By Charlie Gillis - Friday, May 17, 2013 - 0 Comments
Why Canada can make wine that’s as good as any import, but not as cheaply
Maclean’s tells the story of Canadian wine from coast to coast in words and pictures in Wine in Canada: A Tour of Wine Country. Look for it on newsstands now, or download the app. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek:
The food was good, the company warm and the wine—both bottles—downright delicious. Carmen’s 2011 cabernet made a fine companion to the glazed pork tenderloin my wife and I served at a recent dinner party: tart, yet replete with that fruitiness Chilean wineries seem to summon without effort. By the halfway point of the meal, we were ready for something more structured, and a bordeaux-style red from Thirty Bench Wine Makers in Beamsville, Ont., served nicely. Austere but silky on the palate, this 2010 wine was discernibly better than the Carmen, which made its $24 price tag easier to swallow. But from an economic standpoint, there was the rub: the Chilean cost $12.55 less.
For every wine lover wishing to support the domestic industry, it’s a persistent fly in the ointment. Buy a good domestic, and you suspect you’ve paid more than you would for an import of comparable quality—or that you might have gotten a transcendent foreign wine for a similar price. It’s especially true of popular reds: Trius 2011 merlot, from the Niagara Region, seems a decent enough deal at $14.95 (in Ontario). But a mere $7.65 will buy a bottle of Cesari, a mass-produced merlot from Italy that tastes about as good. Fans of ripassos will be delighted to hear the Old World technique of fermenting partially dried grapes has made its way to Canada. But the $34.95 price on Cave Spring Winery’s version, “La Penna,” might scare off customers wondering whether it’s as good as the Italian original.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Charlie Gillis on the munchkin invasion
Weekday mornings at P.L. Robertson Public School in Milton, Ont., are unlike anything most of us remember from school. For starters, there are the valets—a team of seven early childhood educators kitted out in orange reflector vests, opening car doors and holding backpacks to ensure a phalanx of minivans dropping off little people rolls apace. Then there are the “pens”: a network of fenced yards where kindergartners, who arrive in a seemingly endless flow, can play safely while they await the morning bell. “We use the word ‘pens’ lovingly,” says principal Wendy Spence. “But we might as well call them what they are.”
By 8:40 a.m., the kids begin filing indoors, and the enormity of Spence’s responsibility becomes clear. P.L. Roberston might be named for an icon of Milton’s industrial past (the man who invented the Robertson screwdriver), but it rests in a sea of brand-spanking new, cheek-by-jowl residential developments whose demographics skew heavily toward the young. Fully 403 of the school’s students are in kindergarten, representing nearly 40 per cent of a student body that, nominally at least, goes up to Grade 8. Four- and five-year-olds have all but taken over the place, decking the walls with their artwork and forcing older students into rows of portables while the Halton District School Board scrambles to build classrooms at neighbouring schools.
The munchkin invasion is a direct result of Milton’s status as a last frontier within commuting distance of Toronto: a young, middle-class family can still afford a home here—provided both parents have jobs. But P.L. Roberston is also a microcosm of a vast experiment in early-childhood education that school authorities across the country are keenly watching. By the fall of 2014, every family in Ontario will have access to state-funded, full-day kindergarten, sending some 250,000 kids into school for at least six hours per day. Other provinces offer all-day kindergarten to five-year-olds, but B.C. and Ontario are the first to try it at the both junior and senior levels. That means children as young as 3 now find themselves trundling off to school five days a week, staying until supper time if their parents take up the offer of fee-based child care available in about 60 per cent of schools.
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
The muted response to Israel’s strike on Syria is just one more sign of a troubling new Middle East reality
The mission went off with surprising ease. In separate sorties over the weekend, Israeli warplanes slipped unopposed into Syrian airspace, wiping out missile sites and destroying a major military research centre near Damascus. In past years, it might have been enough to trigger a full-blown crisis—Syria answering with a tit-for-tat strike; Israel pressing the U.S. and other allies for support; the entire Midle East watching helplessly as the cycle escalated. And there was certainly no lack of fuel for outrage: on Monday, Syria’s Arab-language news agency circulated pictures showing the smoking expanses where the bombs had landed, killing as many as 42 people.
But this time, the fallout was strangely muted. Yes, the crippled regime of Bashar al-Assad mustered a pro forma protest, decrying the attacks as a “declaration of war,” and threatened unspecified acts of retribution. But Israel seemed unworried about the prospect of immediate retaliation. Even as images of the wreckage flashed across TV screens around the globe, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jetted off to China for a long-planned trade trip, while a close political ally, Tzachi Hanegbi, declared the government had returned to “business as usual.”
By Charlie Gillis - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 5:05 PM - 0 Comments
Remember that lawsuit Brian Burke dropped on foolhardy commenters who helped spread the nasty rumour that he had an affair with a TV anchor and fathered her child? Okay.
Now, do you remember the doubly foolhardy blogger who admitted that he didn’t take down the offending material when asked, and didn’t see what “the big deal” was? Yeah, that guy. A journalism student, if you can feature it.
Well, here’s what happens when you start publishing rumours about people’s personal lives without first running “Canadian libel law” through Google:
I am new to the world of journalism and mistakes occur when people are new to something. Everyone is fallible, and I now understand that I made a mistake by posting a rumour online.
Hopefully, Brian Burke and Hazel Mae will read this and understand how I feel, and what my intentions were. I want to sincerely apologize to them for any personal or professional damages my actions may have caused them.
By Charlie Gillis - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 2:09 PM - 0 Comments
Surely we can agree that stuffing the body of a baby into a bag and leaving it on an apartment balcony for a building superintendent to find is an abominable act. And that it shouldn’t much matter—legally or morally—whether the child died after, during or just before birth.
Or should it?
That was the question before the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Levkovic, the latest gut-wrencher to emerge from the legal vacuum left when Canada’s abortion law was struck down in 1988.
The accused, a former stripper then living in Mississauga, Ont., was charged under Sec. 243 of the Criminal Code, which says:
Every one who in any manner disposes of the dead body of a child, with intent to conceal the fact that its mother has been delivered of it, whether the child died before, during or after birth, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2:30 PM - 0 Comments
How a recent scuffle between Sherpas and European mountaineers turned into fist fight
There are few firsts left to achieve on Mount Everest: more than 4,000 people have scaled the world’s highest peak, smashing everything from speed records to the greatest number of people to summit in a single day (176). But a group of antagonists found their way into the annals this week by engaging in the mountain’s first-ever brawl—that’s right, an old-time fist fight, some 7,000 m above sea level.
The scuffle broke out between a group of Sherpas and three European mountaineers climbing just below Camp 3 on the mountain’s southeast col route in Nepal, according to witnesses and government officials. The Sherpas had been assigned the annual task of fixing ropes, to which the scores of would-be summiteers waiting at base camp could attach themselves on their way up. The climbers—one each from Switzerland, Britain and Italy—reportedly disregarded the Sherpas’ request that they stay put while the ropes were being set. Instead, they tried to forge on upward, prompting the Sherpas to pelt their tents with rocks. Eventually, said witnesses, the two sides came to blows.
Tensions on the 8,850-m mountain are nothing new. Each year, hundreds gather at base camp, intent on satisfying lifelong dreams, and ego is in abundant supply. In recent years, traffic jams in the so-called “death zone” above 8,000 m has led to accusations of self-serving climbers costing lives. But physical altercations are rare, and rarer still are confrontations between visiting climbers and Sherpas, the Nepalese mountain people who provide guiding services to foreigners. Even Elizabeth Hawley, a historian who has been tracking Everest expeditions since the early 1960s, was taken aback, telling Reuters: “I have not heard of any such incident before.”
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:20 PM - 0 Comments
Brian Burke is thought to have struck a blow for accountability on the web with his defamation suit against 18 internet commenters, who last January spread rumours suggesting the erstwhile Toronto Maple Leafs general manager had an affair with sports TV anchor Hazel Mae.
“This will be a very public reminder to people that you can get sued for what you publish on the Internet,” libel lawyer Rider Gilliland told the Toronto Star in a typical response.
But is nabbing pseudonymous trolls the slam-dunk some analysts suggest?
Not by a long shot, says Michelle Awad, a Nova Scotia lawyer who fought a similar case, and has argued issues of Internet anonymity before the Supreme Court of Canada. While it’s true that case law empowers plaintiffs to unmask commenter who post libelous material, she says, the practical hurdles are considerable.
For starters, many web messages originate from IP addresses that host multiple users, such as cafés with unsecured wireless. “Once you have your court order,” Awad explains, “you go to the Internet service provider and ask for the customer information that goes with a particular IP address. But if it’s wireless Internet in a hotel lobby, you’re not going to get very far.”
Information held by the website where the comments are posted can be no more helpful, she adds. “Sometimes they log and say ‘I’m the Easter Bunny at Gmail.’ The site’s automatic registration system doesn’t recognize that’s probably not real.” At that point, says Awad, the plaintiff might take his court order to the webmail host—Google, say, or Yahoo—and seek user information from them. But there again, people can set up pseudonymous accounts from IP addresses that host many users.
So from a legal point of view, the web remains an untamed and unfriendly environment.
The better question arising from Burke’s suit: why does it name commenters but not websites or media companies? Sites, after all, are typically easy to trace to a specific IP address, and the offending statements in this case landed on some well-read ones. Moreover, those linked to major media agencies have deeper pockets, which means a successful plaintiff has the prospect of winning significant financial damages. The messages that so angered Burke appeared on, among other sites, Hockeyinsideout.com, a Montreal Canadiens-themed site run by the Gazette newspaper and owned by the Postmedia newspaper chain; and a popular blog called Canuckscorner.com.
