Research in Action: JoyPop app a useful tool to help youth de-stress mind and body

By Julio Heleno Gomes

 A mobile app that offers different strategies to deal with everyday stressful situations can help a cross-section of young people. For those struggling with adverse childhood experiences, the JoyPop app is particularly useful, says a Lakehead University researcher.

“What we found is that the benefits, in terms of building better coping skills, were especially prominent for youths who had experienced things like abuse or neglect at home. They actually saw better improvement in terms of their emotion regulation skills when they were using the app,” says Dr. Aislin Mushquash, an assistant professor in Psychology.Dt. Mushquash

Mushquash and her team from the Coping Research Lab just completed a study of the resilience intervention tool called JoyPop. Developed by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton and Clearbridge Mobile, the smartphone app offers a menu of items to help de-stress the mind and body, such as deep breathing exercises, journalling or connecting to a support system through a Circle of Trust.

“The features were designed to support youth in better regulating their emotions and their experiences,” Mushquash explains. “They allow users to understand what they’re feeling in the moment, to track their mood and then suggest features or activities to use.

“It allows users to get out of their head and focus on something in the moment, if they’re feeling overwhelmed by anything that’s going on in their personal life or at school.”

The project to evaluate the app involved 156 participants enrolled at Lakehead, who would use it for at least 15 minutes a day over the course of a month. The study centred on first-year students because of the potentially challenging experiences they would face at this crucial stage in their lives.

“It’s a brand new experience for them, for opportunities but also for potential stressful situations,” Mushquash notes. “So we wanted to evaluate whether the JoyPop app could be used as a tool to better support youth as they navigate the transition to university.”

Graduate student Angela MacIsaac was attracted by this novel tool that helps people tap into coping skills, manage their emotions and create positive experiences.

JoyPopI was intrigued by the way a smartphone app allows you to combine various strategies into one intervention,” says MacIsaac, who’s in her first year of Lakehead’s PhD program in clinical psychology. “Using the JoyPop app improved emotion regulation and also reduced depression symptoms,” and the more that individuals used it the more benefits they saw.

“It helps youth exercise agency in proactively taking care of their own well-being. It allows them to practice strategies and skills that can help with self-regulation,” MacIsaac says.

The research team also included PhD student Shakira Mohammed and undergraduate student Elizabeth Grassia, as well as undergraduate volunteer research assistants Haleigh Kearns, Alacia Tshilombo, Melissa Beaucage, Laija Beaulieu, Kaitlyn Kotala and Mary Cassano.

Funding for the study was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Having shown the app is useful for young people heading off to university who come from different backgrounds, including those dealing with lingering childhood challenges, the next step is to see if the app can be incorporated into other settings.

“Now that we have these data and the positive result suggesting this is helpful for youth, we’re looking at how the JoyPop app may be helpful for youth who are seeking mental health services in the community,” Mushquash says.

She has partnered with Children’s Centre Thunder Bay and Dilico Anishinabek Family Care to determine if youth coming to them could benefit from using the JoyPop app.

“What we’ll be evaluating is to see if using the app while waiting for services leads to better abilities to manage emotions and improvement in mental health symptoms,” she says. “And from the service side, does it prepare youth better to access counselling? If youth are using the app to tap into their emotions, to think about how they’ve been feeling for a few weeks before seeing a counsellor, they may be in a better position to benefit from the counselling services.”

With funding from the Thunder Bay Community Foundation, this project will continue over the course of a year.

The JoyPop app is available for purchase from the iTunes store. Organizations interested in using and evaluating the app can contact Mushquash directly at

 Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.


Portrait photo: Dr. Aislin Mushquash is an assistant professor in Lakehead’s department of Psychology.

 Pic 2 (group of 3 people): Dr. Aislin Mushquash, centre, discusses research on the JoyPop app with Lakehead students Elizabeth Grassia, left, and Shakira Mohammed.

Research in Action: Wireless monitoring of sewer pipes can crack savings down the line

May 2021, by Julio Heleno Gomes 


With spring around the corner and the ground beginning to thaw, a device being developed by a Lakehead University researcher could be a new tool for the City of Thunder Bay to improve inspection of its network of underground sanitary sewer pipes.

wireless unitUsing a probe outfitted with sensors and a camera, this device could detect sewer defects and pipe damage, which would benefit the city’s wastewater system.

“We hope the device is easy to use and will successfully detect infiltration above and below the sewer surface inside the collection pipe,” says Michelle Warywoda, Director of Environment, Infrastructure and Operations for the City of Thunder Bay.

