Articles on this Page
- 10/21/17--11:30: _Woman stabbed in ‘r...
- 10/21/17--04:00: _How every investor ...
- 10/20/17--17:44: _Civil servants kept...
- 10/20/17--17:14: _Inside the governme...
- 10/21/17--15:26: _Experts worried as ...
- 10/21/17--07:00: _Late great Ed Whitl...
- 10/21/17--15:36: _Trump plans to rele...
- 10/21/17--16:46: _Article 2
- 10/21/17--16:49: _Four people arreste...
- 10/21/17--17:31: _Toronto Police find...
- 10/20/17--17:14: _Inside the governme...
- 10/21/17--11:30: _Woman stabbed in ‘r...
- 10/21/17--16:20: _Mourners remember s...
- 10/21/17--12:00: _Quen Chow Lee, lead...
- 10/21/17--18:13: _The murder of Malta...
- 10/12/17--15:36: _Fallout from Mother...
- 10/21/17--20:31: _Man dead after shoo...
- 10/21/17--15:17: _New coffee hybrids ...
- 10/22/17--03:00: _John Tory defends h...
- 10/22/17--03:00: _Who will channel So...
- 10/21/17--11:30: Woman stabbed in ‘random attack’ in Lawrence Park
- Brooklyn-based camera shop operator Eugene Mendlowits, 51, owned a 4-per-cent stake in the tower through a shell company called Barrel Tower Developments. In 2005, as the Toronto tower was in development, he and two partners purchased a New York sweater factory and converted it into lofts without the city’s permission. The building subsequently racked up more than 100 complaints from tenants, for issues relating to inadequate heat and faulty wiring, and dozens of bylaw violations. In 2009, the city ordered everyone evicted because conditions were “hazardous to illegal tenants occupying (the) building.” In 2014, one of Mendlowits’ partners in the factory — Menachem “Max” Stark — was kidnapped and bundled into a minivan, his body later found smouldering in a gas station dumpster. Mendlowits declined to answer written questions for this article.
- Former Chicago nursing home administrator David Meisels, 70, is listed as a director of a shell company called Harvester Developments, which owned 4 per cent of the Toronto tower. Since 2001, when he invested in the project, Meisels and his nursing home companies have been sued at least five times, including for allegedly failing to make staff welfare and pension contributions and for allegedly diverting money from public insurers — Medicare and Medicaid — to relatives and close associates. He has denied the claims and the cases were settled out of court. In 2010, federal authorities cut funding to one of his facilities, fearing that residents’ safety was at risk. Meisels and his son, Joseph, who Meisels said was also involved in the tower investment, have not responded to requests for comment.
- London-based auto body shop owner Jacob Gross, 43, is co-director of Harvester Developments and the former head of an almost identically named company in the U.K., Harvester Investments Ltd, which has been purchasing small-scale real estate in and around London since the mid-1990s. He has also held leading roles in more than a dozen other small U.K. companies, most in local real estate and automotive repair.
- Two more shell companies, Exeter Development Inc. and Haddar Development Corp., owned a collective 15-per-cent stake in the tower. The only name connected to them in public records is Joseph Teitelbaum, 43, a London, U.K., landlord, who was 27 years old at the time of the deal. Teitelbaum owns several million pounds’ worth of rental units through his interests in 42 companies registered in the U.K.. One of Teitelbaum’s companies defaulted on obligations to cover cost overruns for the Toronto tower and both were bought out in August 2011. Reached for comment, Teitelbaum denied personally investing any money in the Trump Tower and said he was a nominee signatory only. He would not name the investor he said he represented.
- Little-known Toronto billionaire Alex Shnaider, 49, would become the Toronto projects’ principal investor. Shnaider made his fortune in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s. In less than a decade, he went from mopping floors at his parents’ deli near Bathurst and Steeles Sts. to making hundreds of millions through the purchase of a Ukrainian steel mill. He then diversified into other industries like malls, convenience stores and electricity across Eastern Europe.
- Toronto businessman Valery Levitan, 54, who worked with his father running a slot machine-repair service, owned a 12.5 per cent stake through a numbered Ontario corporation. Levitan, who convinced Shnaider to make his initial investment, also co-founded a company specializing in banknote validation technology for casinos. Levitan declined to comment.
- 10/20/17--17:14: Inside the government’s $200,000 budget artwork
- 10/21/17--15:36: Trump plans to release last cache of secret JFK assassination files
- 10/21/17--16:46: Article 2
- 10/21/17--17:31: Toronto Police find dead body in North York ravine
- 10/20/17--17:14: Inside the government’s $200,000 budget artwork
- 10/21/17--11:30: Woman stabbed in ‘random attack’ in Lawrence Park
- 10/12/17--15:36: Fallout from Motherisk's flawed tests a national tragedy
- 10/21/17--20:31: Man dead after shooting in Newmarket
- 10/21/17--15:17: New coffee hybrids suggest bright future for endangered industry
- 10/22/17--03:00: John Tory defends his record heading into his final year as mayor
Police are searching for a suspect after a woman was stabbed in a “random attack” in the Lawrence Park area Saturday.
Const. David Hopkinson said the woman made her own way to hospital and police later found a crime scene at Weybourne Cres. and Dinnick Cres., southeast of Lawrence Ave. E. and Yonge St.
Hopkinson said the woman’s injuries weren’t life-threatening.
Police said the suspect is a white male in his 20s with a thin moustache and skinny, scruffy hair. He wore a black hoodie and is between five feet seven inches and five feet eight inches tall, police said.
Woman stabbed in ‘random attack’ in Lawrence Park
Let’s say you’re Donald Trump.
It’s 2002 and you’ve agreed to have your name emblazoned across the top of the tallest residential tower in Canada, a $500-million, five-star condo-hotel in downtown Toronto.
Here’s the thing: Only months into the project, your lead developer is publicly exposed in the pages of the Toronto Star as a fugitive fraudster on the run from U.S. justice. Your major institutional partner — the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company — bails shortly after.
Your remaining partners in the deal — a group of investors assembled by the criminal who was just outed — include a New York camera store owner, a former Chicago nursing-home administrator, two small-time landlords in Britain and a little-known Toronto billionaire who earned a fortune in the former Soviet Union.
The one thing they all have in common — no experience in condo tower development.
Do you pull out? For Trump, the answer was no. The billionaire dug in, repeatedly told the world he was investing his own money in the project — claims that would prove false — and gushed about its spectacular promise, knowing his profits were guaranteed.
“Nothing like this has ever been built in Toronto,” Trump said in 2004 as he relaunched the stalled project. “It is going to be the ultimate destination for business, pleasure and entertainment.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Trump’s Toronto tower is built but bankrupt — a rare failure in Toronto’s booming downtown condo market.
In the last decade, more than 400 condominium towers of 14 storeys or more have been successfully built in Toronto, according to records at City Hall. Among those, the half-dozen industry insiders and analysts interviewed for this story could identify only one that went bankrupt after completion: the Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto.
An investigation by the Toronto Star and Columbia Journalism Investigations in New York reveals the tower that until recently bore the U.S. president’s name was so hamstrung by inexperienced partners and an unorthodox foreign financing deal that it couldn’t be saved by Trump’s public assurances of excellence.
“It’s pretty hard to make a mess of a real-estate investment (in Toronto),” said Toronto lawyer Marc Senderowitz, who represented four of the project’s minority investors. “In retrospect, I could have taken their money, bought a small commercial building and sat on it for 15 years ... Things just went off the rails.”
A review of bankruptcy documents and public records in three countries, as well as interviews with the rotating cast of players involved in the deal over more than a decade provides new insights about Trump’s business approach, the unconventional partners he works with and the risks for those who bet on the Trump brand.
In the end, every investor lost money on Toronto’s Trump Tower. Everyone except Trump, who walked away with millions.
“Trump never put money in; he just took money out,” said John Latimer, a former Toronto developer who worked briefly for the project.
Now that Trump is U.S. president, his conduct during the Toronto project gives an indication of how he might manage challenges with far higher stakes than a mere real estate deal.
“As I understand it, in Toronto, Trump made inaccurate statements” that may have influenced people who invested in the project, said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in legal and government ethics. “He has shown a willingness to speak inaccurately and encourages people to rely on his inaccuracies, even when that ends up causing harm to them.”
“In the case of the Toronto deal, the harm was financial. In the case of the presidency,” she said, it could be “apocalyptic.”
Trump projects around the world — from the former Soviet republics ofGeorgia and Azerbaijan to New York City— have attracted media scrutiny for their partners with Russian links and the Trump organization’s questionable due diligence.
The parallels between Trump’s tower in New York’s SoHo neighbourhood — which also entered bankruptcy — and the Toronto development, are striking: Both towers used the same hybrid hotel-condo model; both ran into trouble when the global financial crisis hit in 2007 and some unit purchasers walked away, while others sued. In both projects, Trump claimed to have a financial stake, only later to admit that it was a licensing deal. In both projects Trump family members presented inflated sales figures when the towers, in reality, stood nearly empty.
In the New York case, Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka were investigated for potential felony fraud charges for their role in misrepresenting sales figures.
Today, more than five years after the Toronto tower opened, the skyscraper on Adelaide St. remains three-quarters empty, current property records show.
Last fall, the tower’s development company, Talon International Inc., went bankrupt, unable to repay more than $300 million owing on the construction loan. While the tower’s new owners have removed Trump’s name, the full story of who partnered with Trump to build in Toronto has never been told.
The first try
Initially, the name at the top of the tower on Bay and Adelaide Sts. was to read “Ritz-Carlton.”
