By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 0 Comments
She was an avant-garde artist who once practised striptease for a book, but she longed to write a novel for a bigger audience
Susan Angela Ann Harrison was born on March 7, 1948, in Toronto, to Douglas, a chemical engineer, and Angela, a homemaker and photographer. In suburban North York she grew into a tall, intensely bright, inquisitive young woman with a flare for rebellion. “My father was a logical man,” her brother Brian says. “We had a very conventional family.” Nevertheless, when Harrison showed an interest in drawing and painting, her parents agreed to finance her studies at the Ontario College of Art. Soon she’d joined Toronto’s vibrant avant garde, then dominated by the artists’ collective General Idea, which adopted theatrical dress, pseudonyms and an ironic stance to lend the group’s subversive politics a playful edge. “It was a magnificent pageant,” one Toronto artist recalls.
After two years of art school, Harrison quit, announcing her intention to become a writer. Her pen name, A.S.A. Harrison, was a riff on stuffiness, and masked her gender. With the artist AA Bronson she wrote a porn novel, Lena, under the name A.C. McWhortle; published in 1970, it was quickly banned. She married the video artist Rodney Werden and, armed with a reel-to-reel recorder, began interviewing women for her 1974 book Orgasms, a series of Q&As that dealt frankly with women and sexual climax. Its cover, designed by Bronson, depicts the inner workings of the female sex; the back flap features a snapshot of someone other than Harrison, an inside joke but also part of a serious artistic project to make the ordinary strange. Another photo from the period shows the real Harrison as full-bodied, wearing a tuxedo, great owl glasses and the stern expression of a Dadaist prankster. “She deconstructed prettiness,” says the author Susan Swan, a friend. “She wanted to be larger than life, and she was.” She yearned too for a large audience—to put “new wine in old wine skins” by revamping pop culture forms. Under the guidance of the performance artist and stripteaser Margaret Dragu she experimented with striptease herself, and toured Quebec. In a book written with Dragu, Revelations: essays on striptease and sexuality, she used clipped prose to explore the topic: “Canada has the best striptease in the world,” she began.
By Nicholas Köhler - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
Meet the Maltese Falcon-like gemstone that sparked a five-year storm of desire, political intrigue and crime
The diamond weighs in at 68 carats and, when held to the light, reveals only cloudless perfection, an oval stone with a flawless heart. It glows candy yellow—“fancy intense yellow,” in diamond-trade parlance—but its simple elegance belies a dark past. Last October, when Christie’s New York put the diamond up for auction at its American headquarters in Rockefeller Plaza, five bidders “duked it out until a tenacious U.S.–based dealer finally won,” reported Rapaport Magazine, the diamond industry organ, noting its final sale price of $3,162,500—“$46,000 per carat.”
The diamond’s anonymous buyer very likely does not know of the stone’s criminal history—that U.S. federal court filings refer to it as the “Defendant Diamond”—nor of its association with the shadowy Canadian businessman who first transported it to Manhattan, where he sold it to a Fifth Avenue jeweller for $1 million.
Since its discovery in the arid diamond fields outside Hopetown, South Africa, in November 2008, the stone has criss-crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times—twice in the custody of U.S. immigration and customs enforcement agents—and become the subject of a civil forfeiture action brought against it by federal prosecutors in New York. That suit, United States of America v. One Polished Diamond Weighing Approximately Sixty-Eight Carats, filed in federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York in May 2010, effectively put the diamond under arrest and brought it into the court’s custody. The suit, just one of a fascinating class of so-called in rem actions that treat pieces of property as human beings, adds even more complexity to the story of the diamond, a precious Maltese Falcon object that was for five years caught in a maelstrom of desire, South African political intrigue and international crime.
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 Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
From a POW camp in Japan, he saw the flash of Hiroshima; it was the light that would save him and maim him all at once
William Bell was born in Winnipeg on March 12, 1917, to Scottish parents: his father, Bill, a butcher, and Rachel, a homemaker. With his full lips, dark, quiet eyes and a great crop of the thickest black hair, he was an active boy, diving from railroad bridges into the Red River with the Riverside Boys Swim Club, and learning to box. The Depression forced him from school, and at 16 he hopped a rail car for work in B.C., felling trees by handsaw. When the Second World War broke he returned to Winnipeg and, along with his brother Gordon and many of his swim-club friends, enlisted in the Winnipeg Grenadiers. He was 22, Gordon just 19. “Bring back your brother,” Bill’s mother told him.
While stationed in Jamaica, Bill guarded a camp of German POWs, unglamorous work. Otherwise, his memories of that time came to revolve around food, the mark of a mind defined by the privations he’d soon encounter—a Dutch submarine laden with cheese and canned fish, the coffee and nights of beer—and Jamaica remained for him always a kingdom of rum-laced ice cream. Things changed in late 1941, when the Grenadiers left the West Indies for the lush hills of Hong Kong, arriving to the sound of bagpipes. Within weeks, they’d be plunged into brutal combat. On one mission, Bill stumbled upon a nest of Japanese machine guns. His comrade, shot in the neck, died instantly; Bill took a bullet to the hip. Days later, he helped fight the enemy off from a hollow, a dazzling flurry of swords raised above him. He shot one charging officer in the stomach and, with a burst from his Tommy gun, lifted a second in the air before he could savage Bill’s friend with his bayonet. Confronted with hurled grenades rolling underfoot, the Canadians tossed them back. When one landed beyond reach, Sgt.-Maj. John Osborn threw himself on it, sacrificing himself to save his fellows. “It was the bravest thing we had ever seen,” Bill later wrote in a short memoir.