At least one clue lies in a statement Burke’s lawyer, Peter Gall, issued Friday saying his client will seek damages from “everyone who has failed to take down these lies” when Burke first asked them to. According to Awad, the case law on a website operator’s responsibility is far from settled, but the courts look more kindly on sites that take responsibility for what they publish—who make a reasonable effort given the reach of their websites and their resources. Editors with Hockeyinsideout, for example, closely monitor comments, encouraging readers to alert them to potentially defamatory material and taking it down when they decide it crosses the line (a message from a commenter identified as ‘Ncognito’, who is named in Burke’s suit, is no longer on the site).
But others seem keen to play with fire. As the Star noted Saturday, one of the defendants named in the suit, THEzbrad, is linked to a blog where the comments appeared, and where an anonymously posted message this weekend dismissed the suit as “ridiculous.” “Burke obviously did not appreciate these few comments,” the post added, “but the fact that he is going to attempt to sue online commentators is pretty hilarious.”
That’s admirably nonchalant. But here’s some free advice to THEzbrad: take some time out from laughing and get yourself a lawyer.
By Charlie Gillis, Martin Patriquin, Nicholas Köhler, Michael Friscolanti, and Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 6:50 AM - 0 Comments
Two men drawn by the opportunities and comforts Canada offers now stand accused of a terror plot
He is heir to a legacy of anger—“forced into exile,” as his father, Mohammed, once put it, “because of our identification as Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and most importantly, as non-Jews.” Raed Jaser was listed as “stateless” back in March 1993, when he was still a teenager and his family sought refugee status in Canada. The resentment practically rises from the pages of affidavits his dad filed in support of their claim. “We lived in tents, through freezing winters and blazing hot sun,” the elder Jaser said of the family’s time in resettlement camps on the Gaza Strip. They were forced there in 1948, he said, after the Israeli army seized their home in Jaffa to make way for Jewish settlers: “We were homeless and in poor health.”
The sense of rootlessness, suspicion and upheaval that deﬁned his parents’ lives undoubtedly left its mark on Raed. He was born much later, after the family settled in the United Arab Emirates, and he fled with them to Germany amid growing hostility toward Palestinians in the U.A.E. over the 1991 Gulf War (they were seen as sympathetic to Saddam Hussein, who had extolled their cause). Then, in Berlin, the Jasers faced anti-immigrant sentiment that, according to Mohammed, culminated in someone throwing a Molotov cocktail into their home. “Our lives were threatened and we were harassed and abused during the process of our refugee claims in West Germany,” he said in court documents uncovered this week by Maclean’s. “Ultimately, we were forced to flee in fear of our lives.”
If Canada was Mohammed’s solution to all this—a refuge of tolerance and opportunity where a boy like Raed might leave behind past hatreds—it didn’t work. On Tuesday, the 35-year-old Raed was led into a courtroom to face accusations of plotting to derail a Via Rail train somewhere between Toronto and New York—a plan police allege was supported and directed by al-Qaeda operatives based in Iran. “Had this plot been carried out, it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia. “Each and every terrorist arrest the RCMP makes sends a message and illustrates our strong resolve to root out terrorist threats and keep Canadians and our allies safe.”
Also charged was Chiheb Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born Ph.D. student from Montreal who seemed an equally improbable candidate to wage jihad in the Great White North: blessed with smarts and ambition, the 30-year-old had parlayed his work in a Université du Québec nanotechnology lab into conference appearances across North America. He had published papers proposing new methods for detecting prostate cancer, HIV and other diseases in people and animals. Both men have denied the charges against them.
The arrests came as a jolt in a country feeling thankful for its low profile as the manhunt for Boston’s bombers came to its breath-taking, bloody conclusion. For more than a decade, intelligence officials and security experts have warned about the onset of “outsourced” jihad—cadres of homegrown extremists performing the work once done by established terrorist groups, and in some cases initiating it. Yet the reality of the threat has never quite sunk in. The prosecution of the so-called Toronto 18; the conviction of an Ottawa man, Momin Khawaja, over a plot to set off fertilizer bombs in the United Kingdom; the role of young Islamic converts from London, Ont., in the Algerian gas-plant explosion; the bombings in Massachusetts: none of these cases overcame our prevailing sense of incredulity that we could matter enough, that anyone could hate us enough, to actually hit the detonator on Canadian soil.
Now, as the backstories of the accused emerge, a different strain of disbelief presides. Here by all accounts were two men favoured with the opportunities and comforts that Canada offers. Chiheb Esseghaier enjoyed a bright future as a researcher. Raed Jaser spent at least part of his young life embracing the suburban dream, driving a black sports car around Markham, Ont., swimming in his family’s backyard pool. Could either of these men grow so disaffected as to want to destroy it? What, or who, could instill that level of anger? Above all other questions posed by the dreadful scenario outlined by police, why?
In a picture posted on his thesis adviser’s website, Chiheb Esseghaier looks as happy as his fellow Ph.D. students crowded around him. Wearing a black T-shirt, brown sandals and black capri pants with blue cuffs, Esseghaier smiles from behind a pair of small, black-rimmed glasses and a great bushy, moustache-less beard. Skinny, young and seemingly unconcerned by personal appearances, he looks every bit the typical Ph.D. student cliché.
He acted like a typical Ph.D. student, too—on paper anyway. Born in Tunis, Tunisia, Esseghaier received an engineering degree in industrial biology from Tunisia’s Institut national des sciences appliquées et de technologie in 2007. He received his master’s one year later, and by the time he was 28 Esseghaier had been accepted to Université de Sherbrooke, located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships region. He lived in a one-room apartment on Galt Street—Sherbrooke’s main drag—and published his research, most of it relating to the study of analytic devices known as biosensors, in several academic journals.
It was his move to Institute national de la recherche scientifique, Quebec’s premier scientific research facility associated with Université du Québec, where Esseghaier really began to shine. In 2010, at just 28, he joined Biosensor BioMEMS Bionanotechnology Lab, an INRS laboratory run by a University of Cambridge-trained bio-engineer named Mohammed Zourob. Known colloquially as “BBBL” amongst its students, Zourob’s class was a cloistered group of hand-picked students specializing in the study of nanotechnology and biosensors. In total, there were 16 Ph.D. students studying under Zourob.
Along with a fellow Ph.D. student, Zourob and Esseghaier published two papers, on biosensors and early prostate cancer detection, in 2012. As of last year, anyway, Esseghaier apparently wasn’t deemed enough of a danger to travel by plane to America. With Zourob, Esseghaier went to a conference in California last summer. But on at least one other conference trip, to Mexico in May 2012, the CBC reported two undercover surveillance officers trailed him on the Air Canada flight to Cancun. While on that flight, according to the network, Esseghaier was involved in an altercation with a female flight attendant after going to the washroom.
In March, less than a month before his arrest, Esseghaier published a paper on HIV detection, along with Zourob and the same Ph.D. student, in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics. According to an INRS professor, Zourob left the university last fall. Zourob didn’t respond to an interview request. His BBBL website went dark in the hours following news of Esseghaier’s arrest.
Esseghaier’s analytical ways couldn’t contain a stubborn religious streak, however. He reportedly ripped down posters around the INRS campus in Varennes, northeast of Montreal, saying the images offended him. He also complained of the dearth of on-campus prayer rooms. He openly railed against paying taxes in Canada, saying that to do so meant de facto support for the country’s military presence in Afghanistan. A neighbour of his in Sherbrooke told La Presse that he could hear Esseghaier wailing in prayer through the walls, especially at night.
Then there is the matter of his LinkedIn page. Above a list of his educational feats and myriad published articles was a white-on-black image emblazoned with a white circle and Arabic lettering. It is thought to be the emblem with which the Prophet Muhammad sealed his letters. It is also the so-called “black flag” used by the Islamic State of Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq’s political arm. The emblem disappeared from the page within 24 hours of Esseghaier being taken into custody.
On Tuesday morning, the day after his arrest, Esseghaier appeared in front of a judge wearing a blue-striped black windbreaker, dark pants and white sneakers. They were the same clothes he’d been wearing the day before, when he was arrested and carted out of Montreal’s Via Rail train station—part of the very network he and an accomplice allegedly planned to bomb.
Though seemingly a little heavier and a bit more dishevelled, the 30-year-old who appeared in front of Judge Pierre Labelle didn’t look much different from the picture of the Ph.D. student snapped some months before. Esseghaier, who was ushered into court at Montreal’s Palais de justice by two guards, stood nervously with his wrists in cuffs and his fingers knitted together over a railing in the defendants’ box. His eyes darted between Judge Labelle and the media horde assembled to watch him.
He’d had quite the 24 hours. According to federal prosecutor Richard Roy, RCMP officer Dave Ouellette approached Esseghaier at 12:20 p.m. on April 22 at the McDonald’s in Central Station in downtown Montreal. “Mr. Ouellette was familiar with the investigation, and knew Mr. [Esseghaier] by his face,” Roy told the court. “Just before making the arrest, Mr. Ouellette called out his name and the man responded with ‘yes,’ confirming his identity.”
Esseghaier was then ﬂown from Saint-Hubert Airport on Montreal’s South Shore to Toronto for interrogation, only to be flown back less than 24 hours later for his appearance in Montreal. Roy, who called the hearing a “formality” shortly before appearing before Labelle, explained that because Esseghaier was arrested without a warrant, he had to be remanded in front of a judge in the province in which he was arrested. Just before his brief court appearance ended, however, Esseghaier addressed the judge and asked to speak. “All the conclusions were made from facts and words that are but appearances,” he said, speaking softly but quickly. “We cannot make these conclusions from against me . . . ” at which point Labelle cut him off—one day Esseghaier will have his chance to tell his side of the story.
Raed Jaser appeared in the prisoner’s dock of courtroom No. 103, at Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse, wearing a long black beard and a black skullcap over his short curly black hair. A slim, fit-looking man, he peered into the gallery, no doubt seeking out the family members seated there.