“We hope that results from the sewer pipe inspections with the device will inform the City’s sanitary sewer system capital replacement and rehabilitation program.”

Dr. Azimi

Dr. Amir Azimi is working on a project to detect faults along the city’s 515 kilometres of sanitary sewer pipes. During spring snow melt or severe rainfall, heavy moisture infiltrates the ground and if there’s a crack in the sewer additional water will flow into the collection system, mixing with sewage.

Conventional inspection and monitoring is done via closed circuit TV cameras, which is labour intensive and requires trained operators.

“That’s not feasible and is very expensive,” Azimi says of that method.

An associate professor in the department of Civil Engineering, Azimi’s research focus is hydraulics and environmental fluid mechanics.

In the case of sewer pipes, residential wastewater is typically at room temperature (in the 20 C range), whereas water from snowmelt is only about 5 C. The resulting temperature difference would indicate a flaw somewhere in the drainage pipe.

Azimi’s device consists of a temperature probe, thermal camera, GPS locator, battery and memory card. It would maneuver through the pipe and take temperature readings. It can record differences of as little as one degree Celsius.

“We drop it in a manhole, it flows with the sewage, we retrieve it downstream, grab the data and look at the temperature variations,” Azimi says of how the device will be utilized. “If the temperature is constant, it’s OK. But at one line it could be 18 degrees, 18 degrees and then it drops to 14 degrees and then goes back to 18. When the temperature goes down, you know something is going on in the pipe.

“This is not very difficult to measure and it’s very fast and cheap.”

By detecting defects in the sewer pipes, rehabilitation work can be targeted by sending closed-circuit TV cameras to a specific spot to verify there’s a problem. This will reduce the infiltration of groundwater into the sanitary sewer system, Warywoda explains.

Azimi has been working on this device with a team of students: graduate student Xunjia Liang and undergraduates Gurpreet Chaggar and Adam Talbot.

Along with grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Azimi has also received support from the City. He has been working on a combination of sensors and five different prototypes. But the device is not yet ready to be used in the field.

“That was not the plan for the funding,” Azimi says. “Funding was for the proof of concept, to see if we could build the submarine device and to see if the sensors would work.”

Due to COVID-19 the next stage in the project development is currently on hold but will resume once the graduate student researchers are able to reconvene.

When things return to normal, Azimi hopes to run more tests, such as try to determine the rate of flow through a crack and the minimal difference in temperatures the probe could detect. The concept has other applications, such as measuring the salinity of lakes or the pH levels of industrial discharge.

The potential of wireless monitoring of sewer pipes is enough that Warywoda imagines it could become a part of the City’s regular sewer inspection program. The benefits are obvious: when you reduce the volume of groundwater entering the sewer, less wastewater goes to the Water Pollution Control Plant for treatment, saving on energy, chemical usage and equipment run time.

“That translates to a reduction in maintenance and operational costs,” Warywoda says.

The pipes, which are variously made of concrete, plastic, clay, steel, asbestos-cement and wood stave, are on average more than 50 years old and are susceptible to damage and deterioration.

“Tree roots can get into the cracks in pipes or between pipe joints,” Warywoda says. “Pipes can also become misaligned or crack from movement of soils around them.”


Research in Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.

Moccasin fragment reveals precolonial connection between Subarctic and Southwest March 9, 2021