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Gender violence hits lower-caste women of Nepal accused of being witches
Early this month, in the remote western reaches of Himalayan Nepal, villagers stripped 60-year-old Rajkumari Rana naked, shaved her head and forced human excrement into her mouth for being a witch. The attack comes as just the latest in an increasing number of witchcraft-related assaults in the impoverished country, where observers worry that the rule of law, in particular as it relates to women, has grown dangerously eroded.
Witch hunters are said to victimize hundreds of lower-caste Nepali women each year. According to the human rights group WOREC Nepal, seven accused witches there suffered beatings in the Nepali calendar month of Poush, which straddles December and January—two by neighbours, the other five by relatives. Early this year in Lahan, in Nepal’s extreme east, 45-year-old Domani Chaudhary received a beating after neighbours accused her of using black magic to cause the death of a newborn. In Jorpati, a large village on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, 40-year-old Sunita Pudasaini’s own siblings blinded her with a sickle after calling her a witch.
These proliferating reports may reflect a new awareness of gender violence in Nepal, and superstitions around witchcraft in particular. The turning point was likely the death in 2011 of Dhegani Devi Mahato, a 45-year-old widow who was stoned and then burned alive by family members. Eight people have received sentences of life in prison in connection to her murder. Meanwhile, a bill aimed at protecting women accused of practicing sorcery was tabled in the nascent Nepali parliament last year—only to die when that assembly collapsed last May.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Sammy Davis Jr.’s sex romps, Michael Jackson’s ruthlessness: Paul Anka’s memoir is an explosive glimpse of the stars he knew and loved
In his autobiography, entitled—what else?—My Way, after the tune he wrote for Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka comes off as a Dante figure, returned from the depths of strange netherworld landscapes—Las Vegas, Los Angeles—dragging up to the earth’s surface a trove of forbidden gossip. “Frank, of all the women you’ve known,” Anka, the aging Ottawa-born teen idol, asked Sinatra shortly before his death, “who was the best in bed?”
You might think Sinatra’s reply—which by the way was Angie Dickinson, praise that fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin, apparently in a position to know, seconded—would remain locked in the subterranean vault of the American entertainment business back in Anka’s heyday, with its high-wattage machismo, the drinking, hookers and collusion with the Mob. A thing of confidence—secret, in other words. Instead Anka, whose name in Arabic means “noose,” as in a hangman’s, dishes on all his famous pals, crafting that rare thing: a celebrity memoir that’s fun to read.
In the lead-up to its publication, and the release of his first CD in six years, Anka is already causing a stir, with expansive excerpts in Britain’s Daily Mail and a TMZ-broadcast rant in which he scolds rapper Jay-Z for not returning his call. There’s something peculiarly Canadian about his comeback—the way Anka’s memoir, told from the point of view of a smart but wide-eyed Ottawa boy visiting the land of excess and crookedness down south, serves to puncture its myths. Here is an aging Dean Martin, sitting in a restaurant with his false teeth in a glass, or Sinatra showing him his colostomy bag. Who knew Anka was the keeper of such secrets?
By Nicholas Köhler - Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
A lawsuit by David Mirvish claims three Jackson Pollock works thought to be forgeries are genuine
Its provenance was mysterious, and the painting had already failed to impress a committee of authenticators, who refused to certify Untitled 1949 for fear it was a forgery never touched by its purported author, the mercurial abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. That skepticism scuttled the painting’s sale, to a Goldman Sachs banker, whose $2-million purchase was contingent on a finding it was genuine. Still, David Mirvish, the Toronto impresario and art collector, wanted in. In 2003, according to court documents, Mirvish told Knoedler & Company, the venerable New York art gallery handling the Pollock, that despite these authentication troubles he’d be “delighted to have the opportunity to purchase” the painting—for $2.5 million.
Today Untitled 1949 and two other Pollocks he purchased or invested in through Knoedler are at the centre of a lawsuit Mirvish filed last month in New York against the gallery, which closed in 2011 after 165 years in business amid allegations it dealt in forgeries. (Knoedler has said the closure was a business decision unrelated to the controversy.) But although Mirvish’s suit is one among a number filed against the gallery, all related to a single collection of purported works by masters such as Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell, now widely thought to be fake, Mirvish’s differs in that he maintains his three paintings are genuine. (Mirvish directed questions to his lawyers, who did not respond to interview requests.)
The suit offers a tantalizing glimpse into the trade in high-end art at a time of soaring prices, forgery scandals and proliferating litigation. It is a world that has always operated according to its own opaque rules. “No other multi-billion-dollar-a-year legitimate industry has such a reliance on handshakes, cash transactions and purchases without provenance,” says Noah Charney, founder of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and author of the novel The Art Thief.
By Nicholas Köhler - Monday, October 22, 2012 at 10:55 AM - 0 Comments
An Ontario family with Mennonite values, became the toast of Texas society, even naming one son J.R.