When asked to spell his name and indicate his date of birth, a ritual part of such appearances, he did so in a clear, strong, loud voice. A routine publication ban covered the proceedings, during which the 35-year-old was remanded in custody until his next court date, in May.
In the gallery of the small courtroom, otherwise packed with media, sat the members of the Jaser clan, including Raed’s mother, Sabah, in a white hijab with glittering silver thread, and, with a clipped grey moustache, Mohammed, the patriarch, whose history and preoccupations have so defined Raed’s life. Seeing them, Raed clasped and unclasped his hands, but otherwise appeared self-possessed and cool.
Mohammed, who wore a grey suit, a grey pinstriped flat cap, and a tasteful black and grey tie, is a distinguished man with the easy grin of the newspaper advertising salesman he once was. Outside the courtroom, when the Jasers were joined by two slim women in full-body niqabs, Mohammed continued speaking, gesticulating as though discussing a football match just ended.
Within a few minutes he’d dropped that easy manner, and gave a demonstration of his grit. Confronted with a wall of media at the courthouse steps, Mohammed dove alone and hatless into the gauntlet of cameras and reporters, striding across the square diverting members of the media from the Jaser women and young men. “I have nothing to say,” he repeated, once or twice revealing that easy smile. “Of course I’m supporting my son, of course, that’s right, he’s my son!”
Nearby, two young male relatives walked unmolested from the scene. What about Raed’s arrest, a reporter asked them. “We know as much as you do,” one said.
The life that Mohammed Jaser built for his wife and children, and in particular his first son Raed, reflects his own fragmented upbringing as a Palestinian born in Jaffa on the eve of Israel’s founding. In the way Mohammed presents the family’s circumstances during testimony given as part of a failed refugee application in Canada in the 1990s, statelessness has been a chronic characteristic of Jaser history, with documents from various countries, both real and fake, the currency of their travels.
Mohammed was born in what was then Palestine a little more than a year before Israel’s founding in May 1948. “My family and I were forced to leave our country and homeland,” he testified. He went on to describe his family’s attempt to settle in the Gaza Strip, then still under Egyptian control, “where we lived under extremely harsh conditions after our exile.”
As a young man he saw the United Arab Emirates as a land of opportunity, leaving Gaza for Dubai in 1966 and working variously as a teacher and advertising man with a Kuwaiti newspaper. At some point he married Saudi-born Sabah, also a Palestinian. They’d ultimately spend 24 years in the U.A.E., and it was here that, on Dec. 7, 1977, Raed was born. Life there, which depended on U.A.E.-issued work and resident permits, agreed with Mohammed and his young family, giving him “a very good quality of life such as a well-paid job, free house, free car, etc.”
The Gulf War, which broke out in August 1990, proved a turning point. As a result of that conflict, Mohammed told the refugee board, he and other Palestinians encountered hostility from U.A.E. authorities. Mohammed said his lot was particularly hard due to his job as head of the advertising department of Al Syasa, a “political” newspaper. His children were expelled from their schools, and he himself “was ordered to work as a spy against my own people.”
Now it was the murkiness of Mohammed’s status that threw the family’s future into uncertainty. As a Palestinian citizen in Gaza, Egypt, which controlled the area, did not give him citizenship, but instead issued him a special travel document, “meant only for stateless Palestinians,” according to refugee-board filings. When Israel took control of Gaza after the Six Day War in 1967, however, Mohammed could no longer return there, according to his testimony. Therefore, in 1968, he exchanged his Egyptian ID for a Jordanian travel document that did not at the same time give him citizenship or a right to reside in Jordan.
That string of national affiliations, which allowed travel but never granted the family permanent residence anywhere, left Mohammed, Sabah and the children stranded now that they found themselves persecuted in Dubai. Authorities there tapped his phones, monitored him, and ultimately expelled the Jasers, he said as part of his refugee application.
In 1991 they fled to Berlin, a city with a Muslim population that is mostly Turkish. There they applied for refugee status. “We lived as outsiders, in fear of growing and hardening anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments,” Mohammed told the refugee board. It was the Molotov cocktail that persuaded them to abandon their refugee claim and pick up stakes again, he said: “we were forced to flee in fear of our lives.”
Mohammed arranged for his family to receive forged French passports, obtained from a Turk, which he destroyed in Frankfurt once the family had successfully cleared German customs.
The Jasers landed in Toronto on March 26, 1993. Their subsequent application for refugee status quivers with a palpable sense of loss and abandonment. As Mohammed wrote: “I have claimed to be a Convention Refugee from Israel as a result of my identification as a Palestinian. On that basis and as a non-Jewish former permanent resident and national of the area, I am unable to return because of my membership in the Palestinian group.”
In January 1994, an Immigration and Refugee Board panel denied that application, indicating in part that the family could have sought the protection of German authorities in the event they felt threatened there. The family appealed for judicial review, which ultimately triggered a new hearing. The outcome of that hearing, if it was held at all, is not available to the public.
Still, they remained in Canada. If all this upheaval had an effect on Raed, then in his early teens, it did not take long for it to simmer up to the surface.
In October 1995, less than three years after he arrived in Canada, Raed was criminally charged in Newmarket, Ont., with fraud under $5,000. The charge was eventually withdrawn. In December 2000, a week after turning 24, he was arrested again, this time accused of uttering threats. Although court records show Raed was convicted of that charge, it remains unclear what sentence he received.
Yet elsewhere life was improving for the Jasers. By then they had purchased a $315,000 house, in the Toronto suburb of Markham, Ont. The two-storey brick home boasted a double car garage and a swimming pool in the backyard. And their Canadian roots extended to other parts of the country: Raed’s first experiences of Montreal, where his co-accused Esseghaier lives, were likely due to the presence there of two paternal uncles, one of whom is a convention refugee.
From the outside, at least, it appeared the Jaser clan—Raed included—was living the Canadian dream. Max Salida, a next-door neighbour, recalls Raed as friendly and willing to make small talk, an average young Canadian with a black sports car. “If it’s the same person,” he said, “I can’t believe he could be connected to something like this.”
With their neighbours, the family did not talk religion or politics, and seemed generally adjusted to Western life. In those days, say neighbours, the women in the Jaser house did not wear head coverings, and family members took to the pool wearing garden-variety swimwear. But they were open about their Muslim faith. One neighbour, who asked that his name be withheld, recalls being in the house when a young white man walked in, greeting them with the Arabic salutation, “Salaam alaikum” (peace be upon you). “I kind of looked at [Mohammed],” said the neighbour. “He said, ‘We’ve converted this man.’ ”
According to land-registry records, the family did have money problems. Raed’s parents remortgaged the Markham property multiple times, and were eventually forced to move in 2007 after the home was foreclosed. The following summer, 2008, Raed and his brother Nabil launched a limousine company: Nexus Executive Limousine Services Inc. By 2010, Raed, by this time married, moved into a one-bedroom basement apartment in east-end Markham, living at that address for nearly a year. “He was a nice guy,” the landlady said. “He was not bothering us.”
Raed and his wife moved out of the apartment in the summer of 2011. That October, according to corporate records, his limo company dissolved. The following summer, according to police, who say they were tipped off by a member of the Muslim community, Raed Jaser came under the radar of anti-terror investigators in the RCMP.
Whatever the truth, the details will trickle out. They always do.
Canadians eventually learned the truth about the so-called “Toronto 18”—and how its core members, led by 20-year-old Zakaria Amara, plotted mass murder in the name of Allah. Amara himself pleaded guilty, apologizing in court to his “fellow Canadians” and telling the judge how “lucky” he was to be caught before his truck bombs exploded.
Canadians eventually learned the truth about Momin Khawaja, born and raised in Ottawa. Arrested in 2004—while working as a software engineer for the Department of Foreign Affairs—the closet extremist was secretly toiling away in his basement, building a remote-controlled detonator for aspiring terrorists in the United Kingdom. As revealed at trial, he dubbed his deadly creation the “Hi-fi Digimonster.”
And Canadians eventually learned the truth about the Algerian government’s stunning allegations, back in January, that two Canadians were among the dead terrorists who attacked a remote gas refinery. Indeed, the bodies were Canadian: two men from London, Ont. , both in their 20s, who had become so radicalized so rapidly that they travelled overseas to volunteer as suicide bombers. Xristos Katsiroubas, raised in a Greek Orthodox family, was a recent convert to Islam. His friend, Ali Medlej, was born a Muslim, but smoke and drank and played high school football before joining the jihad.
For now, the truth about Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier is buried in thousands of pages of disclosure handed over to their defence lawyers. The files almost certainly contain surveillance footage, wiretapped conversations, and more damning details about one of the RCMP’s few revelations: that the suspects allegedly received “direction and guidance” from an unspecified al-Qaeda element in Iran.
Where did the two suspects meet? How did they communicate? How did they make contact with their supposed al-Qaeda associate in Iran?
One thing, though, is certain: for agencies tasked with protecting public safety, homegrown Islamist terrorism remains its biggest, ever-evolving challenge. Osama bin Laden may be dead, his network decimated. But a new generation of self-starting, Internet-inspired wannabes remain committed to the movement, willing—like the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston—to act alone. Many in Canada’s Muslim community are keenly aware of that reality, and have worked diligently with authorities to weed out potential threats; according to reports, it was a Toronto imam who first warned the Mounties about Jaser. But it is an endless struggle, a constant balancing act.
“There are just too many targets for the numbers of resources we have, so you keep on going toward the highest threat level,” says Ray Boisvert, former director-general of counterterrorism at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. “Who poses the highest potential threat? You may have a couple of young guys, perhaps looking at things the wrong way, and you go and have a conversation with them. If they deny and everything is good, unless they’re showing me a significant threat profile, investigative agencies will move on. They won’t ignore them completely, but they’ve got to keep moving.”