The project was the dream of Trump’s original partner, Leib Waldman, a Toronto condo developer with a track record of several successful towers and apartment blocks across the GTA. Waldman hired the prestigious architect Eberhard Zeidler and raised seed money in the Orthodox Jewish community in Toronto, New York and London, U.K.
Waldman’s minority investors, some of whom have never been publicly identified, have varied and often colourful backgrounds, but no experience in condo tower development.
The four foreign partners — Mendlowits, Meisels, Gross and Teitelbaum — made their investments through shell companies registered in New Brunswick.
“They had to have corporate entities to make the investments, but those corporations never carried on active businesses,” said Senderowitz, who helped set up the shell companies. “They were only incorporated for the purpose of owning ownership shares in this project.”
The only investor who agreed to speak on the record was Gross.
“I don’t know why this failed and so many other projects were successful,” Gross said. “It is mind boggling to us.”
At the Trump Organization, concerns over Waldman emerged almost immediately, said a source familiar with the deal.
“We quickly learned that Waldman was an empty suit. I recall one or two of his cheques bouncing,” said the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the development. “He was difficult and disreputable to deal with.”
The Ritz-Carlton project collapsed in 2001 after the Star revealed Waldman was a wanted fugitive who had fled to Toronto from the U.S. after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement in 1995.
Waldman was detained for extradition, leaving everyone pointing fingers at each other.
“Neither the Ritz-Carlton nor the Trump Organization would have entered into this partnership if they had knowledge of this,” a senior Trump executive said in the aftermath of the Waldman revelations. “To some extent we were looking for the Ritz-Carlton to do due diligence.”
The Ritz-Carlton pulled out, leaving the minority investors, the architect, lawyers and engineers with unpaid invoices and little hope of seeing the plan come to fruition.
Trump remained convinced his brand would save the project.
“Having his name on a project brought great credibility to the project, particularly if the developer did not have a great track record,” said the source familiar with the project.
For a short while, Waldman continued to run the tower project from a jail cell in Etobicoke.
“I had to go to the Mimico detention centre to have him sign documents. I drew the short straw. I’d never been in a prison before,” said Senderowitz.
Contacted for comment in Israel, where he moved after serving his prison sentence in U.S., Waldman said: “There was the Toronto Star article and the project was getting some bad publicity. I removed myself.”
John Latimer, a former Toronto developer, was brought in to rescue the project. He called a meeting and told everyone: either you keep working for free in order to get this project off the ground or you’ll never get paid anything.
“They wanted to keep this thing alive so they could get their money back,” Latimer said in an interview.
Zeidler, the tower’s architect, recalled being relieved.
“We are $270,000 in the hole, but at least the project is moving,” Zeidler wrote in his autobiography.
Shnaider steps up
Alex Shnaider, who had originally agreed to a smaller investment alongside the others, was persuaded to become the project’s main backer.
Shnaider initially agreed to a sit-down interview for this article but cancelled more than a month later. Instead, a Washington, D.C., public relations firm acted as a go-between, relaying written questions and answers.
On paper, Shnaider was a promising lead investor. He was wealthy, and despite his lack of condo and hotel experience, he was a business phenom.
Under the banner of the Midland Group, Shnaider built his sprawling business portfolio in the countries that had just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. He started out in the early 1990s, working for Seabeco, a controversial investment firm run by his father-in-law, Boris Birshtein, who had links to powerful political figures in the former Soviet Union.
From there he expanded rapidly. By his early 30s, Shnaider — with his partner Eduard Shifrin, a Ukrainian businessman — was already co-owner of one of the largest steel mills in Ukraine. By 2001, they were able to acquire 93 per cent of the factory for the bargain-basement price of $70 million (U.S.), according to multiple media reports. Shnaider’s spokesperson challenges that figure, saying in a written statement that they paid “significantly” more.
In 2005, their stake had reportedly grown to be worth $1.2 billion.
Shnaider then diversified into industries as varied as Russian Formula One racing, Moscow shopping malls, Ukrainian convenience stores, an Israeli soccer team and the Armenian electricity grid. He was rewarded with hundreds of millions in profits. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.
Back home, Shnaider was living a life few Canadians can imagine.
In 2006, he bought a $4.3-million (Canadian) mansion in Toronto’s exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood, which sold last year for $22 million. He travelled on a private jet and vacationed on his yacht, the 52-metre Midlandia.
Two years later, Shnaider’s former wife rented a hangar at Pearson International Airport to celebrate his 40th birthday, allowing their jet-setting guests to fly in and out for the party.
He would one up her for their daughter’s 16th birthday in 2013, hiring Justin Bieber to perform in a private concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
For all his wealth, Shnaider was virtually unknown in Toronto until he stepped into the limelight alongside Donald Trump in 2004 to launch pre-construction sales for their tower.
Three years later, wielding golden shovels, they broke ground side by side at a ceremony to mark the start of construction.
Financial documents, made public when Shnaider’s development company, Talon, went bankrupt, show his European bank financed the tower in a way no Canadian institution would; he hired his friend Levitan, the slot machine-repair businessman, to manage the construction and sales, and Levitan’s wife, Inna, to do the interior design; he allowed his sales director, Adina Zak, to sell units to herself and flip them to buyers at a profit.
Shnaider’s spokesperson denied he had a decision-making role in the tower.
“Mr. Shnaider did not have an executive role in this project and was not a developer — he was not involved in the sale of units,” she said.
Waldman had been the only one with any experience in tower development, and his departure left a team of condo rookies, as well as his son, Joseph, to whom he transferred his 11-per-cent stake in the tower. Levitan was put in charge of managing the construction and sales for the $500 million tower.
By all accounts hard-working, Levitan was in over his head.
“The trouble is, as nice and smart a guy as Val was, he didn’t really know the process,” said Latimer, the developer who briefly worked on the project.
But the lure of Trump’s wealth and success convinced the tower’s backers that they would succeed, said Senderowitz, the Toronto lawyer.
“They just wanted Trump’s star power to pull this off,” he said.
Teitelbaum, in particular, was convinced of its success, Latimer recalled.
“All he could see was the dollar signs ringing up. This was gonna be a big payday for him,” said Latimer. “Two years later he called me to ask if I’d buy a suite in the hotel. That made it seem like things were in trouble.”
Teitelbaum rejects this account, claiming he was never an investor.
Until now, the real ownership of the tower has been shrouded in secrecy.
Without ever providing details, Trump started telling reporters in 2001 that he had made a “substantial” investment in the Toronto tower. As late as 2007, Trump was publicly bragging about his supposedly savvy investment, which would have benefitted from the appreciating Canadian dollar.
“People are saying, ‘great play,’ but I actually didn’t mean to invest because of the dollar. I just ended up being a genius for all the wrong reasons,” Trump told the Star in 2007.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Talon disclosed Trump only had a contract to license out his name and manage the hotel.
“He showed up when they broke ground, did a press conference … and walked away,” said Senderowitz.
Levitan and Shnaider became the tower’s real salesmen, but their project was a tough sell on Bay St.
Levitan met with Canadian construction financiers in a series of meetings in 2006, according to sources.
“Everyone passed on it,” said one Toronto financier, who met with Levitan and turned him down.
Even though Shnaider was based in Toronto, the fact that virtually all his assets were overseas didn’t sit well with local lenders.
“We didn’t like the fact that it was an inexperienced developer coming from abroad,” said the financier, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted by his employer to discuss confidential financial matters. “If a loan goes into default, we have to go after the debtors. When they’re foreign, we can’t get their assets.”
In the end, the financing for the tower’s construction came from an Austrian bank, Raiffeisen Zentralbank Osterreich, which had little experience in the North American market.
One of its only other projects on this side of the Atlantic was the Red Leaves resort in Muskoka, a project that also went bankrupt.
Raiffeisen, which invests heavily in the former Soviet republics and had financed several of Shnaider’s previous ventures, faced scrutiny about a decade ago when a deputy central banker in Moscow accused it of acting as a conduit for wealthy Russians to launder money abroad. Raiffeisen denied wrongdoing, according to news reports.
The bank declined to comment for this article.
Adam Powadiuk, director of commercial finance at First National Financial, a real-estate lender in Toronto, reviewed the tower’s financing agreement and said it contained many “wacky” elements that “amplify the risk in a significant way.”
Typically in Toronto, banks require developers to sell enough pre-construction units to cover the entire cost of a loan before any funds are released. Not so in this case.
Raiffeisen asked Talon to pre-sell $250 million in condos and hotel rooms — only about 80 per cent of the $310.5-million loan.
Talon didn’t even reach that lower bar.
While Shnaider publicly stated the tower had sold more than $250 million in units, the bankruptcy documents tell a different story. Based on purchasers’ deposits, it appears Talon only ever sold $218-million worth of units.
One investor, auto body shop owner Gross, said that the tower’s backers were aware construction started before enough units were sold.
“We knew,” Gross said in an interview. “We were hoping that time would be on our side.”
In public, the sales figure was constantly shifting.
Seventy five per cent of the units were sold, Shnaider said in 2007, shortly before groundbreaking. A few months later, Trump said the number was 70 per cent. By 2012, Talon was reporting 60 per cent were sold. The next year, the company admitted less than half the units had been bought.
In 2007, Shnaider announced he would buy for himself the tower’s $20-million, 12,000-square-foot “super penthouse” — Canada’s most expensive condo at the time. Public records show he never closed the deal. And Shnaider wasn’t the only buyer to back out.
