Alberta is on track to have the worst air quality in Canada if immediate action isn’t taken to address pollution from coal-fired power plants, oil and gas facilities and vehicles, says the province’s environment minister.
Shannon Phillips said Wednesday she has directed her ministry to come up with a plan by month’s end to address the causes of air pollution after a new national air quality testing program found serious issues in central Alberta and slightly less serious concerns with four of five other regions.
Phillips said she wants to see better results in the annual testing next year.
“What I expect is that we will continue to see improvement on this until Alberta is no longer on track to have the worst air quality in Canada,” she told reporters at the legislature.
The testing, under the direction of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, found the Red Deer region exceeded Canadian ambient air quality standards for fine particulate matter and ozone.
All other regions of the province — the lower Athabasca, upper Athabasca, North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan areas — except the Peace Country were found to be approaching the limits for particulate matter, which includes nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.
The air quality management system testing also found the North Saskatchewan region, which includes Edmonton, is approaching the limits for ozone.
“We are concerned by these Canadian ambient air quality results,” Phillips said following a technical briefing for the media. “The time to act is long overdue.”
She said failing to act will cost every Albertan more, regardless of where they live.
“These costs show up in our emergency rooms and in our workplaces in the form of lost productivity,” she said. “The previous government resisted meaningful action on air pollution and climate change and today’s results speak to that inaction.”
Phillips said the testing for levels of fine particulate matter was conducted because it has a large impact on human health, but stressed there are no immediate health risks to people in central Alberta.
She said her government will begin implementing action plans immediately that will include reviewing technology that could be used to reduce harmful emissions from industrial emitters, as well as using the licence renewal process to ensure industrial emitters are meeting new, stricter national standards.
The 10-year operating licences of many coal-fired power plants are currently up for renewal, ministry officials said.
“Looking ahead we’re exploring a number of further measures to reduce air pollution, including emissions standards for vehicles,” the minister said. “That work will be incorporated into the ongoing efforts of our climate change advisory panel, which will provide advice to our government this fall.”
The Pembina Institute said Wednesday that the best action the province could take to address the problem would be to expedite the retirement of coal-fired power plants in Alberta.
“Measures that tackle carbon pollution would also contribute to cleaner air, so long as they address the biggest contributors to deteriorating air quality in Alberta,” said Chris Severson-Baker, Pembina’s Alberta director.
Measures that tackle carbon pollution would also contribute to cleaner air, so long as they address the biggest contributors to deteriorating air quality in Alberta
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment said it was dismayed, but not surprised, by the findings.
“This calls into question the pervasive belief that the clear blue skies of Alberta foster clean air, safe from the pollutants better known from smoggier climes,” said Dr. Joe Vipond.
“We know that (fine particulate matter) has negative effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems of people and that exposure increases premature deaths, hospital admissions, and chronic diseases.”
Wildrose critic Leela Aheer was skeptical of both the findings and the timing of the report.
“They’re saying Red Deer has Alberta’s dirtiest air,” Aheer noted. “Based on what? There’s no corroborative evidence provided.”
The MLA for Chestermere-Rocky View said Phillips’ claim that Alberta will have the worst air quality in the country within five years sounded “far-fetched.”
“There’s a very little amount of information to make such an unbelievably strong opinion,” Aheer said. “I think personally they are ramping up for the upcoming (climate change) summit in Paris.”
- Published in National Post
NEW YORK — Say the words ‘Midlife Crisis’, and most people think of cringe-worthy scenes like graying men squiring around much-younger paramours in zippy sports cars.
Matt Welch went in a more wholesome direction: Baseball cards.
Specifically, the 46-year-old editor-in-chief of Reason magazine set out to collect every Topps-brand baseball card ever printed of his beloved Angels. It took roughly five years and $1,000, but this past New Year’s Eve, the final two cards came in the mail.
“Strange things happen to men in their 40s, and this was my midlife crisis,” says Welch, a New York City resident originally from Long Beach, California. “I hadn’t thought about baseball cards in 30 years. But then I bought one, then two, and it was so pleasurable I thought ‘Oh hell, why not?’”
A relatively harmless midlife crisis, to be sure. And one which his wife Emmanuelle Richard has given her tacit approval. “She’s said from the beginning, ‘It beats the convertible, and it beats the expensive mistress,’ “ he jokes.
But it is a crisis nonetheless, which no doubt feels very familiar to 40- or 50-somethings who feel increasingly alarmed at the passage of time. One common response: Whip out the wallet.
They got to this big empty house and said, ‘What have we done?’
Whether it’s for an extravagant vacation, a pricey hobby or a shiny new ride, the many challenges of midlife can lead us to throw off our usual financial restrictions, if only for a moment.
“People spend all this time investing in their marriages and careers and families, and then 10 or 20 years down the line, they often want to renew their enthusiasm for life,” says Dr. James Hollis, a psychoanalyst in Washington, D.C. and author of “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life”.
“That can lead to risky purchases. I knew one couple whose marriage was teetering on the brink, and they went out and bought a home they couldn’t afford. They got to this big empty house and said, ‘What have we done?’”
The danger is that the midlife splurge comes during a period of life when North Americans can ill afford it. After all, in their 40s and 50s, many members of the so-called ‘Sandwich Generation’ are dealing with the twin financial challenges of raising children and helping their own elderly parents.
Meanwhile, they must save for their own retirement, a task for which most Americans have fallen woefully behind. One recent Wells Fargo survey found that 41 percent of those in their 50s were saving nothing for their golden years.
That all makes for a delicate financial dance, with no room for a misstep. That’s why experts advise that those in midlife need to be extra vigilant that some big, emotional purchase doesn’t mess up a lifetime of diligent planning.