 – Thunder Bay, Ont. New research by Lakehead University anthropologist Dr. Jessica Metcalfe and colleagues provides direct evidence for long-distance connections among precolonial Dene peoples from northern Canada to the southern United States. About 800 years ago a group of highly successful hunter-gatherers spent several decades living on the north shore of Great Salt Lake, Utah. Archaeological evidence suggests that these ‘Promontory people’ were Dene ancestors whose moccasin styles indicate an origin in the Canadian Subarctic, more than 1,500 km to the north. Dr. Metcalfe’s research shows the Promontory people also made at least one journey even farther into the south and/or east, bringing back a scrap of leather that they incorporated into one of their distinctive moccasins. “We can take a tiny piece of leather and determine if it has chemical signatures that are typical of the place where it was found, or if it came from somewhere else,” said Dr. Metcalfe, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Lakehead University. “Most of the Promontory materials were obtained close to the site, but this piece of leather came from far away – probably hundreds of kilometres to the south or east.” Use of these cutting-edge techniques in archaeology is growing, but Dr. Metcalfe said this is the first time past human migrations have been reconstructed using chemical traces in footwear. This research contributes to a longstanding archaeological puzzle: how and when did the Dene language family spread from the Canadian Subarctic into the American Southwest? During the colonial period, these populations were seen as geographically separate and thought to have no direct connections with one another. However, Dr. Metcalfe’s research suggests that Dene groups travelled great distances to gain and utilize landscape knowledge. This likely facilitated the gradual migration of Dene ancestors from the Subarctic to the Southwest. Recently, Dene people from northern, southern, and coastal nations have gathered at workshops and conferences held in Tsuut’ina territory (southern Alberta) to share their interconnected languages and cultures and to chart directions for the future. The research of Dr. Metcalfe and her colleagues, along with genetic, linguistic, and oral history evidence, demonstrates that Dene connections are not a recent phenomenon – long-distance migrations and meetings of Dene peoples have been occurring for many hundreds of years. Dr. Metcalfe’s research was published in the premier North American archaeology journal, American Antiquity, available here: Other members of the research team include Dr. John (Jack) W. Ives and Jennifer Hallson (University of Alberta), Dr. Beth Shapiro and Sabrina Shirazi (University of California, Santa Cruz), Dr. Kevin P. Gilmore (HDR), Dr. Fiona Brock (Cranfield University), and Dr. Bonnie J. Clark (University of Denver). The research was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grants awarded to Dr. Metcalfe and Dr. Ives.

Dr. MetcalfeMocassins


Research in Action: Peer program offers helping hand to at-risk population

Dr. ScharfPhD Student Amanda Ruck

left: Dr. Deborah Scharf, assistant professor at Lakehead University, is a clinical and health psychologist, right: PhD student Amanda Ruck

Published by The Chronicle Journal on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

By Julio Heleno Gomes

A program that lends a helping hand to people who are living with addictions and are at risk for contracting serious diseases is getting a boost from researchers at Lakehead University.

NorWest Community Health Centres has developed a project to have people with “lived experience” provide support and guidance for those using injection and inhalation drug equipment. This peer mentorship program was launched in April 2019 and the participation of Lakehead faculty and a graduate student has already borne fruit.

“It’s easy to make assumptions that the program is working and that there’s value added. But we wanted to make sure these are not assumptions,” says Juanita Lawson, Chief Executive Officer of NorWest CHCs. “It helps to solidify that this is a program we want to continue, we want to adopt and we want to foster.”

NorWest CHCs focus on primary health care, prevention and health promotion in the city of Thunder Bay as well as Armstrong and Longlac. With $281,000 in funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, they started a program to have peers provide education and support to people who may be at risk for sharing drug-use equipment, in hopes of reducing risk-taking behaviour. HIV and hepatitis C can be spread through the sharing of needles and pipes.

Dr. Deborah Scharf, who has worked with NorWest CHCs, was asked to help shape and evaluate the program. Along with PhD student Amanda Ruck she met with NorWest CHCs staff to develop a framework for research.

“We benefit at the university when we partner with community groups,” says Scharf, a clinical and health psychologist, and assistant professor of Psychology at Lakehead. “It offers students real-life learning experiences and the opportunity to give back to the community we live in. This is an ideal project for us because not only are the staff of the program benefitting, but we are also as partners in research. It’s a pleasure to be able to support the organizations that do good in our community.”

Ruck, who holds a Master’s degree in Public Health with Specialization in Nursing, started on the project as a research co-ordinator and has since made it a component of her PhD studies.

“I got involved to gain more experience and it’s a topic of interest to me,” she says.

Scharf says Ruck has been “absolutely critical” to the success of the project. She also acknowledges the work of Michelle Kolobutrin, project co-ordinator at NorWest CHCs, and Lakehead researchers Dr. Rebecca Schiff and Dr. Anna Koné.

Ruck conducted a review of the literature to show what’s being done in terms of using peers in substance use harm reduction initiatives and how their experiences help to form what they’re doing.

“The focus when you’re doing harm reduction is preventing harm associated with the substance use rather than preventing the use itself,” Ruck explains.

“The peers are the champions of the program. They work with the outreach worker to help engage the hard-to-reach population.”

The participants — who are variously referred to as peer specialists, peer advocates or peer navigators — possess “lived experience.” That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re former users. They can also be close family members or friends.

“It’s not necessarily that the person has a history of injection drug use,” Scharf says. “They’re very well-connected to that community and can speak to the wants, the needs, the likes and dislikes. They sort of speak the same language, so they can help make a program that’s both useful and attractive to the community.”

Along with the review of the literature, Ruck also tracked key data, such as how many presentations were made by the peers and outreach workers, as well as the distribution of needles and naloxone kits (which can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose). She also interviewed staff and peers to determine roles and identify barriers to the program.