According to Talon’s bankruptcy, the company only ever collected $108.3 million in unit sales — less than half of what it had said was sold and more than $200 million shy of what was needed to pay off the principal of the loan.
While revenue wasn’t coming in, construction costs were spiralling due to the exceptionally small building lot, design changes on the fly that would cut 13 storeys off the top of the planned 70-storey tower and eight months of delays caused by extreme weather.
When Talon maxed out the bank loan, the investors had to come up with another $106 million to cover the tower’s completion, bankruptcy records show.
The minority investors contributed at first but eventually, Shnaider was paying for everything out of his own pocket.
At the same time, records from the Panama Papers leak show Shnaider and his partner sold their stake in the Ukrainian steel mill to a VEB, a bank controlled by the Kremlin. They received $850 million (U.S.). Shnaider’s lawyer initially told the Wall Street Journal that $15 million of that money went to cover cost overruns at the Trump Tower. He later told the New York Times that none of the sales proceeds were used to cover costs in Toronto.
Even once the tower was complete, few people wanted to buy in.
Typically, banks intervene quickly when sales stall in an effort to protect their investments, real estate experts say. They bring in their own sales and marketing teams; they might even bring in contractors to finish construction.
But between 2008 and 2013 — the depth of the global financial crisis — the Austrian bank pushed back the repayment deadlines 12 times, according to bankruptcy records, waiting for sales to materialize. The tower was built, but it sat three-quarters empty, hemorrhaging money just to keep the lights on.
When Talon finally declared bankruptcy last year — nine years after taking out the construction loan — it still owed Raiffeisen $301 million on the $310 million it borrowed, bankruptcy records show.
Powadiuk called that level of outstanding debt “enormous” and “very strange” in the Canadian context.
“I can’t picture a scenario, the way that most lenders in Canada do these things, where you end up with that kind of chain of events,” Powadiuk said.
An empty grand opening
The tower’s lavish ribbon cutting — originally planned for September 2010 — didn’t take place until April 2012.
The pomp and ceremony included Trump and his children, each with a pair of golden scissors, surrounded by models, alongside then mayor Rob Ford bearing a wide smile.
As dignitaries and Toronto’s most powerful businesspeople gathered to fete the project’s success, the tower’s failure was likely already sealed.
Another five-star hotel, a new Ritz-Carleton, had just opened in Toronto and a second, the Shangri-La, was about to do so. Trump’s decade-old project looked stale by comparison.
“This one was dragging on and suddenly it has a bad smell,” said Latimer.
After the hotel opened its doors, too many rooms sat empty. Hotel room purchasers were hit with thousands of dollars of additional fees and commercial property tax. One disappointed buyer tried to auction off his condo, but no one met the minimum bid. Several unit ownerssued Shnaider’s company for misrepresenting their projected profits and a judge ordered one buyer’s deposit returned. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of other buyers is pending in Superior Court.
When business didn’t pick up, Talon publicly clashed with Trump, blaming the future president’s people for mismanaging the hotel. The president’s organization filed a legal motion to prevent the termination of its licensing agreement, alleging Talon was plotting to sell the remaining units and walk away. The motion was shelved.
One thing was now clear: Trump’s brand offered no guarantee of success.
“(Trump) wasn’t hands on,” said Senderowitz. “He just delegated everything. His own management style was literally chaotic.”
Everyone was losing money, including Shnaider.
“Mr. Shnaider lost more money on the Trump Tower Project than anyone else,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. “Mr. Shnaider had high hopes for the project and wanted it to succeed. These hopes were not realized.
“The project was unsuccessful, in Mr. Shnaider’s opinion, because of the global financial crisis and its effect on buyers’ and potential buyers’ ability to close or obtain funding to close, and because of inexperienced management.”
In the end, the tower and every investor’s stake in it went to JCF Capital, which had bought the tower’s debt and paid the Trump Organization to exit its licensing agreement in June. Two days later, JCF sold the hotel to InnVest, a major Canadian hotel operator. The 74 unsold condos are now back on the market, being offered under the St. Regis brand.
The total amount of money Trump received from the failed Toronto project is unclear.
Public financial disclosure documents filed by Trump in the U.S. show he collected $1.7 million (U.S.) in management fees from the Toronto project between 2014 and 2016. Walking away from the deal brought Trump’s organization a further payout of at least $6 million (Canadian), according to a 2017 Bloomberg report citing an inside source.
Requests for comment from The Trump Organization went unanswered.
“I don’t know why it failed. It’s a mystery to me,” said the source familiar with the project. “The only thing I can really conclude is the Trump brand didn’t have popularity in Toronto.”
The five letters at the top of the tower came down this summer, amid global headlines and downtown rubbernecking. The hotel has been temporarily renamed the Adelaide in anticipation of a full rebranding next year.
All that remains of Trump’s name now are a few plaques adorning the building’s street-level facade. They’ve been covered with a silver film that doesn’t quite hide the infamous moniker.
Shnaider and the minority investors have dispersed. No one wants to have anything to do with Trump anymore. Even Shnaider, who heavily promoted the tower, now wants to distance himself from its namesake.
“Mr. Shnaider and Mr. Trump met a total of four times in person,” reads a written statement from Shnaider’s spokesperson. “The two did not discuss substantive business issues. They do not have any ongoing relationship.”
With files from Asaf Shalev
Columbia Journalism Investigations. CJI is a team of leading investigative journalists, Columbia University faculty, graduate students, postgraduate fellows, coders and others who conduct deep investigations into urgent issues of public interest, without respect to beat. Funding is provided by the Graduate School of Journalism.
How every investor lost money on Trump Tower Toronto — except Donald Trump, who made millions anyway
Senior civil servants quietly decided not to kill off email accounts of departing political staff during Dalton McGuinty’s final months in power in case they contained crucial records on the cancellations of two gas plants.
The testimony Friday from cabinet office legal counsel William Bromm underlined officials’ concerns that the premier’s office was not saving documents demanded in freedom of information requests and by a committee of MPPs.
Knowing that a new premier would be taking over in February 2013, top bureaucrats departed from the standard procedure of closing email accounts, Bromm told the criminal trial of two top McGuinty aides accused of deleting documents.
“We were uncomfortable if we just deleted and decommissioned these accounts,” added Bromm.
Asked by Crown prosecutor Sarah Egan why officials, including cabinet office chief administrative officer Linda Jackson, kept this decision from political staff, Bromm, a lawyer, replied candidly.
“We didn’t want to be in a position to be told not to do it.”
Former McGuinty chief of staff David Livingston and his deputy, Laura Miller, have pled not guilty to breach of trust, mischief in relation to data and misuse of a computer system in the alleged wiping of hard drives.
Bromm said the email decision was made in November or early December of 2012, a few weeks after McGuinty prorogued the legislature amid a political furor over the plant cancellations and resigned, triggering a Liberal leadership race.
The cautious approach meant “we could unfreeze . . . and search” the email accounts when the legislature resumed sitting, Bromm said.
He fully expected opposition MPPs dominating legislative committees in the minority parliament to revive legal demands the energy minister produce all documents detailing reasons behind the gas-fired power plant cancellations in Oakville and Mississauga before the 2011 election.
Officials were also aware an opposition motion of contempt of Parliament aimed at then-energy minister Chris Bentley could also be revived, with potentially serious personal legal consequences for him, Bromm said.
He testified that Livingston thought it strange that MPPs could legally demand emails detailing the plant cancellations, which corroborates evidence earlier this week from former cabinet secretary Peter Wallace.
“Mr. Livingston indicated, at the time, he thought that particular power was ridiculous,” Bromm said. “They could, in fact, order a minister to produce any record.”
Wallace testified Monday that Livingston called that power “political bull----.”
In a surprise move, lawyers for the prosecution and defence agreed Friday that a maximum of 400 deleted computer files are at issue in the case — a tiny fraction of the original police estimate.
OPP forensic tests of hard drives recovered from McGuinty’s office through search warrants show White Canyon deletion software was installed on 20 of the 24 computers examined by retired detective Robert Gagnon.
“Of the 632,000 files deleted on these computers, a total of no more than 400 included any user-created content,” Miller lawyer Scott Hutchison said, referring to files created by political staff.
The rest were standard computer programs and similar files, he added.
McGuinty was not a subject of the OPP investigation and co-operated with police.
Civil servants kept emails in case they shed light on McGuinty’s gas plant cancellations
Ottawa wanted the design and advertisements to be “friendly and positive” and targeted to “all Canadians, with a focus on families, seniors and businesses.”
Inside the government’s $200,000 budget artwork
Scientists warn that further testing could cause the mountain to collapse and release radiation.
Experts worried as mountain hosting North Korea’s nuclear blasts shows signs of exhaustionExperts worried as mountain hosting North Korea’s nuclear blasts shows signs of exhaustion
Special pace groups will try to run at the pace of the masters running legend, who redefined how aging affects the body before his death at age 86 in March.
Late great Ed Whitlock still sets pace at Toronto Waterfront Marathon
President tweets intention to disclose documents by Oct. 26 deadline, although CIA said to be lobbying against move despite belief they do not contain any bombshells.
Trump plans to release last cache of secret JFK assassination files
Four people have been arrested following protests in Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday afternoon involving anti-Justin Trudeau and anti-racist demonstrations.
Police officers gathered in the middle of the square, flanked by both demonstrations.
According to Toronto Police Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook, two of the individuals were charged with causing a disturbance, one with assault of a police officer, and the other with having a prohibited weapon that appeared to be a form of pepper or bear spray.
