By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 0 Comments
Family next door—his very first victims—buy Tweed, Ont., property for $165,000
The old cottage on Stoco Lake, deserted for more than three years now, is a lot like the man who once lived there. On the surface, it appears absolutely perfect. Prime waterfront lot. Spectacular view. Paradise. Even the street sign is charming: Cosy Cove Lane.
But behind that front door, deep within, are the remnants of a repulsive predator—a stalker so vile, so notorious, that strangers still drive to tiny Tweed, Ont., to see his property with their own eyes. “It doesn’t happen as much anymore,” says Ron Murdoch, who lives next door with his wife, Monique. “The only time it happens now is when something comes up in the newspaper.”
The Murdochs are bracing for another spike in traffic.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
A Catholic missionary with a giant frame and even bigger heart, he dedicated his life to helping the poor and the hungry
Richard Émile Joyal was born on Feb. 5, 1951, in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Winnipeg’s historic francophone district. He was the only child of Étienne Joyal, a railroad engineer, and his wife, Marie-Antoinette Gauthier. The family home, staunchly Roman Catholic, was a short walk from Richard’s elementary school (École Provencher) and his high school (Collège Louis Riel).
At the time, both schools were operated by the Society of Mary, a 200-year-old Catholic order inspired by the faith and devotion of Jesus’s mother. Many of Richard’s teachers were Marianist brothers, missionaries who committed their lives to serving the poor and uneducated. “The brothers’ community house was right across the street from both schools,” says Lawrence Lussier, a long-time friend. “He grew up knowing these brothers and was attracted to their life. He was drawn to it.” At 19, Richard made his first vows; five years later, he was “perpetually professed” as a Marianist brother. (Like priests, brothers commit to a life of poverty, celibacy and obedience.)
Richard was a towering figure, six foot four with giant hands and a huge smile. Like the men who inspired him to follow God, he spent his 20s and 30s working as a teacher in Winnipeg, where he coached basketball and organized retreats. “ ‘Joy’ was in his name, and that’s exactly how he was,” says Isabella Moyer, another close friend. “He wasn’t one of these overly holy people that didn’t enjoy the blessings in life. He enjoyed the riches: good food, good wine, and good company. But he was equally happy with the simplicity of a bowl of rice.” Back in the 1970s, Moyer was one of dozens of university students who spent their Sundays at the Marianists’ home in St. Boniface, “praying and playing,” as she says. “Richard was the community disco guru, determined that we would all learn his routines,” she says. “Soon we were all dancing to Saturday Night Fever.” He was especially famous for his giant batches of stovetop popcorn—prepared, with lightning speed, during a single commercial break.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 8:19 AM - 0 Comments
The timing of charges against engineer Robert Wood are just as troubling as the allegations
Two months and three dozen witnesses later, the Elliot Lake public inquiry is still in its early days. But as lawyers continue to sift through the wreckage of last summer’s deadly shopping mall collapse—an absolutely preventable disaster that killed two women and injured 20 others—the evidence is now appallingly clear: so many people made so many mistakes over so many years that it’s amazing the Algo Centre stayed up so long.
The rooftop parking lot (a ridiculous idea to begin with) was poorly designed and defectively waterproofed. Owner after owner used cheap, Band-Aid solutions to patch the ensuing leaks. The city failed to enforce its own bylaws, ensuring that buildings are watertight and structurally stable. And nearly every engineer who inspected the doomed mall failed to recognize that decades’ worth of salty slush and rain had dangerously corroded the steel beams holding the roof deck in place.
Like the warning signs that appeared so obvious, there is plenty of blame to go around.
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 Michael Friscolanti - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 2:08 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Friscolanti sums up two chaotic days in the Boston bombings investigation
They walked toward the finish line, two brothers, one in front of the other. The eldest, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, led the way, dressed in khaki pants and a V-neck T-shirt. Dzhokhar, just 19, followed a few steps behind, his white baseball cap flipped backward, covering a head of shaggy black hair. Both carried a knapsack.