A key research component of the project is Photo Voice, where participants showcase their experiences through photos and interviews.

“It’s a photo representation of the volunteer peers’ experience in the program, to help give them a voice,” Ruck says.

One of the insights from the literature review is how programs look in other places and how they should look in the North — which presents a whole set of challenges.

“We have a smaller community, different resources, different geography,” Scharf notes. “So how can we take the nuts and bolts of what we know about a good peer harm reduction program elsewhere and apply them effectively and in a culturally responsible way, in a way that fits with the community here to make it the best we can?”

The project is funded to March 2021 and involves three staff positions and three peers. Along with outreach and engagement to people who share drug-use equipment, the program also offers peers an opportunity to become more engaged with NorWest CHCs.

“We see value in bringing people into the organization who help us move forward and do some learning around what is harm reduction and really focusing on the social determinants of health,” Lawson says. “So they keep us honest, keep us real in terms of living to and abiding by our vision mission and the values of the organization.”

-- 30 --

 Harm Reduction Team

Photo credit NorWest Community Health Centres: NorWest Community Health Centres’ harm reduction team consists of Josh Fraser, Keeshaw Bauer and Laurie Clarke.



NorWest Community Health Centres has developed a project to have people with “lived experience” provide support and guidance for those using injection and inhalation drug equipment.

Research in Action: Sky’s the limit for fully autonomous UAVs

Dr. Abdelhamid Tayebi Dr. Abdelhamid Tayebi

Photo 1: Lakehead University professor Dr. Abdelhamid Tayebi joins graduate student Zeke Sedor as fellow student Geordi McGrath, right, goes over the cameras placed on an unmanned aerial vehicle.

 Photo 2: Lakehead University professor Dr. Abdelhamid Tayebi, right, watches graduate student Zeke Sedor operate an unmanned aerial vehicle at the school’s Automatic Control Laboratory.


Published in the Chronicle Journal Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Imagine this: there’s a car crash on a highway and a First Aid kit arrives within minutes. Smoke is detected on a remote mountain and firefighting crews are dispatched to the hot spot. An alarm sounds at a nuclear power plant and damage assessment begins immediately.
In all of these scenarios, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, could play a pivotal role.
“You can equip drones with whatever you want, then you can send them to places where it’s dangerous to send humans or difficult to send robots,” suggests Dr. Abdelhamid Tayebi.
“But that’s a goal,” he cautions, “that’s a little bit far in the future.”
Tayebi, an Electrical Engineering professor at Lakehead University, has been working to make UAVs fully autonomous. That means, essentially, developing drones that can accomplish a task without human intervention.
“That’s the ultimate goal of all the people working in this area,” Tayebi explains. “It’s to one day send a UAV from some location, give it GPS co-ordinates and then the UAV goes to that location, choosing the best route to avoid obstacles and collision.”
There are a multitude of issues that have to be overcome before the skies are abuzz with drones, though. Tayebi acknowledges the huge task of building transmitters and receivers to track a drone’s exact position and then how to efficiently control a device the weight and size of a toy.
Progress is taking place at a small office on campus, the Automatic Control Laboratory, of which Tayebi is the director. On any given day, two graduate students are working on standard four-propellor drones, writing computer code, fixing minor mechanical issues and seeing where that takes them.
“It’s a real challenge,” says Geordi McGrath, a Master’s student in Electrical and Computer Engineering. “This work is a good culmination of what you learned in undergrad studies.
“Electrical engineering is very math heavy, so using equations from calculus and physics to control a physical system is quite satisfying.”
McGrath’s focus is on the two cameras mounted on the UAV, trying to figure out how the drone can know where it is based on what it sees. Getting the cameras properly calibrated has been both tedious and exhilarating.
“When I finally was able to complete the calibration successfully, there was such a relief,” he says. “But at the same time it was frustrating because it was a single mistake that caused months of issues.”
His colleague, Zeke Sedor, faces other challenges. On the white tile floor of the lab is the black outline of a large circle. His objective is to get the drone to fly in a particular path — in this case, follow the circle while airborne.
“Everything right now works, but nothing works together really well,” Sedor says.
“It sounds simple, but it’s really not,” he continues. “You first have to control the orientation to get it flat. Then, depending on the final position and the velocity information available from the sensors, you have to control the orientation to control the movement of the drone. That is a lot more complicated than it sounds. ‘Let’s trace a circle for the drone.’ It should be easy, but — ”
“Pretty much everything we’re doing,” McGrath adds, “sounds simple in concept, but the execution is the challenge,”
Tayebi can appreciate what his students are going through. He’s been at this research for 15 years and knows the hurdles that need to be overcome to make mini-aircraft available for a variety of important tasks.
“I tell my students it’s much easier to control a big spacecraft or satellite than to control a small drone,” he says, explaining that larger crafts have delicate and expensive sensors that you can’t afford for drones.
“These are challenging problems and we’re working on it. We have solved a few problems and there are other problems we’re trying to solve,” Tayebi acknowledges. “We’re still progressing.”