Financial planner Robert Foley of Tustin, California says the key is to recognize these midlife emotions when they occur. “It’s normal and okay to have these feelings,” says Foley, who just turned 50 himself and admits to “longing for the sports car I never had”.
Set up some roadblocks for yourself, so those emotions don’t translate into massive bills. Clearing larger purchases (over $500 and up) with your partner, for instance, can be one line of defense against overly impetuous decisions.
Also, build some smaller indulgences into your budget instead, advises Charlotte, North Carolina financial planner Michael Baker. Allow yourself a bigger-than-usual vacation, tie it to some milestone like a birthday or an anniversary, and then work towards it in anticipation.
That way, like a dieter allowing yourself an occasional dessert, you won’t go crazed with deprivation and react by going too far in the other direction.
Matt Welch’s baseball card quest was just such a minor extravagance and seems to have done the trick. At the very least, his affordable midlife crisis got him an excellent collection to show off to fellow Angels fans.
His favourite card: Bobby Grich, a “badass” second baseman with flowing locks and a gigantic ’70s mustache.
Welch’s advice for others desiring a midlife splurge? “Get the spouse’s buy-in early on,” he quips. “That’s very important.”
© Thomson Reuters 2015
- Published in National Post
Here’s a new idea: instead of following the crowds pumping unthinking amounts of money into so-called Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), how about paying down some of your own debt?
In fact, consider completely eliminating all your debt before venturing anywhere near a TFSA. This is especially true of “bad debt” such as credit cards, consumer loans and mortgages on your principal residence. This debt is bad because your interest expense is not accompanied by a tax deduction. Examples of “good debt” include investment loans and mortgages on rental properties where your interest expense is a tax deduction.
Beware that the banks and other financial institutions would like you and your family to have lots of TFSA deposits. At the same time the banks wish you to burden yourself with loans, mortgages and outstanding credit-card debt. In reality you borrow your own money. In effect, the banks profit by renting your own money back to you.
This might not be so bad if it weren’t for the massive spread involved. Your $5,500 TFSA deposit might earn 2.5% for annual interest income of $138 on which you might have paid about $50 in taxes. That’s less than a dollar a week in taxes saved. However, an outstanding credit card balance of $5,500 costs annual interest expense of $1,100 at the 20% charged by most banks. Remember that’s an after-tax figure. To have $1,100 in your pocket to pay the credit card interest expense, you have to go to work and earn about $1,700 before income tax depending on your tax bracket. The before-tax cost of your credit card is actually about 31%. The spread.
Better no TFSA at all if it means having less bad debt. This is true of almost all debt as the spread always favours your lender.
As columnist Jane Macdougall recently rejoiced in the Weekend Post as the nation’s attention turns to financial matters (“Burn Notice: The pleasures of putting your financial feet to the fire” Jan. 3, 2015): “I called up a friend to see what she had to say about where the money goes. She couldn’t come to the phone as she was confined to bed with a severe overdraft.”
In street parlance, many bank customers are being hosed. Perfectly legal.
Elsewhere on the same day in the Financial Post (“Five ways to kick-start tax savings” Jan. 3, 2015) a bank-employed tax expert advised: “After all, there is really no reason anyone should have anything invested in a non-registered account if you haven’t maximized your cumulative TFSA contributions.”
Really really? Surely being debt-free makes for better TFSAs than non-registered investments, doesn’t it?
On the same page as the tax expert, the Family Finance feature at last made the infrequent suggestion to Harry and Priscilla of sacrificing all TFSA monies to partially crush their mortgage. (“Couple worry whether they can keep quality of life in retirement – and own a winter home in the sun” Jan. 3, 2015)
As columnist Garry Marr outlined in three recent front page Financial Post articles (“Fat TFSAs in taxman’s crosshairs” Dec. 2, 2014, “TFSA audits raise fears of wider tax grab” Dec. 3, 2014, “Investors locked out of TFSAs under audit” Dec. 4, 2014) there can be real frustration if your TFSA makes so much money that you might not be allowed to keep your money. If you know what you’re doing or you’re really clever or you just get lucky once in a while, then you would think your TFSA is the perfect investment vehicle for you. Perhaps not in the eyes of Canada’s income tax authority.
Maybe the best thing to do (once you’re free of bad debt of course) is to invest your TFSA money in the common shares of your bank.
Spread the joy of the spread!
Christopher Cottier is an advisor at Richardson GMP, Canada’s largest independent investment dealer. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and readers should not assume they reflect the opinions of Richardson GMP Limited, Member Canadian Investor Protection Fund.
- Published in National Post
VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government is moving to stamp out bogus organic claims being made by farmers that do not have third-party certification.
New regulations will restrict the use of the word “organic” to describe only products that have been certified by a national or provincial certification program, effectively closing a loophole that had allowed local farmers to use the term without being certified, provided they were not selling their products outside B.C.
As part of the new strategy — aimed at providing consumers with assurance that products meet accepted standards — the province will create a new, streamlined provincial certification system.
“We are going to strengthen the standards and reputation of B.C. organic products by regulating the use of the word organic and by helping farmers who want to become organic to do so,” said Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick. “People at farmers markets and shopping at the store want some certainty that the same standards are being observed by everyone who is marketing products as organic.”
Producers marketing products outside B.C. will be required to hold certification by a federally recognized certification body, as is already the case under existing regulations.
“We as certified organic producers go through a process to be able to call our products organic,” said Mary Forstbauer, co-president of the COABC.
- Where ‘Star Trek meets farming:’ Montreal cubic farmer aims to grow 500 heads of lettuce a year in a single square foot
- ‘We’re farming in a polluted world’: Even organic foods are not GMO-free, industry leaders say
- Canada’s organic food certification system ‘little more than an extortion racket,’ report says
However, when the Canadian Organic Standard came into effect in 2009, producers were asked to refer to their certified products as simply “organic,” which has led to confusion among consumers faced with similar labels on goods that may have been produced in very different ways, she said.