Some months ago, back on the Fourth of July, a sunny, ever-so-slightly Southern-twanged brunette cheerfully walked viewers of the Today show through the travails of setting up a festive, patriotic, red-white-and-blue table—at the very last minute (the secret: use rope, paper bags and alcohol). It was a jingoistic spread, the star-spangled arrangement made complete with individual goblets full of red velvet berry cobbler—a Southern dessert staple. Entertainment guru Kimberly Schlegel Whitman adroitly concluded the segment with a snappy little drink. “You want to greet your guests with something refreshing,” she chirped, “so we put Popsicles in wine glasses and poured Prosecco over it!”
Her turn on Today was just the latest in a string of television appearances for the wealthy 36-year-old Dallas socialite, who’d signed with a branding expert in L.A. in an effort to land a TV deal. The exposure did not always go as planned. Late last year, when she and her sister Kari were featured on Top Chef: Texas, hosting the competing cooks in their sumptuous homes, professional foodies took to their blogs and blasted them. “Kim hates cilantro, bell peppers, grease and things she has never tried,” wrote the Baltimore Sun. The Los Angeles Times asked if “any more proof was needed that money can’t buy you taste . . . ” At no time did Kim and Kari look more out of touch than the moment when, tucking into their appetizers, they began discussing their weddings: Kari said 800 guests had attended her nuptials (“you’re joking,” blinked one Top Chef judge), then Kim told everyone she’d had 1,200 at hers.
Despite the jibes, Kim’s TV hustle appears to have paid off: this month she began co-hosting a new talk show, Texas Living, on Dallas’s KTXD, a gig that will allow her to expand on her role as, in Dallas Morning News writer Alan Peppard’s words, “the Martha Stewart of the Southwest.”
Given all those red-white-and-blue bona ﬁdes, it’s easy to forget that Whitman is the daughter of Bob and Myrna Schlegel, who moved to Dallas from southern Ontario with their children in the mid-1980s in search of a larger market for the retirement and nursing homes they’d been running in Canada with much success. The Schlegel’s story is one of an old Kitchener-Waterloo family, steeped in the Mennonite values of simplicity, modesty and frugality, that relocated to flashy, opulent Dallas and ended up doing Texas bigger than the Texans do. And what do you think Kim, who moved to Dallas in the fourth grade and remains a Canadian citizen, calls her four-year-old son James Robert? It’s J.R. for short.
The Schlegels, who recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, looked into Florida and California, but liked the Lone Star State’s anti-union, pro-business environment. “Unions don’t belong in health care facilities,” Myrna, a registered nurse, avows. “The big joke here is, ‘I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could,’ ” Bob says.
In Dallas, the Schlegels prospered, selling their nursing home business in 1994 for a reported US$62 million. Bob’s second business, Pavestone, became the largest manufacturer and distributor of paving stones in the U.S. It earned big money—an estimated $348 million in 2009—and Bob went on to sell it for an undisclosed amount (very likely north of $300 million, news reports say).
Kim and Kari and the other Schlegel offspring, Kirby and Krystal, have lived accordingly. Kim’s 2005 wedding to Justin Whitman “set a new benchmark for ‘Dallas lavish,’ ” according to the city’s D Magazine. It was written up in Vanity Fair by Dominick Dunne, an old friend of the groom’s family, who gushed: “The Dallas Symphony Orchestra played and the symphony chorus sang as the beautiful bride, Texas heiress Kimberly Jayne Schlegel, preceded by 12 bridesmaids, walked down the aisle in a dress made in Paris with a 20-foot train.”
For a time Kari, a real estate agent, and Kirby, a sports team owner who recently sold both the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team and the Texas Tornado Hockey Club, lived together in a 12,200-sq.-foot penthouse atop the exclusive W Dallas Victory Hotel & Residences. Their separate living quarters, individually decorated, met in the middle at a grand salon reserved for entertaining. “I gotta quit showing up to places where members of the Schlegel family live,” wrote Andrea Grimes of the Dallas Observer last year. “It makes me question whether my hard-working, up-by-their-bootstraps parents couldn’t have just put in a couple extra hours at the office and bought me a 29th-floor penthouse.”
Perhaps predictably, the Schlegels aren’t very well-liked in some parts of Dallas, at least if snarky headlines are any indication: “Inside the Schlegel family dynasty,” “Inside the swanky penthouse of Kari and Kirby Schlegel,” “Kim Schlegel throws a high-society dog party,” “SCHLEGEL, SCHLEGEL EVERYWHERE,” and “Does Robert Schlegel think he’s better than me?”
An event planner and entertainment maven, Kim has written several books, the first of which, The Pleasure of Your Company: Entertaining in High Style, she began writing at 24. She has since followed up with 2008’s Tablescapes: Setting the Table with Style, which includes instructions on how to seat 36 at one table, and Dog Parties: Entertaining Your Party Animals, in 2006. She’s also known for presentations like “Set a Southern Table,” as part of her job as editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine.
She began in the hospitality biz while still in her early 20s, shortly after Idlewild, the oldest gentleman’s social club in Texas, invited her to be a debutante at its annual ball. Idlewild debs and their families must also organize their own spectacular coming-out affairs, with some 400 invited, but in Dallas, Kim and her mother could find no suitable knickknacks for rent that would give the bash that oh-so-crucial pizzazz. “Kim has really good taste and really great style and none of the companies had any of the things she wanted,” says Myrna. “So we went out and bought them.” Later, Myrna’s friends began asking if they might borrow the Limoges china and Baccarat crystal they’d picked up for the Schlegel ball. “I remember so well, very sarcastically, my mother saying, ‘Oh, we should be charging for this!’ And it was this aha moment for me—I was like, ‘We should!’ So I started a party-rental business.”
