Smart devices can now read your mood and mind, leading to a new set of concerns about technology and consent

Computer-brain interfaces are no longer science fiction. (Shutterstock)

While waiting to board a plane on a recent trip out of town, an airline staff member asked me to momentarily take off my face mask to allow the facial recognition technology to check me in to expedite my boarding process. I was taken aback by the bluntness of the request — I did not want to take my mask off in such a crowded space and I had not given permission to have my face scanned.

While this encounter felt like an invasion of my privacy, it also got me thinking about other biometric recognition devices which, for better or worse, are already integrated into our everyday lives.

There are the obvious examples: fingerprint scanners that unlock doors and facial recognition that allows payment through a phone. But there are other devices that do more than read an image — they can literally read people’s minds.

Read more:
AI is increasingly being used to identify emotions – here’s what’s at stake

Humans and machines

My work explores the dynamics of how humans interact with machines, and how such interactions affect the cognitive state of the human operator.

A human interacts with a robot assistant.

Researchers in human factors engineering have recently focused their attention on the development of machine vision systems. These systems sense overt biological signals — for example, the direction of eye gaze or heart rate — to estimate cognitive states like distraction or fatigue.

A case can be made that these devices hold undeniable benefits in certain situations, such as driving. Human factors like distracted driving, which ranks among the top contributors of road fatalities, could be all but eliminated following an adequate introduction of these systems. Proposals to mandate the use of these devices are being introduced worldwide.

A different yet equally important application is the one proposed by none other than Elon Musk’s Neuralink corporation. In a December 2021 appearance at the Wall Street Journal‘s CEO Council Summit, Musk portrayed a very-near future where brain implants will help patients suffering from paralysis regain control of their limbs through a brain implant.

While the concept and, in fact, the reality of brain-computer interfaces has existed since the 1960s, the thought of an implanted device having direct access to the brain is disconcerting, to say the least.

It’s not only these devices’ ability to create a direct bridge between the human brain and the outside world that frightens me: what will happen to the data being harvested and who will have access to it?

Elon Musk discusses brain implants.

Cognitive freedom

This opens up the question of what, in regard to neuroethics — the body of interdisciplinary studies exploring the ethical issues related to neuroscience — is referred to as cognitive freedom.

Italian cognitive scientist Andrea Lavazza defines cognitive freedom as “the possibility of elaborating one’s own thoughts autonomously, without interference, and of revealing them totally, partially or not at all on the basis of a personal decision.” Cognitive freedom is brought to the forefront when technology has reached a point where it can monitor or even manipulate mental states as a means of cognitive enhancement for professionals like physicians or pilots.

Or mind control for convicted criminals — Lavazza suggests that “it would not be so strange for the criminal system to require a person convicted of a violent crime to undergo [a brain implant] so as to control any new aggressive impulses.”

The ramifications that the development and deployment of biological sensors and devices like brain-computer interfaces have on our lives are at the centre of the debate. Not only in neuroethics, which is witnessing the formation of neuro-rights initiatives worldwide, but also across the broader civil spectrum where it is being debated whether actions undertaken with an implant ought to be governed by the same laws ruling conventional bodily movements.

Personally, I will need to take some more time weighing the pros and cons of biological sensors and devices in my everyday life. And if I am asked for permission to have my face scanned to expedite boarding a plane, I will respond with: “Let’s do it the old-fashioned way, I don’t mind waiting.”

Francesco Biondi receives funding from SSHRC, Mitacs, the Ontario Center of Excellence, and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

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Artificial intelligence can discriminate on the basis of race and gender, and also age

Older adults are increasingly using technologies in their everyday lives, but the needs of this population are often ignored in AI design. (Shutterstock)

We have accepted the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in complex processes — from health care to our daily use of social media — often without critical investigation, until it is too late. The use of AI is inescapable in our modern society, and it may perpetuate discrimination without its users being aware of any prejudice. When health-care providers rely on biased technology, there are real and harmful impacts.

This became clear recently when a study showed that pulse oximeters — which measure the amount of oxygen in the blood and have been an essential tool for clinical management of COVID-19 — are less accurate on people with darker skin than lighter skin. The findings resulted in a sweeping racial bias review now underway, in an attempt to create international standards for testing medical devices.

There are examples in health care, business, government and everyday life where biased algorithms have led to problems, like sexist searches and racist predictions of an offender’s likelihood of re-offending.

AI is often assumed to be more objective than humans. In reality, however, AI algorithms make decisions based on human-annotated data, which can be biased and exclusionary. Current research on bias in AI focuses mainly on gender and race. But what about age-related bias — can AI be ageist?

Ageist technologies?

In 2021, the World Health Organization released a global report on aging, which called for urgent action to combat ageism because of its widespread impacts on health and well-being.

Ageism is defined as “a process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old.” It can be explicit or implicit, and can take the form of negative attitudes, discriminatory activities, or institutional practices.

The pervasiveness of ageism has been brought to the forefront throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Older adults have been labelled as “burdens to societies,” and in some jurisdictions, age has been used as the sole criterion for lifesaving treatments.

The WHO’s campaign to address ageism.

Digital ageism exists when age-based bias and discrimination are created or supported by technology. A recent report indicates that a “digital world” of more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is produced each day. Yet even though older adults are using technology in greater numbers — and benefiting from that use — they continue to be the age cohort least likely to have access to a computer and the internet.

Read more:
Online arts programming improves quality of life for isolated seniors

Digital ageism can arise when ageist attitudes influence technology design, or when ageism makes it more difficult for older adults to access and enjoy the full benefits of digital technologies.

Cycles of injustice

There are several intertwined cycles of injustice where technological, individual and social biases interact to produce, reinforce and contribute to digital ageism.

Barriers to technological access can exclude older adults from the research, design and development process of digital technologies. Their absence in technology design and development may also be rationalized with the ageist belief that older adults are incapable of using technology. As such, older adults and their perspectives are rarely involved in the development of AI and related policies, funding and support services.

The unique experiences and needs of older adults are overlooked, despite age being a more powerful predictor of technology use than other demographic characteristics including race and gender.

AI is trained by data, and the absence of older adults could reproduce or even amplify the above ageist assumptions in its output. Many AI technologies are focused on a stereotypical image of an older adult in poor health — a narrow segment of the population that ignores healthy aging. This creates a negative feedback loop that not only discourages older adults from using AI, but also results in further data loss from these demographics that would improve AI accuracy.

Developers need to consider how older adults use technology in order to design for them.

Even when older adults are included in large datasets, they are often grouped according to arbitrary divisions by developers. For example, older adults may be defined as everyone aged 50 and older, despite younger age cohorts being divided into narrower age ranges. As a result, older adults and their needs can become invisible to AI systems.

In this way, AI systems reinforce inequality and magnify societal exclusion for sections of the population, creating a “digital underclass” primarily made up of older, poor, racialized and marginalized groups.

Addressing digital ageism

We must understand the risks and harms associated with age-related biases as more older adults turn to technology.

The first step is for researchers and developers to acknowledge the existence of digital ageism alongside other forms of algorithmic biases, such as racism and sexism. They need to direct efforts towards identifying and measuring it. The next step is to develop safeguards for AI systems to mitigate ageist outcomes.

There is currently very little training, auditing or oversight of AI-driven activities from a regulatory or legal perspective. For instance, Canada’s current AI regulatory regime is sorely lacking.

This presents a challenge, but also an opportunity to include ageism alongside other forms of biases and discrimination in need of excision. To combat digital ageism, older adults must be included in a meaningful and collaborative way in designing new technologies.

With bias in AI now recognized as a critical problem in need of urgent action, it is time to consider the experience of digital ageism for older adults, and understand how growing old in an increasingly digital world may reinforce social inequalities, exclusion and marginalization.

Charlene Chu receives research funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, New Frontiers Research Fund, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Alzheimer Society of Canada. She is an Affiliate Scientist at KITE-Toronto Rehabilitation Institute- University Health Network.

Kathleen Leslie receives funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. She is the Governance and Regulation theme lead at the Canadian Health Workforce Network.

Rune Nyrup receives funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust. He is a Senior research fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and a research fellow at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge.

Shehroz Khan receives funding from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, ocial Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

He is affiliated with the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor.

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Carrots, sermons, sticks: Vaccine mandates face opposition around the globe

Around the world, from Italy to Québec, authorities are using everything from mandates to incentives to try to get people vaccinated. Here’s why mandates aren’t always effective, are difficult to enforce and often lead to protests like the one seen here in Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Politicians around the world are torn between pressure to implement vaccine mandates and the danger of further fuelling social division and protests.