Research in Action: Agrobiodiversity, Nutrition and Sustainable Marketing of Heritage Crops in Ecuador and Canada

Dr. McLaren

Dr. Brian McLaren of Lakehead University, far right, is joined by Ecuadorian instructor Fernando Romero, left, and PhD exchange students Cristina Ross and Paul Benalcazar during a campus visit. Credit: Julio Gomes photo

 Photo # 2 (below): Paul Benalcazar and Cristina Ross, front, attend a field trip along the Paushiyacu River in Ecuador, with students from Lakehead’s Faculty of Natural Resources Management. Credit: Submitted photo



Published in The Chronicle Journal on Monday, November 27, 2017.

By Julio Heleno Gomes

Young scholars from Ecuador and Canada will be part of a cross-cultural exchange program looking at how improvements to small-scale farming practices can support traditional agriculture in ways that conserve biodiversity and mitigate climate change.

“It’s about going back to the future,” Lakehead University professor Brian McLaren says.

“Small-scale farms add to biodiversity, but they’ll only be managed sustainably if they can compete with the global food trade that is done on a large scale.”

McLaren, an associate professor in Lakehead’s Natural Resources Management department, is the principal researcher on a project that will engage and support rural farmers in ways that can provide social, economic, ecological and health benefits. The study involves McLaren and Lakehead researchers Dr. Chander Shahi, Dr. Charles Levkoe and Dr. Mirella Stroink, as well as Brock University and a university in Ecuador.

“It’s a team that is multidisciplinary and it will look at this project from different perspectives,” McLaren says of the researchers’ backgrounds, which ranges from botany and economics to behavioural sciences.

Local partners include the Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Station, KBM Resources Group and the Local Organic Food Co-ops Network. TBARS, for example, has worked with Lakehead University on projects looking at new crop varieties, changing growing conditions, and less water-intensive agriculture.

By working with small farmers in the Thunder Bay area and the Niagara region, as well as in South America, researchers hope to improve water management, soil conservation and pest control, as well as help produce a wider range of products, including organic and traditional foods. Consumers will benefit through a healthier diet and food sovereignty. Overall, the benefits will be increased biodiversity, improved resilience to climate change, and varied habitats for complementary species such as pest enemies.

“Wherever we go in the world, small farmers, if they add to the diversity on their farm, if they do better water management, if they have planting that protects the soil from erosion and water from becoming contaminated, they help mitigate climate change,” McLaren says.

“We watch what farmers do and help them understand they are part of the whole planet.”

Along with Brock, Lakehead is working hand-in-hand with ESPOCH, a polytechnic university in central Ecuador.

“This is a great opportunity,” says Fernando Romero, an ESPOCH instructor who specializes in statistics and biometrics. “I would say this is the only way to have good solutions — looking at how nature works and looking at how human beings work.”

An award of $283,000 from the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Advanced Scholars Program will see researchers embark on international exchanges. McLaren says the researchers will work closely with rural and indigenous communities to resolve local problems in food security and environmental sustainability.

“Learning by watching others — that’s the idea,” McLaren explains, adding that he expects participants to develop a network of global expertise, industry contacts and real-world experience.

In early October, the first of five Ecuadorians arrived at Lakehead to begin their graduate studies.

“We are happy to be here and have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn, and I’m sure the people going from Canada to Ecuador will learn a lot as well,” says Cristina Ross, a PhD student in Forest Science.

Her four-year project will look at the impact of climate change on agricultural landscapes (such as water and nutrient retention, and the runoff of contaminants into Lake Superior) and its impact on crops in Northwestern Ontario.

Her colleague, Paul Benalcazar, has a background in engineering and will study irrigation systems.

“For us in Ecuador it’s a big issue because we don’t have enough water,” he says. “We will try to learn how to manage water more efficiently.”

The project began in April and will continue to 2020. McLaren is interviewing five potential Canadian scholars who will conduct research in Ecuador.