On Thursday night—just 72 hours after twin explosions rocked the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and grievously wounding many more—investigators had no idea who those men were. They were prime but unidentified suspects, nameless faces captured on camera in the moments before the blasts. Desperate for a lead, the FBI released their photos to the world.
“In an instant these images will be delivered directly into the hands of millions,” said Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, head of Boston’s FBI field office. “Somebody out there knows these individuals as friends, neighbours, co-workers, or family members.”
Within hours, their cover was blown—and the hunt was on.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:09 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Friscolanti explains why from an investigative standpoint, things could not be moving faster
Seventy-two hours after twin explosions rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon—killing three innocent spectators and injuring more than 170 others—the FBI has released photographs and surveillance video of two potential “suspects.” It is the clearest indication yet that Monday’s heinous attack was a terrorist conspiracy, and not the wrath of someone working alone.
Dressed in dark jackets, black shoes and baseball caps, both men appear to be in their 20s or early 30s. At first glance, they look completely average, blending into the crowd like everyone else gathered along the race route. But Special Agent Richard DesLauriers, head of the FBI’s Boston field office, told a packed news conference Thursday afternoon that one of the men—“Suspect Two,” sporting a backwards white cap and a knapsack on his right shoulder—was caught on tape dropping his bag near the sight of the second blast. In separate surveillance footage, “Suspect One” and “Suspect Two” appear to be walking together, one behind the other, toward the finish line.
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
One very long delay at the airport
If you land on Canada’s “no-fly list,” good luck getting off. Just ask Hani Al Telbani. Five years after the Palestinian immigrant was famously denied a boarding pass at Montreal’s Trudeau airport, he is still fighting in court to clear his name and get on a plane.
Dino Peles is not a member of the no-fly club. But like Telbani, the 31-year-old Air Canada baggage handler has learned the same hard lesson: once Transport Canada declares you a potential danger, it’s almost impossible to change anyone’s mind—criminal record or no criminal record.
Like thousands of airline employees who work in restricted areas, Peles was issued a “transportation security clearance” in 2006 for his job at Toronto’s Pearson airport. But in 2011, when his file was due for a mandatory review, the feds noticed two blemishes, both related to marijuana. (In 2009, police found Peles in a parked car with $2,500 in cash and nearly $5,000 worth of weed; eight months later, authorities again charged him with possession for the purpose of trafficking after finding more illicit drugs in his vehicle.)
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
He loved the Saskatchewan Roughriders almost as much as ice fishing. To learn to be a plumber, he moved to Edmonton.
Jason Leslie Michalycia was born in Prince Albert, Sask., on May 20, 1979, the first son of Leslie Michalycia, the maintenance man at an orphanage, and his wife Jean (née Assman), who sold cemetery monuments. He spent his early childhood in Indian Head, a farming town of 1,500, before the family, including little brother, Curtis, moved west to Regina. “He was a good kid, happy-go-lucky, never got mad at anybody,” his mother says. “He had a little bit of a speech impediment, but as the years went on, it got better.”
Jason was his father’s son. Even as a young boy, he spent hours at his dad’s side, fiddling with engines in the garage or baiting hooks on the ice. “He was a good older brother, too,” says Curtis, three years younger. “One day my parents gave us candy and I ended up dropping mine in the mud. I was very upset, but Jason gave me his last piece with no delay.” Once, when Curtis accidentally whacked another kid with a shovel, Jason took the blame. “He ended up being grounded for something I did. But he didn’t care.”
James Coleman, Jason’s best friend, met him in Grade 5. “Me and him, we were both the class clowns,” Coleman says. “He did a lot of goofy stuff and made us all laugh.” At home, Jason had a habit (equally goofy) of taking things apart to see how they worked. “He was very inquisitive—very inquisitive,” says Don Leir, his uncle. One afternoon, Jason’s dad came home to find his new mailbox in pieces. “He loved to take things apart, but then he couldn’t get them back together half the time,” his mom laughs. If someone asked what he was doing, Jason’s answer was always the same: You’ll see. “Sometimes he’d finish,” Curtis says. “But usually he moved on to something else. You always heard, ‘You’ll see,’ but you rarely saw.”