When COVID-19 arrived, the carrot dangled to citizens was that once the majority of them were vaccinated, life would return to normal.
Some governments offered incentives and prizes to encourage vaccination. In Moscow, draws for cars were held while Londoners had the chance to win tickets to football matches.

However, the rise of COVID-19 variants, along with the waning of the protection offered by vaccines against infection, meant that the pandemic continued even in countries where the majority of the population had received their shots.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in December 2021.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Politicians then turned to sermons, with appeals for all citizens to get vaccinated, along with their children. Public health officials like Anthony Fauci in the United States were thrust into the headlines as advocates of vaccines and vaccination. But even today, the preaching and education are still failing to sway enough holdouts to get jabbed.

Mandates aimed at changing behaviour

Next, politicians turned to sticks by instituting vaccination mandates. Mandates are orders for citizens to act at the behest of governments; for the most part, they’re not laws passed by legislatures. Mandates of any kind are controversial, and particularly so when implemented rapidly and designed to swiftly change individual behaviour.

Even in countries with high vaccination rates, like South Korea, the recent vaccine mandate to enter supermarkets has been extraordinarily divisive.

Vaccine mandates aren’t decrees for citizens to roll up their sleeves, but rather rules that restrict the activities of those not vaccinated. In other words, they penalize those who don’t comply. The penalties involve preventing access to workplaces and restaurants, travel and other activities.

Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane to Belgrade after being deported from Australia due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
(AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Unlike carrots and sermons, the problem with mandates is that, inevitably, exceptions are sought by particular groups or people.

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s recent deportation from Australia, for example, was the culmination of a public saga involving the legal and political interpretations of that country’s vaccine mandate.

Read more:
Novak Djokovic: the legal problem of having one rule for some, another for everyone else

Mandates have questionable effectiveness

The effectiveness of mandates as a strategy to encourage the final group of holdouts to become vaccinated has always been problematic.

The World Health Organization hasn’t recommended vaccine mandates, labelling them as the “absolute last resort.” Mandates may change behaviour of individuals who are uncertain about whether to get the vaccine, but not of those with strongly held beliefs.

In late 2021, Greece made vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and older, but there was no enforcement. In early 2022, the Greek government announced a 100 euro fine for those not yet vaccinated, but it’s also unclear how those fines will be enforced.

Italy, where almost 75 per cent of the population is vaccinated, has made getting the jab compulsory for everyone over the age of 50.

In France as of mid-January, all adults must be fully vaccinated to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues. Unlike vaccine mandates in many other countries, this mandate is a law passed by the National Assembly, not an order issued by the French president. However, there is no government vaccine mandate for most workplaces in the country.

A grocery store owner who successfully challenged the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In the U.S., the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s mandate to compel businesses with more than 100 employees to require workers to be vaccinated or tested.

The court ruled that although the Biden administration has the authority to regulate occupational dangers, it does not have the power to regulate public health more broadly. Only Congress has this power, the Supreme Court justices said, in the form of new legislation.

Austria plans to fine those who have not met the mandatory vaccination requirement up 3,600 euros every three months. But, again, there’s no indication of how this will work in practice. In Canada, Québec has proposed a substantial tax on unvaccinated adults, again with few details.

Read more:
COVID-19 vaccine mandates would likely face legal hurdles in Canada

Trial balloons?

The fines and taxes being proposed are trial balloons that cannot reasonably be implemented or enforced. In any case, they are likely to be found unconstitutional by the courts.

Demonstrators protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Paris in December 2021.
(AP Photo/Francois Mori)

These trial balloons suggest politicians are recognizing that mandates won’t change the minds or behaviour of those who remain unvaccinated. French President Emmanuel Macron admitted as much recently with his comment that his aim now is to hassle and annoy the unvaccinated.

Having exhausted the policy tools available to change individual behaviour, politicians now ponder next steps. It may be that little can be gained from additional vaccine mandates and related punitive measures other than weakening social cohesion.

Political leaders may well consider returning where they began: looking at carrots rather than sticks, and making vaccination attractive to the holdouts rather than punishing them.

Thomas Klassen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The Conversation – Articles (CA)

Should university instructors disclose mental health conditions? It’s complicated

The choice about whether or not to disclose a mental health condition to colleagues or managers, or to share a personal mental illness story with students, includes a number of complex factors. (Shutterstock)

The onset of what some psychologists suggest is a mental health “parallel pandemic” during COVID-19 has created new questions about how post-secondary instructors address mental health in their classrooms.

The negative impact of the pandemic on mental health in Canada is clear: significant levels of self-reported anxiety have been found in 36 per cent of Canadians aged 15-34, and increased levels of self-reported anxiety and depression have been found among post-secondary students accessing mental health supports at counselling centres across numerous Canadian campuses.

For instructors living with mental illness, the need to consider whether or not to disclose their own mental health conditions to students has become a pressing issue.

A political or moral responsibility?

Some instructors feel that mental illness disclosure in academic settings is a political and moral responsibility. Disclosures by instructors can be a means to show support for students with mental health conditions that might have worsened as a result of the pandemic. Disclosures can also promote authenticity in the classroom, and provide an opportunity to assist students with mental health challenges or direct them to relevant campus resources.

However, studies on the rates and experiences of mental illness among instructors, as well as how mental health disclosures impact students, are relatively new.

Demands in the pandemic

The pandemic continues to present unique demands for post-secondary instructors. These include pivoting to deliver rigorous distance education while managing family obligations, the uncertainty of short-term contracts and research interruptions.

Read more:
University survey shows how COVID-19 pandemic is hampering career progress for women and racialized faculty

In addition, instructors are navigating boundaries and responsibilities around their students’ well-being, which may surface directly if students ask for help, or indirectly when students are struggling academically.

Based on our research team’s personal experiences, those instructors who have disclosed their mental health status have also felt varying levels of support from colleagues and university administration. While some faculty feel that they have been well supported, with colleagues and leadership going “above and beyond,” others have commented on the perceived absence of authentic concern and care from leadership and peers as they struggle with mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Stigma, symptoms, relevance, supports

The choice about whether or not to share a personal mental illness story with a class of students, or to disclose a mental health condition to colleagues or managers includes a number of complex factors: perceived or real stigma concerning mental health conditions, the nature of one’s prognosis, the manifestation of symptoms, the relevance to others and the presence of social supports.

Mental health disclosures can have a number of positive outcomes, including greater access to social supports and accommodations in the workplace. However, a recent graduate thesis that asked students to offer impressions about hypothetical scenarios found that students rated instructors’ competence and character lower when instructors disclosed their mental illness in their syllabi. The same study suggested higher empathy and relatability for instructors experiencing mental illness, despite perceptions of diminished leadership capacity.

As this field of research remains in its infancy, the relationship between instructor mental illness disclosure and various student and teacher outcomes is unclear.

Academic Mental Illness Project

Our Academic Mental Illness Project (AMIP) was developed by an interdisciplinary group of post-secondary instructors (from psychology, education, agriculture, history, kinesiology, and digital learning) at the University of Saskatchewan to further explore these questions.

Prior to the pandemic, several AMIP instructors regularly disclosed their own mental illnesses to students as a way of normalizing mental health challenges. Most remember receiving warnings or negative feedback from other colleagues about these disclosures, citing how they may impact their future career opportunities.

Read more:
As Dead Poets Society turns 30, classroom rapport is still relevant and risky

In some cases, instructors also worried that a combination of disclosing their mental health conditions and other parts of their identity, such as their sexual orientation or gender identity, might further negatively affect the way that students perceived them.

At the same time, some members of our group routinely received positive feedback from students upon disclosing their mental health conditions, including emails from students thanking us for modelling how to navigate mental health challenges.

During the pandemic, as mental health conditions were pushed to the forefront of many student-instructor interactions, disclosing instructors in our group received markedly more requests from students seeking help or advice in accessing local mental health services.

How should professors navigate requests from students seeking to access mental health services?

Further questions

Given the changing reality of the pandemic and the continuous stigma surrounding mental illness, it is important to explore the potential benefits and risks that might accrue to instructors and students involved in classroom disclosure experiences.

We wonder, for example, how serving as a first point of contact for distressed students may affect the mental health of instructors living with mental illness and how they manage the risk of compassion fatigue.

Read more:
4 steps to teacher recovery from compassion fatigue and burnout during COVID-19 and beyond

We are currently exploring how instructors’ disclosures of their mental health conditions shape student attitudes toward mental illness, influence student perceptions (like the instructor’s competence, warmth or approachability, capacity to inspire or motivate, and so on) and impact student outcomes — such as the likelihood of seeking support from the instructor, or intending to take additional courses.