“People presented with products that are both labelled organic wonder why one costs more,” she said. “Well, we go through a lengthy verification process, extensive paperwork and inspections for the right to call our food organic.”
The proposed regulatory changes will address a long-standing source of confusion for farmers market customers by providing assurance that farmers making organic claims are following organic standards, according to Vancouver Farmers Markets operations manager Roberta LaQuaglia.
Farmers who claim to be “uncertified organic” are a real source of irritation to vendors who have gone to the trouble and expense of certifying, she said.
“Organic is a word that carries a lot of weight with consumers, but when the consumer hears that a farmer uses organic methods, there is no way to tell what those methods are without certification,” she said. “This will help remove some of the guesswork.”
Vancouver Farmers Markets provide bright red signage to vendors that have organic certification to help differentiate them from conventional farmers, who have until now been allowed to legally use the word organic despite not having certification.
“We do have a problem at our markets where people say they are organic or they use organic methods,” said Ms. LaQuaglia. “We tell [uncertified farmers] they aren’t allowed to make those claims.”
- Published in National Post
NEWMARKET, Ont. — A Toronto-area woman committed an “unfathomable” betrayal by arranging to have her parents killed in their own home over their strict parenting style, an Ontario judge said Friday in sentencing her to life in prison.
Jennifer Pan, 28, was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder last month in the Nov. 8, 2010 attack that killed her mother, Bieh Ha Pan, and left her father, Hann Pan, with a serious head wound.
Her three co-accused — Lenford Crawford, David Mylvaganam and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Daniel Wong — were also found guilty of the same charges.
All four were sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years on the murder conviction, and life for attempted murder. The sentences are to be served concurrently.
In his decision, Judge Cary Boswell said he gave the maximum sentence for attempted murder because it was simply luck that Hann Pan survived such a “crime of terrifying violence.”
“Each of the offenders knew that he or she was involved in a murder plot,” and was aware of the “abject immorality” of the plan, he said.
None of Pan’s family members were in the Newmarket, Ont., court Friday, but her father and brother said in written statements that their lives have been shattered by the attack.
“When I lost my wife, I lost my daughter at the same time,” Hann Pan said in his statement. “On the day Bieh died, I feel I died too.”
Haunted by nightmares and hampered by lingering pain, Hann Pan said he can’t work or return to the family home more than four years after the attempt on his life. Selling the house has proved impossible given the taint of murder, he said.
“I hope my daughter Jennifer thinks about what happened to her family and can become a good, honest person someday,” he said.
Pan’s brother Felix said the stigma of his sister’s actions will follow him his whole life. Even now, he said, it’s difficult to think of, much less talk about, his loss.
Her lawyer, Paul Cooper, said Pan is “devastated” and plans to appeal her conviction.
The Crown said Pan started plotting her parents’ murder after they forced her to choose between them and Wong, her high-school sweetheart turned drug dealer.
The ultimatum came after the Pans discovered much of what their daughter had told them over the past decade was a lie. She had never gone to university, much less graduated, and was living with Wong rather than with a friend, as she’d told them, court heard.
Pan moved back home and appeared to submit to her parents’ wishes, all while planning the attack through text messages and calls on her “secret murder phone,” prosecutors said. That phone’s SIM card was never recovered, but the data stored on the device was presented as evidence during trial.
The killing cost her $10,000, to be paid out from her inheritance, the Crown said.
It’s unclear who shot Pan’s mother and father, though all three intruders were allegedly armed with guns. Mylvaganam’s lawyer told the court his client wasn’t inside the house, nor did he shoot anyone.
Prosecutors said during trial that neither Wong nor Crawford were at the Pan home that night, but acted as middle-men for her and the men who carried out the killing.
The attack initially appeared as a home invasion. Pan told police three men broke in, tied her up and ransacked the house before shooting her parents.
- Investigation into fatal attack on Jennifer Pan’s mother continues despite murder convictions
- Jennifer Pan found guilty in attack on parents that left her mother dead
- Jennifer Pan previously planned to kill parents, but had ‘no plan’ to do it the night it actually happened: lawyer
- Woman accused of arranging to have parents murdered sobs as she describes hearing mother’s ‘last breath’
York Regional Police Det. William Courtice, said investigators began to suspect her after noticing discrepancies in her accounts of what happened. Their suspicions were cemented after it became clear her father would survive, he said.
“Mr. Pan was interviewed almost a week after the murder and his version of what transpired inside the Pan residence varied dramatically from the versions told by his daughter,” he said.
Then, he said, “statements were obtained from friends of Ms. Pan, some of which revealed she had previously hired persons to kill her parents.”
Pan admitted on the stand she had previously tried to have her father murdered, but said she abandoned that plan after the man she hired took off with her money.
Then, distraught at finding her life in shambles, Pan arranged for someone to kill her, she testified. But she said she called off that plan when her situation began to improve.
She told the court the attack was a violent home invasion committed by men she couldn’t recognize.
A trial for a fifth co-accused, Eric Carty, has not been held yet.
- Published in National Post
A bitter dispute over a US$112-million investment in Caribbean casinos has placed Michael DeGroote, one of Canada’s wealthiest businessmen, at the centre of bizarre accusations of Mafia exploitation, death threats and fraud.
Mr. DeGroote, 81 — hailed as a self-made billionaire who was awarded the Order of Canada and has faculties at Hamilton’s McMaster University named after him in recognition of vast donations — is embroiled in a series of ongoing civil lawsuits with former partners after financing Caribbean gambling enterprises.
