Articles on this Page
- 10/13/17--10:07: _Hurricane Ophelia m...
- 10/13/17--10:54: _Toronto anesthetist...
- 10/13/17--11:01: _Complaint alleges C...
- 10/13/17--12:10: _Article 0
- 10/13/17--15:52: _Catholic high schoo...
- 10/13/17--16:46: _What we don’t know ...
- 10/13/17--13:37: _Malvern Collegiate ...
- 10/14/17--06:00: _Harvey Weinstein’s ...
- 10/14/17--08:38: _Infighting threaten...
- 10/14/17--08:26: _Teen dies, another ...
- 10/14/17--06:12: _Finance minister ti...
- 10/13/17--15:25: _Another Trump poiso...
- 10/14/17--04:30: _Saturday night Leaf...
- 10/14/17--07:11: _Trump’s combative s...
- 10/14/17--04:00: _In Sarnia’s Chemica...
- 10/14/17--03:00: _Drugs at 4 months. ...
- 10/13/17--16:35: _Joshua Boyle demand...
- 10/14/17--09:04: _Gusty winds fan Cal...
- 10/14/17--07:27: _Low wages, small wo...
- 10/15/17--12:55: _Thousands of Toront...
- 10/13/17--10:07: Hurricane Ophelia may become Ireland’s strongest storm since 1961
- 10/13/17--12:10: Article 0
- 10/13/17--15:52: Catholic high school teacher facing sexual exploitation charges
- 10/13/17--16:46: What we don’t know about Patrick Brown as premier: Cohn
- 10/13/17--13:37: Malvern Collegiate will paint over students’ ‘yearbook’ wall
- 10/14/17--06:00: Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour was a dark inside joke
- 10/14/17--08:38: Infighting threatens to derail Catalan independence efforts in Spain
- 10/14/17--06:12: Finance minister tinkers with tax-reform proposals
- 10/14/17--04:30: Saturday night Leafs tradition fading away: Feschuk
- 10/14/17--04:00: In Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, is ‘toxic soup’ making people sick?
- 10/14/17--09:04: Gusty winds fan California wildfires, force yet more evacuations
Category 2 Hurricane Ophelia is threatening everything from farms to a golf course owned by the family of U.S. President Donald Trump as it heads for Ireland.
Ophelia’s top winds were 155 km/hby 3:40 p.m. London time on Friday, reaching the second level of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. The storm, about 877 kilometres southwest of the Azores, is forecast to stay a powerful cyclone over the next few days, and may scrape the west coast of Ireland on Monday before dissipating over Scandinavia, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
After Hurricane Irma closed Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in Florida last month, Ophelia could make landfall close to the Trump family’s golf resort near the village of Doonbeg. The resort, which has said it can lose as much as 10 meters of land to coastal erosion during a bad storm, is along the route expected to be hit by Ophelia’s gale force winds. Trump International Golf Links & Hotel is constantly reviewing the situation, a spokesperson said by email.
“At the moment, in one model the actual centre in Ophelia is basically supposed to rub the west coast of Ireland,” said David Reynolds, senior meteorologist at The Weather Co. In Birmingham, England. “It’s really touch and go.”
Ophelia could become the strongest post-tropical system to rake Ireland since Hurricane Debbie in 1961, which killed 18 people and stripped almost 25 per cent of the trees in some areas, according to Weather Underground. Sixty people died in a plane crash in the Azores caused by Debbie.
The Irish government is monitoring the situation, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. It will decide later Friday whether to convene a task force to co-ordinate its response to the storm.
Ophelia will move across the country very quickly and may bring heavy rain if it makes landfall, Gerald Fleming, head of forecasting at the Irish weather service, said on RTE radio Friday. The storm could pummel the Cork and Kerry coast but it’s still three or four days away.
Using the current forecast track from the National Hurricane Center, damages could reach $800 million in Ireland and $300 million in the U.K., as well as tens of millions in France, Spain and Portugal, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeller at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. Using European forecasts, those numbers could be cut in half.
“My subjective guesstimate is more like $600 million in Ireland and under $100 million for the U.K.,” Watson said. Debbie’s damages would’ve reached $338 million in today’s dollars.
Ireland’s Met Eireann weather office and the Met Office in the U.K. issued yellow warnings for Monday, meaning residents need to be aware of encroaching risks.
“Power cuts may occur, with the potential to affect other services, such as mobile phone coverage,” the Met Office said in its warning. “Some damage to buildings, such as tiles blown from roofs could happen, perhaps leading to injuries and danger to life from flying debris.”
It’s unusual for a hurricane to head toward northwest Europe. The Atlantic hurricane season, usually a bigger threat to the U.S., Mexico and Caribbean, has produced 15 named storms, including 10 consecutive hurricanes—the most since the late 19th century. The storms have killed hundreds and caused an estimated $300 billion in damage across Central America, the Caribbean and the U.S.
Hurricane Ophelia may become Ireland’s strongest storm since 1961
WARNING: Graphic details follow.
A “touchy-feely” anesthesiologist handed a 10-year sentence for sexually assaulting 21 sedated women during surgery has failed to have his conviction overturned.
In a decision Friday, Ontario’s top court ruled that the judge who convicted Dr. George Doodnaught after a 76-day trial was bang on.
“The grounds of appeal advanced track closely the submissions made to, and rejected by, the trial judge,” the Court of Appeal said. “They are the subject of lengthy and detailed reasons which describe the findings of fact essential to proof of guilt and the evidentiary stuff of which those findings were made.”
Doodnaught, who is in his late 60s, was convicted in November 2013 on all counts for assaulting women, who ranged from 25 to 75 years old, while they were semi-conscious at the North York General Hospital. Among other things, Doodnaught inserted his penis into women’s mouths, used some for masturbation, and sexually fondled others over a four-year period.
The defence never argued the women fabricated their complaints or colluded with one another, but at trial and on appeal suggested the complainants may have been hallucinating while under anesthetic. Doodnaught’s lawyers further argued that the assaults, in the confined space of an operating theatre close to others in the surgical team, could not have happened.
Superior Court Justice David McCombs rejected the defence arguments, siding with the prosecution that Doodnaught had the opportunity to commit the assaults from behind a screen and that the women’s accounts of what happened were honest and realistic.
McCombs found Doodnaught’s closeness to patients during surgery didn’t draw suspicion because he was known as a “touchy-feely” doctor who stroked a patient’s cheek or hair to soothe her during procedures. The judge also lambasted him for compounding his victims’ distress by trying to make them believe they were somehow responsible for what happened.
On appeal, the doctor argued the evidence at trial fell short of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the offences actually happened. His lawyers pointed at expert evidence about the hallucinogenic properties of the anesthetics in support of their position.
“This case is overwhelming only if one presumes that the possibility of drug-induced dreamlike states is impossible, as the trial judge did,” Doodnaught’s lawyers argued on appeal. “The trial judge failed to adequately consider the defence submission that a significant proportion, indeed the majority, of the alleged incidents were impossible.”
The Appeal Court would have none of it.
The higher court noted McCombs had even visited the operating rooms in which the anesthetist had worked to gain a better understanding of the layout before finding that Doodnaught did indeed have the opportunity to commit the assaults as alleged.
The Appeal Court also found the judge had carefully looked at the expert evidence on whether patients might hallucinate about sexual experiences, noting no witness had ever heard of a case of multiple allegations of sexual assault on patients under the kind of sedation Doodnaught administered.
“The appellant’s quarrel is not rooted in any legal principle so far as I can determine but rather in the factual findings the trial judge made,” Justice David Watt wrote for the Appeal Court. “Those factual findings put paid to the defence position that the conduct each complainant honestly believed took place — and which amounted to sexual assault — simply never happened.”
Doodnaught’s medical licence has been suspended for several years but a disciplinary hearing that could see him barred from ever practising again has been awaiting the outcome of the appeal.
Toronto anesthetist who sexually assaulted sedated patients loses appeal
A complaint to the city’s integrity commissioner alleges Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is improperly using city resources in an appeal where he is acting as a private citizen.
Mammoliti is one of several people who have appealed council’s decision on new ward boundaries at the province’s Ontario Municipal Board, a land use planning tribunal.
Toronto resident Tyler Johnson told the integrity commissioner’s office that at least one member of Mammoliti’s staff, community relations and issues specialist Jason Wang, was assisting with the appeal and that other staff members may be helping also.
Johnson filed the complaint Friday.
“Council’s code of conduct states city councillors cannot use their office or city resources for anything other than business of the city,” Johnson said in an email. “If Mammoliti is at the OMB as a private citizen, he shouldn’t be using city resources.”
Mammoliti did not respond directly to questions from the Star about the use of his staff at the appeal.