We are also investigating how mental illness is woven into the teaching practice and academic experiences of disclosing instructors. By gaining an in-depth understanding of student and instructor experiences, we hope to uncover how instructor disclosures unfold in the lives of those involved and impact stigma and communication about mental illness on campus.

Jan M Gelech has received funding from Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning and the University of Saskatchewan.

Simonne Horwitz receives funding from SSHRC.

Ana Carolina de Barros, Jenn Bergen, Shannon Forrester, and Vicki Squires do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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10 ways to help lonely loved ones in long-term care homes, according to an LTC worker

Social isolation can be hard for people living in long-term care homes, make sure to schedule window visits while lockdowns are in place. (Shutterstock)

The devastation brought by the Omicron variant on long-term care (LTC) homes in Ontario is rampant as numerous staff and residents test positive for COVID-19.

Due to the rise of Omicron, Ontario added new restrictions to LTC homes that resulted in a ban on general visitors and day absences for residents for social purposes. Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips reinforced the necessity of these policy changes as LTC facilities are home to a “very, very vulnerable group of individuals.”

Although this current LTC lockdown was implemented for the safety of residents, experts remain concerned, family members feel livid, staff battle sheer exhaustion and residents continue to suffer from not only sickness, but also social isolation and loneliness.

Social isolation and loneliness remain an epidemic amplified by the pandemic, especially in LTC.

Read more:
Loneliness could kill you

My PhD dissertation looks at social isolation and older adults, with a particular focus on how the pandemic exacerbates feelings of isolation and loneliness. I currently work on the frontlines in an LTC home experiencing a massive outbreak. I am exhausted from how short-staffed we are, and fear not only contracting the virus and spreading it to other residents, but bringing it home and spreading it to my family.

My own anxieties aside, LTC workers, including me, recognize the negative impact the pandemic has had on residents’ mental health, spirit and overall well-being. We nevertheless recognize that confining residents to their individual rooms is seemingly the only way to minimize the transmission the Omicron variant. This restriction, however, comes at a great cost to residents.

Social isolation, loneliness: An LTC epidemic

Though mandated isolation keeps residents safer, companionship, emotional support, in-person contact and social engagement — the human elements of LTC — are currently near to non-existent. Combined with the poor health, cognitive impairment and psychological distress that can be experienced by residents, the risk of social isolation and loneliness is painful. It is one of the biggest social problems of our time, and the lack of social connectedness introduces a whole host of other detrimental health outcomes.

Social isolation in older adulthood is associated with increased mortality, poorer self-rated health, lower quality of life and greater risk of dementia.

LTC residents need social connection. While face-to-face interactions are always preferable they’re currently not fully possible unless you’re an essential family caregiver. But there are ways to nourish our social appetites during a pandemic.

To address this crisis of connection experienced by residents, LTC workers are doing what they can to engage their residents socially. We sing, play music, show movies, provide updates and engage in as much conversation as we can to keep residents’ spirits high.

Even so, with Omicron affecting more than 30 per cent of LTC staff, we need family members and friends now more than ever to help residents stay connected and feel less lonely and isolated.

If you have tech lying around that you’re not using, consider bringing it to your loved one in a LTC. It will help keep them busy and feeling connected.

10 things you can do

If your loved one is currently living in a LTC home facing an outbreak, here are some things you can do to make sure they don’t feel totally alone:

Get in touch with the LTC home’s recreation therapist to let them know what kind of music, TV shows or movies your loved one enjoys.

Drop off a smartphone, iPad, tablet, portable DVD player, iPod, etc., so your loved one can stay entertained and connected.

Chat on Facebook Messenger, Skype or e-mail.

Write them a letter. Offer words of affirmation and encouragement. Remind them how resilient they are and that better days are coming. Be there for them and let them know they have your support.

Schedule phone calls and video chats with your loved one.

Schedule a phone call even if your loved one doesn’t have a phone. Every LTC home has a land line, either for the charge nurse or for management (or both); it can be brought to their room (sanitized before and after).

If you’re an essential family caregiver and you feel comfortable, book a visit to see your loved one. Phillips allows family caregivers in LTC homes to ensure that “vital connections to family and friends are still available.” Each home will provide you with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) that you need.

Do a window visit. Come to your loved one’s window and bring written signs telling them how you much you love them and can’t wait to see them soon.

Drop off their favourite snacks (something sealed and wrapped so it can be wiped down, like a bag of chips or chocolate bar).

Drop off old family photos, puzzles, colouring books or anything meaningful.

Doing any of the above is a massive help for both staff and residents in LTC. Please remember to exercise patience and kindness when dealing with staff, we are doing our best.

Communication is truly key in such challenging times and your presence — either virtually or through the window — is very needed.

Victoria Atabakhsh does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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‘Never’ or just ‘not yet?’ How timing affects COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

Researchers sought to understand how thinking about COVID-19 vaccine availability along different timelines might influence a person’s vaccine decisions. (Shutterstock)

As COVID-19 case counts continue to rise across Canada, it is clear that we’re far from “out of the woods” with this pandemic. While much is still unknown about the Omicron variant, it seems very likely that existing vaccines will offer protection against severe cases of COVID-19, and Canada is rapidly administering booster shots in an effort to help to bolster immunity.

Click here for more articles in our series about vaccine confidence.

While vaccination coverage against COVID-19 is relatively high (76.49 per cent of the total population is fully vaccinated at the time of writing), there remains a substantial group of Canadians who are either unvaccinated, or only partially vaccinated against COVID-19.

At this point in the pandemic (more than six months after most Canadian adults became eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine), should we declare this level of vaccination coverage as the “vaccine ceiling?” Our research suggests the answer is no.

Vaccine hesitancy in a COVID-19 world

As defined by the World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), the term “vaccine hesitancy” is used to describe “a delay or refusal of vaccination, despite availability of vaccination services.” The range of reasons why some Canadians remain unvaccinated is wide, including (but not limited to) concerns about “personal freedom,” health concerns and the belief that COVID-19 is not as serious a health threat as it’s made out to be.

Timing plays a role in decisions, so vaccine hesitancy may not mean that a person will never choose to be vaccinated.

Much of the existing research on vaccine hesitancy has focused on identifying personal or demographic factors associated with vaccine hesitancy, such as age, gender and socio-economic status. Our research investigated the role of timing in vaccine uptake.

Given the unique nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its vaccines, not all Canadians gained access to a vaccine at the same time — and many around the world are still waiting for access. As a result, people had to start thinking about their vaccine decisions in hypothetical or future contexts. Because of this, we sought to understand how thinking about COVID-19 vaccine availability along different timelines might influence a person’s vaccine decisions.

Survey results

In December 2020 (just prior to broad vaccine availability in Canada), we asked Canadian survey respondents about their impending vaccine decisions. Each participant was presented with one variation of the question:

“If a coronavirus vaccine was available to you (today, or in one month, or in six months, or in one year), would you get vaccinated, or not?”

In analyzing results from this experiment, we found that the proportion of most enthusiastic participants (those who selected “Yes, as soon as possible” as a response) increased substantially as the proposed date of vaccine availability became more distant.

Even more interesting was our finding that the proportion of hesitant people decreased as the proposed date of vaccination moved further into the future. The proportion who responded that they would “Wait some time” before vaccination, and the proportion who responded, “No, I would not get a coronavirus vaccine,” both decreased as vaccine availability became more distant in time.

While the swift uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine might be the ideal scenario for squashing case counts, those who are hesitant aren’t guaranteed to refuse the vaccine altogether.

This has important implications for Canadian policy-makers. While the swift uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine might be the ideal scenario for squashing case counts, these findings suggest that those who are hesitant aren’t necessarily going to refuse the vaccine altogether.

This finding may also be useful for countries that are much further behind on mass vaccination efforts, as it suggests a delayed vaccine rollout might encounter less hesitancy and have faster uptake.

What are they waiting for?

We also asked open-ended questions about what Canadians would wait for, before getting the vaccine. What we found is that many Canadians who said they were waiting for “some time to pass” were couching their true concerns (for example, waiting for a certain number of other people to be successfully vaccinated first) within the more broad category of “timing.”

It may be useful to remember this finding when having conversations with folks who might be vaccine hesitant. Offering space for people to elaborate on their vaccine concerns might help bypass default responses and reveal alternative reasoning that has the potential to be addressed.