Dream Corporation Inc.’s adventure began in 2011. Three men were at the helm: Francesco and Antonio Carbone, two businessman brothers from Woodbridge, Ont., who jointly held 85%; and Andrew Pajak, who owed 15%.
They arranged financing from Mr. DeGroote to secure 10 casino locations but their deal soon stumbled. Suspicions and arguments between the partners began less than a year into their venture.
By the time civil lawsuits were filed in Ontario, a widening circle of players had found their way into the business.
It featured Peter Shoniker, a disbarred Toronto lawyer previously convicted of money laundering; a man who has several passports from different countries in different names; and various mobsters, including Vito Rizzuto, who, until his death three months after he strolled through Dream’s flagship casino in the Dominican Republic, was the top Mafia boss in Montreal.
In hindsight, Mr. DeGroot “regrets and is embarrassed by his decisions to have made loans in relation to this project,” said William McDowell, a Toronto lawyer acting on Mr. DeGroote’s behalf.
“The court decisions reflect that Mr. DeGroote has been targeted by a series of unscrupulous people. He has been the victim of wrongdoing at every stage of this matter,” he said.
But the Carbones cast themselves as victims. Finger pointing continues over missing money, corporate records and control of the company. There are lawsuits between the Carbones and Mr. Pajak, between the Carbones and Mr. DeGroote, and between Mr. DeGroote and Mr. Prajak.
Many involved have complicated loyalty.
Mr. Pajak is a longtime acquaintance of both the Carbones and Mr. DeGroote and Mr. Shoniker also appears to have been friends or associates of both.
Mr. DeGroote was then introduced by Mr. Shoniker to a man who gave his name as Alex Visser, although he goes by many names.
In a suite at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton on May 11, 2013, the meeting was secretly recorded by Mr. Visser, apparently without Mr. DeGroote’s or Mr. Shoniker’s knowledge. The recording was entered into court as part of a lawsuit and has been obtained by the National Post.
“You know a good judge of character?” Mr. Visser asked Mr. DeGroote, the recording says.
“I hope so,” replied the businessman.
‘I am going to go to war for you’
Mr. Visser then said he would go to the Dominican and bring back evidence from people that would bolster his lawsuit against the Carbones in return for $500,000.
“Look me in the eyes,” Mr. Visser said, “that’s what I am going to bring you… I am going to go to war for you … I am going to make sure that the Carbones can’t even sell chestnuts on the corner of the f—ing street.”
“Well,” replied Mr. DeGroote, “hopefully they’ll be in jail by then.”
The conversation swayed back and forth between offers and promises.
“I cannot buy evidence,” Mr. DeGroote replied on the recording. But he then haggled to pay Mr. Visser half the amount and said he would have to check with his lawyers.
Justice Frank Newbould gave Mr. DeGroote the benefit of the doubt.
“There is evidence, which Mr. DeGroote acknowledges, that he spoke to someone about obtaining evidence and paying the deponents for the evidence… he says he asked the person he was dealing with, a disbarred lawyer whom the Carbones had earlier hired, if that would be legal,” Judge Newbould wrote in a ruling. “He was told probably not. He then obtained advice from a Bermuda lawyer that it would be illegal and he then said he was not going to follow through with it. He acknowledges that he should not have started down that road.”
Judge Newbould ruled that Mr. DeGroote “established a strong case in fraud,” but without the company’s books and further investigation, by whom remained a question.
In an Oct. 29, 2014, interim ruling in a related claim, Justice Stephen Firestone deemed the unedited audiotapes to be “not reliable and should not be admitted” as evidence.
Meanwhile, the Carbones alleged they were victims of conspiracy and a sabotage campaign and told court their safety was at risk. Their casino business certainly got rocky. But they had faced trouble before.
In 2009, their cigar business was raided in a tobacco tax probe and two loaded firearms were found by police. The brothers said they had been “seriously threatened” and the Crown accepted the guns were not “for any nefarious purpose.” They pleaded guilty to possessing prohibited firearms and ammunition and received 60 days in jail. The man who posted their surety while on bail was Mr. Prajak, who told court he had known them for 18 years.
Their friendship did not survive the Dream debacle.
“It is quite evident that Mr. Pajak and the Carbone defendants have had a falling out,” said Judge Newbould, “and there are allegations going every which way.”
Secretly recorded conversations purporting to be of Mr. Pajak suggest the depths of animosity: The man says he wants to “put a f—ing gun right down their mouths.”
‘These events demonstrate that a lifetime of financial success and philanthropy does not provide a safeguard from becoming victim of fraud’
Robert Trifts, lawyer from Mr. Pajak, declined to discuss the details of the case.
“We don’t have any comments about that. My client will be litigating his case in the courtroom and not in the newspapers,” said Mr. Trifts. He said any secret recordings filed in court have not been accepted as evidence.
“They’re a distraction from the issue that there’s a whole lot of money that’s missing,” he said.
Mr. Visser — also known as Zeljko Zderic, under which he has amassed a significant criminal record, and Sash Vujacic, under which he has a Canadian passport — did travel to the Dominican Republic soon after his meeting with Mr. DeGroote.
There he started making decisions about the casino operation, as if he was the manager. (Mr. Visser could not be reached for comment.)
It caused turmoil within the operation. Working with Mr. Visser was Gianpietro Tiberio, a Quebec man named as a Montreal Mafia figure by the RCMP at Charbonneau commission into corruption.
Not long after, Mr. Visser is seen on casino security footage strolling through Dream casino with Mr. Rizzuto, Montreal’s powerful Mafia boss who, 10 months before, had been released from a U.S. prison for his role in three gangland murders.
