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Dr. Sharon Bearpark on behalf of Paul James.

Mamdouh Shoukri, President of York University

Dear Dr. Shoukri, I am writing to you to appeal for your office’s clemency and review of the way that York University has dealt with former Staff Soccer Coach, Mr. Paul James.

As you may know Mr. James has recently embarked on a hunger strike to appeal for action on how York University chose to deal with his employment after revealing personal distress. His case is well documented on his website:

On review it is incredulous to me that given the way the university chose to deal with Mr. James that York University lays claim to taking action on mental health and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.

I understand that the University has named the month of January as a month for taking action on mental health to coincide with Bell Canada’s ‘Let’s Talk’ Campaign.

In the words found on your website ‘Universities have emerged as leaders in this conversation not only by necessity, given the large number of young people who are affected by mental health issues and the unique pressures that often come with the pursuit of an academic career, but also thanks to the important research and community engagement efforts being undertaken by university communities’.

In launching York University’s new mental health strategy, I appeal to you and your office to renew your ongoing commitment to mental health and wellness on campus and examine how and if the university ‘enhances the resources and supports we are able to provide’.

As part of York University’s new strategy, you claim to offer mental health training to all community members including: students, staff and faculty who can enroll in safeTALK, preparing participants to identify individuals who may need help and connect them with the appropriate support.

In fact, I think in Mr. James’s case York University needs to examine how well he was supported, and also, if the actions of the university have helped or hindered his ability to live a healthy and productive life? I encourage you to take a look for yourself at what makes York University a progressive university? The University lays claim to ‘excellence around the world’.

I urge you that it is time to consider your institution’s future and the role you have as a leader in finding a non-adversarial and supportive role particularly in cases where students, staff and faculty can benefit from a more compassionate approach to mental health and substance use disorders.

As your institution claims the mission of York University is the pursuit, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. We promise excellence in research and teaching in pure, applied and professional fields.

We test the boundaries and structures of knowledge. We cultivate the critical intellect. A community of faculty, students, staff, alumni and volunteers committed to academic freedom, social justice, accessible education, and collegial self-governance, York University makes innovation its tradition. I respectfully urge you to re-examine York University’s treatment of and your collective conscience with regards to the handling of Mr. James and his personal rights.

I also ask that you review how well your institution deals with similar issues. If indeed York University makes innovation your tradition, I appeal to you, your office and your Department of Human Resources to review how it ensures employees are protected and supported when facing mental health and substance use disorders.

Mr. James’ personal situation is a travesty and one that York University has played a part in compounding.

The University could show real leadership in finding a mutually respectful path forward. One that might be a model in showing the world a better way to support those who are suffering and are most in need of social justice, humanity, compassion and humility.

With sincere respect for the office you hold and for the life and health of Mr. James.

Dr. Sharon Bearpark, Comox, British Columbia

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