In some cases, these concerns might even be addressed with empathetic listening, by input from trusted experts or from evidence that speaks to the values and beliefs of those who have questions.

Read more:
COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy can be overcome through relatable stories and accessible information

As recent Omicron surges remind us, vaccination alone is not a silver bullet in the fight against COVID-19. However, it remains an important tool in mitigating the spread and severity of the disease, and the United Nations Foundation still positions vaccine equity as our best exit strategy for the pandemic.

It seems nearly certain that there will remain a group of Canadians who choose to never receive a COVID-19 vaccine. However, our findings suggest that it is unwise to assume that all Canadians who have not yet been vaccinated will never do so. They may just be waiting.

Do you have a question about COVID-19 vaccines? Email us at and vaccine experts will answer questions in upcoming articles.

This project was funded by a grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Eric B. Kennedy has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the BC Ministry of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

Jean-François Daoust does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The Conversation – Articles (CA)

Canada’s pandemic recovery urgently needs a national school meal program

Internationally, school meal programs have shown to be one of the most successful drivers of improved health, education and economic growth. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool)

COVID-19 has exposed yet again the critical importance of Canada catching up with other G7 nations by developing and implementing a national school meal program.

School meal programs meet a variety of children’s critical needs. For example, Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, now Alberta’s deputy chief medical officer of health, and formerly medical officer of health in Peterborough, Ont., has written, “this pandemic has taught us not only about physical health, but also the importance of healthy eating, mental health, social connection and learning for our kids. So, what is one ingredient needed for all of these, and overall student well-being? Healthy school food.”

In 2017, UNICEF ranked Canada 37th out of the 41 wealthiest nations for children’s access to nutritious food. Pre-pandemic, children from all socio-economic backgrounds had poor diets. In the continued wake of the pandemic, stable funding for a national school meal program is needed now more than ever.

Internationally, school meals have shown to be one of the most successful drivers of improved health, education and economic growth, with the equivalent of a $3 to $10 return on every dollar invested.

Canada should move swiftly to join the other G7 countries, and the majority of the members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, with a national school meal program.

Financial promise not yet allocated

In December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked both Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Karina Gould, with developing a national school food policy and working towards a national school nutritious meal program.

This followed his October 2021 election platform commitment of
spending $1 billion over five years to work with “provincial, territorial, municipal, Indigenous partners and stakeholders to develop a national school food policy and work towards a national school nutritious meal program.”

Two ministers now have formal and explicit directives that confirm school meals are now a key federal priority. While it would have been good to also see Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos given this mandate too, it is encouraging that his ministry is mandated to advance the healthy eating strategy, which could be effectively achieved through school food programming.

These mandates begin to lay the basis of the government spending its $1 billion election pledge, which if implemented, would be the largest food policy commitment in Canadian history.

It has been over two years since the federal government first announced its intention to “work toward creating a national school food program” in budget 2019.

This pledge was named as a key program to “help Canadian communities access healthy food,” the first of the four action areas that comprise Canada’s first food policy. School food, however, was the only program in the food policy that did not receive funding.

It is time for our government to act on its pledge.

Students need equal access

My recent analysis of school food programs in Canada, the most comprehensive analysis since the 1990s, found there is a startling disparity and inequitable access to these health-promoting breakfast, snack and lunch programs in schools. School food policy pioneer Mary McKenna and I found that student participation rates vary widely, ranging from five per cent in Alberta to 83 per cent in the Yukon.

The good news is that at least one ministry or department in every province and territory has provided funding for these free school meal programs, and in 2018/19 this totalled over $93 million, making the provinces and territories the largest funder of school meals in Canada.

While this amount may sound like a lot, it only breaks down to an average of $0.48 cents per student per school day. This is inadequate. Only one-fifth of elementary and secondary students can currently participate, due to limited funding.

Next steps

In the near term, I see two feasible and necessary next steps. First, the minister of families, children and social development should start developing federal-provincial/territorial accords, similar to the early learning and child care agreements.

This step is important to enable the development of a robust, sustainable program as opposed to a short-term emergency measure. Through the establishment of shared program principles, this approach would increase the consistency of programming across Canada.

If adequately funded, these accords would be an effective means of comprehensively implementing Canada’s 2019 Food Guide by including students in food preparation and providing complementary food literacy education; efforts supported by departments of education in the United States. Local food procurement targets could be developed by each province and territory, specific to the region and circumstances, to motivate the procurement of local, healthy food in schools.

Second, the minister of agriculture and agri-food could create a dedicated school food infrastructure fund, akin to the Local Food Infrastructure Fund allocated through the food policy.

School food programs that include feeding students and teaching food skills will require both space and staffing.

Schools lack infrastructure

As Jess Haines, professor of applied human nutrition, and I note in the Arrell Food Institute’s Report on School Food in Canada, most schools lack the necessary infrastructure and staffing to support healthy eating and teach food skills in an integrated and comprehensive manner.

In 2020, the Coalition for Healthy School Food called on the federal government for a one-time school food fund of $200 million for infrastructure, such as kitchens and cafeterias, greenhouses, appliances and tools, and eating spaces, as well as pilot projects. In 2014, the United Kingdom did something similar, committing the equivalent of more than $300 million for school kitchens and dining facilities and contributing $2.70 for each meal served.

The investment in school food infrastructure would help enhance existing programs, expand programming as well as provide a substantial boost to our agricultural, food service and construction sectors across the country.

As there are schools in every community, a universal national school meal program would be a geographically equitable way to support families, industries and the long-term vitality of local economies and food systems across Canada.

This is a rare opportunity to influence the eating habits of children across Canada; we should use it.

Amberley T. Ruetz is the Canadian delegate to the International Research Consortium for School Food and Nutrition, the research arm of the Global School Meal Coalition, the Coordinator of the Canadian Association for Food Studies’ School Food Working Group, which is a member of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, and is a member of Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s National Advisory Council. Amberley has received funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) for her doctoral research on farm-to-school programs.

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3 ways for businesses to fuel innovation and drive performance

Successfully innovating requires business executives to create an innovation-focused company culture, to engage strategically beneficial innovation practices and to avoid those that only work for certain industries. (Shutterstock)

Over the past two years, businesses have experienced unprecedented operational disruptions and market uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accordingly, many business executives are prioritizing innovation to enhance competitiveness and performance in 2022. This is easier said than done, as the list of supposedly essential innovative practices is extensive and growing.

For example, recent research shows that innovative companies, compared to their non-innovative counterparts, engage in many highly touted best practices. While these practices can enhance competitiveness, some are more important than others, and implementing them in the absence of a strategy is highly problematic.

As a marketing and innovation management researcher, I found these complexities led me to two research questions. First, what kind of organizational culture best supports implementing these innovative practices? And second, which of these practices universally enhance firm performance?

C. Brooke Dobni and I investigated these issues in our forthcoming article in Research-Technology Management, a innovation management journal.

Global innovation study

In co-operation with national conference boards in the United States, Europe and Asia (non-profit organizations that support research aimed at helping leaders address societal challenges), we collected data from 437 companies, across 11 industries, in 27 countries.

Our findings showed that an innovation-focused culture was required to successfully implement crowd-sourcing, stage-gate systems, design thinking, open innovation, big data analytics, innovation management software, scientific discovery and prototyping. However, only some of the these practices enhanced company performance.

Read more:
How businesses can determine if design thinking is right for them

Companies with strong innovation cultures have leaders that support innovating, dedicate resources to experimentation, pursue knowledge generation and dissemination and have processes to test and launch ideas. High innovators are able to execute strategy, create competitive advantages and achieve performance objectives.

We found that highly innovative people were better at implementing all of the innovation practices. We also found that across industries, companies with strong innovation cultures outperformed their counterparts without a similar culture. Given its performance benefits, how does one create an innovation-focused culture?

Companies with strong innovation cultures do better than competitors that don’t foster innovation.

Previous insight from Fortune 1000 companies suggests that executives need to set innovation goals, encourage all employees to innovate in their roles, prioritize individual and organizational learning, remove negative consequences related to failed experimentation and support activities with incentives.

Based on the results of our study, we argue that an innovation-focused culture is the necessary first step. Only after companies have created a supporting environment can they attempt to implement any innovative practices.

Performance-enhancing innovation

Companies in all industries experienced the performance-enhancing benefits from crowd-sourcing, open innovation, innovation management software, scientific discovery and prototyping:

Crowd-sourcing is the process of taking internal tasks and outsourcing them. Naturally, it creates new ideas and perspectives that can create value for companies.

Open innovation is the process of sharing innovations freely among players in the value chain, also allowing more value-creating opportunities for companies.