- Vito Rizzuto’s final deal: Last known video of Montreal mob boss taken at Dominican casino
- In surprise development, Crown drops gun charges against alleged Montreal Mafia boss
- Climbing the Mafia ladder: Accused Ontario mobster named a wanted fugitive after boss murdered in Sicily
- Mobster gunned down in Montreal was part of a ‘dissident faction’ trying to overthrow Rizzuto: documents
Antonio Carbone said it was around this time that he was threatened by gangsters to walk away from Dream.
“[An] individual told me that Vito Rizzuto was in Toronto and he needed to speak to me urgently,” he reportedly told CBC in an interview.
“He was brought in to intimidate us … Vito Rizzuto presented himself and told me to walk away, or else.”
Mr. Rizzuto was not acting on Mr. DeGroote’s behalf, according to his lawyer.
“He has never been in business with him, he has no association with him, he’s never met him,” said Mr. McDowell on Mr. DeGroote’s behalf.
“As we all know, there are many unscrupulous people who prey on the generosity of retired Canadians. These events demonstrate that a lifetime of financial success and philanthropy does not provide a safeguard from becoming victim of fraud.”
Meanwhile, the civil dispute continues in court. Most of the key people involved in the bizarre case have now been drawn into court actions. Except for Mr. Rizzuto, who died unexpectedly of natural causes on Dec. 23, 2013.
- Published in National Post
OTTAWA — Crown attorneys are lining up a wide range of senators – including some who have not previously been named in RCMP court documents – to be witnesses at the fraud trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy.
The law clerk for the upper chamber warned several senators over the winter break that subpoenas would soon be delivered calling on them to appear at the trial. As well, the outgoing clerk of the Senate, Gary O’Brien, is also to be subpoenaed, along with members of the Senate administration.
The subpoenaed senators will then have to decide whether to invoke their rights as parliamentarians not to testify at trial.
Mr. Duffy faces 31 criminal charges, stemming from his Senate expenses claims and a $90,000 payment from the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, that is the source of two bribery charges.
The suspended senator has long maintained his innocence in the face of allegations from the RCMP that he filed inappropriate housing claims, gave $65,000 in contracts to a former colleague for little in return and redirected some of the money to paying a makeup artist for a photo shoot and a personal trainer.
It is also alleged that Mr. Duffy improperly expensed the Senate for personal travel to funerals and for days when he was campaigning for the Conservatives.
Some of the key senators in the Duffy expense drama have either been warned, or expect to be called by the Crown as witnesses in the case, including former government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton; Sen. David Tkachuk, former chairman of the internal economy committee; and Sen. George Furey, the committee’s deputy chairman.
Postmedia News has also learned that a small number of senators not named in the RCMP court documents – which outlines the case police were building against Mr. Duffy – are to be subpoenaed because they were with Mr. Duffy at a public or private event that is the subject of one of the allegedly fraudulent expense claims.
Those senators were also interviewed by the RCMP as part of its investigation, but did not have their names used in court documents filed by investigators.
Once the subpoenas are delivered, senators will have to decide whether to invoke parliamentary privilege as a reason for not testifying at the trial. That privilege means sitting MPs and senators do not have to unwillingly testify at a trial if it would interfere with their role as parliamentarians. (It doesn’t prevent them from testifying at trial if they are personally subject to criminal charges, however.)
- Published in National Post
MONTREAL – In the mid-2000s, Robert Vanier cut an impressive figure when he rolled into Rimouski, Que. Usually he was in his chauffeur-driven Bentley; at least once he landed in a private jet. He dropped names of the former premiers and business executives with whom he golfed, and a high-ranking provincial police officer was occasionally at his side.
A business professor from the local university introduced Mr. Vanier as he pitched investors on his plan to make a fortune from untapped oil-and-gas deposits in southwestern Ontario. And the people of Rimouski — by the hundreds — dug into their savings to finance what sounded like a sure thing.
“Any time he came here, or we met him in London, [Ont.], there were always serious people with him,” Marius Parent, who sold most of his rental properties to invest “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in Mr. Vanier’s Onco Petroleum Inc., said in a recent interview.
What the people of Rimouski did not know – but police did – was that the smooth-talking Mr. Vanier was in fact Carl Gagnon, a Quebecer with a lengthy criminal record who had been granted a new identity a few years earlier after agreeing to inform against members of the Hells Angels. Some $30-million that people in Quebec, Ontario and beyond invested in Onco has vanished, and this week Mr. Vanier, 59, was in an Ontario court to face charges of perjury and submitting a false prospectus on behalf of Onco. His wife, Terry Beattie, 55, who went by Terri Ramage when she was Onco’s secretary and treasurer, is also charged with submitting a false prospectus.
Any time he came here, or we met him in London, [Ont.], there were always serious people with him
“In the beginning it was a fantastic story,” said Richard-Marc Lacasse, the business professor at Université du Québec à Rimouski who accompanied Mr. Vanier on a road show to pitch Onco and later served on the company’s board. “We had dreams. Natural gas was at $10 per thousand cubic feet, oil was expensive. The potential was there, except along the way we discovered he was a criminal. We didn’t know that.”
In Quebec, some investors are now targeting the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, alleging that the police forces provided cover for a convicted fraudster while keeping investors in the dark. A lawyer’s letter sent last month seeks $70-million in compensation and damages, barring which they intend to file a class action lawsuit.
“Recently it has come to the attention of one of Onco’s investors that beginning in the 2000s, the Sûreté du Québec and its directors were informed of the fact that Carl Gagnon, who had already been convicted of fraud, was in charge of this company and was living a lavish lifestyle,” the letter from lawyer Gilles Daudelin says. It alleges that Mr. Gagnon initially assumed the false identity on his own but was later aided by SQ to have his name legally changed in Quebec. It adds that the RCMP was aware as early as 2006 of Mr. Vanier’s double life but neglected to inform the Ontario Securities Commission.