Four people arrested after clashing anti-Trudeau and anti-racism demonstrations at Nathan Phillips Square
Toronto Police say a body has been recovered in a ravine near Black Creek in North York.
Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook said that Saturday morning around 9 a.m. police were called to a ravine by Derrydown Rd., where a body was found. Police say a bystander someone spotted it as they were walking by.
She says that the death is being treated as suspicious, and an autopsy should be completed within the next 24 hours.
The age and sex of the victim have yet to be disclosed and next of kin have not been notified.
Toronto Police find dead body in North York ravine
OTTAWA—Between Feb. 1 and March 13 of this year, functionaries in some of the most powerful corners of the federal government, including the finance department and Prime Minister’s Office, were seized with a series of pressing questions.
Should the teenage boy on the cover of the upcoming budget, for instance, be really happy with a big smile, or just sort of happy with a smaller smile?
Should the little girl in the next photo be holding a soccer ball, or playing the cello? Actually, what about an electric guitar? No, wait, let’s make it an acoustic guitar — but make sure you add some music notes floating in the air.
Such were the preoccupations of government officials that are detailed in a 607-page trove of documents released recently to the Ottawa-based investigative journalism website, Blacklocks. They pertain to the Liberal government’s meticulous planning for the design of the 2017 budget cover — the physical front and back of the book — as well as accompanying fact sheets, web advertisements and explanatory videos.
The whopper in the release, first reported last week, is that the finance department spent $212,234 on this exercise. That figure was compared with what the former Conservative government spent on budget covers, which, at a reported $600 in one instance, appears paltry — or frugal — in comparison.
But, of course, the $212,000 cost of the current regime’s budget cover also included ad spending and videos for the 2017 budget’s website. Still, the documents show that just the photo shoot for the four images on the budget cover — actors posed at a studio in Montreal — cost the public $24,990.
The stack of emails and design details also provides a look into how carefully this government can manage the images it releases.
In early February, Natalie Rieger, senior marketing advisor in the finance department, nailed down an agreement with the advertising giant, McCann. Their Montreal office would design the budget cover, draw up the factsheets and make promotional videos. The McCann team of copywriters and artists got to work and appeared to liaise regularly with Rieger as their work progressed.
The government’s priorities were outlined in a background document provided to the agency. Ottawa wanted the design and advertisements to be “friendly and positive” and targeted to “all Canadians, with a focus on families, seniors and businesses.”
The government wanted to highlight what it considered chief accomplishments and priorities for the Justin Trudeau regime. These included the tax cut for a middle-income bracket, their re-jigged payout scheme for families with kids, planned enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan, billions of dollars committed for infrastructure and their “innovation agenda.”
The finance department also instructed the agency to consult with Ottawa “regarding the depiction of minority groups.”
By Feb. 6, Rieger was in touch with officials from the Privy Council Office — what’s often called the “nerve centre” of the bureaucracy that supports the cabinet and prime minister.
Over the next five weeks, chains of emails show detailed discussions between Rieger, the higher-ups in government and the McCann agency. They zeroed in on the concept they liked — the cover would depict an arrangement of four photographs, each one representing a “pillar” of the budget vision. The government liked the agency’s idea to add “chalk” drawings on top of the photos. These would be “superimposed onto real-life contexts to illustrate visions of the future.”
For the “innovation and skills” category, they wanted a “female older millennial” in her mid 30s, or “perhaps early 40s Gen Xer,” one email suggested. An “elderly man” fit the bill for their vision of “Stronger Canada,” while a “young girl,” maybe 7 or 8, would fit well into the “Fair Government” category, which would reflect their commitments to building a country where any child can achieve their dreams.
Finally, for “Infrastructure,” the poster boy would be a “sharply dressed” teenager wearing “mid-tone colours” and glasses. This last piece of attire received particular attention, with the ad agency even offering a mockup of the shape and size of the glasses in one of their missives to Ottawa.
Dan Lauzon, the director of communications for Finance Minister Bill Morneau, appears to have settled the matter in an email Feb. 23. “I vote glasses,” he wrote. “Put me on team hipster.”
But there was also the matter of the actors themselves. Whose faces should be the faces of the 2017 budget? Sorry, it’s #Budget2017 (an official made a point of underlining the importance of that capital B).
Following their instructions to consult on the depictions of minorities, a McCann executive wrote: “We would like to know about ethnicities you would like us to cover. Asian? Native? Indian? Latino? There are four models, so we will have to choose.”
The agency provided a host of options, prompting Rieger to ask if “No. 2” for one of the categories is Indigenous. The response came that Indigenous people “are identified by the yellow squares.”
They went with No. 2 — the future engineer with the “hipster” glasses.
1. Light bulb
After ditching plans for a graduation hat, the government settled on a light bulb to represent the flash of brilliance for the woman on the boat (which is supposed to be an icebreaker, by the way). Emails show they took pains to make sure the bulb was an LED, rather than one of the old-fashioned, kilojoule-gobbling variety.
2. Heart monitor
Initially, this was to show the man’s blood pressure reading. Presumably to remain “positive,” as their mandate dictated, it read a perfect 120/80. But for reasons that documents fail to explain, the decision was made to go with the basic heart and pulse reading. From this, the viewer can conclude that the smiling man in the chair is, indeed, alive.
3. The hand
The man is reaching out to grasp the faceless outline of a hand that enters the frame from nowhere. Several emails pertained to the existence of this hand. It’s meant to be the warm and affecting touch of a caregiver. Judging by the man’s expression, he’s more than happy to accept the touch of a disembodied cartoon figure.
The teenage boy, who is supposed to portray a future engineer, is wearing glasses. But this wasn’t an automatic choice. Like pretty much everything else, it was considered with care. In the end, this discussion reaped one of the most memorable quotes from the email trove: “I vote glasses,” said the official from the finance department. “Put me on team hipster.”
5. The iPad
Yes, that’s an iPad. Originally it was an amp, because the girl was rocking out at high voltage on an imaginary electric guitar. That changed when they switched to the smoother vibe of an acoustic. But they still wanted some technology, so after some debate about where it should be placed and whether it should have a cord plugged into something — well, you can see the result.
Inside the government’s $200,000 budget artwork
Police are searching for a suspect after a woman was stabbed in a “random attack” in the Lawrence Park area Saturday.
Const. David Hopkinson said the woman made her own way to hospital and police later found a crime scene at Weybourne Cres. and Dinnick Cres., southeast of Lawrence Ave. E. and Yonge St.
Hopkinson said the woman’s injuries weren’t life-threatening.
Police said the suspect is a white male in his 20s with a thin moustache and skinny, scruffy hair. He wore a black hoodie and is between five feet seven inches and five feet eight inches tall, police said.
Woman stabbed in ‘random attack’ in Lawrence Park
COOPER CITY, FLA.—Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between U.S. President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman, but his three comrades who died with him.
Some of the 1,200 mourners exiting the church after Saturday’s service said the portrait of Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, was joined on stage by photographs of Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. The four died Oct. 4 in Niger when they were attacked by militants tied to Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Johnson’s family asked reporters to remain outside for the service.
“We have to remember that one thing: that it wasn’t just one soldier who lost his life,” said Berchel Davis, a retired police officer who has six children in the military. He said the preacher and Rep. Frederica Wilson both made that a part of their talks. “That was a good gesture on everyone’s part.”
He and others said the fight between Trump and Wilson was never mentioned during the service.
Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia, had held the arm of an army officer as she led her two young children and her family, dressed in white, into the Christ the Rock Community Church in suburban Fort Lauderdale. The modern hymn “I’m Yours” could be heard coming from inside.
Johnson’s sister, Angela Ghent, said after the service that “it don’t feel real” that her brother was killed.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, I haven’t had time to grieve,” said Ghent, who last spoke to her brother a few weeks before he died. She said she was glad mourners got to hear about her brother’s love for bikes and cars, not just his military service.
The fight between Trump and Wilson had taken the focus off Johnson, whose widow is due to have a daughter in January. Sgt. Johnson told friends she will be named La’Shee. The couple, who were high school sweethearts, already had a 6-year-old daughter, Ah’Leeysa, and 2-year-old son, La David Jr. An online fundraiser has raised more than $600,000 to pay for the children’s education.
Johnson’s mother died when he was 5; he was raised by his aunt. His family enrolled him in 5000 Role Models, a project Wilson began in 1993 when she was an educator where African-American boys are paired with mentors who prepare them for college, vocational school or the military.
“We teach them to be a good man, a good husband and a good father. Sgt. Johnson typified all of those characteristics,” said mourner Carlton Crawl, a public school consultant who is one of the program’s mentors.
In 2013, a year before he enlisted, Johnson was featured in a local television newscast for his ability to do bicycle tricks, earning the nickname “Wheelie King.” He said he learned his tricks by going slow.
“Once you feel comfortable, you could just ride all day,” he told the interviewer.
The war of words between the president and Wilson began Tuesday when the Miami-area Democrat said Trump told Myeshia Johnson in a phone call that her husband “knew what he signed up for” and didn’t appear to know his name, a version later backed up by Johnson’s aunt. Wilson was riding with Johnson’s family to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone. She was principal of a school Johnson’s father attended.
Trump tweeted Wilson “fabricated” his statement and the fight escalated through the week. Trump in other tweets called her “wacky” and accused her of “SECRETLY” listening to the phone call.
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, entered the fray Thursday. The retired Marine general asserted that the congresswoman had delivered a 2015 speech at an FBI field office dedication in which she “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” rather than keeping the focus on the fallen agents for which it was named. Video of the speech contradicted his recollection.