By Michael Friscolanti - Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Alex Anthopoulos
Heading into his fourth season as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, 35-year-old Alex Anthopoulos is fresh off his busiest winter yet. Two blockbuster trades netted some of the biggest names in baseball—from Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to all-star shortstop José Reyes—and boosted team payroll by more than US$40 million. With opening night set for April 2, fans are salivating for something they haven’t tasted in 20 years: the playoffs. Expectations could not be higher. Maclean’s caught up with the architect of the Jays’ revamped roster in Dunedin, Fla., the team’s spring-training home.
Q: Last time we spoke, two spring trainings ago, you talked about how thorough you are—almost obsessive, as you put it—in the pursuit of useful information. You said you even canvassed the team cook for his opinions.
A: I’m still the same way. But I think the one tweak or adjustment, if you want to call it that, is that I have to remember my vote should count for more. That’s not to sound arrogant. If things don’t go well, they are my decisions anyway. Sometimes when I look back, the things I regret are things that I may not have been completely sold on. What I think I’ve come to is: canvass everybody, get everyone’s opinion, but it’s really my vote.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 1:28 PM - 0 Comments
Part surveillance footage, part digital reenactment, it may provide the best explanation yet as to why the roof collapsed
A new video released today provides the clearest glimpse yet of what happened to Elliot Lake’s doomed shopping mall—and why.
Part surveillance footage, part digital reenactment, the two-minute video was prepared by NORR Ltd., the engineering firm hired by the Ontario Provincial Police to conduct a forensic investigation into last summer’s fatal roof collapse. The cave-in killed two women, injured 20 others, and triggered a controversial rescue effort.
“The mall was beset with a chronic leakage problem from the day it opened,” a narrator says, referring to the rooftop parking lot that covered the retail stores. “This went unabated due to the lack of a proper continuous waterproofing membrane at the parking level. Every owner addressed the leakage problem by attempting to seal and reseal cracks where leakage was observed. Water leaked onto the structural steel, carrying with it de-icing salt that accelerated corrosion rates to levels only found in marine environments. Corrosion progressed likely since the mall was built, until there was so little material left in one particular connection that it could no longer support the weight of the parking deck.”
By that Saturday afternoon—June 23, 2012—more than 85 per cent of the steel connection’s original weld capacity had been eaten away by corrosion. “Without support, the concrete panels collapsed into the upper mall adjacent to the food court,” the narrator continues. “The impact of the hollow-core panels killed two people.”
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
A damning new report—including an animated recreation of the collapse—emerges at the public inquiry
An engineering firm hired by the Ontario Provincial Police to conduct a forensic investigation into last summer’s deadly mall collapse in Elliot Lake has issued a damning indictment of its fellow engineers—from the man who stamped the structural design of the doomed structure to the many inspectors who failed to recognize how dangerously unstable the building had become.
In a report tabled Tuesday at the public inquiry probing the Algo Centre cave-in, experts from NORR Ltd. concluded that the steel beams and bolts that held up the ill-fated rooftop parking lot were so thoroughly rusted by three decades’ worth of salty slush and rain that they resembled something from a “marine environment.” Yet the severe water damage, obvious to so many shoppers and tenants, repeatedly “went unnoticed or grossly underreported” by the professionals who should have spotted the warning signs.
By Michael Friscolanti - Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Evidence at the inquiry into the Algo Mall collapse shows there were multiple warnings, but no one was listening
Slideshow of a doomed mall. Click on the right of the image to take you to the next slide:of Photos
Michael Friscolanti spent months chronicling the events that contibuted to the tragedy at the Algo Centre. His findings appear in our new ebook: Doomed: The Untold Story Behind the Collapse of the Elliot Lake Mall, which is available here.