The Schlegels of old would no doubt look askance at this conspicuous consumption. Both Bob and Myrna, who grew up just south of Kitchener, come from Mennonite, and ultimately Amish, stock, two religious groups known for strict austerity. (“By the way,” says Myrna, “we’re Methodists now.”) “My mother, growing up, wore a head covering to church—very, very different from her lifestyle now,” says Kim. “My grandmother did not have a wedding ring until she went to the hospital to give birth to their fifth child and basically said, ‘I don’t want the nurses thinking I’m not married’—so she got her first wedding ring.”
Bob grew up on his father’s dairy and poultry farm, where he took his share of knocks. At 5, he broke his neck and spent a year in a body cast. At 7, he was mauled by two Great Danes. Around the same time the Schlegel homestead burned down. Yet Bob was entrepreneurial and peddled knives and first-aid kits to neighbours, and later installed a Pepsi machine at the local garage. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” is his Mennonite motto and the Schlegel family creed. Noted philanthropists in Dallas, they also have a building—the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship—named after them at Wilfrid Laurier University, Bob’s alma mater.
More than anything, the Schlegels like to party. “They don’t slow down,” says Brent Gingerich, a cousin and owner of peopleCare, the business the family left behind in Ontario. “They like to throw parties, and when they throw parties they throw big parties.”
That’s Dallas hospitality. For her part, Kim sees nothing paradoxical about her roots in quiet Canada and her current role keeping Dallas loud and shiny. “I think one of the reasons I felt so at home in Texas at such a young age is that Southerners are so friendly and warm, and I find that Canadians are the same way,” she says. Maybe that’s why she’s allowed her mother’s nickname for James Robert Maxwell Elam Schlegel Whitman, her four-year-old son, to stick. “Now we have a J.R. in Dallas with some good Canadian blood in him,” Kim laughs. On the other hand, it may not last. “My mother loves the new revival of the show Dallas but she was very upset that J.R. is still the villain—she thought by now he should be the good guy.”
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Once dismissed as a flight of fancy, the flying car is preparing for takeoff again
One spring day more than 15 years ago, Col. Joe Kittinger, an experimental test pilot and world-renowned extreme skydiver, slid into the driver’s seat of a 1954 Taylor Aerocar, coaxed it to a speed of 130 km/h on a runway outside Minneapolis, and took the craft, looking something like a stubby Volkswagen with wings, to the air. Kittinger was in his mid-70s and, as a fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, had flown dozens of aircraft over a career that spans 16,800 flying hours. Yet this was the first flying car, and it was almost 50 years old. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to who’d ever flown it before,” says Kittinger, speaking from his home outside Orlando, Fla. “I just got in it and taught myself how.”
Within a week, he’d learned the ins and outs of managing the Aerocar in flight. One quirk of the mechanism, he quickly learned, has to do with how the steering wheel controls both its front wheels and, simultaneously, the aileron, a flap on the trailing edge of an aircraft’s wings that manages roll. When landing, Kittinger realized he would have to jam the wheel dead straight to prevent it from lurching sideways when the front wheels hit the ground.
His last day piloting this “roadable” aircraft—which refers to a plane that also drives—coincided with an air show at the Anoka County Airport in Blaine, Minn., and Kittinger decided to give the crowd something to talk about. He installed a truck’s air horn and approached the spectators from the sky honking, the windshield wipers flapping, the turn signal blinking. “Everybody laughed their butts off,” he says. “Here was this airplane flying but looking like a car and sounding like a truck.” When he landed before the crowds, he immediately put the machine in reverse and backed up—something no airplane can do. “They thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen,” Kittinger says. “It was a spectacle.”
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 8:41 PM - 0 Comments
‘I don’t recall,’ was the mantra during Toronto Mayor’s day in courtroom 6-1
There was this morning a certain Inherit the Wind anticipation in the atmosphere outside courtroom 6-1, atop Toronto’s 361 University Ave. courthouse.
Above the crush of gathered reporters, the Buddy Holly-spectacle-wearing blogistas with jauntily disheveled hair and ironic ties, and the just plain morbidly curious, there was the sense that cross-examination sparks would soon fly, that a great legal mind would scalpel the fat from the muscle of truth or that–just maybe–Mayor Rob Ford would unleash himself on Clayton Ruby, LL.B, LL.M., for the gleeful benefit of anti-swell fantasists and pro-willful-ignorance enthusiasts everywhere.
Spencer Tracy vs. Frederic March? Well, not in the end. Instead it was something like what the Scopes trial would have been had the monkey actually taken the stand.
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 11:29 AM - 0 Comments
Dancing incentives for Canadian women are popping up as some 800 foreign dancers return home
Rob Katzman has a knack for publicity. There was the time nearly a decade ago when the Windsor, Ont.-area strip club owner had to deny rumours he was poised to open a sex club for swingers, called Sin, which Windsor’s then-mayor said he’d oppose. Or this past January when, after a 10-year hiatus, he brought dwarf tossing back to the city, saying the four-foot-eight man he hired for the event “loves it.” Now he’s launched a marketing campaign promoting the free tuition and other incentives he’s offering Canadian women willing to strip at his clubs. Barry Maroon, his right-hand man, says Katzman Enterprises will pay up to $1,700 per semester to dancers maintaining a B average in their studies, and will also provide loans to women relocating to Windsor. “We’re in the strip club business, OK, but we try to stay above the rest,” says Maroon.