“This is the result of a very profitable relationship between Lakehead and ESPOCH,” says Romero, who will co-ordinate local internships for visiting Canadian scholars. “We have been working together and doing many things in a short time.”

 -- 30 --

 Ecuadorian Students

Dr. Brian McLaren

Research in Action: Lakehead professor's new book describes what art can teach you about money

Dr. Haiven

Submitted by Lakehead University

 Published in The Chronicle Journal on Wednesday, October 17, 2018


 Dr. Max Haiven is interested in the power of the imagination. Now a Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University, Dr. Haiven’s work considers the imagination in a collective sense, asking how we think about imagination and its potential for changing society. Dr. Haiven calls this the radical imagination; here, the term radical is used in its original meaning, “from the roots.”

 One area where Dr. Haiven has focused his work on the radical imagination is in considering how we think about money. “Money is an abstract concept that exists only as part of a society’s collective imagination,” Haiven said. “My work asks: what metaphors do we use to make financial ideas concrete? How do these metaphors become part of our everyday lives?”

 During his previous appointment as a professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Dr. Haiven worked with a group of students to build a database of artworks that used financial concepts in some way.

 This database formed the basis for Dr. Haiven’s new book, Art After Money, Money After Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization, which has just been released by Pluto Press and Between the Lines Books in Canada. The book examines strategies that artists use to respond to financial systems, and considers what art has to teach us about how we collectively imagine money.

 While working in Halifax, Dr. Haiven co-directed the Radical Imagination Project from 2010-2016, which hosted roundtables and workshops by and for scholars, students, activists, artists and community members.

 He brought this collaborative methodology to Lakehead University in 2017, where he now co-directs, with artist Cassie Thornton, the ReImagining Value Action Lab (RiVAL). Started with funds from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, RiVAL is located in Lakehead’s PACI building.

 Recently, RiVAL hosted a series of workshops on radical financial literacy, which used film, games, and role-playing to re-think financial issues as structural rather than personal, and to consider how individuals might support one another through financial crisis.

 In the sessions, attendees also considered models that respond or provide alternatives to current financial systems. In hosting these and other workshops, RiVAL has partnered with a number of social and arts organizations in Thunder Bay and the region, such as Thunder Bay Bear Clan Patrol, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and the Minneapolis Public Library.

 Dr. Richard Togman is a course facilitator with Thunder Bay’s New Directions Speaker’s School, which helps people develop public speaking and leadership skills, who partnered with RiVAL to deliver a Radical Financial Literacy workshop to Speaker’s School participants.

 “We previously had an accountant come in and talk about financial literacy, but it was interesting to have both this approach and a different perspective from RiVAL – to talk about debt, and how the financial system works,” Togman said.

 “This was applicable to the participants in speaker school who tend to be low income and more at risk of predatory financial practices such as payday loans,” he said.

 Its co-directors consider RiVAL both a research space and a community space, and are open to new ideas for co-hosting events that would fit with the ideas of the radical imagination and/or social justice.

The Thunder Bay launch for Art After Money, Money After Art will be on Friday, Oct. 19 at 2:30 pm in Lakehead University’s ATAC building, room 5036.

For a list of RiVAL’s upcoming workshops, talks and other events or to contact RiVAL, visit

Research In Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.


Research in Action: New law database will educate the public about human rights decisions

Drs. Cohen and Mago

Photo cutline: Drs. Miriam Cohen (right) and Vijay Mago (centre) discuss the prototype
of their human rights decision database with research assistant Jayant Gorantla (left).

Published in The Chronicle Journal on Thursday, October 12, 2017

If you think that your human rights have been violated and you’re considering legal
action, where could you research the outcome of similar cases?
Currently, this information is not easily accessible. But a new project, headed by Dr.
Miriam Cohen, Assistant Professor in the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead
University, and funded by the Canadian Bar Association’s Law for the Future Fund, will
make it much easier to find information about human rights decisions.
As part of Dr. Cohen’s project, a website is being developed to educate the public about
human rights law, ultimately improving access to justice. The website will include a
database of decisions in leading federal and provincial cases across Canada and will
have search functions similar to Google.
“A person who feels they have been discriminated against – for example on the grounds
of race, sex, or disability - could use the resources and database to figure out if they
could pursue a case, even if they have no background in law,” Dr. Cohen said.
“This would help them to decide whether they wanted to seek formal legal advice.”
Five research assistants from the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law worked on Dr. Cohen’s
database, categorizing and summarizing decisions. Casandra Gravel, a second-year law
student, is the most recent addition to the team.
Hailing from Timmins, Ont., Gravel is francophone, and her role in the project has been
to review the leading human rights cases in Quebec and translate them into English.
“Working on this project has been a valuable experience,” she said.
“Simplifying legal information into easily understandable terms not only has the public
benefit of giving a clearer picture of what the law actually says, it also helped me absorb
the information, so that I will retain it going forward. I will also use the database in my
future practice,” Gravel said.
Although the importance of making information about human rights decisions
accessible was clear to Dr. Cohen, she needed help in creating a user-friendly database.
That’s where Dr. Vijay Mago, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer
Science, came in, with help from his student, Jayant Gorantla.
“The project draws on the latest research in artificial intelligence, document analysis
and algorithm design,” Dr. Mago said. His vision for the database ensured that it would
be accessible for everyone – legal professionals and the general public.

