Canada Launches Open Science Platform Today


Today, 33 major academic and pharmaceutical research partners publicly agreed to share health data in an open science system to combat Alzheimer’s, dementia, mental illness, spinal cord injuries and other diseases that affect the brains of approximately 11 million people across Canada.

They did so because they now have secure computer resources within a network called the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform (CONP).

CONP was made possible through a $10 million dollar grant from the Canada Brain Research Fund. David Lametti, Member of Parliament for LaSalle-Émard-Verdun and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development announced the grant earlier today.

The project is designed to allow researchers to share, store, analyze, and disseminate data using 8,000-10,000 terabytes of storage space from Compute Canada. Partners have also agreed to create and participate in inter-disciplinary training through the new organization.

This step is the next crucial element in creating the vision announced on December 16, 2016 by Larry Tanenbaum in the presence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Tanenbaum, the Chairman and CEO of Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Limited engineering construction company, donated $20 million dollars to create the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute at The Neuro.

The Open Science Institute operates under five philosophies designed to spur on innovation through unusual collaboration.

Partners agree to:

  • openly publish research results without restrictions,
  • share experimental data freely with international institutions,
  • refrain from obtaining patents,
  • share biological samples if supplies warrant it and patient confidentiality can be maintained, and
  • commercialize open source discoveries.

In addition to the Neuro at McGill, partners in todays announcement included: the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Western University, Brock University, University of Toronto, York University, Queen’s University, Concordia University, McGill University, Université de Montreal, Université de Sherbrooke, Université Laval, and Dalhousie University.


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Abu Film in Montreal April 13

An award-winning film called Abu features a  father-son relationship complicated by identity transformations and immigration. Montreal’s rendezvous du cinema quebecois film festival showed the film last night at the Cinématèque québecoise as part of the Rendezvous du cinema quebecois.

It opens on Friday, April 13 in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver at Cineplex Theatres, including the one at the Forum.

The English-language film contains some portions in Urdu with English subtitles. Parts of it are tragic, other parts are funny. 

Last night director Arshad Khan answered questions following the screening. I also met him a few weeks ago and he’s a compelling speaker.

Why Make the Film?

Khan told me he began considering the idea of making a film about his dad’s life and their relationship.that while going through reams of family footage to put together a video for the official memorial after his dad died.

We carried cameras with us everywhere,” he said. “My father loved photography and he wanted to create memories for all of us. I saw the footage as an opportunity to share my ‘real’ story, but it was a huge decision to really come out and tell people things I had never shared before.”

Focussing on Family Challenges

Khan said that he grew up in Pakistan in a household filled with photography, music and movies. Then his father underwent a religious transformation to become a conservative Muslim. From then on, he eschewed idle entertainment.

After that, Khan began recognizing his own identity as a gay man, something his father could not appreciate.  The racism the entire family faced after immigrating to Mississauga, Ontario added tension to their complicated communication hurdles.

Get a hint about what unfolds next via the film’s Youtube trailer.

Abu means father in Urdu. By making a film about how they related to one another, Khan could process his emotions and share them with others who might face similar struggles.

It has been a truly cathartic process and although it breaks all the rules of not sharing emotions and issues outside of the family, I hope that my father would be proud.”

Film Recognition

Abu won the jury prize for best documentary at three film festivals: the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, the TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival and the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival.

It also won audience awards in three others: the Montreal Image+Nation, the River to River Florence Indian Film Festival, and Kingston’s Reelout Film Festival.



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French version of Vagina Monologues in Verdun Feb 24

Les Monologues du Vagin,” the French version of The Vagina Monologues will be shown in Verdun on Saturday, February 24 at 7 p.m.

Entrance costs $20.

The play takes place at the Casa CAFI’s theatre, salle Manuel Fierro, 4729 rue de Verdun.

I saw Eve Ensler’s 1996 play about female sexuality, sexual mutilation and the role of vaginas in our lives the English play in Toronto several years ago and found it funny, tragic and uncomfortable all at once.