The plan, which Katzman first adopted years ago, is back in the spotlight because of the federal government’s recent move to ban temporary work visas for foreign women dancing in Canada—a move that’s sure to produce a shortage of performers. The feds say they’re protecting these women from human trafﬁckers. But Tim Lambrinos, executive director of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada, disagrees. “It’s political brownie points for the ultra-conservative fundamentalist base,” he says of the government’s new policy. “They don’t like dancers—why don’t they just come out and say so?”
Over the next months some 800 foreign dancers will be forced to return home, including 35 women dancing for Katzman. The coming scarcity has forced clubs and the Adult Entertainment Association to get innovative. The latter recently dropped the idea of recruiting at high-school job fairs. Graduates, however, need only apply to Katzman.
By Nicholas Köhler, Patricia Treble, John Geddes, and Aaron Wherry - Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 4:20 PM - 0 Comments
Maclean’s Newsmakers: A Murdoch family feud, Roger Clemens’s comeback and Conrad Black would like to make an appearance
His inimitable voice
The advisory council pondering whether Conrad Black should be stripped of his Order of Canada would prefer to just peruse the former press baron’s written arguments. But Black’s lawyers were in Federal Court last week asking Justice Yves de Montigny to instruct the council to let Black, who’s noted for his grandiloquence, make his case in person. “You need to see the man,” said Black’s lawyer, “to believe him or disbelieve him.” Black was named to the Order in 1990, but was later convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in the U.S., where he served 42 months in prison before returning to Canada last spring. De Montigny did not say when he’d make a decision on Black’s special request.
Touching off a rush of musical snobbery and Twitter one-liners, Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and pop star Avril Lavigne announced their engagement last week. The easily mocked new royal couple of Canadian pop have apparently been dating for six months. Kroeger proposed in Los Angeles, where the two are collaborating on Lavigne’s fifth album. According to the precedent established by Bennifer, the new couple has been dubbed Chavril. Guests at the wedding will no doubt include former Seinfeld star Jason Alexander and former Baywatch beauty Brooke Burns who, both apparently eager for work, star as a lovelorn barista and his customer in the new video for Nickelback’s Trying Not to Love You. The video pairing is odd, but perhaps no weirder than the one in real life.
By Nicholas Köhler, Brian Bethune, Michael Friscolanti, Patricia Treble, and Mika Rekai - Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 3:02 PM - 0 Comments
Bill Gates’s strange purchase, Peaches versus Putin: the video, and can a Beastie Boy’s will be done?
It’s Peaches season
Toronto-born electro-pop artist Peaches became the latest voice in the growing chorus of support for Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk-band-turned-cause-célèbre that faces up to seven years in prison for performing a song in a Russian Orthodox Church that protested Vladimir Putin’s government. Fellow Canadian Martha Wainwright has also been a vocal supporter, as have Björk and Sting. But Peaches, who is based in Berlin, has chimed in, in her own inimitable way. She is shooting a video featuring more than 400 artists and activists to be released on Facebook ahead of the Aug. 17 verdict. It’s called—what else?—Free Pussy Riot.
To write it, you must live it
Stephen Marche probably didn’t expect to evoke quite the level of contempt he did with “The contempt of women,” his column in September’s Esquire. The 36-year-old Canadian writer surveys a few cultural straws in the wind: some meaningful, like the economic rise of women, some ephemeral, like the “pitiable and grotesque” men of the hit TV show Girls, and concludes, “Feminine contempt [for men] is suddenly everywhere.” Certainly it is for him. “Calamitously awful,” “the worst thing you will read all day,” and an “epically impenetrable panic-flop” are just a few of the online retorts. Marche certainly offers, in the grand masculine tradition of the Charge of the Light Brigade, a suicidally target-rich environment for critics. Declining reports of rape in some (unspecified) parts of the U.S., he asserts, means that sexual equality has been achieved there. His tweeted response to his critics: “Women who show their contempt for my piece on the contempt of women prove my point by virtue of their contempt.”
By Nicholas Köhler - Monday, August 13, 2012 at 11:22 AM - 0 Comments
It’s happening in Australia. Right under that ozone hole…
Captain Cook discovered Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 1770, when his ship smashed into it “and stuck fast,” as he put it in his journal. The seven-week layover that followed gave Cook’s men glimpses of a strange menagerie.
Mostly, it was the reef’s teeming fish they came to know. “We see them in plenty jumping about the harbour,” Cook wrote. Soon, his men were hauling them in.
Today that underwater idyll of old is suffering from the scourge of ultraviolet radiation, leaving Cook’s fish to suffer from skin cancer, of all things. Scientists with the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Newcastle say that 15 per cent of the reef’s coral trout have lesions on their scales — melanoma-like tumours on their orange skins. The findings came out last week in the science journal PLoS One.
Australia lies beneath a great ozone hole, the Earth’s largest, which likely has something to do with the rate of skin cancer there — two out of three Australians get it by age 70. Now the country’s coral trout have become the first wild fish ever to hear similarly bad news.