“I thought I had been naive to invest in that, but my naiveté was fed by the people Vanier hung out with,” said Mr. Parent, who is leading the legal action on behalf of Onco investors. He holds out no hope of getting his money back from Mr. Vanier, but he thinks investors are entitled to compensation from the police forces that were aware of the businessman’s true identity. “The SQ and RCMP knew he was an informant, knew he was CEO of Onco, and they did nothing to protect honest citizens,” he said.
Both the SQ and RCMP said they could not comment on the matter because it is before the courts.
Had people known Mr. Vanier’s life story, they likely would not have been so eager to invest in Onco. Born in 1955 as Carl Gagnon, he played two years of major junior hockey in Shawinigan in the early 1970s before embarking on his criminal career. Over two decades beginning in the early 1980s, he amassed 70 criminal convictions across Quebec before he turned informant. Those convictions included “numerous convictions for fraud,” according to a 2010 agreed statement of facts released when Mr. Vanier was eventually suspended and fined by the Ontario Securities Commission.
In 1999, he became entangled in a car-theft operation with three members of the Hells Angels criminal biker gang. According to news reports at the time, the bikers – including Robert Savard, the right-hand man of gang leader Maurice (Mom) Boucher – were alleged to have beaten him and forced him to commit an armed robbery to recover money that Mr. Gagnon owed them.
He decided to testify against them and obtained police protection. As an informant, he provided roughly 60 statements about various crimes, but when defence lawyers asked to see all of the statements to test Mr. Gagnon’s credibility, the charges against the three were dropped in November 1999. The Crown said it was because it did not want to jeopardize ongoing investigations, but defence lawyers said Mr. Gagnon was a habitual liar. As the prosecution fell apart, an SQ spokesman said Mr. Gagnon was being kept in a secure location for his own safety.
Shortly afterward, a Quebecer going by the name of Robert Vanier turned up in London, Ont. He “was in the Quebec witness protection program,” the securities commission would later report. At first he sold cars, the London Free Press reported, but soon he was hyping a plan to develop oil and gas deposits in the region.
“He was a good promoter, the best promoter I’ve ever met. I’ve been in finance my entire life and I’ve never met anybody like him,” said Peter Bilodeau, an early investor who became president of Onco after Mr. Vanier was forced out in 2008. “You entered a room having a bad day and you left feeling you had wind under your wings and you were flying. He just had a gift with people, very charismatic.”
He was a good promoter, the best promoter I’ve ever met. I’ve been in finance my entire life and I’ve never met anybody like him
Mr. Vanier rubbed shoulders with former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Tobin and former Ontario premier Mike Harris at charitable events. At one point he assured investors that Mr. Tobin was going to become chairman of the board when Onco went public. Mr. Tobin ended up declining, though he never suspected anything fishy. In an emailed statement to the National Post, Mr. Tobin said he did not believe joining Onco was the right thing for him at the time. “I had no indication that he was anything other than as he represented himself, as an entrepreneur in the London area,” Mr. Tobin said of Mr. Vanier.
Mr. Vanier did manage to enlist the highly successful Quebec pulp-and-paper entrepreneur Michel Perron to serve as chairman in 2006, with company documents hailing Mr. Perron’s “impressive corporate governance track record.”
Other members of that board included former Luc Robitaille, a former player for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings; the university professor Mr. Lacasse; and Mr. Lacasse’s wife, Berthe Lambert, who had been director of the Université du Québec’s executive MBA program.
Then there was William Del Biaggio III, a director and chairman of Onco’s audit committee — the man given the job of ensuring everything was on the level.
Nicknamed Boots, Mr. Del Biaggio ran a venture-capital firm in California when he joined Onco’s board. He had owned a small stake in the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and was involved in a group buying the Nashville Predators when his world crumbled in 2008. It turned out a passion for hockey was not all Mr. Del Biaggio shared with Mr. Vanier, and in 2009 he was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of securities fraud. It was revealed that he had forged documents to obtain $110-million in loans used to finance the Predators purchase and that his investment business was a Ponzi scheme.
The Ontario Securities Commission later found that of the $21.8-million Onco claimed to have in available assets when it published a prospectus for investors in 2007, $20-million was owed to Onco by Mr. Del Biaggio. About all Onco really had in the bank was a worthless IOU.
Onco owned and operated oil and gas wells in southwestern Ontario and Michigan, but production was minimal. “The potential was there,” Mr. Lacasse said. “They were old oil and gas deposits, and with some exploration we could have found more. But there was never an effort.”
After opening trading at five dollars a share in November, 2007, Onco shares had dropped to 15 cents when trading was halted in July, 2008 for a failure to file financial statements. In August, 2008, Mr. Lacasse and Ms. Lambert suspended Mr. Vanier and Ms. Ramage, as she was then known, from their positions with the company. An audit had revealed that “a significant portion of Onco’s funds (approximately $17.3-million) was paid to Mr. Vanier and Ms. Ramage personally and/or to one or more companies associated with them,” Mr. Lacasse and Ms. Lambert said at the time.
Mr. Vanier had not even paid the bill for the room at Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame where the company’s initial public offering was launched in November, 2007, in the presence of “an international group of luminary entrepreneurs and celebrities,” in the words of the Onco news release.
Mr. Lacasse and Ms. Lambert said they alerted police in 2008, but it would be another five years before the RCMP announced the charges of submitting a false prospectus and perjury. After a number of delays in the case, the Ontario Crown advised the court this month that it would bypass the preliminary hearing and proceed to trial through a direct indictment. A trial date has not been set.