Wilson, who is black, fired back Friday when she told The New York Times: “The White House itself is full white supremacists.”
The retorts persisted Saturday morning, with Trump tweeting: “I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!”
Mourners remember soldier at centre of Trump fight during Fort Lauderdale funeral
Quen Chow Lee, one of three immigrant litigants who led a class-action lawsuit against Ottawa over its discriminatory Chinese head tax, has died. She was 105.
Born in China in October 18, 1911, Lee was nicknamed “Nooey Quen” — meaning women’s rights in English.
Her toughness helped her overcome war, poverty, a 14-year separation from her husband, and the drawn-out legal battle for government redress, said her son Yew Lee.
“She was a tough lady, determined, committed and stubborn, someone who had a strong sense of justice,” said Lee. “Yet, she was a very loving mother and grandmother.”
A native of Taishan, Chow Lee married to Guang Foo Lee in 1930, when he returned to China from Canada to find a wife. He was born in 1892, also in Taishan, and paid a $500 head tax in 1913 to come to Canada.
After the marriage, Lee only stayed two years in China because Canadian laws then made Chinese people pay another $500 head tax if they were out of the country for too long. He left behind his wife, pregnant with a third child, and two kids.
Between 1885 and 1923, the Canadian government collected a total of $23 million from some 81,000 people under the various forms of the Chinese Immigration Act.
Because of the Second World War and the civil war in China, Chow Lee and her children lost touch with her husband for almost 14 years.
Chow Lee raised the children on her own until after the repeal in 1947 of the Chinese Immigration Act, which had effectively banned Chinese immigration to Canada for more than two decades. Although Chinese wives could now join their husbands in Canada, most had to wait patiently before the family saved enough money for the fares.
“I’ve endured so many years of hardship. We had no money and nothing to eat,” Chow Lee said in the 2004 documentary, In the Shadow of Gold Mountain, by Karen Cho. “Some women remarried farmers from faraway just to survive . . . but I didn’t want to because of my children.”
Chow Lee arrived in Canada with her three children after Christmas in 1950 and settled in Sudbury, Ont. where the family ran a number of restaurants: the Capitol Café, the Star Restaurant, the China House Restaurant, the Empress Tavern and Lee’s Palace.
After her husband passed away in 1967, Chow Lee once again was left to raise her children on her own — now five of them, with the two youngest ones born in Canada.
Growing up, Yew Lee said his mother would pull out a piece of paper from a leather-and-brass box and just looked at it. It was his father’s head tax certificate.
“She kept it in a steamer trunk above the restaurant. She would pull it out many many times. We knew something was wrong and the paper was significant,” Yew Lee recalled. “She always felt the injustice had to be righted.”
Chow Lee was already retired in her late 80s when the family got in touch with the Chinese Canadian National Council, which had spearheaded the redress campaign. She immediately volunteered to be one of the lead claimants of the class-action lawsuit representing the head-tax-payers’ widows.
Chow Lee would travel in her wheelchair to fundraising events and rallies between Toronto and Ottawa to raise public awareness about Canada’s racist past against the Chinese.
“We approached many head-tax-payers and families to sue the government, but many turned down because they were ashamed of it and didn’t want to talk about it. But Mrs. Lee needed no convincing,” said Avvy Go, one of the lawyers involved in the lawsuit. “She was a true inspiration for all of us.”
Although the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed and subsequent appeals were denied, it set into motion talks with the government that ended in an official apology at the House of Commons on June 22, 2006.
Chow Lee was in the audience when then prime minister Stephen Harper apologized in Cantonese to the Chinese-Canadian community.
“Even though we didn’t win the lawsuit, Mrs. Lee never gave up hope. She never had any regret,” said Go. “She used her suffering to propel her to fight injustice and challenge the government head on for its treatment of the Chinese. She was a model not only for the Chinese, but all Canadians.”
Quen Chow Lee, lead plaintiff in lawsuit over Chinese head tax, dies at 105Quen Chow Lee, lead plaintiff in lawsuit over Chinese head tax, dies at 105
VALLETTA, MALTA — The blast from the bomb planted in the rented Peugeot of Malta’s best-known investigative journalist was so powerful it took police investigators four days to collect body parts and wreckage scattered across sun-baked fields next to the road.
Tracking down potential suspects with deep grudges against the victim, Daphne Caruana Galizia, however, will take far longer.
“It is a very long list,” Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, one of the journalist’s many targets, said in an interview. “She was a very harsh critic of mine.”
The list of people whom Caruana Galizia offended and infuriated as a prolific journalist in this tiny Mediterranean island nation includes many members of Muscat’s ruling Labour Party as well as the leader of the centre-right opposition. Also on the list: the president of Azerbaijan and his family, executives of a Chinese electrical equipment manufacturer, foreign drug barons, an Iranian-born banker and people active in offshore tax havens like Panama and the British Virgin Islands.
All of them were the targets at one time or another of Caruana Galizia’s relentless probing of the underbelly of the European Union’s smallest country, a nation that boasts Europe’s fastest growing economy but has been hit by six car bombings in the past two years, all of them unsolved.
How a country that has in many ways been so successful could be the scene of such a macabre and brutal murder on a picturesque road only a half-hour’s drive from the capital, Valletta, has left many asking what went wrong.
In the absence of hard evidence, Maltese are grasping at wild coincidences and conspiracy theories.
The murder took place exactly five years to the hour after the dismissal of Malta’s former senior official in the European Union, the disgraced former health commissioner John Dalli. The murder, Dalli said, “had absolutely nothing” to do with his own troubles.
Dalli was another regular target of Caruana Galizia’s writing — “Everything she wrote about me was a lie,” he said — and yet another well-connected insider who, despite detailed allegations of corruption, has never been prosecuted in Malta.
Dalli, who in December filed a harassment complaint with the police against Caruana Galizia, said he “was very angry” when he heard she had been killed. “It basically removed my chances of exculpating myself from everything she said about me,” he said.
Justin Borg-Barthet, a Maltese legal expert who lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said the legal system, built up during British colonial rule, has been so steadily eroded by political meddling and constant reshuffling of the police leadership that virtually nobody expects justice to be done in the case of the murdered journalist.
“Trust does not function as a reliable constitutional principle when people are untrustworthy,” he said.
Caruana Galizia, 53, had an insider’s grasp of that world. “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate,” she wrote in her last blog post Monday afternoon, just a half-hour before she left her family home by car to run errands and was blown to pieces.
The bombing stunned Malta, where known criminals sometimes attack one another but where the streets are safe and violence against public figures is extremely rare. It also sent tremors through the European Union, which took in Malta as a member in 2004 and, at a time of deep disillusionment with the “European project” in Britain and elsewhere, has often pointed to Malta’s economic success as an example of how Europe can work.
Christian Peregin, the founder of an online news site, Lovin Malta, and an admirer of the dead journalist, said the killing had exposed a reality that Caruana Galizia had spent decades trying to uncover, a mission that won her a long list of enemies and scores of libel suits.
One of those who sued her this year — and got a court to freeze her bank accounts — is Malta’s economy minister, whom she enraged with a February report that he had been seen along with an aide in a brothel in the German town of Velbert. The minister, who was visiting Germany on government business, insisted he had been attending a conference at the time of the reported sighting.
“Beneath the veneer of a successful, well-to-do European nation there is something darker here,” Peregin said. “Malta is between Europe and North Africa. We speak English and have very English traditions, but we also speak Maltese — basically a mix of Arabic and Italian — and our national psyche is always somewhere between these two very different worlds.”
This split has in turn helped shape and harden a deep and often passionate political divide between the Labour Party, which Caruana Galizia loathed, and the Nationalist Party. She used to support the Nationalists until a new leader took over whom she described as being in cahoots with criminals because of his previous work as a lawyer on behalf of Maltese clients who she said ran a prostitution racket in London.
The Nationalist leader, Adrian Delia, was so angered by Caruana Galizia’s articles, which included details of a secret offshore bank account he controlled, that he filed four complaints against her for defamation.
He dropped the cases after the killing and is now trying to position himself as her defender, demanding that the prime minister, Muscat, resign and take “political responsibility” for the car bomb.
Saviour Balzan, a veteran editor and long-time adversary, called Caruana Galizia a “spiteful snob” who reveled in ridiculing people she viewed as inferior, particularly those who supported the Labour Party.
When the party’s former leader, Dom Mintoff, died at 96 in 2012, Caruana Galizia rejoiced at his passing: She wrote in her blog, Running Commentary, “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah . . . may you rot in hell.”
She stirred such strong feelings that her killing even prompted cheers in some quarters. Ramon Mifsud, a police officer whom she had portrayed in her blog as a drunken habitué of bars and lap dancing clubs, celebrated her killing with a post on his Facebook page: “Everyone gets what they deserve, cow dung.” Suspended from the police force, he quickly deleted the message.
“She was certainly the best investigative journalist Malta has ever seen. However, she was at times also a tabloid trash writer, and did not always follow normal journalistic standards,” Ken Mifsud Bonnici, a Maltese legal adviser to the European Commission in Brussels, said, speaking in a personal capacity. Nevertheless, he added: “People do not get killed for publishing lies.”
Maltese news media reported that the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia was made from Semtex, the plastic explosive that brought down a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Malta’s previous car bombings involved more easily obtained explosives and targeted known criminals or their associates.
The police commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar, the fifth person to hold Malta’s top law enforcement job in just four years, declined at a news conference Thursday to comment on the kind of explosive used. He was so evasive in his response to questions that local journalists left the event convinced that the case, like previous car bombings, would never be solved — despite the presence of investigators from the FBI and Dutch police.