But he called the complaint “frivolous” and an attempt to silence him by those he said are in favour of a larger council.
“So in response to those that want to silence me; ‘bite me Mammo style, I am not going anywhere,’” he wrote in an email response which he copied to several other media outlets.
Wang did not respond to a request for comment.
Johnson works for the Toronto District School Board and attended the OMB hearing this week as a private citizen, independent of his job, he told the Star. He said he does not have any political ambitions or connection to Mammoliti.
The city’s code of conduct for members of council states: “No member of council should use, or permit the use of city land, facilities, equipment, supplies, services, staff or other resources (for example, city-owned materials, websites, council transportation delivery services and member of council expense budgets) for activities other than the business of the corporation.”
A Star reporter attended the first three days of the OMB hearing, which began Tuesday, and witnessed Wang sitting with Mammoliti at a table for parties to the appeal, taking notes and assisting the councillor as he cross-examined witnesses called by the city.
Councillors’ staff are funded through the city’s operating budget, which is funded in large part by property tax dollars.
In November 2016, council approved a new ward boundary structure that would increase the number of wards to 47 from 44.
Since then, several appeals have been filed with the OMB, which has jurisdiction to confirm or overrule the boundaries approved by council.
Mammoliti, who filed his appeal in May, did so without referencing his role as a councillor.
“I am a resident, home owner and taxpayer in the City of Toronto,” his appeal letter reads, with no formal letter head and using his home address.
In his letter, Mammoliti complained the structure as adopted by council has “many flaws” and called consultation with the public “minimal.” He said a reduction in the size of council was not properly considered.
The ward boundary changes remove a quadrant in the northeastern part of the area he currently represents, Ward 7 (York West) — a residential area southwest of the Jane St. and Finch Ave. intersection.
At the hearing Thursday, Mammoliti complained repeatedly about a more than two-year consultative process he said did not include enough input from residents. The city’s hired consultants confirmed that while a single meeting in the Jane and Finch area saw no attendees, more than 2,000 people participated overall.
Election results in Ward 7 from 2014 show the polls that would be moved out of that ward as a result of the council-approved boundary changes supported Mammoliti, who won with 46 per cent of all votes compared to the runner-up who won 36 per cent of the votes.
“I’m not here for selfish reasons,” Mammoliti said on the hearing’s first day, arguing more consultation was required.
Mammoliti has previously been the subject of complaints to city watchdogs.
In 2014, the former integrity commissioner found Mammoliti violated the city’s code of conduct when he accepted an $80,000 gift from a fundraising event organized on his behalf. Council imposed the maximum fine by docking Mammoliti 90 days pay. An investigation conducted by the Toronto police financial crimes unit was subsequently launched, but no charges were ever laid.
The city’s integrity commissioner can only recommend punishment to council if she finds a councillor has contravened city rules. Recommended punishment is limited to a reprimand or suspension of pay up to 90 days.
Complaint alleges Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti improperly used city resources
Toronto police said Gerard McGilly was allegedly using many user names online. TCDSB said he has been removed from his position.
Catholic high school teacher facing sexual exploitation charges
No signs yet of a hidden agenda. Just warning signals that there is no agenda to speak of.
What we don’t know about Patrick Brown as premier: Cohn
Malvern Collegiate Institute will photograph the signature-filled wall before it's painted over; petition protesting decision was signed by more than 1,000 students and alumni.
Malvern Collegiate will paint over students’ ‘yearbook’ wall
The Hollywood producer's reputation for sexual assault was well-known, to the point of being joked about on TV.
Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour was a dark inside joke
Diehard separatists are pushing for a definitive declaration of independence in the next few days, while moderates still hope to open negotiations with Spanish authorities.
Infighting threatens to derail Catalan independence efforts in Spain
Paramedics transported 2 men to hospital with multiple stab wounds.
Teen dies, another in life-threatening condition following Mississauga stabbing
Bill Morneau is expected to lay out possible changes Monday to the controversial tax reforms that have put the Liberals on the defensive.
Finance minister tinkers with tax-reform proposals
“I just think there’s no way, at all, ever, not-no-how, that Mexico and Canada can accept it,” an expert who worked on the original NAFTA said of the long-rumoured U.S. proposal.
Another Trump poison pill for NAFTA? Ottawa slams demand for 50% U.S. content in cars
When Andy Rielly plans a trip to see his son Morgan play for the Maple Leafs, he prefers to scope out a long weekend. It’s a hefty trip to Toronto from the Rielly home in Vancouver. Identifying a pair of games a day or two apart — anchored around a Saturday night game at the Air Canada Centre — provides the framework for a worthwhile stay.
So when the elder Rielly recently scanned the early part of the schedule for possibilities, he was unenthused by the offerings. Saturday home games, a traditional Maple Leaf staple, are surprisingly scarce in the opening few months of the season. This Saturday, the Maple Leafs are in Montreal. Next Saturday they’re in Ottawa. Two weeks hence, on Oct. 28, they play at home against Philadelphia — the lone Saturday date at the Air Canada Centre in a six-week stretch in which they play Saturday road contests in St. Louis, Boston and Montreal.
This year the Leafs don’t play a single Saturday home game in the month of December. They’ll play just 11 all season, tied for the lowest number in franchise history in a schedule made up of at least 60 games, according to an analysis of historical schedule data by the Star’s Andrew Bailey. This is the first campaign in the Hockey Night in Canada era — which stretches back to 1952-53 — in which the Maple Leafs will play more Saturday nights on the road (12) than at home (11). They’ll play nearly as many home games on Monday and Wednesday, 10 apiece.
“My dad’s trips to Toronto are based around those (Saturday home) games . . . He was not impressed,” said Morgan Rielly. “That’s strange. I don’t know why that is.”
An NHL spokesperson, citing information provided by league scheduling guru Steve Hatze Petros, said in an email that the scarcity is a product of a few factors, including fewer than normal available Saturday home dates at the busy Air Canada Centre; more Saturday requests from other clubs; and an instance or two in which the Maple Leafs decided a Saturday home game coming off a road trip wouldn’t be in the team’s best competitive interest.
Still, an NHL source said the Leafs requested a lot more Saturday home games than they were given. And this year’s allotment appears to be a new normal in the centre of the hockey universe. A year ago, when the Leafs also played 11 Saturday home games, some chalked it up to an NHL schedule compressed by the World Cup of Hockey and newly introduced bye weeks, and to the presence in Toronto of the world junior championship, which gobbled up arena availability for two-plus weeks.
But Saturday home games have been slowly disappearing for a while. As recently as 2006-07 the Leafs played 19 of their 41 home games on Saturday. By Rielly’s rookie year of 2013-14 the number was down to 15 — a month of Saturdays more than currently on offer. There were 14 a season later. And 12 a year after that.
As a Toronto tradition wanes — and at least some of the club’s legend was built on the romantic allure of the Saturday night pilgrimage to a hockey mecca — there are those who’ll tell you it’s a shame.
“I love those Saturday night home games,” said Nazem Kadri, the veteran centreman. “To me, it’s more fun. It’s not like it changes the way I play or changes the way anyone else plays, but it’s just a bigger stage. You feel like more is on the line, even though it’s not.”
Said Zach Hyman, the second-year forward: “Saturday night in Toronto is a special night.”
Others don’t claim as much of a day-specific attachment.
“Toronto is such a good city to play in, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Saturday. Traffic is less — that’s the only good thing (about playing at home on Saturday),” said Leo Komarov, the veteran forward.
For the local team, there’s another good thing about playing on Saturday. It’s a historically successful night, and not simply at the cash box. In the 70 seasons going back to 1947-48, the franchise’s overall winning percentage, home and away, is higher on Saturdays than it is on any other day of the week. It’s even better on Saturdays at home, where the Leafs have won 53 per cent of games over the time period.
“It’s obviously the best day of the week, I think,” Kadri said.
Moaning about the schedule’s quirks is a regular complaint heard ’round the sports world. At times during his tenure, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock has blamed the tough stretches in Toronto’s 82-game grind on the team’s status as a ratings draw co-owned by a pair of telecommunications behemoths, Bell and Rogers.
“Our schedule has a little bit to do with TV, if I’m not mistaken,” Babcock said in 2015.
GM Lou Lamoriello has said in the past he would make it a priority to endeavour to reduce Babcock’s calendar-related angst, specifically the number of back-to-back games on the slate. While the league ultimately sets the schedule, teams have considerable input. Last season the Leafs played 18 sets of back-to-back games. They’ll play 14 this season. It’s conceivable that achieving that reduction sacrificed a Saturday home game or two. A club spokesperson said team management declined a request to comment on the schedule.