Glad to see that it’s been translated.

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The struggle to create safe clean social housing in Quebec

Four years ago, Verdun borough mayor Jean-François Parenteau agreed to build social housing on a municipally-owned lot on Gaetan Laberge instead of a larger project containing both condos and social housing.

It isn’t built yet in part because the land in question has to be decontaminated before residential units can be built. Add that price, which is likely to be in the millions of dollars to the cost of the social housing buildings, whatever form they take, and you get a challenging fundraising goal.

And that’s in addition to the many emotional and security barriers to building fully-subsidized apartments for vulnerable and impoverished people.

No matter where they live, or what their income might be, people can occasionally experience personal crises due to addiction, mental health challenges, and uncontrolled anger. Unfortunately, it can be much harder to hide these kinds of crises in a public building, even when most of the residences within it are private. That means that neighbours find out about every incident, and assume that unusual situations occur more often than they do. The stigma makes it hard to build social housing into the fabric of communities.

People don’t want those units too close to home,” said a condo developer in response to a question about integrating social housing into his projects when I first looked into this issue four years ago. “They’re afraid their property values will go down.”

Boroughs don’t like lower property values either, nor do they appreciate handling security and social problems that are difficult to hide in large impoverished neighbourhoods.  Despite a 2005 City of Montreal policy that requires 15% of social housing and 15% of affordable housing in all new developments with more than 200 units, boroughs and cities can make exceptions. Often, they require cash payments towards parks and public spaces instead.

The result is a waiting list of 25,000 people for social housing while there’s a glut of condominiums for sale. That’s 3,000 more people on the waiting list than when I covered this issue four years ago. And things then were bad:

Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI each have more than a year of inventory to absorb,” wrote Robert Kavcic, a senior economist with BMO Financial in June, 2014. “In most cases, those are decade highs that exceed even levels seen at the height of the Great Recession.”

Maintaining pure social housing after it’s built can also be a challenge; in that model, tenants pay only 25% of their income in rent, regardless of how little they earn. Today, the social housing banner also includes low-income apartments, cooperative housing projects and seniors’ residences run by non-profit entities.

Some non-profit housing options exist, but most of today’s pure social housing units were created with federal and provincial government financing in the sixties and seventies. In 1969, the federal government set up social housing neighbourhoods across the country through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

By 1982, people weren’t as concerned about social housing as they had been earlier. The CMHC began selling all of its buildings to local non-profits, a process they completed in 1994.

Some imaginative local politicians reacted to ensure that the units remained accessible to low-income people. In Pierrefonds for example, local politicians helped tenants turn a 750-unit building called Cloverdale into Canada’s largest housing cooperative.

As inspiring as that project was, other regions didn’t duplicate it. LaSalle Heights was owned by the same person, but instead of following the coop creation model, it was sold to private for-profit interests in 1988. The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation battled the decision in court for years, but ultimately lost the right to keep the units reserved for low-income tenants. Instead, the CMHC set up grants for tenants and partnered with the owners to keep the complex open for another fifteen years. That agreement officially expires next year and locals worry that the site is targeted for major gentrification, especially since the 750 units are no longer tracked by any public agency.

The only social housing that is tracked carefully is that managed within the provincial HLM program. The Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM) operates 20,810 low-rent apartments within this program, while the Office municipal d’habitation de Laval (OMHL) operates another 1,120.

Unfortunately, almost all of the apartment buildings in the program were built in the seventies, so they require annual maintenance and occasional renewal projects that creates inconveniences for everyone and give the program a bad name. Renovations, when they occur, cost millions of dollars.

Hundreds of residents of a building on Plamondon, for instance, only just moved back into their units last June after three-and-a-half years and $10 million dollars in renovations that included removing mold.

Many other buildings need the same treatment. At the same time, Montreal faces a severe shortage of affordable family-sized rental units.

Verdun’s project remains one to watch to see whether any social housing solution can be found.

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