By Nicholas Köhler, Chris Sorensen, Aaron Wherry, and Kate Lunau - Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Bieber stumbles, the NFL gets a female ref, and a rare, royal hug for Britain’s biggest cheerleaders
Britain’s lucky charms
Prince William and Kate, in matching team Great Britain T-shirts, took a gold for enthusiasm with this rare PDA while cheering another U.K. gold medal at the Velodrome. The royal couple and Prince Harry, Britain’s biggest ambassadors throughout the Games, have been taking in as many as four events a day.
Farewell, Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg’s new reggae album is entitled Reincarnated, and apparently the legendary rapper has been reborn as something else entirely: the MC born Calvin Broadus, Jr. is now Snoop Lion. While in Jamaica to record his new record, Snoop turned toward Rastafarianism. “I wanted to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion, but I didn’t know that until I went to the temple and received the name Snoop Lion from the Nyabinghi priest,” he explained. “From that moment on, I started to understand why I was there and was able to create something magical in this project.” He is now interested in making music that “kids and grandparents” can listen to. A documentary about his time in the West Indies will debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Long may she run
Top U.S. researchers are on the hunt for a 113-year-old Regina woman. If the unnamed woman is indeed still alive—as Saskatchewan government records show—she will be one of the world’s oldest living people. And California researchers want to interview her, looking into her lifestyle and genetic history—for clues to the “secret” of her long life, says Stephen Coles, of the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group. Saskatchewan has an uncommonly high number of centenarians, twice the national average, a rate much closer to Japan’s.
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
How the Canadian’s steamy prose became part of a high-profile Silicon Valley lawsuit
Maclean’s, in a short review back in 2006, called Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing, a collection of poetry and drawings, “open-heart poetry” and a “candid memoir of love, sadness, rage and wry resignation.” Ellen Pao, a junior partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture firm whose milestone investments include early bets on Amazon and Google, calls Cohen’s book something else: grist in a much-watched sexual discrimination suit she has filed against Kleiner that describes the firm as a hotbed of locker-room-style cronyism and inappropriate flirtations. This, in the environs of Silicon Valley, is juicy, juicy news.
Pao, who is 42 and began work with Kleiner in 2005, says in the suit that one senior partner, Randy Komisar, gave her a copy of Book of Longing and invited her to a Saturday dinner, letting her know his wife would be away. The gift, due to the graphic nature of its illustrations and the explicit nature of the poems, amounted to a sexual advance, says the suit.
And really, it’s hard to argue with her. Published when he was 71 and written in large part while he was on retreat at a Zen monastery in southern California, Book of Longing contains vivid depictions of oral sex and erotic couplings with the cosmos. Oh, and lots of love poems. I think of you all the time / But I can’t speak about you any more / I must love you secretly, reads one of the more chaste passages. Reads another: You came to me this morning / And you handled me like meat / You’d have to be a man to know / How good that feels how sweet.
By Nicholas Köhler, Anne Kingston, and Tamsin McMahon - Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 10:20 PM - 0 Comments
Twilight fans have their hearts broken, Justin bieber’s neighbours complain, and Korea gets a kinder, gentler Kim
The Sisters of the Precious Blood founded their monastery in Charlottetown in 1929. More than 80 years later, Sister Ilene Mary Walsh, who joined the order half a century ago—the last P.E.I. woman to do so—has returned as the order’s general superior in Canada to close it down. The sisters have now just ﬁve nuns. “Like everybody else, Precious Blood sisters get old,” Sister Ilene told the CBC. “Our main ministry is prayer, but we still have to pay the bills and put food on the table. It takes a certain amount of energy and maybe a little bit of youth.”
The trip from hell
Mitt Romney’s first official overseas visit as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee proved to be one gaffe after another. First, the former Massachusetts governor outraged Londoners when he suggested the city was not prepared for the Summer Games. Then, in Israel, he referred to Jerusalem as the capital and attributed Israelis’ economic superiority over Palestinians to their culture. One unnamed Republican insider reportedly summed the trip up as “borderline lunacy.” U.S. Olympic legend Carl Lewis also weighed in: “Seriously, some Americans just shouldn’t leave the country,” the nine-time gold winner told The Independent.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:44 AM - 0 Comments
Finding and talking to Karla Homolka was hard enough. Taking her picture was a whole other challenge.
It is destined to be an iconic image: Karla Homolka, the woman who served just 12 years for her part alongside Paul Bernardo in the sexual torture and murder of three young schoolgirls, picking up a child of her own. She is on a veranda somewhere in the Caribbean, amidst a swirl of jungle; she wears a floral summer dress, her arms toned, the arms of one of her three young children raised up to her.
With its subject depicted in stark profile and engaged in a ritual of motherhood, the photograph amounts to a diabolical re-enactment of the Madonna and Child—heart-wrenching, disturbing, utterly arresting. “She helped kill the children of three families, including her own, and now she has three dependent kids,” says Paula Todd, the freelance journalist who last month discovered and confronted Homolka, in hiding in Guadeloupe. “It’s an important image that’s going to make us really think hard about what we’ve done.”