Scott Moore, president of Rogers Sportsnet and the overseer of Hockey Night in Canada, said the whereabouts of Toronto’s Saturday games “has nothing to do with TV,” even if, he said, road games typically add to production costs.
“We have in our contract a number of Leaf games on Saturday. We don’t have any input, nor do we care, whether they’re at home or on the road,” said Moore in an interview.
Moore said the geographical location of a Maple Leafs game “doesn’t change the ratings.” A home game draws the same number of eyeballs as a road one.
There was a time when the Maple Leafs played the majority of their home games on Saturdays. For the bulk of the 1950s and ’60s, when the league featured six teams and the regular-season schedule ran 70 games, the Leafs routinely played 24 games at Maple Leaf Gardens — about 69 per cent of its 35-game home schedule. In the 1970s and ’80s, as the league added more teams and more games, the percentage of Saturday home games still hovered above 50 per cent.
Toronto hockey fans hankering for that throwback feeling will appreciate the tail end of this season’s schedule. Each of its final five weekends will see the Maple Leafs playing where they’re famous for playing — on home ice on Saturday night.
“I think the players get a special feeling for those Saturday home games,” said Rielly. “You get excited to play on that stage.”
Saturday night Leafs tradition fading away: Feschuk
TEHRAN, IRAN—U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to certify the Iran nuclear deal has sparked a new war of words between the Islamic Republic and America, fuelling growing mistrust and a sense of nationalism among Iranians.
The speech has also served to unite Iranians across the political spectrum — from Trump’s declining to call the Persian Gulf, the waterway through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes, by its name, to undercutting those trying to change Iran’s clerically overseen government from within.
That is also likely to strengthen the hand of hard-liners within Iran, who long have insisted that United States remains the same “Great Satan” denounced in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“Under the deal, it was supposed to be that we get concessions, not that we give more concessions,” the hard-line Kayhan newspaper raged.
Iranian officials and media outlets on Saturday uniformly condemned Trump’s comments that angrily accused Iran of violating the spirit of the 2015 accord and demanded Congress toughen the law governing U.S. participation. Trump said he was not ready to pull out of the deal but warned he would do so if it were not improved.
In a televised speech shortly after Trump made his announcement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would remain in the deal, but criticized Trump’s words, referring to them as “curses.”
Rouhani also said Iran would continue to build and test ballistic missiles, something allowed under the nuclear deal though Americans believe it violates the accord’s spirit.
“We have always been determined and today we are more determined,” Rouhani said. “We will double our efforts from now on.”
The Iranian president also offered a list of moments that showed the United States could not be trusted by the average Iranian, dating back to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s power.
Like many others in Iran, Rouhani focused on the fact that Trump used the term “Arabian Gulf” to refer to the Persian Gulf. Some traded online video clips of past American presidents calling it the Persian Gulf, while one semi-official news agency published a photo gallery with the title “Persian Gulf forever.”
Posts with the hashtag PersianGulf and the Iranian flag circulated on social media.
The name of the body of water has become an emotive issue for Iranians who embrace their country’s long history as the Persian Empire, especially as the U.S.’ Gulf Arab allies and the American military now call it the “Arabian Gulf.” Rouhani even suggested during his speech that Trump needed to “study geography.”
“Everyone knew Trump’s friendship was for sale to the highest bidder. We now know that his geography is too,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Zarif went on, with sarcasm, to mention Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, all hereditarily ruled Gulf nations, saying: “No wonder supporters of Trump’s inane Iran speech are those bastions of democracy in the Persian Gulf.”
Iran’s Education Minister Mohammad Bathai also suggested in a tweet that American teachers allocate more time toward teaching “history and geography” — another dig at Trump.
Recent surveys have shown an increasing majority of Iranians are skeptical that the U.S. will live up to its obligations in the nuclear deal. Meanwhile, most have yet to see the benefits of the deal itself as Iran’s economy still struggles to overcome rampant inflation, few jobs and bad loans to its banks.
“Iran has in no way violated the nuclear deal, and as far as we know it has always remained committed to its promises, but it has always been (the Americans) who have broken their promises and have had other options on the table,” Tehran resident Hamed Ghassemi said.
The U.S. has also levied new sanctions against Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, whose forces fight Daesh, also known as ISIS, in Iraq, support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, have tense encounters with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and run the country’s ballistic missile program.
However, the U.S. has balked at adding the Guard’s name to a formal State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. That could have proven problematic, especially with the Guard’s vast economic holdings across Iran.
Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, a Guard commander and spokesman for Iran’s joint armed forces staff, said late on Friday that the country’s military will continue boosting its power and influence.
“We tell the corrupt and evil government of the U.S. that we will continue promoting defensive power of the country, more determined and with more motive than before,” Jazayeri was quoted as saying by the Guard’s news website. “We do not spare a while for defending suppressed people in any point of the world.”
Trump’s combative speech on Iran nuclear deal sparks new war of words
SARNIA, ONT.—In the hours before daylight on Feb. 8, 2014, toxic benzene leaking from a Sarnia chemical plant wafted toward the homes of the Sherwood Village neighbourhood in the shadow of the city’s industrial stacks.
“Yeah, I can smell it,” muttered Dwayne DeBruyne, a plant employee at the Plains Midstream Canada chemical plant who reported the incident just after 6 a.m. to a provincial government hotline for spills.
“So it’s a spill?” the operator from the Spills Action Centre in Toronto is heard asking on a recording of the call, obtained through a freedom-of-information request.
“I wouldn’t classify it as a spill,” he says. “It’s an odour release.”
“I mean, it sounds like a spill to me,” she counters.
DeBruyne concedes with a slight laugh, “OK, we’ll call it a spill … It’s very contained.”
Not so, government records show.
Benzene — which causes cancer at high levels of long-term exposure — was already spreading.
Air quality measurements taken over a few minutes that morning by an independent company hired by Plains Midstream Canada measured benzene levels at 50 parts per billion.
If sustained over 30 minutes, that level would have been 22 times the provincial standard in place today.
This government incident report — along with more than 500 others from 2014 and 2015 — was obtained by a national investigation involving the Toronto Star, Global News and journalism schools at Concordia and Ryerson through freedom-of-information requests.
The documents reveal the details of industrial leaks in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley that released a range of emissions — from a valve left open for three months venting hydrocarbons in 2014 to particulate matter from a boiler stack falling onto cars that year, to a two-hour leak of hydrogen sulphide from tanks in 2015.
Only one public warning has been issued for an industrial incident through the city’s official alert system since it began in 2014. And the ministry has laid charges in four cases in the Sarnia area since January 2013. (One of those was a leak at an Imperial Oil plant in Sarnia the day before the Plains Midstream spill that triggered a $812,500 fine and criticism from residents and the mayor about insufficient public warning.)
“It seems like government oversight is lacking,” says Joyce McLean, senior policy adviser with Ontario’s environment ministry from 1990-95, who reviewed a dozen incident reports.
“There’s basically a toxic soup … Every time that there is an exceedance or a spill, the ministry should be paying attention and prosecuting where necessary. It seems to me … the ministry fell short of their responsibility.”
Around midday Feb. 8, 2014, benzene readings more than a kilometre from Plains Midstream Canada remained twice the current standard if measured for a half-hour, according to the incident report.
The WHO calls benzene “carcinogenic to humans,” and says, “no safe level of exposure can be recommended.”
But Sarnia residents, including those living and working in the immediate vicinity, were never told what leaked that morning.
“First I’ve heard of it,” said Mickey Cvejich, a manager at a motorcycle store nearby. “Completely shocked, I had no idea.”
Reporters visited more than two dozen homes surrounding the plants earlier this year; only one person — who said she worked in health and safety but wouldn’t comment further — knew about that day. The ministry did not investigate or lay charges.
“The incident did not warrant referral to the ministry’s investigations and enforcement branch,” reads a statement from a ministry spokesperson. The spill fell below the regulator’s “emergency screening value” for benzene.
A written response from Plains Midstream Canada says: “There were no injuries or air safety concerns during the event and at no time was there a risk to the public … Third party air monitors … continued to indicate that the air remained safe.”
Dean Edwardson, spokesperson for the Sarnia-Lambton Environmental Association — a non-profit co-operative of 20 industrial manufacturers — says industry is doing all it can to “limit the amount of benzene that might be coming from our facilities.
“We have shown continuous improvement in reduction of volatile organic hydrocarbons, including benzene, over the last number of years. Without regulatory intervention, our companies have strived and made progress in the area.”
Still, newly appointed Liberal Environment Minister Chris Ballard acknowledges the air issues.
“I am so concerned about what I hear that’s happening in this community. This is not right.”
Several experts who reviewed the details of the incident questioned the industry and government response.
Chris Stockwell, Ontario’s Conservative environment minister from 2002-03, called the benzene readings “alarming,” requiring an inspection and possibly charges. “I can’t explain why this would happen frankly.”
Bud Wildman, the NDP minister from 1993-95, said the spill should have raised alarms in the ministry.
“This is the kind of incident where the ministry staff should be on site and should be involved in the investigation,” he said. “Benzene is a very, very toxic substance.”
The ministry did not send an inspector to investigate the site, records show.
“That’s pathetic,” says Elaine MacDonald, an environmental engineer with EcoJustice, who also reviewed the incident report. “They got a free pass, definitely. There seem to be a lot of free passes in Sarnia.”
Some days, you can smell Chemical Valley before you see it.
The odour of chemicals and rotten eggs grows more pungent as you approach the stacks and tanks that dominate the skyline.
Behind the fences of massive industrial plants are companies such as Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Suncor Energy and Plains Midstream — part of an industry that emerged in the late 19th century when oil was discovered in Oil Springs, about 40 kilometres from Sarnia.
Today, 57 facilities are registered as polluters with the Canadian and U.S. governments, all within 25 kilometres of Sarnia.
The tidy rows of brick homes that comprise south-end neighbourhoods sit across the street, or the tracks, from tanks and flare stacks.
Not far from that neighbourhood is the sprawling Aamjiwnaang First Nation, surrounded on three sides by Chemical Valley. An unlucky swing of a bat on a nearby field would send a baseball behind a fence where the industrial stacks stand.
If current zoning laws had existed when many of these refineries were built, some of the petrochemical facilities wouldn’t be where they are.
“This is a historic failure,” said Gord Miller, former provincial environmental commissioner, on the release of his 2014 annual report. “Current land use rules would not allow such a concentration of industry so close to a residential community.”
Sarnia’s oil and gas companies are required to report nearly every pollutant spill — minor incidents, accidents and maintenance issues — to the environment ministry.
A city-operated, industry-funded alert system called myCNN is designed to reach tens of thousands of people in minutes through electronic messages. In the three years since it began, it’s been used once for an industrial spill.
“I can’t imagine there’s only been one incident that people should be drawing their attention to in three years,” says city councillor Brian White. “We have a responsibility to inform people.”
Cal Gardner, Sarnia’s emergency management co-ordinator, says industry has the initial responsibility of notifying the city of incidents.
“There is discretion from industry that we have to follow,” he said. “They are the ones at the control, they are the ones doing the monitoring, they are the ones that are going to be charged and fined if they are at fault for failing to notify. But we also have municipal fire departments that go and respond and monitor and check in as well and we also make sure Spills Action Centre is notified.”
The province has been tackling air quality in Sarnia, says Ballard.
He noted benzene levels in Sarnia have dropped significantly in 25 years.And last year, Canada’s toughest benzene emission standards came into effect in Ontario.
“Everything that we’re made aware of, we respond to in some way. But it’s a scaled response. I mean if someone spills a toxic material on the ground it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to face a charge, right?
“We need to continue to drive (pollutant levels) down.”
But cities across Ontario are struggling to meet the new standard. Last year, when it came in, an industry-operated air monitor in Sarnia registered the highest annual benzene level in three years, nearly four times the new limit of .45 micrograms per cubic metre.
A 2016 ministry report on petroleum refining standards found three Sarnia facilities in the top four per cent of 147 facilities surveyed in the U.S. and Ontario for benzene levels measured at the facility property line. That report indicates five of six Ontario petroleum refineries were estimated to be emitting three to 10 times the new annual standard.
The industry has argued the new standard is so “restrictive” it needs time to upgrade equipment and several facilities have been given an amnesty on the new targets.
“Our companies have engaged . . . in a number of measures for the reduction of benzene using best available technology,” says Edwardson, of the industry association.
EcoJustice’s MacDonald says the delays amount to a “loophole” for industry.
Meanwhile, troubling air quality readings persist.
In the First Nation of Aamjiwnaang, a mobile unit operated by the ministry that tests air monthly has captured benzene spikes. On April 26, 2016, for example, benzene levels were logged at 161 micrograms per cubic metre — 23 times Ontario’s current standard for a half-hour.
Ballard acknowledges there is much work to do before industry in Sarnia reaches provincial emission standards.
“We have to have that low goal and we have to be very clear . . . that our goal is year-over-year reductions.”
Weekly, often daily, Ada Lockridge watches smoke or flames billow from the plants that surround her house in Aamjiwnaang. She thinks it is slowly eating away at her health.
“If I fed you arsenic every day… I’m poisoning you. You could charge me,” she says. “These companies, they’re leaking things everyday, and slowly doing harm, and they just seem to be getting a slap on the wrist or nothing at all. Because we have to prove it. Then we have to prove which company. But there’s so many, how can you point out one?”
There is much speculation, but little clarity, on the impact the concentration of refineries and plants has on the health of city residents.
“Obviously, the real question is do [petrochemical companies] alert when there’s an issue?” says Ron Smith, a one-time software programmer at Suncor, now a Sarnia police employee and president of the Sarnia Historical Society. “I really believe that they do. I think there’s a lot of ramifications and fines for them not to . . . Maybe I’ve got the glasses on incorrectly, where I’m thinking … they’re all playing by the same rules.”
When Smith spoke, his wife was expecting their first child. His home is about two kilometres from an Imperial Oil plant.
“I just hope that they’re good corporate citizens and they are doing that. And if not, then there’s the provincial and federal governments that have things in place that manage them and address them if they’re not following those guidelines, you know?”
Since 2007, a group called the Lambton Community Health Study, which includes the county’s medical officer of health, has sought funding for an independent study on the city’s air and water and any public health effects. It was never done.
While industry has offered funding, the province and federal governments have not.
A modest survey released by the group, based on a phone poll of 500 residents, an online survey and five open houses in 2010 and 2011, found concerns.
About 80 per cent felt pollution from local industries was causing health problems for them or their families, most commonly citing cancer or respiratory health. A “predominant” theme in the findings: “a need for better communication and increased transparency on the part of industry.”
Ballard said he would consider funding an independent study.
The public data that exists is inconclusive. Hospitalization rates for respiratory problems are higher in Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang than nearby Windsor and London. There are more lung cancer cases and mesothelioma than the Ontario average, in part because of the region’s asbestos legacy.
But leukemia and blood cancer rates are consistent with the rest of Ontario.
Critics say the data, collected at the county level, misses the impact on people in the immediate vicinity of Chemical Valley.
“The highly exposed population, their risk is diluted,” says Jim Brophy, former executive director of Sarnia’s Occupational Health Clinic.
“Leukemia incidence and lymphoma incidence among the industrial workers could be through the roof but you wouldn’t see it if they’re all in the population as a whole.”
His reading of available scientific evidence is that exposures in Sarnia “pose a cancer risk to the general population and may even be more profoundly dangerous for children or pregnant women,” he says.
“This idea that (government is) on guard and they’re watching what’s going on and they’re protecting people from harm, this is really a naive view.”
Having a First Nation community next to gas, oil and chemical plants amounts to “environmental racism,” he says.
“There’s no way that a white community would be up against the fence line with one of the largest industrial concentrations in the country,” he says. “Anybody who is informed on this issue knows how dangerous this really is.”
Robert Cribb can be reached at email@example.com
The Price of Oil series is the result of the largest ever collaboration of journalists in Canada, from the Toronto Star, Global News, the National Observer and journalism schools at Concordia, Ryerson, Regina and UBC.
Robert Cribb Toronto Star
Carolyn Jarvis Global News
Emma McIntosh Ryerson University School of Journalism
Sawyer Bogdan Ryerson University School of Journalism
Morgan Bocknek Ryerson University School of Journalism
Robert Mackenzie Ryerson University School of Journalism
Patti Sonntag, Michener Awards Foundation
Sandra Bartlett, Global News
Sean Craig, Global News
Stephanie Gordon, Global News
Fallon Hewitt, Global News
Nathan Sing, Global News
Claire Loewen, Concordia University Department of Journalism
Michael Wrobel, Concordia University Department of Journalism
Chris Aitkens, Concordia University Department of Journalism
Jeremy Glass-Pilon, Concordia University Department of Journalism
Lucas Napier-Macdonald, Concordia University Department of Journalism
Patrick Cain, Global News
Patti Sonntag, Michener Fellow/Concordia University
In Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, is ‘toxic soup’ making people sick?In Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, is ‘toxic soup’ making people sick?In Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, is ‘toxic soup’ making people sick?
WHITEHORSE—His mother puts the painkillers in the 4-month-old’s milk bottle to stop his crying and make him sleep. And he does — so quietly that she may have forgotten he was even there. She disappears that December night in 1978 and never comes back.
By the time his grandparents find him, the infant is alone, unconscious, the codeine eating through his stomach lining.
The emergency surgery in Edmonton marks the beginning of 39-year-old Gabriel Smarch’s 2,000-page government case history.
The pages tell a story of repeated failures to keep a vulnerable child safe. Throughout his life, Gabriel asked for help, telling social workers, foster parents, nurses and doctors what was happening to him. He was ignored or not believed over and over again.
By the time he says his school principal, a man identified in court documents only as “J.V.”, raped him as an 8-year-old, the trajectory of Gabriel’s life seemed irreversible.
It’s also the story of a victim becoming a violent abuser, a cycle that is far too common in communities like the Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse — communities still grappling with the intergenerational trauma of Canada’s colonial violence.
Indigenous children are drastically overrepresented in the foster care and youth justice systems. Nearly 70 per cent of 161 clients that the Yukon Child Advocate’s Office dealt with in 2015-16 are Indigenous, and the vast majority of those are child welfare cases.
“Many of the children we work with are intergenerational survivors of residential schools,” said Annette King, the territory’s child advocate.
Gabriel shared his entire history with the Star because he wants people to understand the cycles of abuse he was caught up in, and how they continue today.
Gabriel is 6 years old
His family is large. Housing is cramped. The extended family lives sometimes three or four to a room, with siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles all underfoot. In the evenings, most of the adults go to bingo, leaving the children in the care of one of the aunts or uncles.
“One night I woke up to pain,” Gabriel recalled, decades later. His shoulders begin to shudder. “It hurt. My uncle was having sex with me. He finished, and I couldn’t stop crying. Stop crying, he said. Everything will be OK.”
As a child, Gabriel doesn’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse but his medical records show he repeatedly told nurses, doctors and social workers he was afraid of being sent home because he said he’d be beaten. He asks to be sent to a foster home, but every time his social workers insist there isn’t enough evidence of abuse to take him into care.
Gabriel is 8 years old
In his short life Gabriel has been to the emergency room 10 times for everything from pneumonia to facial lacerations, a cut from a table saw, two head wounds, and scars that look like they came from cigarette burns, but are later determined to be impetigo, a painful rash that can be caused by poor hygiene.
Records show he is consistently late or absent from school. When he does arrive, he is distracted and irritable, and often caught stealing food from other children. One of his teachers suspects it is because he isn’t being fed at home.
A local doctor is worried. He writes a letter to Gabriel’s social workers accusing them of failing to collect enough evidence to document his mistreatment and take him into permanent care.
“The game we are playing is extremely dangerous,” Dr. Robert Menzies writes. If something isn’t done, Gabriel “could easily be further brutalized, and perhaps maimed or killed.”
In the spring Gabriel and a group of other children are taken to J.V.’s house for a sleepover, according to the lawsuit he would file years later.
Gabriel says he woke up to J.V. raping him.
“They say when you’re molested as a child your innocence is taken from you and it’s replaced with evil,” Gabriel said. “I was replaced with that.”
Despite repeated requests, including phone calls, emails and a hand-delivered letter, J.V. wouldn’t answer the Star’s questions for this story.
Gabriel is 9 years old
He sits in the pickup truck’s cab with his cousin Adrian. The two boys, not yet teenagers, huddle in the night, trying to ward off the cold creeping through their thin cotton sweatshirts.
“We used to do that all the time, run away from the family,” Gabriel recalled. “When they caught us it was always bad. They’d make us cut our own willow branches for them to whip us with.”
A psychological assessment in March 1988 recommends Gabriel be placed in therapeutic foster care for at least a year. He is sent back to live with his family.
“It wasn’t an upbringing,” says Jane McIntyre. “It was an existence he had.”
Jane was a sort of unofficial foster parent to Gabriel many times over the years, but their relationship never had any legal foundation. When things in Gabriel’s life got desperate, she would take him in. Other times he would show up on Jane’s doorstep, with nowhere else to go. He lived off and on with her for years.
Gabriel still visits Jane occasionally, when he needs support. Sitting in her kitchen decades later, he listens quietly as she fixes coffee.
“Those men in his family, they would be drinking,” she says, “and they would hold him up by his shirt with all of them in a ring. They’d tease him and poke him and pull his pants down. He was just a little boy. It was sick.”
Gabriel became friends with some of Jane’s other foster children. With his temporary family, young Gabriel spends weekends cross-country skiing and eating family meals — distractions from his life of anger and pain.
Gabriel is 10 years old
On account of Gabriel’s behaviour problems he is placed in the Above 60 treatment centre, a now-shuttered residential youth facility outside Whitehorse run by Mike Rawlings.
Almost immediately Gabriel starts running away, “escaping” as his psychological evaluation will later describe it.
He goes AWOL 15 times in three months. Each time he’s apprehended he’s returned to Rawlings’s care.
According to his statements to a psychologist in 2016, Gabriel says he was abused sexually and physically at the group home repeatedly, including at least two incidents of anal rape by unidentified staff members.
He tells the psychologist that after one such assault, he sat in the shower crying for hours.
“They’d take away my boots so I couldn’t run away,” he says.
But that doesn’t always stop him. One time Gabriel and a friend hitchhike as far as Vancouver Island. They are discovered by police after sneaking onto the Vancouver Island ferry. Family and Child Services records confirm the incident.
Gabriel’s records from the Justice Department show that when they were apprehended, Gabriel tells the RCMP officer about the alleged abuse at Above 60. He pleads with the officer not to return him there, and not to tell Rawlings.
Instead, social services records show Gabriel is sent back to the home, Rawlings is told everything, and records say no investigation is done. A case worker makes a note to follow up “if the boy makes more accusations of abuse.”
Gabriel is 17 years old
He is arrested for assault and an attempted break-and-enter.
In the six years since he ran away to Vancouver Island, Gabriel has racked up convictions for a previous assault, stealing a car, assault causing bodily harm and possession of stolen property. His case notes from Above 60 say he is “out of control.”
In January 1996 a nurse makes a note on his emergency room intake form that he’s been admitted twice in 24 hours. “The past history on this young man is abysmal for abuse,” the nurse writes.
By this point Gabriel is drinking heavily.
Between April 1, 1996, and June 30, 2012, Gabriel is treated in the emergency room for broken fingers, multiple head injuries, cuts, contusions and damaged ribs, almost all attributed to getting into fights.
Gabriel is 19 years old
Blackout drunk at a party, he’s arrested for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl who was passed out. His arrest record says he had to be dragged off the victim. Gabriel says he woke up in the drunk tank with no memory of the assault, greeted with a pair of handcuffs and a ride to the arrest processing unit at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
He says, and insists to this day, he has no recollection of the assault. He pleads guilty as a way of trying to take responsibility, he says. He’s sentenced to 16 months in jail, and two years of probation.
Though he couldn’t see it at the time, Gabriel’s first lengthy stint in jail will become a turning point.
Almost immediately he starts collecting jailhouse infractions for bad behaviour — mouthing off, fighting, stealing from the kitchen.
But then he meets guard Harvey Reti, a retired infantry soldier and Olympic boxer working at the jail.
Sitting across the kitchen table from his old coach years later, Gabriel recalled their first meeting.
“I was working out in the gym and Harvey just approached me and said, ‘Maybe if you try punching it this way, try moving that way,’ and that was the start of the relationship right there. It bloomed,” Gabriel said.
“We saw a lot of guys like Gabe come through the system,” Harvey said. “When you read part of their past you can start dealing with them rather than just being the boss. You try to be a friend, and a helpful friend.”
Gabriel responded to boxing and to Harvey because they spoke to him in a way that no one had ever tried before. Harvey showed him how to harness his anger.
But aside from hooks and right crosses, Harvey taught Gabriel another lesson. “It takes the bigger man to step back from a fight sometimes,” Harvey said.
After his release, Gabriel starts boxing training with a furious intensity. The heavy smack of knuckles on leather shudders through his apartment building’s thin walls, broadcasting to every tenant the confined fury of the man in unit 5. He starts dressing almost entirely in black: black jeans, black hoodie, black steel-toed boots laced high up his shins like a gladiator’s armoured greaves.
It won’t be the end of his conflict with the law, but along with heavy doses of Tylenol 3s and marijuana, martial arts become a way to help Gabriel keep the monster inside.
Gabriel is 21 years old
Gabriel is released on probation with the condition that he enrol in a sex offender treatment program. Notes from his probation officer, Colleen Geddes, say he is doing well.