With trust in the police so low, representatives of the island’s main news outlets filed a petition with a court in Valletta demanding that any information found by investigators on Caruana Galizia’s phone and computer relating to her sources be kept secret to protect their security.
“When a leading journalist — an institution — is killed and you don’t have any faith in the justice system, everyone becomes a suspect,” Peregin said. “We are all scared because we have no idea who killed her.
“It could be anyone she has written about over the last 30 years, or it could be a message to the Maltese press or the government: Watch out for your neck and accept our demands or we will do worse.”
Balzan, the managing editor of Malta Today, said that while he was a critic of Caruana Galizia’s work, he was appalled and frightened by her murder.
“What happened has taken us back to the Stone Age,” he said. “Who would want to work in journalism after this? Why should I go to work when people are asking: Who will be next?”
The murder of Malta’s best-known journalist has exposed ‘something darker’ in the tiny EU nationThe murder of Malta’s best-known journalist has exposed ‘something darker’ in the tiny EU nation
Motherisk’s flawed hair-strand tests tainted thousands of child protection cases across Canada, but was every parent who tested positive for drugs or alcohol potentially harmed in some way? How much is that harm is worth? And what’s the best way to determine who should pay?
These are among the complex questions that were debated in a Toronto courtroom this week in the high-stakes battle over the fate of a proposed national class-action seeking millions in damages for families affected by the litany of failings uncovered at the Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory.
Whether the class-action will proceed is now in the hands of Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who reserved his ruling on Thursday. His decision will play a key role in shaping what promises to be years of legal wrangling in the fallout from the problems at Motherisk. Already, some 275 plaintiffs are named in a series of individual lawsuits against Sick Kids and the major players at the lab, the court heard.
“This class-action is for the thousands of families who have received an apology but no compensation,” Rob Gain, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told the court, at the outset of the two-day hearing to determine whether the case meets the bar for class-action certification.
The proposed class includes anyone who had a positive Motherisk hair test between 2005 and 2015, the period during which a government-commissioned review by retired judge Susan Lang concluded Motherisk’s results were “inadequate and unreliable” for use in legal proceedings. (Close family members of those who tested positive are also included.)
Gain argued that a class-action is the best way to ensure access to justice to a vulnerable group of people who suffered a shared harm due to Motherisk’s faulty tests, ranging from parents who briefly came under the scrutiny of a child welfare agency to cases where children were removed permanently.
“When you’re dealing with the child protection regime . . . and there’s a test result from the lab showing drug or alcohol abuse, it is not discretionary what a Children’s Aid Society does. They must act,” he said. “That act is common to the entire class.”
However, that rationale was rejected by the defendants, who include Sick Kids, Motherisk’s founder and longtime director, Dr. Gideon Koren, and former lab manager Joey Gareri, who argued that a class-action is not appropriate because the circumstances in each case are highly individualized.
Koren’s lawyer, Darryl Cruz, told the court that his client “obviously opposes certification.”
Cruz said a negligence claim may be valid in some individual cases, but only if the plaintiff proves there was a false positive Motherisk result, and that result led to negative consequences.
“The link between what happened at Motherisk and these outcomes . . . is absolutely crucial, and not simple,” he said. “In each and every claim, one needs to consider, who are the various players? How do they relate to one another? How does the outcomes flow from the various players?”
Sick Kids lawyer Kate Crawford said the hospital is “very willing to engage in discussions about compensation with the appropriate people in appropriate circumstances,” but does not accept that there are “any common issues” that could be litigated through a class-action.
Although much of Motherisk’s hair-testing was performed at the request of child welfare agencies, some of the lab’s tests were ordered by physicians for clinical purposes, which shows the relationships between the lab and the proposed class members are “different in every case,” Crawford said.
Complicating matters further, the lab’s practices were “not consistent” and changed over time, as did the internationally accepted standards for hair-testing, which evolved as the science advanced, she said.
The proposed lead plaintiff is a mother whose access to her son was “repeatedly interfered with as a result of unreliable (Motherisk) hair tests” from 2009 to 2012, according to the plaintiff’s written arguments.
If the class-action is certified, the members of the class, however it is defined, will have to choose whether they want to pursue individual claims or join the class proceeding.
The hearing did not deal with the merits of the case. In a statement of claim, the plaintiff argues the defendants were “negligent in (their) operation and supervision” of Motherisk, and were responsible for the consequences that followed. In his statement of defence, Koren denied the claims, arguing the tests were “accurate and reliable for their intended purpose” of providing clinical information “relevant to the medical care and safety of children.” In a joint statement of defence, Sick Kids and Gareri also disputed the claims, and said that if custody decisions were based on the tests, which they denied, children’s aid societies were responsible.
Queen’s Park appointed Lang to probe Motherisk in late 2014 after a Star investigation exposed questions about the reliability of the lab’s hair tests. Sick Kids initially defended the reliability of Motherisk’s testing, but reversed course in the spring of 2015 after the hospital learned it had been misled about Motherisk’s international proficiency testing results, and closed the lab.
Sick Kids CEO Michael Apkon issued a public apology in October 2015. Koren retired in June of 2015, and is now working in Israel.
An independent commission is now probing individual child protection cases in Ontario to determine whether Motherisk’s hair tests had a significant impact on individual decisions to remove children from their families.
Rachel Mendleson can be reached at email@example.com
Fallout from Motherisk's flawed tests a national tragedy
One man has died following a shooting in Newmarket on Saturday evening.
York regional police were called to the scene of Sheldon Ave. near Yonge St. and Davis Dr. around 10 p.m. after reports of a shooting.
Const. Darrin Leitch said that the man was found unconscious when police arrived to the area.
Paramedics responded to the scene shortly after and transported the man to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Leitch said there are no leads on suspects yet, but there is a heavy police presence in the area and an investigation is still underway.
The area of Sheldon Ave. is blocked off by police.
Man dead after shooting in Newmarket
Centroamericano, a new variety of coffee plant, hasn’t sparked the buzz of, say, Starbucks’s latest novelty latte. But it may be the coolest thing in brewing: a tree that can withstand the effects of climate change.
Climate change could spell disaster for coffee, a crop that requires specific temperatures to flourish and that is highly sensitive to a range of pests. So scientists are racing to develop more tenacious strains of one of the world’s most beloved beverages.
In addition to Centroamericano, seven other new hybrid varieties are gradually trickling onto the market. And this summer, World Coffee Research (WCR) — an industry-funded non-profit group — kicked off field tests of 46 new varieties that it says will change coffee-growing as the world knows it.
“Coffee is not ready to adapt to climate change without help,” said Doug Welsh, the vice-president and roastmaster of Peet’s Coffee, which has invested in WCR’s research.
Climate scientists say few coffee-growing regions will be spared the effects of climate change. Most of the world’s crop is cultivated around the equator, with the bulk coming from Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Rising temperatures are expected to shrink the available growing land in many of these countries, said Christian Bunn, a post-doctoral fellow at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture who has analyzed the shift in coffee regions. Warmer air essentially “chases” coffee up to cooler, higher altitudes — which are scarce in Brazil and Zimbabwe, among other coffee-growing countries.
Temperature is not climate change’s only projected impact in coffee-growing regions. Portions of Central America are expected to see greater rainfall and shorter dry seasons, which are needed to harvest and dry beans. In Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, rainfall is projected to decrease, potentially sparking dry periods.
These sorts of changes will pose problems for many crops. But coffee is particularly vulnerable, scientists say, because it has an unusually shallow gene pool. Only two species of coffee, arabica and robusta, are currently grown for human consumption. And farmers traditionally haven’t selected for diversity when breeding either plant — instead, essentially, they’ve been marrying generations of coffee with its close cousins.
As a result, there are precious few varieties of arabica that can grow in warmer or wetter conditions. In addition, diseases and pests that might be exacerbated under climate change could knock out entire fields of plants.
A disease of particular concern — coffee leaf rust, or “la roya” in Spanish — devastated coffee plantations across Central America in 2011. It effectively halved El Salvador’s coffee output and cost the region an estimated 1.7 million jobs.
Coffee farmers could see their livelihoods threatened, noted Aaron Davis, a British coffee researcher, because coffee trees are perennials with a 20- to 30-year life span: If a field is damaged by a bad season, farmers aren’t necessarily in a position to immediately replant it. And because coffee takes three years to mature, farmers face several years without income after new trees are planted.
“Under all these scenarios, farmers pay the biggest price,” Davis added.
While few experts expect these factors to drive coffee to extinction, they could severely reduce the global supply — and increase the hardship for coffee farmers.
“The major concern of the industry is that the quantity, and even the future, of good coffee is threatened by climate change,” said Benoit Bertrand, an agronomist with the French agricultural research group CIRAD and one of the world’s most respected coffee breeders. “So the question becomes: How can we address this with new technology and new innovations?”
Despite coffee’s global popularity, few growers have risen to the challenge. There has historically been no real market for improved coffee plants, Bertrand and Davis said. Unlike such major commodity crops as corn or soybeans, coffee is grown primarily by small farmers with low margins who can’t shell out for the latest seed or growing system.
As a result, coffee is coming late to the intensive breeding programs that have revolutionized other crops. But in the past 10 years, interest around plant improvement has exploded, driven in part by the growth of the specialty coffee market.
Plant breeders have begun cataloguing the hundreds of strains of arabica in existence and cultivating them in different growing areas. They’ve also begun to experiment with robusta, which grows in higher temperatures and fares better against diseases, but often tastes bitter. There is some hope that new varieties of robusta, or robusta/arabica crosses, could capture that resilience without the bad flavour.
