Visit the curriculum website here: