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January 22, 2004

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Better value on aboriginal spending
Maclean's, Jan. 19

For centuries, the aboriginal poor have always been with the rest of us. While many more are now prosperous and educated, those left in their wake have become a major source of explosive, behind-the-scenes debate in Paul Martin's Ottawa. The situation is pressing, if only because the new PM has vowed to tackle this seemingly intractable issue. While aboriginal society has changed, policies have not. “It is the most important social issue in the country,” insists John Richards, a public policy professor at SFU. “It is complex because of the historic sense of injustice - and because we have to find a way to better integrate aboriginal people in an industrial economy. You cannot do that on the basis of land claims and treaties and non-payment of tax and non-participation in the labour force.”

Experts don't follow the bouncing ball
Vancouver Sun, Jan. 16

A growing trend toward using giant exercise balls as office chairs is meeting with disapproval from ergonomics experts such as Tony Leyland, a senior lecturer on the subject at SFU. Leyland says he doesn't endorse using body balls at work. First, there is the potential of losing control and falling off. Second, although the balls do strengthen back and abdominal muscles, sitting on them for prolonged periods can put too much stress on those muscles as well as ligaments and joints. It's desirable, he says, to contract and release muscles in a variable pattern rather than contracting them for too long. Leyland also says that contrary to popular belief, it is possible to slouch on the balls.

Silent witness set to aid in abuse cases
Toronto Star, Jan. 11

The Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment is coming to Ontario courtrooms. ODARA provides a score that ranks how likely the accused is to assault again, how serious that assault may be and how soon it may occur. One of the more well-known instruments, also developed in Canada, is called the Spousal Assault Risk Assessment. SARA is more like a guide that helps lead to an educated decision based on that particular individual's behaviour and persona. SFU psychology professor Stephen Hart who helped develop SARA, says they illustrate two different approaches to the problem of risk assessment. “One tries to develop a simple, easy-to-use, quantitative mechanical way to make a decision,” he said. “The other way is to not try to simplify the decision but to help people try to grapple with the complexity. Neither is going to be perfect.”

Clues to why perpetrators kill
Vancouver Province, Jan. 11

The recent spate of killings in the Lower Mainland has people shaking their heads. Experts who study violence, spiritual leaders and victims' families have different takes on why this kind of violence is occurring. SFU criminologist Neil Boyd, who has interviewed countless murderers, said he's shocked how little motive they had to kill. “It appears as if people were killed over relatively trivial issues,” he says, adding the clues are inside the offenders themselves. “These people have very few social skills, very few resources. They lead desperate, tragic kinds of lives. For them, life is much less important than it is for most of us.” Boyd said most of them later show remorse for taking a life. “Most killings tend to be tragedies,” he said, adding that alcohol is a major factor in nearly two-thirds of all murders.

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