Complicating the challenge even further is the misconception that all homegrown terrorists are wired the same. Experts who study the trend found one overriding motivation: a desire to strike back at the West, in glorious fashion, for its supposed atrocities in Muslim countries. “The message that the world is fundamentally ‘at war’ with Islam is key to the Islamist ‘single narrative’—or ‘one-size-fits-all explanation’—that drives terrorism the world over,” says a 2009 report from the RCMP, entitled “Radicalization: A Guide for the Perplexed.” “The romance of this unequal struggle may be especially appealing to young Muslims, who feel both justified and compelled to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters against the powerful forces arrayed against them.”
But the few Muslims who actually answer that extremist call do not fit one mould. They are rich and poor, educated and illiterate, devout and impious. “It’s difficult to pinpoint any particular background,” says Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a senior associate at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has studied homegrown terrorism. “They’ve spanned the socio-economic horizon. They’ve been doctors. They’ve been unemployed. They’ve been students. We think they have two factors in common: they are disenfranchised for some reason, and they are influenced in some way by someone, usually via the Internet.”
Brian Michael Jenkins, one of America’s leading terrorism experts, says religion isn’t even the biggest factor that motivates homegrown terrorists. In fact, he says, it’s not even near the top of the list. “In my own research, the attributes that emerge again and again are anger, desire for collective revenge, feelings of humiliation, desire to demonstrate manhood, to join a warrior elite, participate in an epic struggle,” he says. “And the one that recurs again and again is personal crisis. For a lot of these young men who have gone down this path, the ideology has become a conveyor of individual discontent. To put it crudely, their life sucks—and terrorism becomes something meaningful.”
For Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, locked in solitary jail cells, life could not be much worse than it is right now.
By Nicholas Köhler, Charlie Gillis, and Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 11:29 PM - 0 Comments
Court documents shed new light on accused Via Rail plotter’s journey to Canada
The Toronto-based suspect in the alleged terror plot to derail a Via Rail train is part of a Palestinian family that felt aggrieved, persecuted and cast adrift after the creation of Israel forced them from their home, according to court documents viewed by Maclean’s.
Raed Jaser—now locked in a solitary jail cell—was 15 when he, his parents and his two younger brothers arrived in Canada from Germany, where they’d lived for two years. They had abandoned a refugee claim in that country in March 1993, citing anti-immigrant sentiment that culminated in someone throwing a Molotov cocktail into their home.
“Our lives were threatened and we were harassed and abused during the process of our refugee claims in West Germany,” Jaser’s father Mohammed wrote on a document filed with the court. “Ultimately, we were forced to flee in fear of our lives.”
By Nicholas Köhler, Charlie Gillis, Michael Friscolanti and Martin Patriquin - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 9:53 PM - 0 Comments
Details on the men RCMP say are behind the first known al-Qaeda-backed plan to commit terrorism in Canada
In the wake of the spectacular announcement that police foiled a terror plot to derail a Via passenger train, details are emerging about the two suspects taken into custody today.
One of the men, Raed Jaser, is believed to have grown up in a Palestinian family with Jordanian roots. Court records seem to indicate he went on to a troubled history in Toronto, where authorities arrested him after a months’-long investigation they say ultimately leads back to al-Qaeda elements in Iran.
Although he is not a Canadian citizen, Jaser, 35, appears to have been in Ontario for at least two decades.
In October 1995, a man with the same name and year of birth was criminally charged in Newmarket, Ont., with fraud under $5,000 (the charge was withdrawn a year later). In December 2000, a week after his 24th birthday, Jaser was arrested and charged again, this time with uttering threats. Although court records show he was convicted of that charge, it’s not clear what sentence he received.
Such details are helping to flesh out the scant information provided today by RCMP investigators who say they have foiled the first known al-Qaeda-backed plan to commit an act of terrorism on Canadian soil.
Even as RCMP brass unveiled the little information they could ahead of a bail hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning, officers in Toronto and Montreal were executing search warrants at the residences and workplaces of Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal.
The RCMP investigation leading to these arrests began as early as last summer, and involved numerous police forces, including the FBI. The arrests follow a week during which Canadians were gripped by the Boston Marathon bombings, and the subsequent manhunt for the two brothers police say were responsible.
‘An entrepreneur making a bid for success’
Some details of Jaser’s life suggest a degree of normalcy, an entrepreneur making a bid for success.
In the summer of 2005, a man named Raed Jaser registered a numbered company with Industry Canada. Specifics about the business are not contained in corporate records filed with the federal government, but a house in Markham, Ont., north of Toronto, was listed as the head office.
On Monday, a woman who answered the phone at that address said Jaser once rented a room in the basement. “It was a long time ago,” she said. “We have no connection. We don’t know him at all.” (His company dissolved in June 2008.)
At that point, Jaser may have moved in with his parents and siblings in the Swan Lake area of Markham, where former neighbours described the family as cordial and kind.
Max Salida, who lived next door, recalls Raed Jaser as friendly and willing to make small talk—an average young Canadian with a black sports car. “If it’s the same person,” Salida told Maclean’s, “I can’t believe he could be connected to something like this.”
The rambling two-storey detached house on Lehman Crescent was home to a middle-aged couple, two sons and a daughter, according to neighbours.
The father, Mohammed, told people they were Palestinian, and had come to Canada from Jordan. They did not talk religion or politics, says Salida, and seemed generally adjusted to Western life (women in the house did not wear head coverings; family members wore swimwear in their pool).
But they were open about their Muslim faith. One neighbour, who asked that his name be withheld, recalls being in the house when a young, white man walked in and greeted them with the common Arabic phrase salutation, “Salam alaikum” (peace be upon you). “I kind of looked at [Mohammed],” said the neighbour. “He said, ‘We’ve converted this man to Islam from Christianity.’ ”
During this time, Raed Jaser appears to have been running a limousine company, which was registered under his name and linked to the Lehman Crescent residence.
But about three years ago, Mohammed told his neighbours he was considering returning to Jordan. Not long after, he and his wife disappeared from the house, leaving behind one of their sons and a daughter. Within months, the home was under foreclosure, selling well below market value at about $380,000.
‘The resumé of an academic posed to go places’
Details about the other man police say was involved in the plot, Esseghaier, a resident of Montreal, are also coming into focus. A highly trained engineer, he had the resumé of an academic poised to go places.
As recently as last month he was publishing research papers.
The March 2013 edition of journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics published a paper on advanced HIV detection by Esseghaier, Mohammed Zourob and a fellow PhD student named Andy Ng.
According to his CV, Esseghaier was born in Tunisia. He received an engineering degree from Institut Tunisia’s National des Sciences Appliquées et de Technologie in 2007, with his masters degree following in 2008. He then moved to Université de Sherbrooke to research “SPR biosensor and gallium arsenide semi-conductor biofunctionnalization.” In November 2010, he joined Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), a graduate institution associated with the Université du Québec.
In 2009, Esseghaier and several other students presented a conference on biosensors in Hamilton. In 2012, along with fellow PhD students and his INRS advising professor Mohammed Zourob, Esseghaier presented “Novel and Rapid Assay for HIV Diagnosis and Drug screening” at technology conferences in Santa Clara, California, Montreal and Cancun, Mexico.
Esseghaier still lists an email address associated with INRS, as well as a phone number with a Montreal area code. A professor at INRS said he thought Esseghaier had left the institution in October 2012, at roughly the same time as Zourob. Professor Zourob didn’t respond to an email requesting comment. At 4:50 p.m. ET today, Zourob’s WordPress website containing his contact information as well as Esseghaier’s CV disappeared.
Despite these somewhat middle-of-the-road backgrounds the two men are charged with numerous terrorism-related offences, including conspiring to carry out an attack that would have led to the murder and serious injury of innocent people, part of a plot sanctioned and perhaps directed by al-Qaeda, investigators said.
That group, Assistant Commissioner James Malizia, who is responsible for federal policing operations, told a crush of reporters this afternoon, is a chapter of the infamous Osama bin Laden-founded organization operating out of Iran, a majority Shia country where the Sunni terror group has not hitherto enjoyed much support.
Rather than material or financial help, “what the investigation has demonstrated was that the support being received was in the form of directions and guidance,” said Malizia, who stressed that there was “no information to indicate that these attacks were state-sponsored.”
While Iran’s support for the militant group Hezbollah is well established, its ties to al-Qaeda are far less known. Yet according to an article in Foreign Affairs, al Qaeda first established its “management council”—a body with the task of providing strategic supports to the organization’s leaders in Pakistan—there in 2002.
Iran, perhaps fearful the U.S. would use it as a justification for war, rounded up the members of the management council, and many of them remain under limited house arrest. Yet the article says Iran remains an important hub for al-Qaeda. The group’s operatives use it as a base from which to target donors and transfer funds to its leadership in Pakistan.
It’s a puzzling relationship, given the animosity between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region.
What they do have in common though, as the Foreign Affairs article points out, is a hatred of the U.S.—and, by extension, if these latest allegations prove true, Canada. By having the organization close at hand, some believe Iran’s leaders might hope to employ the terror group in the event a direct conflict with the U.S. or Israel break out.
Role of Iran will be crucial part of investigation
Whatever the case, as police continue their probe into the alleged plot, the exact role of Iran will be a crucial part of the investigation.
The RCMP alleges that the two men, whose relationship or country of origins they would not comment on except to say they are not Canadian citizens and were legally living in the country, monitored Via trains as part of efforts to plan a massive derailment.
The two men were said to have come to the attention of law enforcement officers after members of the Muslim community became concerned about one of them and approached authorities.