Here’s Friscolanti’s latest report on the inquiry:
Dmitri Yakimov could sense something wasn’t right. He could hear it. He could feel it. He just couldn’t quite see it.
A Ukrainian immigrant with 20 years in the construction industry, Yakimov had been tasked, like so many before, with trying to stop the incessant leaks eating away at the only shopping mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. In the summer of 2009, three years before the Algo Centre collapsed, Yakimov walked up to the rooftop parking lot to take a closer look at three decades’ worth of water damage. As he stood outside, directly above the ill-fated lottery kiosk, a car drove by—triggering, in his words, “a flex in the concrete surface.”
Alarmed, Yakimov pointed his flashlight at one particular horizontal beam supporting the parking deck. As he later told police, the steel was obviously rusted and worn, but he couldn’t inspect the entire beam because part of it, including its welded connection to a vertical column, was covered in drywall. “What concerned him more was what he could not see, in particular the welds on the beam at the joint,” reads a synopsis of Yakimov’s police interview, filed along with hundreds of other exhibits at an ongoing public inquiry. “Yakimov didn’t know why this section of the parking lot was flexing but believed there [were] issues with the beam, or the welds may have failed at the joint.”
By Michael Friscolanti - Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 9:00 PM - 0 Comments
Keeping closer tabs will provide more freedom, says health minister
When it comes to international rankings, Norway is always near the top of the positive list. Happiest country. Most prosperous. Best place to be a mother. If the Norwegian government goes ahead with an intriguing new plan, it will soon be famous for something else: keeping close tabs on dementia patients.
Lawmakers are debating the idea of using Global Positioning Systems on those who suffer from dementia—ensuring that if they wander away from home, they won’t be missing for long. The proposed legislation would allow health care workers to decide who warrants a GPS bracelet.
A recent study found that such tracking devices drastically increase the quality of life for patients and their families, reducing stress and allowing some semblance of independence. “The patient will have greater freedom with a GPS,” says Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s health minister. “The alternative is often locked doors.”
Details are still not clear. Would the electronic devices be attached to a centralized alarm system? Who would respond? How far should a dementia patient be allowed to wander? But Støre did stress the tracking bracelets would be “purely a supplement” to the current care regime, not an alternative.
By Michael Friscolanti - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 1:54 PM - 0 Comments
Thousands of never-before-seen pictures have been filed as exhibits at mall collapse public inquiry
A public inquiry into last summer’s fatal mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont., is only a few days old—and the revelations are already shocking. Shoddy workmanship. Crooked columns. A waterproofing system for the rooftop parking lot that was anything but. Before the mall even opened for business, it was destined for a tragic finish.
Over the next few months (and perhaps right through the summer, depending on the evidence), Commissioner Paul Bélanger will try to uncover the full truth: why did two women have to die that sunny afternoon, and why did it take specially trained rescue workers so long to reach them in the rubble?
So far, hundreds of exhibits spanning three decades have been tabled at the inquiry—including thousands of never-before-seen photographs either snapped or seized by investigators with the Ontario Provincial Police. Below is a slideshow of some of those chilling photos.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 9:51 AM - 0 Comments
At 2:18 p.m. on June 23, 2012, the weight of a single car driving over one weld on a single steel connector was ‘the last straw’
In the end, the weight of a single car was enough to bring down a massive chunk of the rooftop parking lot. “The last straw,” according to a team of engineers who investigated last summer’s deadly shopping mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ont.
A public inquiry into the Algo Centre cave-in that killed two women and injured 20 others has just begun, with early testimony focused on the original construction more than three decades ago. But one crucial fact—the specific, scientific cause of the catastrophe—is now clear, thanks in part to a chilling surveillance video that captured the implosion. “The trigger of the collapse on June 23rd, 2012 is quite evident,” concludes a 700-page report from NORR, a global engineering firm that conducted a forensic investigation for the Ontario Provincial Police. “The evidence of this is overwhelming.”