Innovation management software is designed to measure innovation progress. Because “what gets measured, gets managed,” innovation progress that is effectively measured generates results.

Scientific discovery — people collaborating across space and time to deepen knowledge — has been recognized as a trait of top-performing companies.

Prototyping, creating early and test versions of products, reduces risk and increases a product’s market performance.

We recommend companies explore implementing these innovative practices since they have universal performance benefits. But it’s important to reiterate that engagement in such practices needs to be guided by the organization’s strategy, and an innovation-focused culture is the necessary first step.

Less successful innovative practices

Although there’s a lot of hype about stage-gate systems, design thinking and big data analytics, our research shows that only companies in specific industries benefit from these practices.

Stage-gate systems are a linear process involving a series of sequential steps aimed at launching new products. We argue that the innovation process is anything but linear, and such a rigid process is not conducive for most industries.

Our data confirms that stage-gate systems are most effective in manufacturing, IT and health-care settings but not in any others.

Design thinking, an approach that uses a designer’s sensibility and methods to match consumer needs with what is technologically feasible, is nebulous and even vague among those who practise it.

We argue that design thinking’s ambiguity is the reason why only companies in the arts and entertainment, retail and marketing industries experienced its benefits.

Read more:
Why designers have arrived in corporate boardrooms

Surprisingly, big data analytics — collection, interpretation, and decision-making based on large datasets — only benefited companies in some industries. Upon closer examination, we found that only companies in industries that have conventionally managed and interpreted large amounts of data (like finance, health care and IT) realized such value. We think this speaks more to some companies’ inability to manage big data as opposed to its value.

Managerial tips

We offer three ways managers can fuel and foster innovation based on our research:

All executives should seek to create an innovation-focused culture.

After an innovation culture is established, companies should engage strategically in some of the universally beneficial practices.

Some practices should be avoided all together, as their benefits are limited to specific industries.

Grant Alexander Wilson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Conversations about consent need to start early, and parents need to get comfortable with it

It’s important for parents to get comfortable having conversations with their kids early on about consent and boundaries. (Shutterstock)

Psychiatrist Dr. Gaiathry Jeyarajan envisions a future where parents are comfortable having conversations with their kids early on about consent and boundaries. Avoiding these discussions only perpetuates the culture of silence that allows interpersonal trauma to thrive, says Jeyarajan.

“I want to remind parents, if it’s this hard for you to talk about, can you imagine how hard it is for your child?”

Jeyarajan is the author of a self-published book Ella’s Choice, which teaches children about consent and healthy boundaries in hopes of modelling a strong awareness of their own and other’s bodies and boundaries, normalizing these discussions in daily life.

Interpersonal trauma, such as abuse and sexual assault, are intensely private crimes but pervasively common, constituting a public health crisis that affects both children and adults.

The recent #MeToo movement, explosion of research and advocacy around “adverse childhood experiences” and awareness of escalating intimate partner violence during the pandemic are helping make it known that interpersonal trauma is widely experienced.

All too common

Half to two-thirds of people have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (such as abuse or exposure the domestic violence).

Over four in 10 women and one-third of men report some form of intimate partner violence. More than one-third of men and women (and even higher rates for transgender Canadians) have experienced at least one physical or sexual assault since the age of 15 outside of their intimate partnership.

As a psychiatrist who specializes in treating adult survivors of interpersonal trauma, I regularly see how these health effects last a lifetime and expand beyond post-traumatic stress disorder. Many studies show what I see every day in my clinic: Interpersonal trauma is pervasive, enduring and at times, deadly.

Beyond PTSD

Interpersonal trauma can lead to depression, anxiety, problems regulating emotions, substance use disorders, eating disorders, problems with attention, relationships, sexuality, violence in intimate relationships, suicidality and many stress-mediated physical illnesses.

‘Ella’s Choice’ teaches children about consent and healthy boundaries.
(Dr. Gaiathry Jeyarajan), Author provided

People who suffered high levels of adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or exposure to domestic violence die nearly 20 years prematurely. These adverse childhood experiences are linked to a long list of illnesses including cancer, heart disease, stroke, asthma, chronic inflammatory lung disease, diabetes, chronic pain, mental health problems and substance use disorders. They are also associated with job instability, social problems, learning disabilities and violence.

While our knowledge of interpersonal trauma has grown, our parenting strategies to recognize and help prevent it may not have kept up, says Jeyarajan. “We learn how to set and respect boundaries at home,” she says.

Many of us adopt parenting styles passed down from previous generations without being mindful of repeating unhealthy patterns that ignore concepts of consent and boundaries, such as forcing food intake or hugs and kisses with others, Jeyarajan says.

As Jeyarajan writes in Ella’s Choice:

But if Ella doesn’t want to give a hug,

She will say “NO” without a shrug.

Mom says, “That’s totally fine,

Because it’s your body, not mine!”

“Knowing your limits is part of growing,”

Applauds Daddy.

Proud Ella is glowing.

“Trauma often relates to boundary violations,” Jeyarajan says. “If you know that this is my body and this is what makes me uncomfortable, then you can come tell your parents and say, ‘Listen, I feel this person is making me uncomfortable.’ How are you going to respect boundaries if you don’t even know they exist?”

Jeyarajan hopes to model for children that consent can be withdrawn at any time. “Maybe their friend wanted to play fight and now they don’t want to play fight anymore: They can change their mind.”

She wonders whether as a society, we can teach children to listen to their body’s limits and cues rather than rigidly following through at any cost. By starting these conversations early, we can change our culture from one of silence around boundary crossings and violations to explicit consent and empowerment.

So, when Ella meets a fluffy bright-eyed cat, Jeyarajan writes:

She seeks Lexi’s permission before reaching for a pat.

Ellie’s respect for the boundaries for the kitten

Leaves everyone around her smitten.

Witty Ella wants everyone to know

That touch without an approval is a “no-go.”

“It’s never too early to starting teaching children about boundaries if we want to raise a new generation of empowered youth,” Jeyarajan says. “If that’s the kind of humans we’re raising — that are aware of their own and others’ bodies and needs and have empathy from a really young age — then I think we’re heading in the right direction with regards to changing rape [and abuse] culture.”

We can’t separate our personal health from that of the environment we inhabit. To protect our children, we must shift our collective culture away from a silent complacency around interpersonal trauma and towards intentionally working to prevent it.

Joanna Cheek does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Myocarditis: COVID-19 is a much bigger risk to the heart than vaccination

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle most commonly caused by a virus. (Shutterstock)

The heart has played a central role in COVID-19 since the beginning. Cardiovascular conditions are among the highest risk factors for hospitalization. A significant number of patients hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2 infections have signs of heart damage, and many recover from infection with lasting cardiovascular injury.

Click here for more articles in our series about vaccine confidence.

It’s not surprising that debates over COVID-19 vaccines frequently centre around issues involving cardiovascular health. The high-profile collapse of Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen in June initiated a myth about the link between sudden cardiac death and vaccination among athletes that persists several months later.

Perhaps the most common point of conflict concerning COVID-19 vaccines is the risk of myocarditis following immunization, particularly among young people.

What do the numbers tell us about COVID-19, vaccines and myocarditis?

What is myocarditis?

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle most commonly caused by a virus like influenza, coxsackie, hepatitis or herpes. Other causes include bacteria, fungi, toxins, chemotherapy and autoimmune conditions.

Some viruses infect heart muscle and cause direct injury to the heart, while others cause heart damage indirectly through the immune system. Activation of the immune system in response to an infection triggers the release of chemicals in the body called cytokines, which help clear infections. In some cases, the levels of cytokines rise to unusually high levels to produce a “cytokine storm” that causes damage to heart muscle.

Myocarditis by the numbers

Soccer player Alphonso Davies, 21, of Canada’s national men’s team, was sidelined by heart inflammation after having COVID-19.
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Before COVID-19 the incidence of myocarditis was between one and 10 cases per 100,000 people per year. Rates are highest in males between 18 and 30 years old. Interestingly, most cases of myocarditis in the highest risk group are in otherwise healthy and active people.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of myocarditis after infection with COVID-19 is much higher, at 146 cases per 100,000. The risk is higher for males, older adults (ages 50+) and children under 16 years old. Soccer player Alphonso Davies, 21, of Canada’s national men’s team, was sidelined by heart inflammation after having COVID-19.

Post-vaccination myocarditis

Myocarditis following COVID-19 vaccination is rare and the risk is much smaller than the risks of cardiac injury linked to COVID-19 itself.