“The very first instance we were aware of the activities of one particular individual–that, yes, was brought to our attention by the community,” said RCMP Superintendent Doug Best, the assistant criminal operations officer responsible for national security counter terrorism investigations in Ontario.
Authorities began investigating the two men in August, 2012, and said they broke the case with the close collaboration of the FBI.
In a tightly scripted, carefully stage-managed press conference at an RCMP detachment nearby Toronto Pearson International Airport, the high-ranking officers would not answer questions about whether the attack was planned for Montreal or Toronto, or even in what direction the train they planned to strike would be moving in. “I would suggest it was a route as opposed to a train,” said Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan.
One Muslim, Muhammad Robert Heft, sought to reassure members of his community that today’s arrests did not reflect a political agenda to push through the Combating Terrorism Act, a bill that had been set for debate in the House of Commons today. (The government has denied any link in the timing between the RCMP announcement and the terrorism act debate.)
“The community’s going to say, Harper was about to pass a bill, suddenly put it on the forefront, Monday they come in, all the pressure of the anti-terrorism—boom, the law gets passed,” said Heft, a Muslim convert who runs a de-radicalization program based in the GTA, who the RCMP invited to the press conference.
Heft said he believed there was no connection between the arrests and the terror bill because last week contacts with the RCMP approached him on an investigation, the details of which he would not discuss.
“That was prior to the whole Boston bombings and everything that happened,” said Heft. “So I know that they’re being legitimate. But still, perception is everything.”
Heft was among a group of Muslims who in 2006 watched as his community descended into the chaos of the Toronto 18 trials.
Heft and his fellow community members may now be in for a dose of déjà vu.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 10:59 AM - 0 Comments
No investigation will answer why none of her peers spoke up in the first place
The break, though too late for Rehtaeh Parsons, was nevertheless welcome. What police described as a “credible source” had offered information on the origin of pictures allegedly showing Parsons, then 15, being raped at a party—photos her schoolmates in Cole Harbour, N.S., shared widely via text messages, to the girl’s humiliation and despair. An RCMP investigation into the incident led nowhere, and on April 4, after months of online bullying linked to the still-circulating pictures, Parsons hanged herself in the bathroom of her family home. Mounties held out hope this week that their new lead would help them crack the case. “We’re back in business,” declared spokesman Cpl. Scott MacCrae. But no investigation seems likely to answer another, far-reaching question arising from Parsons’s death: when the pictures first emerged, why did none of her peers speak up?
Social media experts refer to them as “bystanders.” For every bully gleefully mini-casting embarrassing images, or mean girl tapping out snarky comments, they say, there are recipients in Canadian high schools too scared or complacent to voice their disgust at what they’re seeing. In the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, there might have been dozens. Photos of her alleged rape at the hands of four boys spread for days around Cole Harbour High School with nary a peep to authorities from those who received it, according to those close to the 17-year-old. “[The image] quickly went viral,” wrote Parsons’s mother, Leah, in a wrenching online message posted days after her daughter’s death. “Rehtaeh was suddenly shunned by almost everyone she knew.”
This syndrome—familiar from past cases of so-called “cyberbullying”—has renewed concerns about the moral state of a generation that experiences much of life through pixellated screens. Members of the smartphone generation increasingly treat themselves and their peers as entertainment, explains Jesse Miller, a B.C.-based consultant who advises schools and companies on social media. Boys, in particular, can gain social cachet by being “first reporter on the scene” to deliver sensational imagery to their peers, he says. “If there’s a photo of someone in your class and you’re the one who can show it to your buddies, you’re going to be the kid who gets that much more attention through the course of a day.”
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Thousands of international strays are finding a new home in Canada
His story begins in a phone booth—or, more accurately, under it. The puppy had pawed out a refuge from spring monsoons and lay mewling as shoppers in Mussoorie, a mountain town north of New Delhi, passed him by. The wails of stray dogs are part of India’s sonic wallpaper; an estimated 250,000 roam the streets of Delhi alone, yipping and howling amid the din of car horns and motorcycles. But after several days of listening to this one, a group of schoolboys decided they’d had enough. Wary of the animal’s fleas and mange, they gathered him into a section of newspaper and prepared to throw him over a nearby cliff.
Barb Gard was not a rescuer in those days. She’d come to Mussoorie in 2003 to teach a session at its famed international school for girls and was booked to fly home to B.C. in two days. But she’d heard the pup on her walks to the town’s open-air market, and now, with the life of one bedraggled canine hanging in the balance, she decided to act. Advancing on the boys, she held out her waterproof jacket and—ignoring their warnings that the dog was dirty—wrapped him up and spirited him away.
Ten years on, that dog sprawls on Gard’s bedsheets in Abbotsford, B.C., a portrait of health and tranquility. His name is Francis, after the patron saint of animals, and his life story is only slightly less remarkable than the Assisian friar’s. After 24 hours on an electrolyte-heavy formula, a de-worming, a de-fleaing and a battery of shots at a local vet clinic, he was tucked into a crate for a two-stop flight to Canada, with Gard as his escort. In Singapore, airline officials paged her to the tarmac to calm her screeching animal and contend with his diarrhea. “By the time we got to Vancouver,” she recalls, “he was screaming so loud, they waived the inspection fee.”
A dreadful odyssey, in short, but one that changed Gard’s life. In 2006, she returned to India and brought home five more of the ubiquitous street dogs, known as “desis,” finding adoptive homes for them once she got back. During a third voyage in 2009, she partnered with a pair of activist veterinarians in Delhi to create a non-profit called Adopt an Indian Desi Dog (AAIDD). Gard, now a retired school psychologist, has since airlifted another 219 canines facing near-certain death from disease, starvation or euthanasia, and found most of them permanent homes in B.C. by advertising them on the adoption website, Petfinder.com. In 2011 alone, she brought 100 into the country, promising herself she’d scale back the airlifts because she’d worn herself out. Then, a few weeks before Christmas this year, her phone rang again. “I brought in another seven in January,” sighs the 58-year-old. “I couldn’t resist.”
Somehow, without notice, Canada has become a refuge to the huddled masses of the canine world, as thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—flood into the country each year. It’s a Wild West sphere, with no one tracking the number of rescuees entering the country, nor their countries of origin. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which regulates the importation of animals, has recorded a spike over the past five years in the number of adult dogs imported annually for commercial use, from 150 to 922 (some rescued dogs are included in the “commercial use” category because organizations collect adoption fees to offset costs). But that represents a fraction of the inflow, because some rescuees enter the country designated as pets rather than commercial-use animals, and because border officers don’t keep count of the dogs they inspect for proof of rabies and for general health. One Calgary-based agency contacted by Maclean’s, Pawsitive Match Inc., says it trucked in about 800 dogs from the southwestern U.S. and Mexico in 2012 alone. It continues to receive another 80 or so per month.
Meantime, animal rescue organizations from this country are a fast-proliferating sub-group on Petfinder.com, where North American non-profits and charities line up homes for needy animals. As many as 80 new Canadian groups join each year, and while not all import their dogs, enough do that a few mouse clicks can raise the profiles of canines from such far-flung locales as Greece, Taiwan and Iran. Some must be flown to Canada; others have already made the trip and are waiting in foster homes for adoptive families.
This is, in part, an outcome of our shrunken world: a dog located halfway around the globe can be in Canada a week after someone in Halifax or Toronto spots its profile on the web. But it’s also a sign of how deeply animal-welfare values have penetrated Canada’s mainstream. Gone are the days when an impounded stray was a dead dog walking: only 14 per cent of dogs taken in by SPCAs and humane societies each year are put to death (compared to 60 per cent in the United States), while the once idealistic-sounding rhetoric of the animal rights movement has gained near-universal public acceptance. Nearly nine out of 10 respondents to a 2011 poll commissioned by the Canadian branch of the World Society for the Protection of Animals said they wish to “minimize and eventually eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering.”
Not everyone in the animal welfare community sees cross-border dog rescues as the next step in our moral evolution. Humane societies at both the local and national levels have raised their voices against the practice, arguing there are plenty of dogs in Canadian pounds and shelters in desperate need of homes. “We need to direct Canadians to adopt here,” says Barbara Cartwright, chief executive of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. “It can be very frustrating for a local humane society that has a dog overpopulation problem, and is looking at euthanizing animals, while dogs are being brought in from a different continent.”
Yet the airlifts go on. Last month, a group in Nova Scotia announced it hoped to bring 100 dogs from the U.S. over the next year; on Feb. 12, Pawsitive Match took 12 more dogs across the border at Coutts, Alta.; Toronto-based rescuer Dianne Aldan is expecting two more to arrive next week from Greece. Dogs, it seems, are the new beneficiaries of Canada’s fabled openness to newcomers—a furry diaspora, unleashing the joys and discontents that come with the designation. With each new shipment, the debate over who gets in intensifies, producing an echo of our periodic clashes over human immigration. “If you do want to help out in another country,” says Cartwright, “donate to the local agency that’s trying to make a difference there. The problem should be dealt with in that country, by the people of that country.”
Pet rescuers have been with us a while, of course. Animal sympathizers the world over were inspired in the 1980s by British activists who began seizing donkeys from neglectful owners, or taking stray dogs to “no-kill” shelters whence they could be adopted. Their Canadian imitators initially focused on animals on death row at their local shelters, marshalling volunteers to provide foster homes and seeking permanent owners for the condemned. By the late 1990s, some were turning their attention to Aboriginal reserves and northern towns, where a lack of funding and infrastructure for animal control had resulted in chronic overpopulation by dogs. The sight of sick canines scuttling around reserves was enough for some empathetic visitors to mobilize airlifts on the spot.