Gabriel “seems proud of himself. He is staying sober and learning to control his anger,” Geddes’s notes say.
His first child is born, a son, though it isn’t long before Gabriel and his mother have a falling out. His son goes to live with his maternal grandmother, and Gabriel doesn’t see much of him.
His penchant for minor crimes continues, with a number of arrests for thefts under $5,000 and probation breaches, but his violence and drinking appear largely under control.
In the early hours of Dec. 5, 1999, Gabriel is picked up by the RCMP and brought to the ER after being sexually assaulted by an unknown person in the Kwanlin Dün village.
His clothing is collected for evidence, though no one is ever charged. The hospital conducts an examination with a rape kit and discovers a ragged laceration almost five centimetres long between his legs.
Probation officer Geddes writes in her notes that after the sexual assault Gabriel “took it hard,” and started drinking heavily again.
A month later he’s dragged unconscious from a car by RCMP officers after going off the road and crashing into a telephone pole.
Gabriel is 22 years old
He starts dating Marie Wilcott, and moves in with her and her daughter.
One evening Marie wants to go partying, and leaves Gabriel at home with her daughter. When she comes back late that night, Gabriel is angry. They get into an argument, and Marie tries to leave.
Gabriel chases her into the street. He pulls her by her hair, screaming, back inside the kitchen. Her daughter is hiding in the next room.
The police are called. They find Gabriel in the basement, trying to hide in a clothes dryer. He is charged with assault and uttering threats.
After the assault Marie leaves Whitehorse with her daughter and moves to Vancouver. Like too many Indigenous women fleeing violence, mother and daughter are homeless for a while until Marie gets back on her feet. Now she helps teach colonial history and the legacies of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people to outreach workers in the Downtown East Side.
Meanwhile case notes from the Whitehorse jail say Gabriel is a “high risk for suicide.” He’s placed in solitary confinement.
A case note from April 24, 2001, written by an unidentified jail employee, says Gabriel is asking repeatedly for gym time.
“He asked to see me in my office and before I could ask what he wanted he burst into tears. I ended up spending an hour and a half with him between the yard and my office, and most of that time he cried,” the note says.
Gabriel is 33 years old
A case note from his probation officer in 2004 hints Gabriel may be getting paid to fight in illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches.
His health records from 2005 say he’s brought unresponsive to the hospital by ambulance, eyes rolling back in his head. He’d been in a fight the previous day, and was kicked multiple times in the head. He tells doctors he collapsed in the shower.
He has two more children, daughters with two mothers, but is only peripherally involved in their lives.
His criminal record continues to grow. He’s arrested and charged multiple times for assaulting another girlfriend, and rotates in and out of jail.
In 2008 he arrives, yet again, at the hospital emergency room. He claims he was beaten up by the RCMP while in custody. “Smashed head against cement wall, dragged across floor, slammed head into floor,” the intake record says.
Notes from his probation officer say he was brought in on an outstanding warrant and was “resisting arrest.”
During this time Gabriel’s probation officer convinces him to start seeing a counsellor, Joseph Graham. Over time, Gabriel tells Graham the full extent of the sexual abuse he’s suffered. It’s one of the first times Gabriel names the thing that’s torturing him.
After the sessions with Graham, Gabriel decides to do two things: charge his uncle with sexual assault, and sue the Yukon government over what he says J.V. and Above 60 did to him.
Gabriel is 35 years old
On the morning of his uncle’s trial, Gabriel dresses in white track pants and sneakers. His armour — the heavy rings, steel-toed boots, black hoodie — is gone. Pinned to his sleeve is a tiny metal cross. He stands in his apartment, staring out the window, not speaking. Tupac Shakur’s “The Way It Is” blasts from the stereo, shaking the thin windowpanes.
On the stand, exposed, Gabriel struggles to maintain his composure, especially under cross-examination. He bristles at every question from his uncle’s defence lawyer. He argues with the judge. As soon as his testimony is finished, he stands and bolts from the courtroom.
In the witness room, behind closed doors, he presses his fists into his eyes.
“There are no more words for this,” he tells a court support worker, his shoulders shaking. “I’ve used them all up.”
Tears stream down Gabriel’s face, landing on the black T-shirt stretched tight across his chest.
There is a knock at the door. The court sheriff pokes his head in to let Gabriel know that his uncle and family has gone. Gabriel walks out of the courthouse and into the spring sunshine. He strides three blocks to a nearby church, checks his pockets for change for the donation jar, and walks inside.
The rows of pews are empty, silent. Gabriel tiptoes towards the altar. He crosses himself, kneels and clasps his hands together.
“Thank you, Lord, for giving me the strength …” he begins, his voice trailing off to a murmur. For 15 minutes he stays almost motionless, head bowed.
“I prayed for my uncle,” he says, back outside the church. “I prayed for his forgiveness and for the family. I prayed for forgiveness, too, for all the people I hurt, and for the family, all of them. You have to. God will judge all of us one day.”
A week passes.
“Hey, brother,” Gabriel says, looking up to the sky and waving. At the sound, the eagle dips its wings and scans the man in black, walking along the road beside McIntyre Creek.
It’s a good omen, Gabriel says. Eagles always are. That’s why Gabriel comes here, to this little strip of marshland wedged into a canyon just off the Alaska Highway. There are eagles everywhere, often a half-dozen at a time. Coming here is a ritual Gabriel has been practising since childhood in one of the only places he feels calm.
Gabriel doesn’t know it yet, but the case against his uncle is about to be thrown out. Gabriel urges a potential witness to come to court and back up his story. He loses his temper when the witness says no.
The Crown decides to withdraw its case.
Walking beneath the eagles in the canyon, unburdened by that knowledge, Gabriel says he can feel the crushing weight of his past lifted away on the winds.
“It feels like the freedom I didn’t get, the happiness, the peacefulness,” he says. “Where no one could f---ing touch you or punch you or lock you behind some f---ing door.”
It’s been more than two years since Gabriel first came forward about his uncle, two years since his family threw him out and disowned him for it, he says. Gabriel figures they were afraid of being tainted by the shame he says he wanted to expose.
“I wanted to be ordinary, like every other kid. I wanted to finish school, do good things, have my own house and a vehicle for my kids. But it was never like that,” he says. “It’s still not like that.”
Days later Gabriel’s probation officer finally gives him the news that his uncle was not convicted.
He starts drinking again. Weeks pass. Gabriel is nowhere to be seen. Loud music reverberates from inside his apartment, but there’s no answer to a knock at the door.
At 6 a.m. one morning, a reporter’s phone rings. Gabriel is on the other end of the line. “Hey. What’s goin’ on?” he says, his customary greeting. He sounds dopey and confused.
An hour later, Gabriel stumps down the stairs from his apartment. He sways, and crashes into the doorframe. Fresh, red scars run down his arms. His knuckles are ravaged and evidence of a fight is written across his face. He winces and holds his sides. He thinks his ribs might be broken.
He got jumped, he says, by a couple guys from the Kwanlin Dün village. There was a baseball bat, he says. There were boots.
He won’t say exactly what happened, who started the fight or why.
“This place is death, man,” he says. “It’s f---ing evil. I need to get out of here.”
Gabriel is 36 years old
He is leaning against a hotel room windowsill, staring out at the neon night. Vancouver’s Granville St. and the entertainment district stretch out before him. It’s early evening, but university students are already starting to fill the bar-lined street.
In the morning, he’ll see Marie Wilcott, the woman he assaulted, for the first time in more than a decade.
After his uncle’s trial, word reached Marie in Vancouver. She says she knew Gabriel’s early life had been hard, but she had no idea how hard.
“It totally broke my heart,” she says.
Despite their violent history, she decided to reach out.
A friend at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation offices told Gabriel about a college program in Vancouver. It’s a course in auto mechanics, and it’s designed specifically for older Indigenous students like Gabriel.
Gabriel flies to the city to visit Marie.
On the SkyTrain from the airport, Gabriel stares out the window, arms clasped tight around his chest. He spends most of the day walking around Vancouver, staring up at the skyscrapers but saying little. Finally, he’s standing outside the downtown Shoppers Drug Mart, the appointed meeting place, but at first he won’t go in. Finally, he steps forward as the automatic doors open.
Marie is standing inside, waiting. When she sees him, her face is unreadable. Gabriel waves faintly. Marie walks forward, her high-heeled boots rapping on the shopping mall floor. By the time they meet, Gabriel is laughing and Marie is smiling broadly. She links her arm through his and leads him back out to the parking lot.
They climb into her van and drive, winding through the city but not really seeing it, lost in talk. She drops Gabriel at Vancouver Community College for his meeting. The head of admissions tells him he needs to get his high school diploma and improve some grades. Gabriel gets a tour of the auto mechanic shop. He shakes hands with the head instructor, and walks out smiling.