Based on a study out of Israel, the risk of post-vaccine myocarditis is 2.13 cases per 100,000 vaccinated, which is within the range usually seen in the general population. This study is consistent with others in the United States and Israel which put the overall incidence of post-vaccine myocarditis between 0.3 and five cases per 100,000 people.

In the rare cases of myocarditis following COVID-19 vaccination, the vast majority are mild and resolve quickly.

The kids are alright

The highest incidence of myocarditis after vaccination with mRNA vaccines has occurred within three to four days after the second vaccination in males who are under age 30. In pediatric data, the median age is 15.8 years, with most patients being male (90.6 per cent) and white (66.2 per cent) or Hispanic (20.9 per cent). Reliable data on booster shots in this age group is not yet available.

Most studies show a clear benefit of COVID-19 mRNA vaccination with respect to myocarditis. Only one study by Martina Patone, from the University of Oxford, and colleagues found more ambiguous results for those under 40 years of age based on myocarditis rates alone. However, if considering the other ill effects of infection with SARS-CoV-2 — both cardiac and not — there was still a strong benefit in immunizing younger people with COVID-19 vaccines other than Moderna, which research suggests has a higher risk for myocarditis than Pfizer’s vaccine.

Repairing the damage

The treatment for myocarditis varies depending on its severity. Adults with mild forms of myocarditis typically need only rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen. More severe cases require medications or even mechanical circulatory supports like left ventricular assist devices to support heart function. In some cases when treatment is no longer effective, a heart transplant is required.

In a multicentre series of patients under 21 years old, those with mild symptoms received only NSAIDs or no anti-inflammatory therapy at all. Patients with more severe symptoms can receive stronger therapies including intravenous immunoglobulin, glucocorticoids or colchicine in addition to NSAIDs.

How serious is it?

Adults who develop myocarditis from COVID-19 have poorer outcomes than non-COVID-19 cases, including a higher risk of death.

Over 80 per cent of myocarditis cases not related to COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccination resolve spontaneously, while five per cent of patients die or require a heart transplant within one year of diagnosis.

Adults who develop myocarditis from COVID-19 have poorer outcomes than non-COVID-19 cases, including a higher risk of death. It should be noted that myocarditis associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection is just one of several heart conditions linked to COVID-19 with outcomes that are worse than non-COVID-19 cases.

In cases of myocarditis following COVID-19 vaccination, the vast majority of cases are mild and resolve quickly. In adults, 95 per cent of cases were deemed to be mild. Similarly, in children, 98.6 per cent are mild, and there has not been any reported need for mechanical heart support (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, when blood is pumped outside the body to a heart-lung machine) or deaths. All children who had heart weakness had complete normalization of their heart function on followup.

Take-home message

The dynamic changes in the global pandemic, combined with rapid developments in research, make it challenging for the public to take in all the information about the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines. In cases like this it is useful to turn to the guidance of medical organizations whose mandates are to protect the health and welfare of society.

Considering all of the available research, organizations including the American Heart Association, Canadian Cardiovascular Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics encourage all who are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

That’s a message we should all take to heart.

Do you have a question about COVID-19 vaccines? Email us at and vaccine experts will answer questions in upcoming articles.

Glen Pyle receives funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. He is the co-lead for COVID-19 Resources Canada “Science Explained”, a member of Science Up First, and is part of the advisory council for Royal City Science.

Jennifer H Huang does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The movie ‘Finch’ explores how dogs help us define humanity

A furry friend, Goodyear the dog, makes a safe human home in the post-apocalyptic ‘Finch.’ (Apple TV+)

Warning: The following article contains spoilers about the movie ‘Finch’

The movie Finch, released in November on Apple TV+, stars Tom Hanks and a former rescue dog named Seamus. Critic Tomris Laffly, writing for Variety, describes it as
a “big-hearted … post-apocalyptic saga.”

Hanks plays the titular Finch, a survivor in a world with a failing ozone layer. Expecting he will soon die from the sun’s radiation, Finch builds Jeff, a hyper-intelligent robot voiced by Caleb Landry Jones, to care for his dog, Goodyear.

Finch, like other science fiction stories featuring dogs, explores the human-dog relationship in part to define what it means to be human.

Something revealed ‘between beings’

Over the course of my research on post-apocalyptic fiction — a sub-genre of science fiction that imagines the Earth as we know it coming to an end — I have been struck by how often dogs accompany the protagonists of such stories.

Trailer for ‘Finch.’

Fiction like I Am Legend (1954) and A Boy and his Dog (1969), along with their respective film adaptations, are some relevant examples, as is the film The Road Warrior (1981) or the “Fallout” video game series.

Many scholars writing on the topic of post-apocalyptic fiction suggest that one of the genre’s central preoccupations is the defining of humanity in relation to nature and to our place in the universe.

Similarly, literature scholar Joan Gordon, who has researched science fiction related to animal studies, argues that the speculative capability of science fiction is well suited to explore the human-dog relationship as “a mutually influential feedback loop between beings, as they change and are changed by one another.”

Dogs help make a home

Finch opens with Hanks’ character picking through an abandoned supermarket looking for food, and he just narrowly makes it home before being caught in a terrible storm. “Home” is an underground laboratory, but after descending the cold metallic staircase, Finch finds a warm welcome: a mat that reads “home sweet home” and a friendly dog who perks up at his master’s return.

Just as pets in our own time can enhance their human owners’ health and well-being, Goodyear is able to relieve Finch of the mental distress brought on by apocalyptic social exclusion.

As argued by the distinguished historian of utopia, Gregory Claeys, humanity’s fear of the dystopian “bad place” is partially inspired by our fear of the dangers lurking beyond the bounds of our societies.

While dogs are not biologically human, Finch suggests they nonetheless assist in differentiating the safe human home from the dangerous outside world.

Dogs as companions

Goodyear functions much like the dog in The Last Man, one of the earliest examples of post-apocalyptic fiction by the 19th-century English Romantic novelist Mary Shelley. Shelley’s protagonist, Lionel Verney, ends the novel as a lonely survivor of a global cataclysm — in his case, a plague. Looking for companionship, Verney attempts to find sympathy among animals, but when a family of goats refuses to return his friendliness, he concedes that he “will not live among the wild scenes of nature.”

The dog has ‘never neglected to watch by and attend on me,’ notes the protagonist in Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man.’

But like Finch, Verney finds a companion in a dog: “[He] has never neglected to watch by and attend on me, shewing boisterous gratitude whenever I caressed or talked to him.”

While the dog appears only briefly in Shelley’s novel, humanities scholar Hilary Strang suggests that its appearance introduces “a perverse kind of optimism in this rigorously pessimistic novel,” for “in the novel’s final moment, at least there is the possibility of more than one living, humanized creature surviving the future.”

In both Finch and The Last Man, a line is drawn between the distinctly human realm and the realm of nature. And in both, dogs are on the side of humans.

Emotion and character

As in other post-apocalyptic stories, Finch considers the nature of human character by exploring the emotional relationship between humans and dogs. Audience members are invited to reflect upon their own emotional response.

For critic Bilge Ebiri, writing for Vulture, Hanks’ successful portrayal of “an ordinary man for extraordinary times” makes the “tear-jerking” Finch particularly effective. Hanks is able to play “a deeply human, relatable hero, suggesting that one needs not stoicism or expertise or muscles to succeed against insurmountable odds, but rather decency and vulnerability.”

While Finch shows the positive side of human character, many dystopian works encourage their audience to reflect on their own emotions by depicting human beings acting inhumanely toward dogs.

Lord Byron also composed an epitah to his Newfoundland dog, Boatswain.
(‘Newfoundland Dog’ by Charles Henry Schwanfelder/Leeds Museums and Galleries)

Contemporary science fiction author Paolo Bacigalupi, for instance, depicts curious yet callous bio-engineered soldiers abusing a dog in the short story “The People of Sand and Slag.”

Similarly, Shelley’s contemporary Lord Byron took up this theme in his post-apocalyptic poem “Darkness.” Here, the mistreatment of a faithful dog serves to demonstrate the breakdown of human society.

Byron and Bacigalupi, as well as Finch’s director, Miguel Sapochnik, all encourage their audiences to reflect on their empathetic reactions to human-dog relationships.

Trust and becoming human

The robot Jeff’s role in Finch is to gradually learn what it means to be human. The robot begins as a typically mechanical being but takes on more and more distinctly human traits as the film goes on. The final hurdle for Jeff to surpass is the gaining of Goodyear’s trust.

Tom Hanks seen with Jeff, the robot, who, in ‘Finch’ must learn to build trust with Finch’s dog, Goodyear.

