National Post

How Mexico’s drug gangs set up shop in Vancouver

AP Photo/Bullit Marque

Infamous Mexican cartels like Sinaloa and La Familia have sent representatives to the Lower Mainland to broker drug deals with local gangs, The Vancouver Sun has learned.

A Sun investigation has uncovered increasing links between B.C. drug gangs and the notoriously violent cartels that have wreaked havoc along Mexico’s northern border.

For years, local crime groups travelled south to the U.S. and Mexico to work with the cartels. Police now confirm that the Mexican crime groups have moved members north so they can be on the ground in B.C. and other parts of Canada. Calgary Police recently revealed that cartel members are also operating in that Alberta city.

Vancouver Police Supt. Mike Porteous said the cartels have changed their business model, currently preferring to have their own people based in Canada to arrange cocaine shipments into the country.

“The interesting trend that I think we’ve seen over the last couple of years is the cartels are bypassing the middleman,” Porteous said in an interview. “So they are bypassing Tom Gisby and Larry Amero and guys like that.”

Metro Vancouver gangsters like Gisby and Amero used to travel to Mexico to make their deals. Gisby was shot dead inside a Starbucks in Nuevo Vallarta in April 2012. Amero, a full-patch Hells Angel, was arrested in Montreal in November 2012 as an alleged leader of an international drug ring that worked with Mexican cartels to import and distribute about 75 kilograms of cocaine per week. He is awaiting trial.

The exact number of cartel agents in the Lower Mainland is hard to pinpoint — they often cross the border illegally and are deliberately low-key, said Porteous, the officer in charge of Vancouver Police investigative services.

“They are not as identifiable — they are not driving around steroided-up … They are pretty business-like. They fly under the radar,” he said. “The people that they have here are actually very influential. And they come and go of course. But the people they have here are the people who can get stuff done.”

He estimates the high-level cartel reps in the region at somewhere between 12 and 25.

“I would say bosses — a dozen, a couple of dozen — but then they have all their little tentacles,” he said. “Even if you have six or 10 or 12, then they are going to reach out to all of the other existing gangsters that they partner with and then that becomes their group.”

The RCMP’s internal newsletter, The Gazette, published an article last year noting the increasing numbers of cartel members in Canada.

“More recently, there’s been evidence of a definite cartel presence in Canada, specifically Mexican cartels. The roles of those individuals within Canada are very much those of gatekeepers, involved in the importation and distribution of cocaine, as well as logistics and money laundering/currency movement,” the article said.

Asked for more information about cartel members who’ve moved to Canada, RCMP Sgt. Greg Cox told the Sun: “While there are people in Canada working for Mexican organized crime groups, for operational reasons, we aren’t in a position to provide any additional details on this.”

He said RCMP intelligence has “established that Mexican cartel influence has increasingly affected criminal markets in Canada.”

“Consequently, criminal activity in Canada linked to Mexican cartels has become a national priority for the RCMP,” Cox said.

The Vancouver Sun found major Vancouver cartel links in several U.S. prosecutions of Mexicans in the Sinaloa and La Familia gangs.

More than $8 million owned by the Mexican gangs was laundered in Canada in one investigation. Most of that — almost $7 million — was delivered to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent working undercover with Vancouver Police.

AP Photo/Bullit MarqueArrested Canadian nationals James Clayton Riach, left, and Ali Memar Mortazavi Shirazi wait for their inquest proceeding at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.

Three Mexicans living in Canada and a Vancouver man were arrested in the case and deported to the U.S. All have since pleaded guilty.

One of the men — Vancouver’s Ariel Julian Savein — will be sentenced in January 2015 for laundering $811,850 of La Familia’s drug profits.

When B.C. gangsters James Riach, Barry Espadilla and Ali Shirazi were arrested in Manila last January for allegedly operating a major synthetic drug network, police there said the Canadians were working on behalf of a Mexican cartel.

The RCMP later passed intelligence to the Filipino National Bureau of Investigation about a purported cartel plot to kill Riach.

Trials for the three Canadians are currently underway and expected to last into 2015.

Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg Bloomberg’s Best Photos 2014: Drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter by Mexican security forces at Mexico’s International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.

The cartel links continue to be investigated by authorities in Manila, one source said this month.

Several Mexicans have been arrested in Canadian drug investigations in recent years.

In September, Niagara Regional Police announced Jamie Ortiz of Mexico City was among 14 arrested in a massive cocaine smuggling operation involving cartels and Canadian organized crime.

In Kelowna in August, Salvador Ascencio-Chavez was sentenced to 13 years for smuggling 97 kilograms of cocaine into Canada in September 2010 with two B.C. men. At the time, Ascencio-Chavez was living in B.C. illegally after having been deported following an earlier cocaine importation conviction.

Last May, 19-year-old Mexican Andy Garcia Macias was sentenced to six years after smuggling nine kilos of cocaine across the border in January east of Osoyoos Lake.

“Information from various investigations indicates that the cartels importing drugs into Canada continue to seek new smuggling methods,” the RCMP’s Cox said.

“Drugs have been seized from shipping containers, private boats, and commercial planes that have originated out of, or travelled via, Mexico and/or South America. Commercial and private vehicles are also used to smuggle drugs believed to have originated in Mexico into Canada via the U.S.A.,” he said.


AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty ImagesView of one of the graves at Diamante ranch in Nopaltepec, Veracruz state, Mexico on, June 18, 2014, where the bodies of at least 28 people have been exhumed. The bodies were found by members of an army patrol at an abandoned ranch in Veracruz –a stronghold of the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most bloodthirsty cartels.