The expert conclusion? Decades of water damage had so corroded the weld on one particular steel connector holding up the concrete slabs that it couldn’t even withstand the pressure of a passing vehicle. Just seconds after it drove by, the roof crumbled.
According to the report, one of hundreds of exhibits already filed at the public inquiry, the main culprit was a rusty steel beam that ran directly above the mall’s second-floor lottery kiosk, ground zero for the eventual collapse. Both ends of the horizontal beam were bolted to steel connectors, which were then welded to structural columns protruding from the floor. From a strict engineering perspective, it was a sound design that met all necessary building code provisions.
By Michael Friscolanti - Monday, March 4, 2013 at 7:20 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Friscolanti reports on the first day of the inquiry into the collapsed Algo Centre mall
On the northbound side of Highway 108, the windy road that leads to Elliot Lake, Ont., there is still a large wooden sign directing motorists to the Algo Centre mall. “The centre of it all,” it says. Unlike the ad, the mall itself is nearly gone, ripped apart by a demolition crew. By the time the snow melts, there will be nothing left of the place but memories and questions. Many, many questions.
Nine months after a chunk of the mall’s roof crashed to the ground—killing two women and injuring 20 others—the “centre of it all” is now a second-floor hearing room a short drive away, where a public inquiry will try to uncover what everyone in Elliot Lake is desperate to know: the truth. Why did a portion of the rooftop parking lot crash to the ground? Why were the warning signs—incessant leaking, crumbling ceiling tiles, rusty structural beams—seemingly ignored for so many years? Why did Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo have to die?
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 10:22 AM - 0 Comments
A special Maclean’s investigation by Michael Friscolanti
Last summer, Canadians held their collective breath as rescuers dug through the rubble of the Elliot Lake mall for two women trapped beneath the collapsed roof. Their bodies would be pulled from the concrete five days later.
What happened at the Algo Centre is about to be dissected at a public inquiry set to begin March 4, but a new ebook by Maclean’s Senior Writer Michael Friscolanti (available here) reveals the disturbing backstory of a building that was literally doomed before it even existed.
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
From the penny to Premier McGuinty to the Wiggles, see who moved on in 2012
David Petraeus was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman, one of the most respected generals of his generation before being appointed director of the CIA. But a secret, steamy affair with his biographer has left his legacy, and his marriage, in tatters.
Up in smoke
When she was still the minister of international co-operation, Bev Oda had a hard time co-operating with Ottawa’s expense guidelines. Orange juice at $16 a glass. Taxpayer-funded limo rides to the Juno Awards. An air purifier so she could smoke in her office. We can only hope her MP pension—more than $52,000 a year—is enough to maintain her extravagant tastes.
Long live the nickel
Here’s a penny for your thoughts: when you add up the tab for production, transportation and storage, the penny actually costs Canada’s economy more than $100 million a year. Which is why, after 154 years, the Royal Canadian Mint has produced its last one.
Selfish or not, the timing was right. After two majority victories, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was slogging through his first stint as a minority leader—sparring with teachers, sagging in the polls, and under attack for cancelling two gas-fired power plants in Liberal ridings (a decision that will cost the public purse $230 million). His successor will have to deal with the fallout. Continue…
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 3:33 PM - 0 Comments
Parenting isn’t easy, but Kate and William’s baby will also be heir to the throne
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, as she was known back in 1936, was 10 years old when all of England heard the scandalous news. Her uncle, King Edward VIII, had abandoned the throne—ditching his royal obligations in favour of Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman he had been forbidden to marry. “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love,” he told his subjects in a stunning December radio address from Windsor.
Elizabeth’s father—Edward’s stammering and thoroughly insecure little brother Albert—was suddenly the king. And Elizabeth, his beloved elder daughter, was now the heiress presumptive.
“Does that mean you’ll be queen?” her younger sister, Margaret, famously asked.
“Yes, someday,” Elizabeth answered, as crowds gathered near the family home.