Early in the film, Jeff tells Finch, “I don’t think it likes me.” Finch responds: “Well he doesn’t trust you.” During a game of fetch, Jeff throws the tennis ball but Goodyear keeps returning it to Finch. Jeff once again expresses disappointment, but Finch assures him that Goodyear will come around. “Trust me,” Finch says.

As the film nears its end, we find Jeff mourning the death of Finch. Who should arrive just in time, wagging his tail and with a tennis ball in his mouth, but Goodyear looking for a game of fetch. Jeff raises his arms in excited triumph as Jeff runs to retrieve the ball.

The film’s final message, then, is captured in a passage from W. Bruce Cameron’s book A Dog’s Journey (also made into a film) about a dog, reincarnated, who returns to find his master: “You can usually tell that a man is good if he has a dog who loves him.”

Michael Cameron receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

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‘Birtherism,’ Trump and anti-Black racism: Conspiracy theorists twist evidence to maintain status quo

Donald Trump perpetuated the ‘birther’ movement for years. (Shutterstock)

Conspiracy theories have mutated into conspiracism, a transformation marked by people rejecting proof and evidence in favour of frivolous speculation. That’s what political scientists Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum suggest in their book A Lot of People are Saying.

In short, conspiracism is conspiracy without the theory.

Muirhead and Rosenblum use the “birther” conspiracy to illustrate conspiracism. “Birtherism” is the belief that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, therefore ineligible for the presidency.

It is an example of conspiracism because it causes the relentless denial of simple facts, a characteristic that makes it appealing to far right figures like Donald Trump. Conspiracism is opposed to logic and reason, and it helped sprout the racist attacks against Obama and others.

At the heart of Rosenblum and Muirhead’s crusade against conspiracism is a concern for standard epistemological methods (or logical reasoning), a hallmark of classic conspiracy theories. But their concern motivates me to ask if conspiracists actually deny evidence and standard methods of logical reasoning?

Read more:
Republicans draw from apocalyptic narratives to inform ‘Demoncrat’ conspiracy theories

To suggest that conspiracy theorists deny standard methods of logical reasoning implies that we definitively know what evidence and standard methods of logical reasoning look like.

Conspiracy theorists actually use evidence and standard logical reasoning to put forward their often-racist beliefs. In fact, they use evidence to connect dots and identify patterns that fall out of the scope of Rosenblum and Muirhead’s analysis.

But evidence is political, and some forms of evidence are seen by some while not seen by others. For example, you might recall Republican Sen. James Inhofe bringing a snowball onto the senate floor as evidence that the globe is not warming. His act demonstrates the way that evidence can be used to put forward a political message before a necessarily factual one. To him, the snowball was evidence.

Evidence of a conspiracy?

On May 18, 2012, Donald Trump tweeted, “Let’s take a closer look at that birth certificate. @BarackObama was described in 2003 as being ‘born in Kenya.’” Referring to a literary promotional booklet that identified Obama as being “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii,” Trump took this as confirmation of his birtherism, intensifying his animosity for America’s first Black president.

For Rosenblum and Muirhead, Trump’s use of this piece of evidence would not meet their standard for legitimate evidence because it can be easily refuted. However, when Trump and other birther conspiracists cite such examples as evidence of a conspiracy, they are drawing connections between more than events and unexplained phenomena; they are using Obama’s race as evidence of his being non-American.

Trump’s use of evidence would not meet Rosenblum and Muirhead’s standard for legitimate evidence.

Trump’s insistence on the point that Obama was born in Kenya dovetails with a broader evidential claim that Obama’s Blackness attributes him an African heritage and place of birth — ignoring of course the long lineages of Black folks in places all over the world.

In addition to connecting the dots between Obama’s race and his foreignness, Trump introduced the consequences of his findings on Obama’s policies as well. Tweeting on Oct. 31, 2013: “‘If you like your healthcare plan you can keep it.’ = ‘I was born in Hawaii.’”

For Trump, Obama’s skin colour is a dot that is connected to his foreignness that is connected to an African heritage that is connected to his “anti-American” health care policies. Trump used evidence and his own standard methods of logical reasoning to come to this conclusion its just not one recognized by Rosenblum and Muirhead as valid.

What evidence can teach us

In America, where anti-Black racism functions as the bedrock of many institutions, skin colour can be used as evidence of someone’s opposition to America’s values.

By denying the way that Trump connects the dots between these pieces of evidence, Rosenblum and Muirhead contribute to the hidden structures that guide American political and social life that repeatedly disenfranchise people of colour by denying them decision-making positions across many American institutions.

After all, the birther conspiracists were silent about Ted Cruz not being born in the United States even though he admitted it. Cruz, however, is white-passing.

Conspiracy theories demand that we interrogate how evidence might be used to do more than support a conspiracy; it might work to maintain a certain status quo.

David Guignion does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Yes, your dog can understand what you’re saying — to a point

Dogs can understand a range of human words. (Fabuan Gieske), CC BY-SA

Humans are unique in their ability to develop sophisticated language abilities. Language allows us to communicate with each other and live in complex societies. It is key to our advanced cognitive abilities and technological prowess.

As a developmental psychologist, I have extensively studied the role of language in children’s cognitive development, especially their executive functions – the cognitive skills that allow them to control their behaviour, plan for the future, solve difficult problems and resist temptation.

Executive functions

The development of executive functions occurs slowly over the course of childhood. As they get older, children get better at organizing their thoughts and controlling their behaviours and emotions. In fact, humans are the only known species to develop advanced executive functions, although other species like birds, primates and dogs have rudimentary executive functions similar to young children.

In humans, our ability to develop executive functions has been linked to our language development. Language permits us to form and hold representations of our goals and plans in mind, allowing us to govern our behaviour over the long term.

What is not clear is whether language actually causes the emergence of executive functions, and whether the relation between language and executive functions exists only in humans.

Canine behaviour

For humans, studying dogs offers the perfect opportunity to consider these questions. First, dogs possess rudimentary executive functions. These can be measured in a variety of ways, including asking owners about their dogs’ ability to control their behaviours, as well as behavioural tests designed to assess dogs’ control abilities.

Second, not only do we expose dogs regularly to human language, but research also indicates that dogs can perceive different words and can learn to respond to specific words. For example, three dogs — two border collies named Chaser and Rico, and a Yorkshire terrier named Bailey — learned to respond to over 1,000, 200 and 100 words, respectively.

Dogs are regularly exposed to human language.

However, many dog language studies have been limited in scope, either examining the word-based responses of only one or a small sample of dogs, or the responses of multiple dogs but only to select words.

One exception was a study in which 37 dog owners were asked to list words they believed their dogs responded to consistently. Owners reported that their dogs responded to an average of 29 words, although this likely is an underestimation. Indeed, research using a similar free-recall approach with parents shows that they are prone to forget many words when asked to generate lists of words to which their babies respond consistently.

Communicating with dogs

Research with human infants does provide a solution for systematically and reliably assessing word-based responding in large samples of dogs. Arguably the best and most widely used measure of early language abilities of infants is the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories, a parent-report checklist of words responded to consistently. Remarkably, the number of words selected on the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory predicts children’s language development years later.

In 2015, I began a collaboration with psychologist Catherine Reeve, at the time a graduate student working on dogs’ scent detection abilities. Our goal was to develop a similar measure of vocabulary for use with dog owners that we could then use to examine links between language and executive functions.

We developed a list of 172 words organized in different categories (for example, toys, food, commands, outdoor places) and gave it to an online sample of 165 owners of family and professional dogs. We asked them to select words that their dogs responded to consistently.

We found that, on average, service dogs respond to about 120 words, whereas family pets respond to about 80 words, ranging between 15 to 215 words across all dogs. We also found that certain breed groups, such as herding dogs like border collies and toy dogs like chihuahuas, respond to more words and phrases than other breed types like terriers, retrievers and mixed breeds.

Understanding how dogs process language can help train service dogs.

What we don’t yet know is whether dogs who respond to more words also have better executive functions. We recently assessed 100 dogs on a behavioural measure of executive functions and had their owners identify words on our vocabulary checklist. We are now analysing the results.

I first became interested in studying dogs to see what they might tell us about child development. That said, this research might also provide important practical information about dogs. For example, it is very expensive to train puppies for service work and many do not make the final cut. However, if early word-based responding abilities predict later behavioural and cognitive abilities, our measure could become an early and simple tool to help predict which dogs are likely to become good service animals.