Lately, there has been a particular surge of interest in a type of plant called an F1 hybrid, which crossbreeds two different strains of arabica to produce a unique “child” plant. They can be made from any of the hundreds of varieties of arabica and bred for qualities such as taste, disease resistance and drought tolerance.
Because they are the first generation, F1 hybrids also demonstrate something scientists call “hybrid vigour” — they produce unusually high yields, like a sort of super plant.
Since 2010, eight such F1 hybrids have been released to the commercial market. Bertrand is currently testing a class of an additional 60 crosses with the support of WCR.
The researchers say that the top two or three — which are expected to become available to farmers as soon as 2022 — will offer good taste, high yields and resilience to a range of coffee’s current and future woes, from higher temperatures to nematodes.
“These hybrids deliver a combination of traits that were never before possible in coffee,” said Hanna Neuschwander, the communications director at WCR. “It’s the traits that farmers need with the traits that markets demand. People used to think the two were mutually exclusive.”
But the hybrids’ success remains largely untested at scale. Of the eight F1 hybrids on the market at present, only one — Centroamericano — has been planted in any significant volume, Neuschwander said. The variety is currently growing on an estimated 2,500 acres in Central America; for context, the U.S. Agriculture Department reports that Honduras alone grows coffee on more than 800,000 acres.
Farmers who have planted the new trees are seeing success. Starbucks has sold coffee made from F1 hybrids as part of its small-lot premium brand. Last spring, a batch of Centroamericano grown on a Nicaraguan family farm scored 90 out of 100 points in that country’s prestigious tasting competition, which some in the industry heralded as a major victory.
But the path to adoption will be steep. Breeders have developed these plants, Neuschwander said, but many areas of the world don’t have the seed industries and infrastructure in place to actually distribute them. That’s particularly true in the case of F1 hybrids, which — thanks to their particular genetics — can only be grown from tissue samples.
F1 hybrids are also expensive — as much as 2 1/2 times the cost of conventional plants. That puts them well outside the range of most smallholder farmers, said Kraig Kraft, an agroecologist and technical adviser with Catholic Relief Services’ Latin America division.
Kraft, who has worked with WCR to test F1 hybrids in Nicaragua, said that in his region, at least, only mid-size and large plantations have switched to them.
“I think our position is that we need to really understand the requirements for all farmers to be able to use these new technologies,” Kraft said. “My concern is that small farmers don’t have access to the capital to pay for these investments.”
Even if they did, however, some experts caution that the new coffee varieties are only a piece of a much larger adaptation process. To cope with the effects of climate change, farmers may need to adopt other agricultural practices, such as shade-farming, cover-cropping and terracing, said Bunn, the researcher.
In some regions, those practices won’t be economical. And in that case, policy-makers should focus on helping farmers transition to other crops or other livelihoods altogether, researchers stress.
“People sell (F1 hybrids) as a silver bullet,” Bunn said. “To be clear, those plants are indispensable and I don’t question the value of the work . . . but we need more to adapt to climate change. And we need to accept the hard reality that some places will need to move out of coffee production.”
New coffee hybrids suggest bright future for endangered industry
While campaigning for the job of running Canada’s largest city, Mayor John Tory promised to restore stability at city hall after the tumultuous term of his predecessor Rob Ford.
Even Tory’s detractors agree he’s accomplished that, and as a result has maintained high approval ratings in public opinion polls.
But beyond his calming influence, what has John Howard Tory, multi-millionaire lawyer, businessman, and former provincial Progressive Conservative leader, accomplished since he became 65th mayor of Toronto.
What about the other promises to tackle traffic congestion and expand transit, cornerstones of his 2014 election campaign. Does it take any less time to cross the city? Has traffic gotten better, or has it gotten worse?
“I like to think it’s better, I have people tell me anecdotally, that it’s better,” Tory says in an interview to mark the third anniversary of his Oct. 27, 2014 election.
Then Tory, as is his custom, qualifies his answer.
Measuring progress is difficult, he admits, though it will get easier with recently installed Bluetooth technology that monitors traffic speed on major downtown streets.
“I will say with certainty, that if we hadn’t done all the things that we’ve done, and that we’re doing, then it would be much worse, because we have a growing city.”
Those things include towing and ticket blitzes for downtown lane blockers, a pilot project using paid duty police officers to direct traffic at major intersections, to be replaced soon with full-time “traffic wardens.” Next month, Tory will meet with representatives of utility companies asking them to confine non-emergency work to off-peak hours.
On the transit file, Tory remains committed to creating a transit line called SmartTrack. Although, the current configuration is nothing like the original proposal made during the 2014 election campaign. The original proposal has been reduced to six proposed stations added to the GO train network in Toronto and an LRT line towards the airport.
During the campaign, Tory promised it would be a surface rail subway “that moves the most people in the shortest time across the entire city in seven years.” Only recently has he begun to admit seven years was an overly ambitious target.
“It may not end up being seven,” he said last week sitting in his office overlooking Nathan Phillips Square. “I mean, it’s going to be, I’m saying in the early 2020s.”
And while Torontonians might not see evidence, Tory insists progress is being made on the plan, which involves Metrolinx electrifying existing GO train tracks. Last week, there were public meetings on the design of stations, and next spring, a request for proposals will be issued, he said.
“There’s stuff happening, and it’s going to get done.”
Last week, Tory held a series of sit down media interviews wearing a dark suit, chartreuse tie, red and purple argyle socks and polished black shoes.
Sunday marked the one-year countdown to next year’s municipal election on Oct. 22 when Tory will seek re-election. So far, there is only one other major declared challenger: former city councillor Doug Ford, whom Tory beat in 2014.
Some pundits are already sizing up the campaign ahead — though it doesn’t officially start until next May — and suggest Tory’s weakness is that he lacks a bold vision for Toronto.
“I would say to people there is a vision that’s connected to a 15-year network transit plan that’s been approved by city council, we’ve never had one before,” he said, bristling slightly.
“People may say well that sounds dull, well not to me.”
And he touts his role as a champion of the tech, and film and TV sector, as further evidence.
“Nobody will call that visionary, but if you said in terms of my thinking ahead, to the future of the Toronto economy and making sure that we’ll have the new jobs that will last into the future — I am.”
He’s also proud of his record on affordable housing, pushing the province and federal governments for funding, and supporting council-set goals of building between 1,200 and 1,500 units — though housing activists challenge whether they’re affordable enough for people who need them most.
Council critics on the left credit Tory with demonstrating leadership in areas one might not expect from a politician with a Conservative pedigree: his backing of safe injection sites and the Bloor St. bikes lanes, for example.
But those same critics say Tory falls short because he won’t raise property taxes above the rate of inflation to make the necessary investments in areas that he says he cares about.
There will be no budging in the upcoming 2018 budget debate on that 2014 election pledge.
“The government is talking about stress testing people on their mortgages, in light of rising interest rates, why don’t we stress test as well what would happen to a lot seniors and young people if we started property taxes up by 7 or 8 per cent,” Tory said in response.
Instead, Tory suggests much can happen with the gas tax revenue which Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ponied up after killing Tory and council-backed road tolls, and the infrastructure levy, which he introduced in 2015. The 0.5 per cent property tax surcharge kicked in this year and will compound to 2.5 per cent over five years.
The mayor says he isn’t thinking about what other tax measures the city should consider in the future.
“We still have sort of a delta that we’re going to have to speak to but at this stage, I’m not consumed with that because we don’t need the money at this moment.”
Looking ahead to the final year of this term, Tory insists he is not about to play it safe with a do-nothing agenda.
“They grossly underestimate me,” he says of critics who suggest otherwise. “We have tons to do just look at the agenda.” He cites upcoming transit reports, the 2018 budget and a proposed short-term rental bylaw to regulate Airbnb.
“I’m going to fully occupy myself between now and the campaign time doing my job … moving transit, housing, poverty reduction forward.”
Tory, 63, also plans to continue showing up at city hall at 6:30 a.m., after sleeping for five-and-a-half hours, and admits while he doesn’t have the best work/life balance, it’s not “unhealthy.”
He credits wife Barb Hackett for being so “understanding,” such as putting up with his punishing schedule that saw him work 30 days straight in September. He vows to resume regular workouts with a personal trainer and to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Adding more express buses on TTC routes
Measures to fight traffic gridlock, such as illegal parking crackdowns
Formed a task force to overhaul Toronto Community Housing Corp.
Keeping property tax increases to the rate of inflation
The 22-stop SmartTrack transit plan, as pitched during the 2014 election campaign
TTC fare freeze, fares have gone up every year since he has been mayor
Plant 380,000 trees annually
Outsource garbage collection east of Yonge St.
John Tory defends his record heading into his final year as mayor
To imagine the scale of last Saturday’s terrorist attack in Mogadishu, think about two truck bombs exploding within minutes during rush hour in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Buildings for blocks around Yonge and Dundas Sts. would crumble, cars and pedestrians incinerated.
The blasts Oct. 14 in Mogadishu’s commercial and entertainment hub were so powerful some of the victims may never be identified and the missing never found. The death toll is just an estimate. There are more than 350 dead, and as many are grievously injured and missing, making this one of the deadliest terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
After 9/11, Manhattan’s streets became a gallery of the dead. “Have You Seen” posters lined every post, fence and wall, the faces of hundreds of victims staring out.
The search for the missing and tributes to the dead in Mogadishu have been virtual, pictures and posters spreading online.