That is what is especially hard, trying to regain credibility among my friends and family. I recommended that they invest. I said it was a sure thing.
The disintegration of Onco and the revelation by the London Free Press in 2010 that Mr. Vanier was Mr. Gagnon caused embarrassment for police, but in the end no one was punished. Louis Raiche, the SQ officer who accompanied Mr. Vanier at some public events and was photographed next to him at a Rimouski golf tournament, told the Drummondville newspaper L’Actuel in 2013 that confidentiality rules had prevented him from divulging that Mr. Vanier was a former informant. He underwent an internal inquiry in 2010 and was cleared of any wrongdoing. “I can understand that there were shareholders who lost money and are trying to find someone guilty, but this was settled four years ago,” Mr. Raiche, now retired from the SQ, told the National Post.
Mr. Lacasse prefers not to say how much money he sunk into the venture, but he adds that investors who lost everything in Onco had a chance to get out with a small profit before the stock hit rock bottom. “In mining and oil, all the plays are like a casino,” he said.
Usually, though, the casino is not being run by a convicted fraudster benefiting from police protection. Mr. Lacasse acknowledged that he feels badly about his role in touting Onco. “I was naïve, trusting,” he said. He teaches good governance to his university students, but even he did not sense anything was amiss until it was too late.
Mr. Parent saw Onco swallow his retirement savings, but even worse is the guilt he feels over encouraging others to invest. “For sure that chilled the relationship,” he said. “That is what is especially hard, trying to regain credibility among my friends and family. I recommended that they invest. I said it was a sure thing.”
- Published in National Post
‘I wish … you find yourselves exactly like I am now’: Woman who was paralyzed in 2010 botched robbery dies
The woman who paralyzed after being shot in an SAQ store in Baie d’Urfé in 2010 has died.
Montreal police Constable Danny Richer said Friday morning Hélène Leduc died in recent days.
An SAQ employee, Leduc became a quadriplegic after being shot in the neck at point-blank range during a botched robbery on Oct. 18, 2010.
The coroner will perform an autopsy, and if her death is linked to her injury in 2010, the investigation into her attempted murder will be upgraded to a murder investigation.
No one was charged with a crime in connection with the case, though Richer said the investigation is ongoing.
In 2012, Leduc gave an interview that appeared on YouTube. Lying in a hospital bed in the health facility she called home, Leduc told how her life changed completely in a single second.
The last words she heard before being shot: “Turn around, get on your knees, we will not hurt you.”
She told the interviewer that she hoped to meet her assailants “face-to-face, eye-to-eye.”
“I would tell them, ‘I wish you only one thing: that one day you find yourselves exactly like I am now, nothing more, nothing less.”
- Published in National Post
The world might never have seen Nazi Adolf Eichmann face justice if not for the personal zeal of a TV producer
Perhaps television viewers, gathered around in horrified fascination all across the world, had been expecting the shrieks and gesticulations of a fascist ideologue; or even another performance: desperate, tearful denials.
What they saw instead was, in some senses, one of the 20th century’s defining portraits of evil, captured for the first time on the 20th century’s newest medium.
The 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, which ran for four months with each session televised, still haunts the imagination.
But what is not widely known is the crucial role played by a young television producer who passionately persuaded reluctant judges, and indeed Israel’s prime minister David Ben-Gurion, that the proceedings should be screened for the world to see.
It’s no exaggeration to say the broadcast changed history. Milton Fruchtman is a real unsung hero
Milton Fruchtman, who is still alive and living in California, was 35 at the time and the driving force behind the pioneering broadcast, the first time viewers en masse had the opportunity to watch Holocaust survivors testifying to the horrors they had experienced. His story has now been told in a major BBC Two drama, The Eichmann Show, starring Martin Freeman as Fruchtman.
“At the time, the public were not thinking about the people filming the trial. They were, quite rightly, concerned and captivated by the people in front of the cameras,” says Laurence Bowen, the producer of the drama. “But it’s no exaggeration to say the broadcast changed history. Milton Fruchtman is a real unsung hero.”
Fruchtman himself is now 88 and not strong enough to take part in an interview. But in an email during research for the program he told Bowen he had been motivated by reading the philosopher George Santayana.
“I had been warned by one of my professors at Columbia University not to have unattainable expectations,” he wrote. “He said it was impossible for one ordinary person to affect the course of history, even in a minor way. But, fortunately, in my philosophy courses, I also heard [the Santayana saying], ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’ and this dominated my thinking.”
Difficult as it might be for us to imagine today, in 1961 the world had still not faced up to the sheer scale of the Holocaust. Obviously, since the original newsreel footage of the death camps had played in cinemas in 1945, everyone was perfectly aware of what had happened. There was a sense, though, even in some communities in Israel, that people wanted to shut it out. Added to this, the Cold War had been freezing over; the authorities of the West were now focusing on their new enemies on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Fruchtman, a father of two young children, had been following closely the news that Eichmann had been tracked down to Buenos Aires and snatched by Mossad agents, then ingeniously smuggled out of the country in an El Al steward’s uniform. And he burned with a personal zeal to tell the world about Eichmann’s horrific crimes.
He also wanted to warn the world that the Nazi evil had not been wholly extinguished. In 1959 he had been in Munich, making a documentary about neo-Nazis for American TV. One evening, he accepted an invitation to a smart brasserie where Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda vehicle The Triumph of the Will was being screened. To Fruchtman’s indescribable horror, whenever Hitler’s image flickered up, there were cries around him in the audience of “Sieg Heil!”
He also visited a local fencing club. Once inside, he saw that portraits of Hitler and various Nazi leaders had been hung within. Club members clicked their heels to them.