Sophie Jacques previously received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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How Canada should be preparing to help young Afghan refugees

A Syrian-Canadian family poses outside their home in Peterborough, Ont., in December 2021. They were among thousands of Syrian refugees resettled in Canada by April 2017 under a program introduced by the Liberal government in 2015 — and now thousands of Afghan refugees are arriving in Canada, many of them under the age of 18. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

The government of Canada has committed to bringing 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada. To date, almost 6,500 have arrived since August 2021.

With the arrival of such a large cohort of refugees, there’s been more attention paid to the services that exist for them in communities across the country.

This of course is not the first time Canada has welcomed a large number of refugees. Between 2015 and 2018, for example, 58,650 Syrian refugees were resettled across the country.

A Syrian refugee watches as his three daughters smile for a photo at their home in Mississauga, Ont., in December 2018.

Similar to the situation with Syrian refugees, Canada is anticipating more young refugees in the coming months. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), more than half of all refugees who arrive in Canada are under the age of 18. These young people are a unique part of the newcomer population, and understanding their needs can help communities become more effective in supporting them.

How to support children and youth

Young refugees from Syria sparked my research in this area. Through my PhD research at Dalhousie University, I wanted to better understand how Canada was prepared to receive and support refugee children and youth coming from countries devastated by war and armed conflict.

I focused on Halifax, N.S., as a case study to show how smaller urban centres supported the integration of young refugees.

A diagram showing services prepared for young refugees in the Halifax area.
(Author), Author provided

I compiled a complete list of organizations that participated in helping to settle young refugees. I developed it by looking at the different types of needs they’d have (for example, physical, mental, emotional or spiritual needs, and those involving social connections in the community, as well as their education).

The application of resilience theory in this research was very important. Resilience theory argues that resilience doesn’t just describe a personality trait. It’s a combination of personal and social resources that interact to have a positive impact on someone’s well-being.

The notion that resilience is a quality someone possesses — rather than something facilitated by families, schools, communities and governments — oversimplifies the challenges of young people who have faced serious adversity. So we can think about services available to young refugees as resilience “resources,” located in different parts of the young person’s environment, and how those resources can be strengthened to better support their well-being.

This is where there’s potential for service providers. The services provided to young refugees contribute to the resilience resources in their environments, affecting their well-being. That means the ability of service providers to offer support to young refugees helps them engage with those resources, which in turn builds resilience.

Policy-makers and services providers should therefore regard resettlement and integration support as a way to make resilience resources available to young refugees that could ultimately ensure positive outcomes.

Refugees from Afghanistan board a bus at Pearson Airport in Toronto in August 2021.

Working together

In my book Finding Safe Harbour, to be published on Feb. 15, 2022, I present some important findings from my research on how communities in Canada should work together to support the long-term integration of young refugees.

Effective integration requires support for newcomers, and specifically refugees, to exist not just via settlement service organizations but across public services and sectors throughout communities.

When my research was completed, I worked with a group of young people who had come to Halifax as refugees to run a public youth forum. Halifax residents were invited to come and learn about what these young refugees had experienced, both when they left their birthplaces and when they settled in the city.

The young people who helped run the event spoke about how the opportunity to be heard had made a huge impact on them and made them feel like valuable members of the community.

Youth and adult participants shared what they learned at the 2019 Halifax forum in this mural.
(Author), Author provided

This is an important reminder of the importance of meaningfully engaging with young refugees in the development of policy, the creation of services and the delivery of those services. Their voices and input are integral to how communities respond to them and support them.

Halifax and many other cities across the country have the capacity to provide better integration support for young refugees as they arrive in Canada. With Canadian cities of all sizes
becoming more diverse
, local institutions need to actively promote integration and prevent the exclusion of newcomers.

With more cultural awareness and intentional collaboration, the community at large can be an effective resource for bolstering the resilience of these young people.

Emily Pelley no recibe salario, ni ejerce labores de consultoría, ni posee acciones, ni recibe financiación de ninguna compañía u organización que pueda obtener beneficio de este artículo, y ha declarado carecer de vínculos relevantes más allá del cargo académico citado.

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These are the most in-demand skills for Canadian job-seekers

As the job market continues to evolve amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report suggests that employers are looking for candidates with skills that weren’t as relevant prior to 2020, including virtual customer service experience and skills in safety management.

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One dead, five missing after Ottawa explosion

One person is dead and five others remain unaccounted for after an explosion at a building in Ottawa’s south end Thursday. The explosion sent three people to hospital, one of whom has since died. Police say they don’t expect to find any survivors.

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COVID-19 vaccine mandates would likely face legal hurdles in Canada

People gather in Kingston, Ont., to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and masking measures on Nov. 14, 2021.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos wants provinces to make vaccination mandatory. Québec has proposed a health tax for the unvaccinated. And other democracies have proposed similar laws. But fining or taxing the unvaccinated raises practical and legal problems. Here, I focus on the legal issues.

As the pandemic wears on, governments are bringing in more and more vaccine mandates. First you needed a vaccine to go to bars, restaurants and gyms. Then there were workplace mandates, then mandates to travel on trains and airplanes. Québec has recently required vaccines to enter liquor and cannabis stores.

With vaccination rates barely budging in recent weeks, governments are looking for new ways to get needles in arms.

Penalties for the unvaccinated

The latest proposal is to require vaccination, full stop. But it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean forcing people to be vaccinated. Rather, the most likely scenario is a provincial law making it an offence not to be vaccinated. The penalty would most likely be a fine, though jail time is not out of the question.

Federal Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos has suggested that provinces consider mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.

Consider what some European countries have done. Austria was the first in Europe to require vaccination with fines for non-compliance of up to 3,600 euros ($5,150). In Greece, a monthy fine of 100 euros will be imposed on those over 60 who are unvaccinated, starting Jan. 16. In Italy, those over 50 will face fines if they’re not vaccinated. While the penalty is still being determined, it appears it will be at least 100 euros.

Can Canada mandate vaccines?

Whether a government can mandate vaccines depends on what exactly a new law says. Canadians have rights to make decisions about vaccination but these rights are not absolute. And having rights does not mean there will be no consequences for your decisions.

If a province tried to impose a fine or other penalty on the unvaccinated, a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would surely follow. The argument would be that this violates people’s right to life, liberty and security of the person, and perhaps other rights like freedom of conscience.

Whether the law is constitutional would come down to issues like whether it’s as narrow as possible, whether it would significantly increase vaccination rates and whether the government had done enough to promote voluntary vaccination.

For example, laws with exceptions for those with medical reasons not to be vaccinated would be more likely to be constitutional. Those limited to people over a certain age (as in Italy and Greece) would be easier to justify. And first making all other reasonable efforts to promote voluntary vaccination would help make the law constitutional.

If a province tried to impose a fine or other penalty on the unvaccinated, a Charter challenge would surely follow.

As for significantly increasing vaccination rates, it is debatable whether a vaccine mandate would do that. Many people may prefer to pay a fine than to be vaccinated. If the fine were high enough to change people’s minds, it may also be unduly harsh — especially for marginalized populations.

Governments should avoid a scenario in which the rich pay to avoid vaccination, while the poor have fewer options. One possibility is to have the amount of the fine or tax depend on one’s income.

Also at play in the effectiveness of a vaccine mandate is timing. A mandate likely wouldn’t take effect until after the peak of the fifth wave. The benefit of current vaccines for future waves or variants is unknown.

That will make it harder for governments to argue that such a law doesn’t erode rights any more than necessary — an important part of the constitutional analysis. That said, vaccines will surely continue to be a vitally important tool in fighting COVID-19.

Encouraging vaccination vs. recovering costs

A final issue, raised by Québec’s approach, is whether the law is meant to increase vaccination rates or recover health-care costs. Both fines and taxes add to a province’s bottom line but a law’s purpose matters in constitutional law.

A mandate is more likely to incentivize vaccinations while a health tax is primarily meant to recover health-care costs. (Singapore went further by charging the unvaccinated for their own hospital costs should they become hospitalized.)

Mandates more directly implicate one’s right to bodily autonomy. A tax could be said only to affect one’s finances. This may make a tax more constitutionally sound.

That said, it raises serious policy issues. Universal health care does not cost more for citizens simply because they are more likely to need health care. That’s part of what makes it universal. It’s not like private insurance that ties premiums to risk. Tobacco and alcohol may be heavily taxed, but we don’t tax dangerous sporting activities, unhealthy eating, having a stressful job or lack of exercise.

Charging more for universal health care based on personal choices is controversial and raises important moral and practical issues. Governments should think carefully about the implications before eroding the principle of universality.

Hilary Young does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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