Gorantla is the research assistant responsible for the coding behind the database. He
has been interested in technology since childhood.
“I feel inspired to innovate because one innovation can have an effect on millions of
lives,” he said, adding that he came from India to pursue graduate studies in Computer
“I love my job,” he said. “Opportunities like this encourage us as students to be curious
and to build confidence in programming. Applying theoretical knowledge from my
classes in a large-scale project has helped me come up with ideas for my own master’s
Drs. Cohen and Mago expect the database to go live for public use in early 2018.


Research in Action: Thunder Bay Police partner with Lakehead researcher to make ‘big picture’ change


Published in The Chronicle Journal on Monday, June 10, 2019.

Changing the culture of policing in Thunder Bay and regaining community confidence - and especially the confidence of Indigenous people and youth - has been a priority for Sylvie Hauth since she became Acting Chief (and later Chief) of the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) in 2017.

 At the time of Chief Hauth’s appointment, the police service was looking for guidance in understanding how to address the recommendations of recent reports that reflected a damaged relationship with the community, including the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario’s seven youth inquest (2016), and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission report (2018).

 “It is important to me that we not just be checking a box,” Chief Hauth said.

 “I want us to make a real difference in the culture of the service. Any project we undertake has to be both completed in a timely fashion to start making change now, and sustainable in the long-term,” she said.

 To move forward, TBPS connected with Dr. Leisa Desmoulins, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University, to begin the Shaping Our Future Organizational Change Project. The project was led by a working group established by TBPS through an open call to the community. The group is comprised of officer and civilian members of the police service, as well as community members, all of whom self-identify as Indigenous or from other racialized groups, including one member from Fort William First Nation.

 The goals of the Shaping Our Future project are: 1. Revamping the structure and function of the Aboriginal Liaison Unit to enhance community policing; 2. Invigorating recruitment to attract Indigenous and other under-represented groups to the police service; 3. Creating structured, ongoing training opportunities for police service staff to enhance their knowledge and abilities; and 4. Enhancing communications internally and externally to convey organizational changes and foster accountability.

 These goals were furthered first through an internal baseline survey that looked at the demographic composition of the police force, and then a revamped citizen satisfaction survey. For the first time, this 2018 survey sought to measure trust in police. Instead of being conducted only online, the survey was also implemented for the first time in person, at public events, door-to-door, and at community organizations. This was a successful effort to reach populations not usually well represented in the survey, such as youth.

 Dr. Melissa Oskineegish is a 2018 graduate of the joint PhD program in Education at Lakehead University. She worked on the project as a research assistant.

 “When I had to conduct surveys, I was nervous because I didn’t know what people’s reactions would be. Policing can be a sensitive topic. But across the board people wanted to have their voices heard and were keen to participate,” said Dr. Oskineegish. She reflected on the important opportunity the project gave her to simultaneously hone her quantitative research skills and to connect with community. “I’m happy, as a citizen of Thunder Bay, to be part of positive change,” she said.

 The survey allowed different demographic groups to be compared for the first time because of increased response rates among youth, Indigenous peoples, and racialized citizens. There were 2,250 participants in total: 2,038 who participated online and 212 who participated in person. The majority of people who participated online were white, middle aged or older, and have lived in Thunder Bay 10 years or more. The majority of people who participated in person were young, and evenly split between Indigenous and white, with more respondents than in the online group self-identifying with non-Indigenous racialized identities as well.

 "The results of the survey were both surprising and unsurprising,” said Dr. Desmoulins.

 The results from both the online and in-person surveys, and across demographic groups, showed that overall, people report good experiences with TBPS where they feel respected, regardless of the kind of contact with police. Both groups also described feeling “somewhat safe” in the community. However, the survey also showed gaps between the groups. The younger, more diverse group of respondents ranked the service low in terms of fairness, expressed low confidence in police, and did not feel police were attentive to the needs of their group, compared to more positive rankings in these areas from the older online group.