The day ends at Jericho Beach, as the sun is setting over the city skyline. Marie and Gabriel walk along the sand. Gabriel pulls a joint from his pocket and walks alone towards a breakwater. Marie watches him go.
“I don’t think honestly in my heart that his family ever wanted to treat him like that,” she says.
“But that’s what was learned. That’s what was taught through residential schools. Now we have generations of people in their 20s and 30s struggling and wondering why this happened to me.
“Will Gabriel ever get why that happened? That’s huge stuff. Who knows if that ever happens?” she says.
She pauses, watching Gabriel standing alone and staring out across the water.
“There’s no timeline on this. All I can say is pure patience. Pure understanding of what’s going on. Aboriginal people are speaking up about this now, and we’re doing it slowly. It took 200 years to do us wrong. It’s going to take 200 years to get better.”
The ocean laps softly at the beach. Seagulls wheel in the sky.
“I want Gabriel to find some peace,” she says, finally. “Find happiness. There is happiness in him. There is a good guy in there that deserves to live a good life.”
Present day. Gabriel is 39 years old
After speaking with the admissions staff at Vancouver Community College, Gabriel returns to Whitehorse, enrols in classes at Yukon College and, though it is occasionally a struggle, earns his high school diploma.
He starts spending more time with his children, going on shopping trips with his daughter and driving his son to school each day.
Things appear to be improving for him, but as potential trial dates for his lawsuit over J.V.’s alleged abuse are set and rescheduled repeatedly, his anxiety begins to rise.
He’s arrested for assault, and ends up back inside the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. While he’s unable to collect his social assistance cheques, the rent on his government subsidized apartment goes unpaid. When he is released on bail he finds an eviction notice taped to his door.
He gets into another fight — jumped again, he says, by three guys. He fights them off, smashing one in the head with a rock and spattering blood across his car’s windshield.
The RCMP issues another warrant for Gabriel’s arrest. He ends up living in his car for three months until the social assistance office gets the paperwork on his apartment sorted out. Eventually he turns himself in to the police, and is charged and released on recognizance pending another trial date.
The Yukon government puts a settlement offer on the table in his lawsuit against J.V. Gabriel rejects it, but when the government says it will put him on the stand in open court, and use his lengthy criminal history against him, he signs a settlement offer. He gets $19,000 in exchange for dropping the allegations about Above 60 entirely. The settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing by the government or J.V.
Most of the money goes to pay off debts that Gabriel has accumulated over the past few years. In no time he has only a few thousand dollars left.
In August 2017, Gabriel says his social assistance is cut off because his settlement money means he no longer qualifies. His toilet is broken. The heat doesn’t work.
“I shouldn’t have to use that settlement money,” he says.
“I nearly died for that money, and what did it get me?” he asks, looking around at the pockmarked walls of his apartment. “This? Is this what it got me?”
Jesse Winter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Drugs at 4 months. Sexual abuse as a child. Now he fights to keep the monster inside
Rescued hostage Joshua Boyle lashed out at his kidnappers, calling for the Afghan government to track down those members of the Haqqani network who raped his wife, Caitlan Coleman, and ordered “the murder of my infant daughter.”
He made the statement to journalists gathered at Pearson International Airport just hours after landing in Toronto. His hands shook as he read the script he had carefully written in a small notebook.
While Boyle did not take questions, his comments confirmed what the couple had darkly hinted at in the letters home and “proof-of-life” videos his captors released during their five years in captivity.
Coleman said in one video that her children had seen her “defiled.” Boyle suggested cryptically in a letter that Coleman had a forced abortion.
While he spoke to the press, the rest of his family was loading into an RCMP van — with baby seats bought by Boyle’s mother already installed — and preparing to drive to their Smiths Falls, Ont., home.
Joshua’s parents, Linda and Patrick Boyle, along with Boyle’s three sisters, who had brought their nephews cellophane balloons with Canadian flags, had a chance to meet the young couple and the children privately in a small room inside the airport shortly after they landed.
Boyle told journalists that one of his children had required medical attention during this time.
It is hard to fathom the shock Friday must have been for the children — Jonah, Noah and Grace — who know no other life than being held hostage. Just the plane rides from Islamabad to London to Toronto would have been one of the many firsts they will now experience.
Their arrival in Toronto ended a five-year-long kidnapping ordeal that has captured international attention.
But even before their plane touched down, questions already had been raised.
What were the exact circumstances of their rescue?
How will these children cope?
Why did the couple go backpacking in Afghanistan in the first place?
Friday night, Boyle told journalists he was there to help “the most neglected minority group in the world, those ordinary villagers who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.”
Earlier Friday, Coleman’s father, Jim, told ABC News that he was angry with his son-in-law: “Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable.”
Coleman, 31, and Boyle, 34, were travelling across Central Asia when they crossed into Afghanistan in October 2012 and were kidnapped. Their families did not know Afghanistan was part of their itinerary.
The powerful Taliban-linked Haqqani network held them captive until Wednesday’s dramatic rescue by Pakistani forces, which was reportedly based on intelligence provided by the U.S. All three of their children, boys aged 4 and 2, and an infant daughter, were born in captivity.
Boyle spoke to the Star Thursday from a guesthouse in Islamabad and again briefly at the airport Friday night. He said his family was “psychologically and physically shattered,” but they were looking forward to “restarting.”
But if the Boyle and Coleman story follows the narrative of other hostage cases, then moving on means looking back, and public celebrations about their freedom will quickly turn to recriminations about their character.
An eight-part Star investigation, titled Held Hostage, found that hostages are either hailed as heroes, derided as foolish, or worse.
And rescues are always political, while determining the facts about them is always difficult.
The most detailed account so far of what happened Wednesday in Pakistan, near the border of Afghanistan, comes from Boyle earlier this week.
He told his parents in a Thursday morning phone call that he was in the trunk of the car with his wife and children when shooting began.
He said he was hit by shrapnel and five of the kidnappers were killed. The last words he said he heard his captors yell were: “kill the hostages.”
Later Thursday, when speaking with the Star, he said some of the captors fled and he was desperate to help investigators find them so they could face justice.
Boyle and Coleman will have quite a story to tell.
But so do their relatives — stories that include the years of negotiations that moved from Ottawa to Washington and New York to Doha, Kabul, Islamabad and a few places in between.
Linda and Patrick Boyle say they have met people over the last five years they never thought they would now have on speed dial.
Just this year Ambassador Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, became an important member of an unofficial team of advisers, which included diplomats, security consultants, government officials, journalists and other professions more difficult to categorize.
Zakhilwal, who is also a Canadian citizen, reached out to the Boyles after watching a December “proof-of-life” video that showed their grandsons for the first time while Joshua and Caitlan pleaded for release.
“I was surprised that women and children were held hostage for so many years and I had not even heard about it,” Zakhilwal told the Star. “I wanted to help with their release if I could, or if not, at least better treatment of them.” On his visits back to Canada, he met with the Boyles to discuss what could be done.
In January, back in Pakistan, he quickly helped get letters and videos from the Boyles and Colemans to the kidnappers. In reply, Coleman and Boyle sent a video in which Coleman says it will be a “miracle” if her family is freed and Boyle praises the speed with which the letter was delivered. Whoever this “Zakhilwal” is, Boyle said, he puts Canada Post to shame.
Boyle’s parents believed at that time there could be a miracle, clinging to a New York Times report that suggested a rescue could be former U.S. president Barack Obama’s parting act.
It was under Obama that U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release was negotiated with the Haqqanis; a politically unpopular deal that set Taliban detainees from Guantanamo free, in exchange for a soldier who had deserted his post.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, had called Bergdahl “a dirty rotten traitor” on the campaign trail, falsely claiming “six young beautiful people were killed trying to find him.” He even lamented the “old days” and pretended to fire a gun twice. “Bing bong,” he said.
As the inauguration neared, officials from Global Affairs Canada and the RCMP flew to Qatar — always a big player in hostage negotiations — then on to Kabul.
Then on Jan. 20, Trump became the 45th president. And there was no news.
“We’re just hanging on,” Patrick Boyle told me when we met a few weeks later. “It’s so hard when you get your hopes up.”
“We had never felt closer to getting them home. And we’ve never been more scared of losing them.”
Flash forward to Friday and Trump heralding their rescue as a sign of Pakistan’s new respect for America.
“I have openly said Pakistan took tremendous advantage of our country for many years, but we’re starting to have a real relationship with Pakistan and they’re starting to respect us as a nation again and so are other nations,” he said.