A photo of medical student Maryam Abdullahi, 21, was one of the first to go viral. Her father flew from London that day to attend her graduation, but instead was in Mogadishu for her funeral. Marian Omer, another victim, worked at the ministry of planning and was described by many as a “rising star.”
Mohamoud Elmi, the director general of humanitarian affairs; human rights activist Yassin Juma; the four Ayaanle brothers, who ran a popular shop in the Safari Hotel; a school bus of children stuck in traffic.
For those who equate Somalia with endless war, piracy or the 1993 U.S. intervention known as Black Hawk Down, in which 18 American service members and hundreds of Somalis were killed, the truck bombings were a merely a tremor in country wracked by earthquakes.
But some are calling this attack Somalia’s 9/11. Which means its impact will spread well beyond the crater the bombing has left, where the search for the remains of the dead continues.
If a country can break your heart, then Somalia has broken mine.
There are few places that have experienced such trauma over the decades, yet proven so resilient. There are few places that have succumbed to such an endless loop of corruption and warfare, and international meddling that often seems to do more damage than good. There are few places as frustrating.
In my travels to Mogadishu since 2006, I have seen more destruction, and more resurrection, than anywhere else I’ve reported.
There is a 14-year-old Somali boy named Abdibasid Ahmed Hussein, who lives among more than 245,000 other refugees at the Dadaab camp, just across the Somali border, in Kenya. He hadn’t spoken since 2008, when he watched his father and brother die in a cruise missile attack.
When I met him and his mother in 2015, his face was haunted; his eyes unfocused; a thin sheen of sweat on his upper lip even though there was a cool July breeze blowing through the camp. His reaction to what he witnessed was so severe, but what shocked me was that his depression and comatose state was considered uncommon. Somalia’s population should collectively be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder for what they have endured.
“The resilience of human beings is just incredible,” Sahal Abdulle told me by phone Thursday from his home in Mogadishu, just a couple hundred metres from the outer edge of the blast site.
Sahal, a Somali-born Canadian and former photojournalist for Reuters, has become a good friend since I first met him Toronto years ago. He possesses that resilience he praises, having covered two decades of war, surviving a targeted attack on his car in 2007 that killed another Canadian journalist and colleague, Ali Sharmarke.
The Saturday explosion damaged part of his roof and when he was repairing it this week, he found body parts. “I’ve never seen or heard anything like this. It looks like a nuclear bomb had fallen onto the place,” he said about the district known as K5, where the bombs exploded.
But Sahal believes this is a turning point in Somalia’s history and hopes the reaction can be channelled into change.
“What made me stronger and realize that this will come to an end, is the public,” he said. “Today if you go around, you see people are rebuilding, immediately. Yesterday, children, moms and dads came out saying no to this killing; enough is enough. In all the wars I’ve covered in Somalia, I’ve never seen that kind of anger, the magnitude of the bombing brought this to the surface.”
Al Shabab has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but there is little doubt they are responsible. No other group in Somalia has the capacity to carry out a bombing so big or has the network to move the trucks into Mogadishu past what Somali government officials have called the security “ring of steel.”
Matt Bryden, strategic adviser at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, said the scale of the destruction was the only surprise, as Al Shabab has been conducting smaller-scale IED (improvised explosive device) attacks throughout the country. “The killing of numerous (Shabab) leaders, including some bomb-makers, has seemingly failed to disrupt their ability to plan and carry out IED attacks,” a 2016 Sahan report states, noting that there is often two phases to their bombings.
“They had reached somewhere between 800- and 1,000-kilo (bombs) … They were getting bigger all the time,” Bryden said. “So we absolutely should have expected a large suicide (vehicle-borne IED). The surprise is the quantum leap from the maximum of 1,000 kilos to what I guess we’re estimating over 2,000 kilos.”
Some reports have said the bomb exploded near a gas tanker, increasing the destruction. The details of the attack are still being investigated.
The level of destruction may have come as a surprise to the Shabab, too, and could be part of the reason they have not made a statement as of this writing. In 2009, the Shabab bombed the Shamo Hotel in Mogadishu during a graduation ceremony for medical students. The backlash against the group was immediate — although not as fierce as it has been this week.
Most analysts believe K5 was not the intended target and Al Shabab was likely aiming for the airport, the Turkish military training base that opened just weeks ago, or one of the embassies inside Mogadishu’s fortified zone; where most international visitors work and live and is protected by forces with the African Union, a mission known as AMISOM.
While the Shabab does not control areas of Mogadishu as the group once did, members of its elite intelligence unit, Amniyat, have infiltrated the capital. In the last two years, there have been a number of assassinations and smaller attacks on hotels, restaurants and shops.
How the trucks, laden with explosives, entered the city — the route the suicide bombers took and checkpoints they passed — is still uncertain.
“There’s no question about the degree of negligence and/or complicity at some of the checkpoints in Mogadishu,” Bryden said. “But it sounds as though one of the checkpoints may have done its job.
“By some accounts, the truck was stopped at a checkpoint, refused to pull over, guards opened fire, and it barrelled down the road towards K5 and it became so cluttered with kiosks and small vehicles, that it eventually came to a stop and exploded outside the hotel.”
Al Shabab began as a small, militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, but rose to power during the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion the following year. By 2009, when Ethiopia was forced to pull out its troops, and Somalia was weak from two years of war, Al Shabab had grown to a major force. In 2012, they officially joined Al Qaeda and attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi a year later.
In recent years, they have lost most of their territory, now based primarily in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. There have been high-level defections from the group, and the Somali government has run a rehabilitation centre to help the hundreds of defecting foot soldiers reintegrate with their families.
There was a photo posted on Twitter on Sunday of Mukhtar Robow, as he donated blood for the wounded. Robow, the original co-founder of Al Shabab, defected to the government in August. The image sparked vigorous debate online. How could a man who had so much blood on his hands be acknowledged for giving his own?
“I recognize that this image is deeply upsetting on a day like this,” wrote Abdi Aynte, who has worked as a journalist, analyst and most recently as the minister for planning and international co-operation in Somalia. “But such is the paradoxical reality in #Somalia. #Pray4Somalia.”
Andrew Harding, a BBC journalist and author of TheMayor of Mogadishu, later weighed in on Twitter: “What does this extraordinary image say to you? The sting of conscience, idle hypocrisy, gesture politics, or perhaps the price of peace?”
The Toronto sign at city hall was illuminated in blue and white for a night last week, the colours of Somalia’s flag. There were other signs of solidarity around the world — at the Eiffel Tower, the moment of silence that was held at the UN Security Council, social media hashtag hugs that included #MogadishuMourning.
But the outpouring of support was nowhere near that which follows attacks in the West, which can compound the grief of the grieving.
In a New Yorker piece Tuesday, staff writer Alexis Okeowo asked, “Where is the empathy for Somalia?”
“It was as if the bombing were just another incident in the daily life of Somalis — a burst of violence that would fade into all the other bursts of violence. The lack of public empathy was startling but not surprising,” she wrote.
Empathy for many, comes with a shared bond: citizenship, religion, a common affliction or experience, or simply being able to just picture a scene. Part of my affection for Somalia and sadness this week is because I’ve been stuck in traffic at K5 where the explosion occurred and on my Facebook feed friends in Mogadishu were checking in as “safe,” as they posted their painful accounts of what they saw.
Public empathy, beyond giving comfort to the grieving, is important as it can drive change.
But not all reactions to terrorist attacks transform a country for the better, and just how last Saturday’s attack will affect Somalia is unclear.
Mogadishu has undoubtedly reformed in recent years, and dramatically so since the 2011 famine. Mogadishu “rising from the ashes” became cliché, but is an apt description in terms of the physical restructuring.
The election earlier this year of “Farmajo” Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as president was seen as a turning point for many. Like most Somalis, he is referred to by his nickname, which he told me in a 2012 interview he adopted because of his father’s love of cheese.
Farmajo, who is also a U.S. citizen, was Somalia’s prime minister in 2010, credited with cleaning up much of the government corruption and ensuring Somalia’s soldiers were fed and paid. In August 2011, the Shabab withdrew from the capital and retreated to strongholds in the south.
Farmajo’s return to government in February was celebrated, especially among the youth, considerable in a country where 70 per cent of the population is under the age of 30.
But a president — no matter how popular — cannot alone overcome the deep clan and political divisions that often frustrate Somalia’s governance.
Most recently, the country has been split over the Gulf dispute. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and initiated an economic boycott, accusing Doha of funding terrorist groups.
Somalia’s federal states announced last month that they have cut ties with Qatar, in defiance of Mogadishu’s neutral stance. “As the Saudis and Emiratis develop direct links with federal states and undermine their relations with the federal government, tensions have grown over which side of the Gulf dispute to back,” notes an International Crisis Group report released Friday. “This also diverts attention from security problems in Mogadishu.”
There has also been recent strife within the government’s ranks. Two days before the attack, the country’s defence minister and army chief resigned following an increase in Shabab attacks on army bases across south and central Somalia.
“What we’re seeing in Mogadishu and elsewhere — this sentiment, this surge of anger — could be actually quite dangerous,” says Bryden. “Although it’s a reaction to this atrocity, it can be directed in any direction.”
The thousands who took to the streets wearing red headbands this week in Mogadishu and other major Somali city were united against Al Shabab.
But the Shabab’s survival in recent years has not been due to popular support. Their strength comes from the weaknesses they exploit.
Michelle Shephard is the Star’s national security correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm.
Who will channel Somalia’s anger after one of the world's deadliest terror attacks?: Analysis