What is it we’ve done? Todd, a lawyer and former TVO and CTV news broadcaster and legal analyst, insists Canada’s judicial system caused an injustice by allowing Homolka to spend scant time in jail in exchange for her testimony against Bernardo—despite the later surfacing of video evidence demonstrating her active participation in the crimes. Together the couple committed the sex slayings of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14, and Homolka orchestrated the fatal drugging of her sister Tammy, 15, so that Bernardo could rape her. Her testimony helped put Bernardo in prison for life, with no chance of parole, but Homolka’s plea bargain, Todd argues in turn, unleashed a potentially dangerous killer upon the world.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Boston-Edison, once home to greats like Henry Ford, is reclaimed amid the rot
For much of the last century, the home Henry Ford built in Detroit’s genteel Boston-Edison district was occupied by the Rev. Florence B. Crews, long-time pastor of the Temple of Light, a church whose teachings fused Christianity and astrology. Rev. Crews began living in the house in 1941, when she and her husband, O. James Crews, known on local radio broadcasts as the “Voice of the Planets,” walled in the fireplace, hung heavy curtains in the windows and filled Ford’s parlour with enough folding chairs to accommodate the dozens of worshippers who gathered there on Thursday and Sunday nights.
Apart from these religious services, the couple used the house as a place to practise what the Rev. Crews referred to in court testimony—residents had brought an action against her for running a church out of the home—as “the business or vocation of reading horoscopes for pay.” These sessions could cost as much as US$150—equivalent to US$2,000 today—and made use of “charts, tables of the solar system and the zodiacal heavens, time of birth, blackboards, a book of ephemeral places and the sidereal time as calculated at Greenwich at noon.”
It was a long way from the business Ford conducted while living there. Back in 1908, the same year he built the house, Ford put the Model T into production, and he lived there when he implemented his revolutionary assembly-line manufacturing process and doubled the wages he paid his factory hands to $5 a day—high enough that they could buy automobiles of their own, a significant step in the development of a powerful American working class.
By Nicholas Köhler - Friday, June 22, 2012 at 5:31 PM - 0 Comments
‘I have not come here to talk about any of that,’ Black says of prison
He walked into the packed Grand Ballroom, at the end of a procession of Empire Club guests and bigwigs, with his head sailing steady above great rolling shoulders, a gait that suggests Conrad Black moves through a different medium than the rest of us, and that his contemplative faculties are buffered from the vicissitudes of fortune by a physical presence more than capable of taking some punches.
Black, here at the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto for his first public address since his return from what he dubbed simply “an absence of five years,” attacked the room, a thousand strong, like a fighter whose arena has suddenly been transformed into a place to win love, not glory.
At the first welcoming applause of the audience Lord Black, as he was called, nodded beneficently; then a prayer was said, the Queen was toasted, and the room got down to the business at hand.
That business was Black starting on the work of ingratiating himself with a country he very publicly left behind. He worried he’d be “laborious,” called his chitchat at mid-speech a “lugubrious recitation of facts,” and he was right on both counts. But he cared little for either sin, and told it like Moses come from the mountain.
“It is Canada’s turn to speak and it will not have to shout to be heard,” he said, concluding a 25-minute speech that extolled the country of his birth as the nation of the future. “These were my thoughts in my recent sojourn with the Americans that have been confirmed by my grateful return to this country.”
But of course Black’s Sinai was the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami (his prison at the time of his release), and his commandments–that Canada agitate for NATO to be refashioned as a “defensive alliance of all reasonably democratic countries,” to reform voting procedures at the United Nations and to peg currencies “mixed standards of gold, oil and consumer prices”–came to him during his time as inmate #18330-424.
“Now it may seem to you implausible that I was actually thinking about such things as this in my previous residence,” Black told his audience, which sat largely in rapt silence during the address, a great vista of baldness, tastefully dark suits and grey. “But anyone familiar with the intellectual life of a U.S. federal prison could confirm that this kind of reflection is the only practical form of partial escape that is available.”
Black himself introduced such back-from-the-mountaintop rhetoric, acknowledging that “Canadians are notoriously not messianic or self-important, and have no illusions about being a light unto the world.” Put that aside, he seemed to be saying; I am come.
Or maybe he was Jonah, as re-imagined by Northrop Frye as a man consumed by the leviathan to the south : “Living in the belly of the great American beast as I did, and having seen the underside of Norman Rockwell’s and even Bill Buckley’s America in these times gave me a refreshed perspective on Canada and its evolution and distinction from the United States.”
It was only in such oblique terms that he acknowledged his plight as an ex-con–his book, A Matter of Principle, he said “is largely concerned with those travails, so you will be relieved to hear that I have not come here to talk about any of that and I will speak no more of any of it today.”
Instead he launched into a potted history of the symbiotic inter-relationships of Canada and the U.S., one that he suggested split sometime after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. “Then astonishingly having fulfilled its early promise and long determination to lead and over-awe the world, the United States has seemed to lose its talent not only at official strategic thinking, but even at times at self-government.”
From then, offering his audience a litany of American troubles, he spit out the details: “A vaunted Wall Street, which had ruled the world’s finances since the times of J.P. Morgan, issued trillions of dollars of worthless real estate-backed assets that were certified by the rating agencies before whom the greatest national treasuries and international corporations quail, as investment grade.”
His sins, he seemed to be saying–whatever they might be, and he was convicted and jailed for them–pale against that grander and more odious crime.
And in this new world, a universe of rising Chinas and Indias and a North America neutered of manufacturing, “it is the multiple resource exporters among advanced countries, especially Canada and Australia, that are advantaged.”
Yea, and the meek shall inherit the earth.