“Poor you,” Margaret said. Continue…
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 2:28 PM - 0 Comments
A court says undercover informants don’t have to warn young people not to get involved in terror plots
It has been almost seven years since police rounded up the so-called “Toronto 18,” thwarting a very real terrorist plot on Canadian soil. In time, the Crown and the courts separated the ringleaders from the stooges: charges were dropped against seven of the accused Muslims, while the other 11 were convicted and punished according to their level of guilt. Of the four core members who tried to detonate simultaneous truck bombs in downtown Toronto—a “spine-chilling” plot, as one judge said—two are now serving life sentences.
But even after so many years, the courts are not quite finished sifting through Canada’s landmark anti-terror bust. The latest judgment comes from the Court of Appeal for Ontario, and although it won’t be the last, it does settle one contentious question that emerged at trial: if authorities are investigating a group of aspiring terrorists, and some turn out to be teenagers, do the police have a legal obligation to somehow warn the youth to be wary of the leaders?
The answer, says Ontario’s highest court, is an emphatic no. “To impose on the police an obligation to ensure that undercover operators infiltrating a potential terrorist camp be equipped with some sort of strategy to warn youth (who may or may not be present) of the potential error of their ways, is neither tenable nor realistic,” the court concluded. “The prospects of such a strategy subverting the investigation, and possibly endangering the safety of the operative, are limitless.” Continue…
By Michael Friscolanti - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 11:29 AM - 0 Comments
Ottawa’s plan to make it easier to kick criminals out of the country sounds simple, but some fear it goes too far
Ron Berry spent nine days in a coma. His wounds were so severe—bleeding in the brain, lacerated spleen, a contusion near the lungs—that doctors weren’t certain he would survive. When Berry’s own family first saw him lying in that hospital bed, swollen and unconscious, they didn’t even recognize him. “Words cannot describe what I saw,” his sister told a judge, months later. “His head looked like a rotted pumpkin on top of a body.”
The man who inﬂicted the beating was Dylan Lee Morgenrood, a landed immigrant from South Africa. Drunk and belligerent outside a Trenton, Ont., bar, the 23-year-old ambushed Berry from behind and stomped on his face and chest, over and over, until witnesses finally pulled him away. The attack was so violent and bloody, one veteran bouncer testified, that he still has “nightmares about it.”
Morgenrood pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in July 2009 and was sentenced to 3½ years in prison. The real punishment came next: a deportation order. Like thousands of other non-citizens convicted of a crime, Morgenrood was no longer welcome here.
His removal should have been swift. According to long-standing law, any non-citizen sentenced to more than two years in prison has no right to challenge his deportation at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). But Morgenrood did have one option left, a backdoor strategy that many other foreign-born offenders have exploited: he returned to court and appealed his sentence, hoping to be allowed to stay. Continue…
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 7:20 AM - 0 Comments
If a cow wanders on a road, and is hit by a car, who is liable?
Last October, Justice Robert Maranger presided over the biggest criminal case in Canada: the Shafia “honour killing” trial in Kingston, Ont. One year later, in a different courtroom, his Honour was asked to rule on another pressing legal question: If a cow wanders onto a road, and is hit by a car, who is liable?
The plaintiff, Graham Burn, was driving on County Road 10, in the township of Beckwith, when he steered into such a scenario last September. As the judge described it, “he collided with a large cow located on the roadway.” Burn sued a nearby property owner, Yasmin Aikman, claiming that “she failed to properly confine” the wandering animal. But Burn also sued the township and surrounding county of Lanark, alleging they should have ensured the owner “properly secured the cow.”
On Oct. 12, lawyers for the town and the county asked Maranger to strike all the allegations against them. He agreed. “The duty of care alleged by the plaintiff in this case is one that has never been recognized in law,” the judge ruled. “It is not a reasonable proposition to expect that municipalities would patrol roadways to prevent animals from escaping private property or inspect privately owned fences to make sure that animals do not escape onto public roadways.” Besides, the judge wrote, bylaws already govern straying animals, and it’s the animal owner’s responsibility to abide by them.