So, as Eichmann sat in an Israeli jail, writing thousands of pages of self-justifying notes and memoirs, Fruchtman approached the court and asked for permission to film the forthcoming court case.
The judges were not sure. Would not the television cameras be an intolerable intrusion? Would filming not lead to accusations that Israel was staging a show trial?
But, as the processes of legal technicality ground on, Fruchtman went straight to the top.
He had interviewed David Ben-Gurion on camera on a previous occasion. Ben-Gurion was profoundly suspicious of the medium of television, regarding it as corrupting. But Fruchtman persuaded him that the trial needed to be recorded and broadcast as widely as possible, not just to show a blood-soaked criminal being brought to justice – Eichmann was hanged the following year in 1962 – but also for the new embattled state of Israel to grab the world by the neck and force it to really listen to the horrors inflicted on Europe’s Jews.
And no one in Israel save him and his director, Leo Hurwitz, knew how to do it.
“In Israel they only knew how to shoot with film, and I wanted to use video,” he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2011. “The light in the courtroom was insufficient for film. Aside from this, at a trial you must work with four cameras. There is a huge amount of raw footage. It was impossible for the Israeli studios, from both economic and technical standpoints.”
Fruchtman, who successfully resisted an attempt by the NBC network to wrest the rights away from him, allayed one of the fears of the judges by building holes into the walls of the courtroom. Cameras were then placed in these holes to ensure they were as unobtrusive as possible.
And when the trial broadcast, which featured on the nightly news bulletins in 37 countries finally began, it had an instantaneous impact.
More than 100 Holocaust survivors appeared in the witness box. Each gave their searing personal testimony: of cattle trucks, dark winter forests, degrading brutality, starvation, torture, the decaying stench of death ever-present.
It thereafter became accepted throughout the West that the Holocaust should be discussed, loudly, its victims properly remembered, not hushed away into the shadows through shame. West Germany became galvanised to track down other war criminal fugitives.
The broadcast also changed the way the world saw wickedness. Eichmann, the architect of death on a scale that is still almost impossible to absorb, did not look like a mass murderer. Fifty-five years old, with receding hair, thick horn-rim spectacles, suit and tie, he projected an air of stolid dullness, summarized by writer Hannah Arendt’s haunting description: “The banality of evil.”
Viewers were transfixed by Fruchtman’s black and white video images that zoomed in on the defendant. They observed him, standing behind bullet-proof glass, every twitch of his face, every rolling “r’” of his deep-voiced self-serving responses. It was the first time such a figure had been held up to such public microscopic inspection.
The trial, for which Fruchtman won a Peabody award for excellence in broadcasting, still chills today, and the BBC drama uses real footage. Eichmann had, from the earliest years of Hitler’s regime, been in charge of the forced movement of Jews. At first, via intimidation and violence, Jews were encouraged to leave Germany, then Austria, their goods and money stolen from them as they went. Then the anti-Semitism intensified step by step to a more terrifying frenzy: the yellow stars, the ghettoes, then the death trains, of which Eichmann was in charge. His implacable logistics created the timetables of slaughter, the transportation of Jews to death camps. He was there at the 1942 Wannsee conference in Berlin where “the final solution” was discussed. He was responsible, among many other atrocities, for sending 400,000 Hungarian Jews to their deaths.
After the war, Eichmann hid himself; at first in Austria, where his wife attempted via the courts to have him declared dead, and then, in 1947, across the Atlantic to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where he worked in a water supply company and called himself Ricardo Klement.
And then, a year after Eichmann’s capture, came the trial (or quasi-trial, since it was a foregone conclusion – he would hardly have skipped out of that courtroom a free man). Eichmann never denied, like some, that he was there close to the heart of the Nazi regime; but his defence of his actions, under the unblinking scrutiny of Fruchtman’s cameras, was couched in such a way to suggest that he was powerless before the workings of a mighty regime.
He described his original Nazi role as “emigration specialist.” “Everything was geared to the idea of emigration,” he said. “But constant difficulties were caused by various offices in a bureaucratic manner.”
He claimed that he had supported the idea of a Jewish state to be established in Madagascar. His wider claim was that manifold obstructions and complications, which he was powerless to remove or solve, somehow resulted in a chain effect that led via cattle truck to the death camps. He was only one cog in an inexorable machine; responsibility lay elsewhere. “Where there is no responsibility,” he said in a later session, “there can be no blame and no guilt.”
But he was lying about his ideological blankness. The German historian Bettina Stangneth, in her recent book Eichmann Before Jerusalem, examined more evidence, deemed inadmissible in that Jerusalem court: tape-recordings from the Fifties when, in Buenos Aires, Eichmann had socialized with Nazi Willem Sassen.
The quality was fuzzy, but Stangneth transcribed them more clearly. What they revealed was the essential Eichmann. “I have to tell you quite honestly,” he declared to his friend, “that if… we had killed 10.3 million, I would be satisfied and say good, we have destroyed an enemy… what’s good for my volk is, for me, a holy command and a holy war.’”
One of the (many) shocking aspects of the televised trial was that Eichmann, who was found guilty of 15 charges of crimes against the Jewish people and against humanity, could not even feign remorse. Yet in a sense, how could he? His hatred of the Jews was at the core of him. How could such a man ever be ‘”de-Nazified”?
Yet this is also one of the reasons the televised Eichmann trials still fascinate. They force us to confront the central mystery of evil. Not so much that it is “banal,” precisely, but that it can look and sound so reasonable, like us. And is there any conceivable way that men such as Eichmann could ever find redemption? By asking us all to look at him squarely, as opposed to simply reading his words, or his self-edited diaries, the television cameras challenged viewers to look into darkness deeper than they had wanted to admit existed.
‘The Eichmann Show’ was aired on BBC Two
- Published in National Post
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