Yet still, in his preamble and elsewhere, Black sized himself up, and laughed. “A friend generously sent me last night the predictions of a Maclean’s blogger, that my comments today would be laborious and that the only interesting thing would be the identity of those who attended,” he said. “The absence of–no applause on that one–the absence of my wife today may indicate that she had similar premonitions. And they may be correct.
“But I do promise an earnest effort to be sufficiently brief not to exterminate for you as a summer weekend begins the prospect of a sleepless afternoon.
He sure can talk and, when he wasn’t being laborious or lugubrious, it was lovely language to listen to.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 6:10 PM - 0 Comments
Bill C-10 will likely fill Nunavut’s Rankin Inlet prison, built to house 40 offenders, immediately after it opens this fall
Officials in Nunavut say the Safe Streets and Communities Act, the Conservative government’s new crime bill, could overwhelm that territory’s meagre jail system and fill up a brand new jail in Rankin Inlet overnight. The act’s tougher measures on drugs and sex crimes and its promotion of harsher sentences, particularly in relation to young offenders, is expected to lead to a 15 per cent increase in inmates across Canada, but higher still in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Nunavut’s corrections system is already under enormous pressure: the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, for example, built in the 1980s as a minimum-security jail for 46 prisoners, has at one time or another put up as many as 88, many of them in for violent crimes. Bill C-10 will likely fill Nunavut’s Rankin Inlet prison, built to house 40 offenders, immediately after it opens this fall.
In the past, Nunavut has eased its numbers by sending offenders to prisons across Canada, at a cost of millions. The NWT charges Nunavut $266.74 a day for each of the 30 Nunavut inmates jailed in Yellowknife. But last year Janet Slaughter, Nunavut’s then-deputy justice minister, said she’d got word from NWT and Ontario officials that Nunavut’s prisoners could be sent home if Bill C-10 leads to overcrowding in those jurisdictions. Last month, NWT Justice Minister Glen Abernethy acknowledged that possibility: “Our first step would be to stop taking Nunavut inmates.”
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 4:06 PM - 0 Comments
After a five-year absence from public life, Conrad Black is due up at the Empire Club
There’s something very Gulliver’s Travels about the title of Conrad Black’s speech Friday before members of the Empire Club of Canada, billed as his first public address since his release from a Florida prison last month: “My perspective of Canada after an absence of five years.” A bit of a self-serving euphemism–”absence”–so oblique you might even imagine Black himself believes his stint in jail was merely a blip of unpleasant awayness, a tortured period during which the U.S. justice system deprived Canadians of his presence.
That justice system, which Black has lately described as “the trumped-up system of the palace of corruption and hypocrisy of a courthouse in Chicago,” no longer has jurisdiction. His speech is to take place tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto. Yet beyond the Swiftian title, there’s little indication of what he’ll discuss.
There might be a good portion of what the old Frank Magazine liked to call “fart catching,” given that Black, as a non-Canadian citizen, remains in this country more or less at the pleasure of the government. So it was that, during an interview with the National Post not long ago, he referred to the federal government’s unapologetic emphasis on oil sands exports as “perhaps the most imaginative geopolitical initiative Canada has undertaken since Louis St. Laurent and C.D. Howe announced that Canada would build the St. Lawrence Seaway,” adding that “Stephen Harper’s calm response to American waffling over the Keystone XL Pipeline has been a model of having a Plan B at hand when dealing with an unreliable partner.” We should expect more of the same tomorrow.
And, for similar reasons, it’s unlikely that Black, who became a fierce critic of American prisons–though not a histrionic one: “it was tedious and outrageous but it wasn’t all that unpleasant,” he has said–won’t visit similar scrutiny on the Harper government’s push for more prisons here. “Since I am not technically a citizen, it’s not my place to come in here on a temporary resident permit and get up on a soap box and harangue the government,” he told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge last month.
Whatever he discusses, he will do it before an audience of well-wishers. “Wherever I go, there are well-wishers,” Black, indeed, said not long ago. “I have received more than 5,000 messages from Canadians in every province and from every walk of life, every one of them positive. It is a laborious but pleasant task replying to them all…”
Tomorrow may well be laborious too, but much of the fun will be in discovering who is among that mob of wishers-well at the Sheraton in the Grand Ballroom. For whom is Conrad Black a draw? Stay tuned.
By Ken MacQueen, Nicholas Köhler, and Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 1:10 PM - 0 Comments
The mayor who cheesed off Obama, an Ottawa man’s unfortunate likeness, and taking flak for hating Nickelback
Granny will be so proud
It was third-time lucky for Zara Phillips, granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II. Horse injuries forced her from Olympic contention in 2004 and 2008, but now she has been selected for London 2012. Zara’s father, Mark Phillips, and mother, Princess Anne, were also Olympic equestrians.
Kids, just spinning their wheels
Jacques Villeneuve is a bit young, at 41, to be a grumpy old man, but he would seem to prefer that the kids get off his lawn, as it were. When protesters in Montreal threatened the Formula One Grand Prix, the racing champion said, “It’s time for people to wake up and stop loafing about. It’s lasted long enough. We heard them. We listened. They should stop.” Villeneuve said he thinks protesters grew up without their parents ever telling them no and deemed them “rebels without a cause.” Is it premature to speculate about Villeneuve running to be the next leader of the Quebec Liberal party?