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Gun smuggling, literary physics and the remaking of journalism

U of T's Connaught New Researchers explore diverse range of subjects

The tunnel and bridge that connect Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan comprise the busiest border crossing in North America. Millions of people travel between the US and Canada through this corridor; the crossing is an important boon to jobs and the economies of both countries.

Also travelling through the Detroit-Windsor crossing are illegal guns. In fact, this corridor is the main conduit for illegal guns used in Ontario.

This phenomenon fascinates Jennifer Carlson, a sociologist at U of T Mississauga. Carlson is one of 53 U of T researchers at the assistant professor level who have just been awarded funding through the Connaught New Researcher Awards program.

“The goal of the Connaught New Researchers program is to help new professors establish strong research programs, which, in turn, make them more competitive for external funding,” said Professor Paul Young, vice president (research and innovation).

The New Researcher awards are part of a suite of programs administered by the Connaught Fund. The awards are rooted in the Connaught philosophy of investing internally in U of T research. The Connaught Fund was created from the 1972 sale of Connaught Laboratories, which first mass-produced insulin, the Nobel award-winning discovery of U of T researchers Frederick Banting, Charles Best, J.J.R. Macleod and James Collip. Connaught invests close to $4 million annually in emerging and established scholars.

Carlson will use her Connaught New Researcher funding to examine how American and Canadian authorities police guns and the flow of guns across borders and how different social, cultural, legal and political contexts shape and affect the policing of guns and gun-related crimes.

“My primary goal with this research is to explore how law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border currently deal with gun smuggling,” says Carlson. “So, I will look at this from a sociological perspective, but I also hope to come out of this study with recommendations on best practices for police, too.”

She notes that part of the challenge of gun smuggling from the US to Canada has to do with the very different view, laws and practices surrounding guns. She points, for example, to a phenomenon she calls “the accidental gun smuggler” – Americans who can legally carry guns for personal protection who arrive at the Canadian border, forgetting they are holding their guns and are then detained by authorities when their cars are searched.

Carlson joined U of T in 2013, after completing her PhD at the University of California Berkeley. Her research has focussed on gender and criminology, often with a focus on guns.

“I’m thrilled to be receiving the Connaught New Researcher funding. It is going to allow me to get the project off the ground. I’m able now to spend this summer building up my network and starting on my interviews. This is a wonderful start to my second year as a U of T professor.”

This year, the New Researcher program awarded more than $920,000 to 53 faculty members including, for example: 

  • Elizabeth Adams Blake, of the Department of English and Drama at UTM, for "Early Modern Literary Physics; 
  • Nicole Cohen of the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, also at UTM, for “New Forms of News: Making and Remaking Journalism in a Digital Age”; 
  • Aisha Ahmad, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Scarborough,for “Elite Targeting and Network Fragmentation in Islamic Insurgencies”
  • Kelly Arbour, Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education, “Igniting Fitness Possibilities: A pilot study to develop and test the feasibility of a community-based inclusive physical activity program for youth”
  • Daniel Green, of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, for “Using Galaxies for Fundamental Physics”

Read the complete list of recipients at Research and Innovation.

Paul Fraumeni is a writer with the office of the vice-president, Research and Innovation