In other words, if the driver milks any money from his lawsuit, it will come from the cow’s owner—not taxpayers.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 5:20 AM - 0 Comments
A lifelong activist, she became the only Canadian to win the right to get a doctor’s help to die, after a legal battle in B.C.
Gloria Jean Taylor was born in Trail, B.C., on March 30, 1948, the first of four daughters (Shirley arrived next, followed by Betty, then Patty). Her father, Fred Fomenoff, was a construction worker and a bus driver; her mother, Anne, was the anchor of the family home in Castlegar, a West Kootenay town of 7,000. “Her daddy was a hunter and a fisherman, and he taught her how to track a deer and catch a fish,” says Anne. “She was tomboyish in a sense, and definitely an outdoor person.”
It was dad who taught young Gloria another invaluable lesson: how to stick up for herself. She was still in elementary school, teased and bullied by another student, when she came home in tears. “Her dad told her what to do,” Anne says, smiling at the memory. “She never came home crying again. She cleaned their clock good.”
Gloria held so many jobs, and advocated for so many different causes, that even she had trouble remembering each one. (An avid writer and poet, she often joked about how she was going to list them all someday.) She was a receptionist. A hairdresser. A letter sorter for Canada Post. A parole supervisor. “Any job she had wasn’t exciting enough or challenging enough,” her mother says. “She was definitely a free spirit.”
Gloria met Pat Taylor in the fall of 1971. Six weeks later, on Christmas Eve, they were married. “She was tender, loving and very compassionate,” says Jason, the eldest of her two sons. “I can’t tell you how many foster kids we took in over the years. She gave of herself more than anybody I’ve ever known.” Although Gloria and her husband eventually divorced, they remained dear friends and devoted parents.
Single again, Gloria applied for a motorcycle licence and purchased her first bike, a Yamaha. A year later, she bought her beloved Harley-Davidson Super Glide, custom-painted her favourite colour—purple—and adorned with unicorns. She logged thousands of kilometres gripping those handlebars, her shoulders covered in elaborate tattoos.
In her 50s, Gloria took over as property manager of a trailer park near Kelowna, where she owned a three-bedroom mobile home. (Her son Clinton lived nearby, with his daughter Gabrielle.) Around then, Gloria began complaining about cramping in her hands and feet; by 2006, the spasms had grown so severe she could barely use a key or hold a pen. “My mom had beautiful, beautiful handwriting,” Jason says. “One day, she told me she couldn’t hold up her pinky finger anymore. It would drag along the page.” In January 2010, a specialist in Vancouver confirmed the devastating news: Gloria was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The doctor told her she would be paralyzed in six months, and likely dead by Christmas.
Ever the fighter, Gloria beat the odds. Christmas came and went—and so did the next one. But the disease took its toll, ravaging her muscles and forcing her to quit her latest job at a group home for disabled adults. Some days, Gloria couldn’t pull down her own bedsheets or brush her own teeth.
In the summer of 2011, Gloria saw a news report about the B.C. Civil Liberties Association launching a court challenge against Canada’s assisted-dying laws. Gloria phoned the association, and by the time the case reached a courtroom later that year, she was the lead plaintiff. “I live in apprehension that my death will be slow, difficult, unpleasant, painful, undignified and inconsistent with the values and principles I have tried to live by,” she wrote in an affidavit. “I want the legal right to die peacefully, at the time of my own choosing, in the embrace of my family and friends.”
In June, Gloria won her battle. In a landmark ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting physician-assisted suicide violated her Charter rights to life, liberty and equality. When her lawyer phoned to share the news, Gloria broke down in tears. It had nothing to do with whether she was going to go through with an assisted suicide,” her son says. “It was all about having the choice: if it got too bad, then she would have the ability to do something on her own terms.”
In the end, Gloria did not need to make that choice. Just before Thanksgiving, she was admitted to hospital with a severe infection from a perforated colon. She died Oct. 4, surrounded by family and friends. Gloria was 64.