That gut-level reaction served as the impetus for many an international rescue group, as globe-trotting Canadians got a look at deplorable conditions for stray dogs in the countries they visited. For Aldan, a financial analyst from Toronto, it happened during her 1984 honeymoon in Greece, where the state of the country’s strays struck her as profoundly as the azure seas. “The dogs were just skin and bones, walking around the street,” she recalls. “If they got sick, people would just abandon them.” When she and her husband returned for subsequent vacations, they found conditions largely the same and, in 2001, Aldan took action. The result was Tails from Greece, a charity that has since airlifted 292 dogs to Canada, housing them in foster homes while seeking out permanent owners in southern Ontario.
Aldan’s modus operandi is widely replicated. She works with Greece’s handful of private shelters, identifying dogs that would make good pets and saving them from death row. She recruits tourists willing to accompany the dogs to Canada and maintains a network of foster families to keep the animals while they await what rescuers call “forever homes.” In 2011, Tails from Greece declared $40,000 in revenue, much of which Aldan spent on vaccinations and flights (about $1,200 for a crate carrying two adult dogs). Still more went to food and unexpected veterinary treatment while the animals were being fostered.
If the movement had a coming-of-age moment, though, it was Hurricane Katrina and the TV images of 15,000 dogs and cats left to fend for themselves in the aftermath of the 2005 storm. Media coverage of a Vancouver-based team that rushed to the Gulf Coast to save sodden, frightened animals inspired others to get involved—donating money, adopting dogs and, in a few cases, launching their own relief organizations. Four-legged refugees found homes as far away as B.C. and Ontario. By the time of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan two years ago, a template was set: groups swept in to execute daring rescues of animals from Fukushima’s exclusion zone, providing a level of care the wave’s human victims might have envied. Some were taken to a special animal rescue program at Azabu University, west of Tokyo, where they were diagnosed with, and treated for, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Heartwarming stuff, but for the rescue movement, the legacy of these efforts has been mixed. A handful of people evacuated from Katrina’s wake sued afterward because they never got a chance to reclaim their animals before agencies adopted them out. Years later, questions arose as to whether these self-appointed guardians of animal welfare are, themselves, adequately monitored. Last June, the SPCA removed 52 dogs from the property of a woman in Burnaby, B.C., who had helped save animals after the hurricane. Officers alleged the dogs—which were not hurricane victims—suffered from rotting teeth, infections and untreated skin ailments.
Still, the value of the rescuers’ service, post-Katrina, was hard to deny. Removing strays from the street means reducing the threat to humans of diseases like rabies and tetanus, proponents point out. Even in the absence of disaster, the self-styled saviours have ingratiated themselves to local residents by providing a humane option to deal with dog overpopulation. Aldan points to economically downtrodden Athens, where broke owners increasingly take their animals to international adoption groups, rather than simply abandoning them. “In the larger centres,” she says, “things are getting better.”
Better for people and—more important in the new ethos of animal welfare—better for dogs. That’s a key distinction to anyone trying to understand the values behind the global rescue movement, says Jean Harvey, a philosophy professor at the University of Guelph, who has studied the ethics of the animal rights movement. In past decades, she notes, animals were held in the mainline public view as objects of human use—food, labour, companions. Now, says Harvey, “you’ve got a very different group of people. You’ve got people who see animals as having intrinsic value similar to that of human beings.”
Typical is Ashley Bishop, a 28-year-old office worker from North Vancouver who, with her husband, Mark Alford, went looking for a dog last year. The couple had criteria: the animal had to be quiet because they live in a small apartment; Alford wanted a dog he could take running. They settled on Hank, a lanky, young desi Barb Gard had imported and advertised on Petfinder.
Bishop admits they made their choice without a second thought about animals languishing in Canadian shelters. “A creature in need is a creature in need,” she says. “Yes, there are lots of dogs here that need homes. But if you don’t adopt these dogs [from India], they’re going to die.” She expands: most countries lack the bylaws, subsidized spay-neuter programs and shelter infrastructure Canadians take for granted; that means strays live shorter and more brutish lives than their homegrown counterparts—lapping up brackish water, foraging in landfills and, in many cases, succumbing to disease.
The couple was even less disposed to forking over $800 to $1,200 for a pedigreed dog, repelled by the idea of an animal weakened by generations of inbreeding done for human benefit. “We didn’t want to spend thousands on vet bills,” says Bishop, “because the dog we got can’t breathe properly or has bad hips because it was bred down so far.” Here, too, they typify a new generation: to hundreds of thousands of North Americans who adopt dogs each year, pure-breeding is impractical, and arguably inhumane.
And the truth is, many rescue groups can source dogs of a given breed without a whole lot of effort. Pawsitive Match has in recent years been importing hundreds of the chihuahuas that proliferated in southern California in the early 2000s, says Tracy Babiak, the chief executive of the Calgary agency. That was about the time Paris Hilton was seen carrying one in her handbag, prompting women to buy “chis” as fashion accessories. The fad gained new life when the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua came out, adds John Murray, a rescuer based in Norco, Calif., who trucks dogs to Alberta on Babiak’s behalf. Now, with Hilton off the tabloid radar and the movie in bargain bins, Murray says he can “get anyone a chihuahua any time they want” by plucking it off death row at a California shelter. “The same thing happened with Dalmatians when 101 Dalmatians came out,” he says. “People just don’t think.”
Here, then, lies the paradox for domestic SPCAs and humane societies. On one hand, the country has largely come around to their world view. Canada has halved its euthanasia rate in the last two decades. Fully half the dogs admitted to shelters get adopted. But if the life of a chihuahua in San Bernadino, Calif., is as important as one in Saskatoon—and its death more imminent—how do you ensure the ones left in Canadian shelters aren’t forgotten?
Cartwright, the CEO at the federation of humane societies, spends a lot of time trying to answer those questions without sounding hypocritical. At least some of the tens of thousands of Canadian dogs put to death each year would make fine companions, she insists (surveys of shelters, SPCAs and vet clinics suggest three per cent have neither physical nor behavioural problems), while others could be rehabilitated.
Cartwright also raises concern about the potential for imported dogs to carry pathogens like rabies or the deadly parvovirus—though that concern seems minimal, given CFIA requirements for canines entering the country. While Canada doesn’t typically quarantine dogs, it does demand either proof of an animal’s rabies vaccinations or a vet’s note assuring that it comes from a rabies-free country. The rules are more stringent for younger dogs and for animals not accompanied by their owners (most rescuees arrive with volunteers). All puppies less than eight months old must have certificates of health showing they don’t have parvovirus, distemper or the canine flu, among other ailments.
Certainly, those who adopt foreign dogs seem motivated to keep them healthy. Last November, Jessie Oliver-Laird and Pinder Chahil, a young couple living in downtown Toronto, offered to foster one of Aldan’s so-called “Greekies,” with a view to adopting the dog if the relationship worked. The dog, alas, had cancer in a right front toe, and a vet in Toronto was forced to amputate. No sooner had Aldan’s charity swallowed the $3,000 surgery bill than the dog, Sven, tested positive for a hypothyroid condition. If they chose to keep him, Oliver-Laird and Chahil would have to pay about $100 per month for tests and medication—on top of the $350 adoption fee they’d be paying Tails from Greece.
By then, however, Sven was lumbering happily about the couple’s one-bedroom suite, located just east of Toronto’s financial district, stealing the hearts of his hosts. A wire-haired pointing griffin, he stands about a half-metre tall at the shoulders and eats about $50 worth of food per month. Aldan figured him to be eight years old—rocking-chair age for even a well-raised pooch. But to ensure he got enough exercise, Oliver-Laird, a daycare worker, took him for four walks a day outside their mid-rise co-op.
Of course, like all rescued animals, Sven had the power of narrative working in his favour. He was found abandoned on one of Greece’s many islands and spent a year in a shelter before his guardian angel descended in the form of Aldan. “We think he was just left by someone who couldn’t afford to feed him,” says Chahil solemnly. By the time he reached Toronto, Sven was solitary and diffident, rejecting a fluffy bed the couple bought him in favour of the parquet floor. But a steady flow of affection from his caretakers slowly revived his spirits. Soon visitors to the apartment were met by a friendly and well-behaved pooch—pretty much an ad for the entire rescue movement.
So when Aldan called Chahil and Oliver-Laird in early February to ask if they wished to keep Sven, the pair never hestitated. He was everything they’d wanted, and they’d played their small part in relieving the worldwide epidemic of animal suffering—a plague in which, to their thinking, borders are no longer relevant. “Any abandoned dog needs a home,” says Oliver-Laird lightly. “It just happens that this one was abandoned in another part of the world.”
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, March 25, 2013 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
Even radical reform might not save the post office now
As if Canada Post didn’t have enough problems. In the thick of a $2-billion modernization—with the Internet swallowing an ever-greater share of its lunch—came word that counterfeit stamps have been costing the 156-year-old institution an estimated $10 million in revenue each year. The new self-sticking stamps turn out to be a lot easier to fake than the kind you lick, postal officials acknowledged. “Our job is to detect and dismantle the network,” a spokeswoman said, “to really go for the big organizations.” But to anyone outside the postal world, enforcement problems raised by the story took a back seat to socio-cultural questions: who’s still sending letters these days—and so many that they need to forge stamps?
You don’t have to be a futurist to know snail mail is on the decline. Since 2006, the amount of domestic letter mail delivered annually by Canada Post has fallen by more than one billion pieces, a 20 per cent slide that has cast one of the country’s cornerstone institutions into existential crisis. Its once lucrative “direct marketing” business—junk mail—has fallen off by nearly 15 per cent, while its share of the parcel business has flatlined in the face of competition from private courier companies, many of which had partnered with online retailers. (Canada Post’s own parcel service recovered a bit last year; more on that later.)