 “This seeming contradiction of good experiences with police but a low level of trust and confidence can be explained in part by the power of stories,” Dr. Desmoulins said.

 “Many respondents had heard stories from friends and family of negative police experiences, were familiar with the reports that were issued, or had seen stories in the media that may have concerned them and affected perceptions,” she said.

 The next step for the research will be to look into how to build youths’ confidence in police. “There is very little longitudinal research into the area of how to build or re-build trust,” said Dr. Desmoulins, who has held focus groups with youth on this topic as part of her continued work with TBPS. She also noted that this is a pilot study, and that they hope to repeat the citizen survey in 2019, ideally with a larger sample size.

Research In Action highlights the work of Lakehead University in various fields of research.



Research in Action: Lakehead professor assessing walleye movement in Black Bay

Dr. Rennie

Photo cutline: Lakehead University graduate student Graydon McKee returns an acoustically-tagged walleye that will be tracked to assess its movement in Black Bay.

Published in The Chronicle Journal on Saturday, July 21, 2018

 Decades after the collapse of a fish species in an area east of Thunder Bay, researchers are hoping walleye will make a comeback someday.

Early results from a study in Black Bay suggest a great deal of movement in and out of the no-fishing zone, meaning a re-evaluation of the situation may be in order.

“What’s your management strategy?” asks Lakehead University’s Dr. Michael Rennie. “Protect the whole bay from angling in order to speed up recovery of the species or keep one small portion closed? You might change your management strategy based on an understanding of how fish move seasonally.”

An assistant professor in Biology and Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, Rennie is involved in a collaborative project with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to assess walleye movement in Black Bay. Master’s student Graydon McKee is analyzing data from walleye fitted with acoustic tags to analyze and track their movement throughout the bay. He also collects biological samples to assess growth and feeding patterns.

Black Bay is unique because, unlike much of Lake Superior, it is shallow, relatively warm and murky, making it an ideal habitat for walleye. The researchers have found two distinct groups of walleye in the bay: migrators and residents. Some walleye leave during the summer (following spawning) and return in the fall, while another group stays the year round.

“When looking at growth patterns, the migratory fish grow larger than their resident counterparts,” McKee states.

This may be due to the type of food available outside of Black Bay. But a more definitive analysis awaits.

The species suffered a major collapse in the late 1960s. From the line that now represents the no-fishing sanctuary in the bay, 70 per cent of the fish that are tagged actually move out of the sanctuary.

“So it might represent some kind of refuge,” Rennie says. “But if you think it protects the walleye we have in the system, well, they’re moving around quite a lot, so the fishing ban doesn’t protect fish if they are angled when they leave the sanctuary.”

Black Bay walleye movement is one of several projects Rennie is involved with focusing on lakes and how they respond to climate warming, invasive species and contaminants.

As lead researcher of the Community Ecology and Energetics Lab, much of Rennie’s work is located at ISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA), a set of 58 lakes and their watersheds just outside Kenora that are dedicated to experimentation on whole lakes. A unique kind of real-world laboratory, it is the only place of its kind in the world.

Rennie is completing a project with Trent University examining nanosilver, an understudied substance that can be found in everything from athletic clothing and socks to coatings on cutting boards. Initially, it was thought this anti-microbial would impact the lower food web, such as algae and zooplankton.

“What we found was quite the opposite,” Rennie says. “We found most of the impacts were on fish rather than organisms lower in the food web. They were eating less in the presence of this silver, and smaller/younger fish were growing slower.”

It is hoped the results will spur regulators to limit the amount of nanosilver being released into the environment.

Other work at IISD-ELA shows that lakes recovering from acid rain have lake trout populations that are stunted, less abundant and have high levels of mercury. That could be due to the absence of a freshwater shrimp called Mysis diluviana, on which the trout feed, which were eliminated from the lake during acidification. This year an experiment is being launched to add Mysis back into the lake to see if it improves trout populations.

Rennie is also looking for Mysis DNA in the lake sediment (or environmental DNA) from the acidified lake to see if this technology can be applied to other affected lakes.

“You can now use the sediment to ask the question: what used to be here before we messed the system up?” Rennie says. “It will help managers set restoration targets. If you’re introducing species to ecosystems, you want to put back what was there already, which you might not have information on. We’re trying to use the DNA trapped in sediments from this lake as a case study for how you can apply this technology to other impacted lakes in Ontario.”