Concordia University Presents

The Walrus Talks Being Human

Ottawa Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 7 p.m. ET



  • Zeynep Arsel, Concordia University
  • Mercédes Benegbi, Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada
  • Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, Concordia University
  • Josée Drouin-Brisebois, National Gallery of Canada
  • Lawrence Hill, author
  • Garth Johnson, Meticulon
  • Mark Kingwell, philosopher
  • Marc Lafrance, Concordia University
  • Steve Mann, researcher and inventor

Zeynep Arsel is the Concordia University research chair in consumption and markets at the John Molson School of Business and a visiting distinguished professor at Aalto University, in Finland. Zeynep examines the ways in which we conduct everyday life through consumption, and she is studying how people relate to places and objects. Her work has been published in high-impact academic journals and featured in media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s, the Globe and Mail, Wired, Psychology Today, the Montreal Gazette, the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen, le Devoir, L’actualité, and la Presse.

Mercédes Benegbi has served as executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada since 2002. She has held various positions both in the public and community sectors, particularly in the service of persons with disabilities, and she has been on the board of the Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec for over twenty years. Born in 1962, Mercédes is a Canadian survivor of the thalidomide tragedy.


Natasha Blanchet-Cohen is an assistant professor at Concordia University’s Department of Applied Human Sciences, where she studies the role that young people play in building community resilience. She is interested in how decision-making opportunities can be embedded into our communities and how youth-friendly spaces and systems can become more widespread. She has participated in various national and international initiatives to help strengthen the arenas (municipal, federal, provincial, familial, etc.) that affect young people’s lives.


Josée Drouin-Brisebois is a senior curator responsible for Canadian and international contemporary art at the National Gallery of Canada. She managed Canada’s role in two Venice Biennale exhibitions: Shary Boyle’s Music for Silence and Steven Shearer’s Exhume to Consume. Josée also co-curated A Moving Image and Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque at the Art Gallery of Alberta, as well as Spectral Landscape and The Shape of Things at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.


Lawrence Hill is a Canadian novelist, essayist, and memoirist who writes about identity and belonging. He is the author of nine books, including the award-winning novel The Book of Negroes and the non-fiction works Blood: The Stuff of Life (which formed the basis of his 2013 Massey Lectures) and Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning. He has co-written a six-part television miniseries based on The Book of Negroes, which appeared in 2015 on cbc TV and bet. He is currently completing a new novel.


Garth Johnson is the ceo of Meticulon, Canada’s first IT-consulting firm to employ the unique abilities of consultants with autism. Garth develops business relations and strategic partnerships for the company, drawing on his experience both as an owner and manager of several entrepreneurial businesses and as the father of a child with disabilities. He is a former executive at Fotolia and iStockphoto and an experienced web start-up veteran.

Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s. He is the author or co-author of seventeen books of political, cultural, and aesthetic theory, including the bestsellers Better Living, The World We Want, Concrete Reveries, and Glenn Gould. His writing has appeared in more than forty mainstream publications, including the New York Times, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Utne Reader, Bookforum, the Toronto Star, and Queen’s Quarterly; he is also a former columnist for Adbusters, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail. A new collection of his essays, Measure Yourself against the Earth, will appear in September 2015.


Marc Lafrance, a sociology professor at Concordia University, explores a range of issues relating to gender and sexuality, which are bound up with the lived experience of the body. He considers these topics in relation to both pop-culture texts, including music videos and television shows, and scholarly texts by contemporary theorists. Marc is known for his research on the so-called crisis of masculinity and his groundbreaking work on the relationship between skin and human identity. He is a monthly commentator on Radio-Canada’s premiere morning show, Médium large; he has appeared on cbc’s The Current; and he has been interviewed by Maclean’s, the Montreal Gazette, la Presse, and the Journal de Montréal.


Steve Mann is a University of Toronto professor in both electrical engineering and computer science, and he created the world’s first mobile-app lab in 1999 as part of his wearable-computing and AR course. Steve is regarded as the father of wearable computing and the wearable-technologies discipline. He is the chief scientist of both Meta Augmented Reality and the Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab, a founding member of Interaxon, and the author of Cyborg: Digital Destiny and Human Possibility in the Age of the Wearable Computer.

Concordia University

The Walrus Talks is a national series of events produced by the charitable, non-profit Walrus Foundation as part of an educational mandate to provide forums for conversation on matters vital to Canadians. The Walrus Foundation produces The Walrus magazine, the most awarded publication in Canada, as well as producing content at, on Walrus TV, and on stages from coast to coast to coast.

The Walrus Talks format features eight speakers for seven minutes each on various themes relating to a single topic. Each event offers lively, thoughtful, inspiring, riveting, smart, new thinking from scientists, writers, performers, scholars, and leaders of business and the arts. Each Talks event is followed by a spirited reception with attendees and participants.

The Walrus Talks delivers fresh ideas and new ways of looking at big issues. The Walrus has no “wings.” Our speakers are chosen to reflect a range of experiences and viewpoints, but they all have one thing in common: the desire for real conversation about issues that affect the future of Canada. Our goal is for audience members to think “I never thought about it that way” when the Talks are over.

In 2015, The Walrus Talks will be held in Calgary, London, Winnipeg, Montreal, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, and Victoria. They will address themes including vice, creativity, the Arctic, the animated city, the Aboriginal city, being human, play, and water.

The Walrus Talks 2015 will feature more than 100 speakers from all walks and from across the country. The Walrus Talks are sponsored by forward-thinking members of the private and public sectors whose support enables the Canadian conversation and encourages dialogue on a wide range of issues.

Dates, details, and ticket information are available at