The reasons are plain enough: like everyone else in the developed world, Canadians have been shifting their lives online, paying bills over the web, emailing loved ones rather than tossing a card into the post. Until recently, this shift was occurring at an orderly pace. In the early 2000s, volumes were holding steady and Canada Post was able to compensate for any losses by raising postage rates and cutting costs. The company remained profitable until 2011, when a 25-day labour disruption, combined with a court decision on pay equity, resulted in its first-ever loss.
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 6:31 PM - 0 Comments
CBSA deal to film immigration raids allows feds to stage-manage a serious issue, writes Charlie Gillis
So why are we suddenly exercised at the idea of camera crews following CBSA officers as they raid construction sites in search of illegal immigrants? Because the suspects might be innocent? Because their alleged transgression doesn’t rise to the level of—I dunno—a guy who tries to play fast and loose with a Money Mart?
The real problem, to my thinking, is how infrequently we get to watch the enforcement arms of the state in action without those agencies filtering the message—and the dust-up over the CBSA deal illustrates the point. To get past the blue-sky planning stage, Force Four Entertainment, the production company behind the project, had to sign an agreement allowing the feds to vet the show to ensure they won’t portray the border agency in a negative light. Which means the finished product is bound to be a whole lot different than if, say, a crew from the fifth estate went along for the raids.
These bargains for access are increasingly common in TV production, and they speak to a growing tendency within law enforcement to co-operate with media only for purposes of self-promotion. To Serve and Protect set the template: it’s the Canadian knockoff of an American show tailored to aggrandize cops. In short, we get one side of the story.
So before we declare immigration raids off limits to the media, let’s remember the public interest underlying the CBSA’s mission—quaint as that might sound. I, for one, would watch a program that juxtaposed the harsh realities of enforcement work against the human plight of Honduran migrants eking out a life in Canada’s underground economy. I doubt I’m going to get that from the production. So if the Minister of Public Safety wants to do me a favour, he’ll swing open the door to more on-scene coverage of border enforcement teams in action, by a wider variety of media, with a lot less stage management. We might see the flaws and excesses of our duly empowered authorities. We might even see their virtues.
All within the bounds of the law, of course: the potential for children to be among those being filmed is troubling (it’s not like they choose to migrate, legally or illegally). So one expects the same careful editing and pixelating on the part of Force Four we get from To Serve and Protect, where minors are conspicuously absent. A spokeswoman for Force Four says its shows will be vetted by lawyers to ensure privacy rights are not violated.
I know: dream on. Nothing about the deal Vic Toews signed off on suggests an interest in public enlightenment. It’s just a bit of politics—some theatre-of-the-living to fill the air on National Geographic channel, whose venerable brand belies the increasing hollowness of its content.
The scandal is not that we’ll see the CBSA raids on such limited terms. It’s that this is the only way we get to see them.
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, March 18, 2013 at 7:25 AM - 0 Comments
Mark Lynas in conversation with Charlie Gillis
Mark Lynas used to be the kind of fire-breathing activist who sneaked onto test farms and destroyed genetically modiﬁed (GM) crops. Today, he’s one of Britain’s most respected science writers and an influential voice in the battle against climate change—winner of a coveted Royal Society Prize for his 2008 book, Six Degrees. In January, Lynas sent shockwaves through environmental circles by publicly apologizing for his role in launching the anti-GM movement. (GM is also referred to as to GMO, for “genetically modified organisms.”) “The GM debate is over,” he told Oxford University’s annual farming conference. “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.” Video of his speech went viral, and he’s been living with the backlash ever since.
Q: You’ve disavowed a cause you were identified with for decades. How are you feeling about your decision?
A: It’s been traumatic, but it’s also been something of a liberation. I’ve obviously been inconsistent in my life, but so are we all. In my view, it’s better to be inconsistent and half-right, than to be consistently wrong. Even the pope doesn’t claim these days to be infallible, yet that’s what most environmental groups do.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
The task of keeping Denmark Danish goes on: heavy immigration from the Middle East,…
The task of keeping Denmark Danish goes on: heavy immigration from the Middle East, Asia and Africa has stirred deep-seated fears about the future of the country’s language and culture, while many newcomers—especially women—seem to shut themelves out of mainstream Danish life. The government’s latest response? Immigrants can’t get welfare unless they learn to speak Danish.
It’s not as harsh as it sounds. The country’s Social Democratic employment minister, Mette Frederiksen, spoke eloquently last week of “incredibly capable women” fleeing non-Western countries and being marginalized once they got to Denmark. She pointed to a recent report showing that such women were over-represented among welfare recipients with scant prospect of work. Karen Hækkerup, the minister of integration, was more blunt: “We have closed our eyes and let them sit at home behind their curtains.”
The government ﬁgures more of these women will join the labour force if they learn the language. But there’s no denying the proposal is meant to address the Danes’ ongoing preoccupation with the 8.5 per cent of their population from abroad. Hardline anti-immigrant parties have been gaining strength, and bridging the differences between the old Denmark and the new gets more difficult each year. It might help if everyone were speaking the same language.
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Will her success herald a new spirit of cosmopolitanism?
The crowning of an Ethiopian-born beauty queen last week marked a big step forward for Israel, where—disturbingly—appearance has come to count for a lot. The new Miss Israel, 21-year-old Yityish Aynaw, is one of tens of thousands of black Falasha Jews who have migrated to the Holy Land since the mid-1980s famine, yet who still struggle for acceptance in Israeli society. Many toil in low-paying jobs, while some have been shut out of housing complexes, with residents telling reporters they thought Ethiopians and their food were smelly.
These episodes and others have forced Israel—founded to be a refuge from anti-Semitic persecution—to confront its own layers of xenophobia. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised Ethiopian-Israelis employment programs, easier access to mortgages and allocated job slots in the civil service. De facto segregation remains: many Falasha live in poor neighbourhoods where their children attend all-black schools. But Aynaw hopes her success heralds a new spirit of cosmopolitanism. “There are many different communities of many different colours in Israel,” she said. “It’s important to show that to the world.”
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:52 PM - 0 Comments
A judge’s evisceration of the so-called “Freemen” movement may go down as a masterpiece
Rare is the court judgment that gains fame outside legal circles, and rarer still is one that becomes known for its artistry. So it’s gratifying to see Justice John Rooke’s tour de force, Meads v. Meads, near the top of the hit parade this week on the country’s database of rulings and statutes.
For those who missed it, Meads is the Alberta Court of Queens Bench’s definitive take-down of the so-called “sovereign man,” or “Freemen-on-the-Land” movement. These are folks who claim the the law applies only to their legal persons and not their “natural,” physical persons. Ergo, the “natural person” doesn’t have to pay taxes, or carry a driver’s licence, or in the case of Dennis Meads, submit to divorce proceedings.
Rooke calls them Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants (OPCAs), which is a much nicer term than they’re used to. Most, he notes, have been duped into advancing their arguments by gurus who charge money to school them in pseudo-legal hogwash. His exposition of the gurus’ technique is exhaustive. His laceration of OPCA clap-trap—from his Thomas Hobbes epigram to his rueful coda—is exquisite.
Some savoury passages:
When reduced to their conceptual core, most OPCA concepts are contemptibly stupid. Mr. Meads, for example, has presented the Court with documents that appear to be a contract between himself, and himself. One Mr. Meads promises to pay for any liability of the other Mr. Meads. One owns all property, the other all debts. What is the difference between these entities? One spells his name with upper case letters. The other adds spurious and meaningless punctuation to his name. Mr. Meads (with punctuation) is the Mr. Meads who appeared in court. He says the Mr. Meads (all capitals) is the one who should pay child and spousal support.
So where is that Mr. Meads (all capitals)? At one point in the June 8 hearing Mr. Meads said that Mr. Meads (all capitals) was a “corporate entity” attached to his birth certificate. Later, he told me that the other Mr. Meads was a “person” – and that I had created him! Again, total nonsense.
OPCA arguments are never sold to their customers as simple ideas, but instead are byzantine schemes which more closely resemble the plot of a dark fantasy novel than anything else.
Translated out of ‘gibberese’, Mr. Meads is purportedly assigning the value of his birth certificate, a “commercial transaction” presumably with Canada, to his “flesh and blood” self.
Mr. Meads is Mr. Meads in all his physical or imaginary aspects. He would experience and obtain the same effect and success if he appeared in court and selectively donned and removed a rubber Halloween mask which portrays the appearance of another person, asserting at this or that point that the mask’s person is the one liable to Ms. Meads. Not that I am encouraging, or indeed would countenance, the wearing of a mask in my courtroom.
On the “gurus:”
In his poem Inferno at Cantos 26-30, Dante placed the “evil counsellors” ‑ those who used their position to advise others to engage in fraud, and “the falsifiers” ‑ alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and imposters, into the inner canyons of the eighth circle of hell. As sinners, the evil counsellors and falisifiers were matched by those who induce religious schisms, and surpassed only in fault by oath‑breakers.
Persons who purposefully promote and teach proven ineffective techniques that purport to defeat valid state and court authority, and circumvent social obligations, appear to fall into those two categories. That they do so, and for profit at the expense of naive and vulnerable customers, is worse.
William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch (New York: Grove Press, 1962, p. 11) wrote: “Hustlers of the world, there is one Mark you cannot beat: The Mark Inside.” I believe that is true for you. At some basic level, you understand that you are selling lies, or at the very most generous, wildly dubious concepts.
Rooke concludes with a plea to Dennis Meads to show the decision to the people advising him and “scrutinize their response.”
To the Canadian taxpayer—who has been paying the freight for OPCA drivel in court costs and unpaid taxes—he leaves this judgment. It’s no small favour.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 4:50 PM - 0 Comments
Supreme Court to hear case of Newfoundland man convicted of drowning his twin daughters
If you follow the crime news, you’re probably familiar with so-called “Mr. Big” operations, in which undercover cops lure a suspect into a phony criminal organization, then get the unwitting naïf to confess to past crimes by demanding he establish his bad-guy bona fides.