Details beyond what Boyle has said about the rescue are slowly emerging in media reports — although some are conflicting and most are from unnamed sources.
There was much speculation Friday as well about reports that Boyle had refused to board a U.S. flight once freed. Boyle’s father said he believed his son was fearful of getting on a flight that was bound for the U.S. base at Bagram.
But Boyle appeared Friday to dispute the claim that he turned down any transportation.
“I assure you I have never refused to board any mode of transportation that would bring me closer to home, closer to Canada and back with my family,” he said.
Joshua Boyle demands justice from Afghan governement after returning to Canada
SONOMA, CALIF.—Rising winds fanned the California wildfires again Saturday, forcing hundreds more people to flee from their homes in the state’s fabled wine country and testing the efforts of crews who have spent days trying to corral the flames behind firebreaks.
Just a day after firefighters reported making significant progress, the winds kicked up several hours before dawn and pushed flames into the hills on the edge of Sonoma, a town of 11,000. About 400 homes were evacuated as the fires threatened Sonoma and a portion of Santa Rosa that included a retirement community that evacuated earlier this week, authorities said.
Dean Vincent Bordigioni, winemaker and proprietor at the Annadel Estate Winery awoke at 3 a.m. with flames erupting on the ridge above his property. “Things went to hell last night,” he said. “They’ve got a good fight going on.”
Nearly a week after the blazes began, the fire zone had swollen to an area as long as 100 miles on a side. The flames have left at least 35 people dead and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses, making them the deadliest and most destructive group of wildfires California has ever seen.
On Saturday, an unknown number of additional structures burned down in a rural area, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Judy Guttridge, who was evacuating for the second time this week, said her daughter saw flames advancing over the side of a hill around the same time Bordigioni did and told the family to get out.
“I have good insurance, everything,” she said. “All the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids are fine. I’m OK with that.”
Firefighters spent much of the last week digging defence lines to keep the flames from spreading. On Friday, they tried to fortify the edge of Sonoma using bulldozers and other heavy equipment.
But if winds push the flames over that barrier, neighbourhoods including some of the town’s costliest homes were in the path, along with a historic central plaza built centuries ago when the area was under Spanish rule.
The renewed strength of the winds was “testing the work that we accomplished,” Berlant said. The greatest risk was that winds would blow embers across the firebreaks and ignite new blazes.
Winds gusting up to 40 mph were expected to continue throughout the day and into the evening.
Also Friday, a lucky few of the nearly 100,000 people who have fled from their homes got to return, and examples of charity were everywhere, along with a sign that began popping up in more and more places: “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”
Astonishing video released from the fire’s hellish first night showed the courage of the deputies and firefighters working amid the flames.
“Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!” an unidentified Sonoma County deputy can be heard yelling in the body-camera video released by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. The footage was recorded as he urged hesitant drivers to speed out of a town that was being devoured by flames.
The deputy is shown lifting a disabled woman out of her wheelchair and into an SUV to rush her out of town. And he drives through walls of flame looking for more people to help.
“And that’s just one person,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said at a news conference.
At an RV evacuation site at Sonoma Raceway, evacuees counted their blessings, trying not to think about what they had lost and what they might yet lose.
The mood at sunset Friday was upbeat, even cheerful, as children and dogs played in the twilight. More than 100 campers were parked by the side of a highway. There were portable bathrooms and tables groaning from donated water bottles, stuffed animals and food.
Ron Vitt, 75, and Ellen Brantley, 65, sat in chairs watching the cars go by, a small table between them holding drinks: gin with cocktail onions for him and gin with lime for her. They joked as their dog bounced about happily.
“There is a sun that’s going to set. There’s a dog who is really happy,” Vitt said. “So you got to bring some sanity into this whole thing.”
At Sonoma Valley High School, the parking lot was packed with cars and vans. Middle school Principal Will Deeths supervised volunteers and made sure people had plenty of water and a filter mask. He said more than 100 people spent Thursday night at the school, which has been converted into a shelter.
He said the community response has been phenomenal. Hairdressers from Oakland came to fix people’s hair and a young man played guitar to entertain families, he said. They even had a birthday party for a 5-year-old boy, complete with a donated cake from a local bakery.
“Two days ago we were in need of size 5 diapers,” he said. “Someone put it on Facebook and within an hour, four or five cars pulled up, two or three boxes. Boom, boom, boom, here you go.”
More than a dozen fires broke out nearly simultaneously on Oct. 8 and people had little time to escape. Most of the deaths were elderly people.
In all, 17 large fires still burned across the northern part of the state, with more than 9,000 firefighters attacking the flames using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.
Gusty winds fan California wildfires, force yet more evacuations
VANCOUVER—The restaurant industry may be booming in British Columbia, but a combination of the high cost of living, tight profit margins and a shrinking workforce has made it difficult for kitchens to find enough staff.
Eric Pateman, president of Edible Canada, said the company’s restaurant at Vancouver’s popular tourist destination Granville Island has been short anywhere from two to five chefs at a time for more than two years. That’s meant scaling back the restaurant’s hours or turning down special events, which has been a financial blow, Pateman said.
While the cost of living in Vancouver is a contributing problem, Pateman said a range of issues including long hours, low wages, the gratuity system and rising business costs are factors as well.
“The millennial generation . . . even the older chefs I’m seeing and the older cooks I’m seeing, are just saying ‘We don’t want to do this anymore. That’s not the career we want. That’s not how hard we want to work.’ It’s certainly not an easy industry,” he said. “I think there needs to be some levelling in the playing field . . . to get that wage up to a living wage, which at the end of the day entices more people to be in the industry.”
Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president Western Canada with Restaurants Canada, said B.C. may be experiencing a “perfect storm” of challenges in finding chefs but communities across the country are having similar problems.
The number of young people getting into the restaurant business is shrinking while the demand is growing, he said.
A regional “mismatch” of skills and needs exist that leaves some rural communities without enough young people to hire and people aren’t willing to move to fill the vacancies, he said.
“People want to be employed near where they live and these jobs are not high executive paying jobs, it just doesn’t make economic sense to move somebody,” he said.
The cost of running a restaurant has also increased significantly — notably with rising food costs — but menu prices have remained stagnant, leaving little room to raise workers’ wages, he said.
Jamil Mawani of Jambo Grill in Vancouver said the family run business has turned to non-traditional labour markets and temporary foreign workers to fill the gaps in the kitchen.
While the restaurant business tends to attract younger staff, he said they’ve looked to older workers with experience cooking Indian and African inspired cuisine to work as chefs in their kitchen.
They do hire plenty of younger staff too, Mawani added, to create a balance of energy and skill.
In an industry with a high turnover, Mawani said they’ve managed to hang on to a few long-term employees by improving wages and offering flexible hours.
A perk of having the family involved in the business is the owners can “thrown on an apron” when there have been prolonged vacancies, he said.
Many are advocating for the federal government to step in and issue more visas for foreign workers to help fill the gaps.
Darren Clay, executive culinary chef instructor at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, said international students typically seek visas to stay and work after completing their program, but in the past year those visas don’t appear to be getting approved.
“(It’s) a little bit boggling for me because we have such a shortage of workers and these are all well-trained people who work and want to stay here to help out this industry and they are being sent home after their studies,” Clay said.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement all international students can apply for the post-graduation work permit program and can even qualify for permanent residency through an express program. The programs do not address specific labour shortages and industry-based or occupational data is not collected, it said.
The department said businesses can apply to hire workers through the temporary foreign workers program if they can demonstrate they’ve been unable to hire Canadians or permanent residents.
But Pateman said the process of requesting a foreign worker for every vacant position is onerous and the government could make it easier for small businesses to meet their labour demands.
Low wages, small workforce leaves booming B.C. restaurants without chefs
Thousands of residents across the GTA were without power after rain and high winds knocked down trees and power lines Sunday afternoon.
Environment Canada issued a wind warning for the city as winds gusting up to 90 km/h were expected. The warning has since ended.
As of 11 p.m. Sunday, Toronto Hydro said at least 6,000 people were still experiencing power outages across the city. Earlier in the day, there were an estimated 25,000 customers affected.
The company said some customers could expect to be without power into Monday as crews continued to work overnight.
Power outages were also being reported in other regions of the GTA. As of Sunday evening, 28,000 PowerStream and 37,000 Hydro One customers were without power. Hydro One said customers experiencing outages should prepare to be without power overnight.
Environment Canada said winds gusting 70 to 80 km/h would continue until early Sunday evening, but diminish overnight. Toronto will be mainly cloudy with temperatures dipping down to 6 C.
With files from Bryann Aguilar
Thousands of Torontonians without power after winds knocked down trees, power lines