The RCMP have become uncommonly fond of these charades despite complaints they amount to entrapment. Now their legality is about to be put to the test: the Supreme Court announced today it will hear the case of Nelson Lloyd Hart, a Newfoundland man who confessed during a Mr. Big sting to drowning his twin three-year-old daughters, Karen and Krista.
The winding and tragic Hart saga was told in magnificent detail by my colleague Nick Köhler back in 2006, and highlights the problems with this method. Hart had a Grade 5 education, a gambling problem and was on social assistance at the time his girls died in Gander Lake. He told police at the time he’d had an epileptic seizure that day—that he didn’t know how the girls ended up in the water.
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 1:47 PM - 0 Comments
The much-anticipated Whatcott decision has landed, and to some surprise, the Supreme Court of Canada shied from the chance to get human rights commissions out of the business of judging speech.
You can read the decision in its entirety here. In a nutshell, the court struck down a phrase in Saskatchewan’s human rights code banning material that “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons,” while upholding the section of prohibiting material that exposes members of identifiable groups to hatred. Those offended can still seek remedy from the province’s human rights commission.
“The protection of vulnerable groups from the harmful effect emanating from hate speech is of such importance as to justify the minimal infringement of expression,” the judges said in their unanimous decision.
Maybe this compromise was inevitable. To get human rights bodies out of the business of supervising speech, the high court would have to overturn its 1990 Taylor decision, which validated the jurisdiction of human rights commissions over speech, and set down a legal test of what constitutes hatred. That’s a lot to ask of any court.
But civil libertarians had hoped the SCC would do just that. Back in ’90, the current Chief Justice, Beverly McLachlin, had written a dissent to Taylor voicing concern that the law could interfere with free expression. She asked pointed questions during the Whatcott hearing about the vagueness of Saskatchewan’s law. There was reason to think she and her bench-mates might make a move.
To me, their decision to stand-pat represents a missed opportunity to erect robust legal protections around a bedrock Canadian value. And yes, my employer has a stake in this. But if we learned anything from the Maclean’s-Ezra Levant human-rights fiascos, it’s that the rights process is too blunt, too one-sided an instrument to deal with such a sensitive issue as speech.
A couple of other thoughts: all eyes should now turn to the provinces that have anti-hate speech provisions in their human rights codes, some of whose leaders have echoed the above-stated qualms. They’ve been sitting on the sidelines to see whether Whatcott would give them the cover needed to do the right thing, and now the onus is on them.
Here’s what Alison Redford told the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association about the relevant section of Alberta’s code when she was running for the provincial PC leadership:
“I want to amend and fine-tune the existing legislation, after consultations with stakeholders, to better define and protect free speech in light of challenges to the statute in recent years. Freedom of expression must be shielded, and Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act should be repealed.”
Over to you, Premier. Need a roadmap?
The decision also reminds me of a conversation I had in the thick of the dispute between Maclean’s and Islamic groups that complained about the writings of Mark Steyn. I was talking to Wayne Sumner, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto who studies hate speech, and I had raised the operative question: in the Internet era, can we get rid of anti-hate speech provisions in human rights law without giving oxygen to the hard-core hate-mongers, who are undeniably among us?
Sumner was unequivocal:
“The kinds of groups who engage in this sort of nonsense in Canada are so marginal, and regarded as so ridiculous by most people, that it’s hard to see how they have any impact at all. Did the ridiculous things David Ahenakew said in public about Jews running the world actually encourage any acts of anti-Semitism in Canada? Or did we just all laugh at them? So I think there’s a problem with the underlying justification of the law.”
But wait. Isn’t world history replete with examples of hate speech fueling violence and discrimination? Weimar Germany? Rwanda?
The professor’s answer:
“It’s important that we’re speaking specifically about Canada. If I thought there was an enormous reservoir of prejudice bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to be released, I would think differently. But I don’t think that’s where multicultural Canada is at. The references to history don’t tell us much about our own situation.”
In other words, Canadian tolerance can stand the stress-test. It’s a bedrock value that—freely expressed—offers a better antidote to hatred than any regulatory body staffed by appointees. Time for governments to give it a vote of confidence.
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 5:31 PM - 0 Comments
Will the Supreme Court get human rights commissions out of policing speech?
By this time tomorrow, we should have a clearer sense of what you can and can’t say in this country without fear of being hauled before a human rights tribunal, as the Supreme Court of Canada is set to rule on the case of William Whatcott, a Saskatchewan man accused of hate-mongering through the use of anti-gay leaflets.
Whatcott is pretty much a walking affront to the liberal spirit—a born-again crusader whose pamphlets claim homosexuals are out to “socialize your children” to their lifestyle; that if gay people aren’t stopped, young people will “pay the price in disease, death, abuse and ultimately eternal judgment.”
He was found guilty under provincial human rights laws, and ordered to pay $17,500 to four people who lodged complaints against him. That decision was overturned, and by October 2011 the case had worked its way up to the highest court in the land.
By Bookmarked and Charlie Gillis - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
Heat, as every grade-schooler knows, is an expression of energy, and from a human perspective it has feet in two worlds. One is scientific—the realm of hadron colliders and theoretical temperatures at the core of the sun. The other is deeply and pressingly practical. How does one survive a northern winter? When does a fever become life-threatening? How do we stop the planet from roasting?
In large measure, evolution and civilization are stories of our capacity to manage heat, which makes it a useful lens through which to view progress. Streever traces that arc in his mesmerizing exposition, from the million-year-old campfire remains of Homo erectus to the seven-trillion-degree reactions measured at the Brookhaven particle accelerator in Upton, N.Y. Like Streever’s previous book, Cold, this one is a valentine to planetary science. But it also gives rein to the author’s taste for superstition and absurdity, which is to say: it’s fun. Having learned that U.S. oil began as a curative, Streever actually drinks some (“for an hour afterward, my tongue feels the slickness on the roof of my mouth”). His quest to walk across a bed of glowing coals becomes a pleasing subplot. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 12:19 PM - 0 Comments
Charlie Gillis talks to Justice David Price about more people representing themselves in court
Justice David Price of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice conversed by email with Maclean’s national correspondent Charlie Gillis about the growing phenomenon of self-representation in court, and how the justice system is responding. Justice Price noted that his views are based on his personal experiences as a judge in civil and family proceedings, and that he was not speaking on behalf of the court.
Q: How prevalent in your experience is self-representation?
A: The docket sheets indicate that at least one of the litigants was self-represented in 40 per cent of the family conferences, and in half of family law and civil motions. To estimate the prevalence of self-represented litigants in the courts where I preside, I have reviewed my daily docket sheets for a representative 30 day period last year. The work that I did during that period consisted mainly of conferences in family law cases, pre-trial conferences in civil cases, and motions in family law and civil cases. None of the pre-trial conferences in civil cases involved self-represented litigants.
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 9:18 AM - 0 Comments
Do-it-yourselfers flood a system set up for lawyers and judges
She has been threatened with abduction, shaken down for bribes and stopped at gunpoint by hostile police. But nothing in Alison MacLean’s work as a combat camerawoman in Afghanistan has proved as scarring as the legal battles she has waged on her own behalf in B.C.’s family court system. They began in 2008, when after a messy divorce, MacLean learned at the last hour that her ex-husband was applying for the forced sale of their house. She was in hospital at the time preparing for a knee-replacement surgery. Instead, she raced to Vancouver’s Robson Street courthouse in time to attend a registrar’s hearing, where she succeeded in getting the action set aside. “My lawyer told me she couldn’t go speak for me that day,” recalls MacLean, 53. “I had no choice but to go. It was the first-time I self-repped, and it was a success. For me, that was a turning point.”
Three years on, MacLean is still fighting her ex in court, representing herself in all but the most complex proceedings. “I’m your average, middle-class working mom,” she says. “I don’t have access to huge amounts of money.” And while she’s honed her skills over 10 court appearances, familiarity hasn’t enhanced the experience. The justice system, she says, is set up for lawyers, judges and clerks—more than a few of whom make no secret of their exasperation with self-represented litigants. She can research case law, swear an afﬁdavit and ﬁle documents as expertly as a paralegal. But when asked what it’s like to navigate this bewildering subculture on her own, MacLean doesn’t hesitate: “I prefer being in Afghanistan.” Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Friday, January 25, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Growers seek cash to better market the berries
If you haven’t heard about the nutritional benefits of eating raspberries, you probably will soon. The country’s largest association of raspberry growers wants federal permission to create a marketing agency for the tangy, red fruit—and to charge a half-cent per pound of berries sold in Canada to fund its research and advertising.
The new agency would have no control of the supply of raspberries in Canada, says Sharmin Gamiet, executive director of the B.C. Raspberry Industry Development Council, the group behind the proposal. Instead, the initiative would aim to lift the public perception of raspberries, much as a U.S.-based campaign promoting blueberries as a source of antioxidants boosted that fruit’s market share in the early 2000s. “We want to get some scientific information out there,” she says, “and promote our product.”
Canadian raspberry growers have had it tough in recent years, as an influx of low-cost berries from Chile and Mexico has driven their share of domestic sales from 63 per cent in 2006 to just 30 per cent in 2011. The new levy would apply to both imported and domestically sold berries, but not to suppliers who ship less than 10,000 lb. annually. That means only a handful of producers outside B.C., where 85 per cent of Canadian raspberries are grown, would have to pay it.
But to charge it, suppliers must first comply with WTO rules by forming a national body recognized by the Farm Products Council of Canada, an arm of the federal agriculture ministry that is now seeking public input on the proposal. Gamiet insists consumers won’t notice a change in prices for fresh raspberries or jam, which are determined largely by global supplies. But if all goes well, the plan will renew interest in a market that Canada risks losing to international competitors—seeds and all.