Victor Manjarrez, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, isn’t surprised by the cartels’ move into Canada.

“When you talk about the Sinaloa gang and the others — people often forget that these cartels are businesses,” he said.

Increased American enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border has impacted the cartels’ ability to make money, said Manjarrez, an expert on border management and security and a former law enforcement officer.

“If you are a Mexican drug lord — a cartel member — and you are looking at this and saying, geez you know in the last 10 years the United States government has doubled the size of the agency responsible for enforcing them … The cost of doing business is going up all the time. So what do you do? You circumvent that and you look for new markets.”

The volume of commercial and vehicle traffic back and forth over the 49th parallel creates what Manjarrez calls “border clutter.”

“The criminal element definitely tries to exploit that. What you are seeing though in places like Vancouver and other places in Canada, you are starting to see recognition by cartels that there are other markets beyond the United States.”

He said the cartel contacts in Canada would be “trusted up and comers.”

“It’s either a family member or a family friend — someone they trust with that franchise. It helps if they’re able to get legal entry documents.”

Sylvia Longmire, a drug analyst and author of Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, said the cartels partner with local gangs if they see a good business opportunity.

“They just find whatever the lucrative drug market is and where the demand is and then they partner up with the local gangs on the street,” she said in an phone interview from Tucson, Arizona.

“You are going to have that I-5 corridor that makes transport back and forth pretty easy.”

Despite the arrest in Mexico last February of Sinaloa leader Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman, the powerful cartel is still going strong, Longmire said.

“They have succession plans in place for quite some time because this is the life. They know that anybody can get caught or killed at any moment.”

Porteous said Vancouver Police and their law enforcement partners in the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and in the U.S. have gathered a lot of intelligence on the cartels’ presence in Canada.

“We are well aware of it and it is a priority for us,” he said. “We actually know a lot about this. This is a big deal so we work hand in glove with the U.S. authorities and with the RCMP on this.”

Vancouverites should not fear the onslaught of Mexican-style cartel violence, because the people who’ve come here don’t want trouble, Porteous said.

“If people read ‘Oh my God, the Sinaloa cartel is here, La Familia Michoacana is here,’ then think all of a sudden we are going to have bandoleros and guys with AK-47s in the streets. That’s not what it is here.”

The cartels pose little threat of violence in this country, but the drugs they bring in do lead to deadly confrontations between B.C.-bred gangs who fight over control of the market, Porteous said.

“I would prefer not to see the drugs come into town at all because once they come in, that perpetuates violence,” he said.

“We want to pick it off south of the border or in a different country or wherever — because once it comes into Vancouver, then there are issues.”

AP Photo / Eduardo Verdugo

AP Photo / Eduardo VerdugoIn this Sept. 5, 2014 photo, weapons allegedly seized from gangs by the military are displayed at a military base in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas state, Mexico. Two rival gangs, the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, which use Tamaulipas as a route to ferry drugs and migrants to the United States have diversified their business, selling stolen gas and crude to refineries in Texas or to gas stations on either side of the border.

He said the two main cartels with representatives here are Sinaloa and La Familia, though police have also seen people from Los Zetas, notorious for its extreme violence, including torture and beheadings.

The cartel representatives are willing to work with any low-to-mid-level crime group in B.C. including gangs like the Hells Angels, the Independent Soldiers and “Middle-Eastern organized crime,” Porteous said.

And while much of the cocaine and methamphetamine they bring in to B.C. is for local distribution, Porteous believes a lot of it is also destined for Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

“Vancouver is an international hub for distribution to Southeast Asia and other countries across the water, where as you know the prices are significantly higher,” he said.

Law enforcement agencies are using whatever means they can to deal with the cartels in Canada, Porteous said. If they’re here on expired visitor visas, the CBSA will target them. If police in any jurisdiction can build cases against them, they’ll be prosecuted, he said.

And police will go after the drug trade profits.

“You have to remember that it is a two-way street. If you are bringing in hundreds and hundreds of kilos of illegal drugs — cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin — into Vancouver and you are generating profit from those sales, then you have to try and move the money out, which is an issue,” Porteous said.

“The biggest thing for us is to disrupt [the cartels] because in my experience as a police officer, criminals will go to an area where it’s easiest for them to work,” Porteous said. “But if it’s disruptions through prosecutions in Canada, prosecutions in the United States, deportations, seizures, our goal is to make it an unpleasant environment for them, to make them go and do their business out of a different city.”

New AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde on native poverty and the ‘cultural genocide’ of residential schools

Perry Bellegarde was elected Wednesday as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which represents people in First Nations communities. He told reporter Mark Kennedy what he hopes to accomplish.

Q: What’s your priority?

A: You’ve got to start bringing back the unity (within the AFN) because elections always seem to divide people. Externally you’ve got to start dealing with governments, federal and provincial. The relationship we had with government was unnecessarily strained. It doesn’t have to be that way. So let’s get to the table.

Q: Do you know why that strain is there?

A: Don’t know. Not until we engage and have a full-fledged dialogue with their cabinet team and the players there. We’ll find out. People don’t get it.

The statistic that rings in my head is six versus 63rd. Canada, according to the United Nations Human Development Index, is rated sixth in terms of quality of life. You apply those same indices to indigenous peoples, we are 63rd. So there’s a gap.

Q: Tell me what that means.

A: What that means is poverty. There’s 14 people living in one house with two bedrooms. There’s no access to potable water. There’s no access to schools. There’s inadequate health care. There’s First Nations children in care. There’s epidemics with youth suicides. There’s disproportionate First Nations people in jails. The list will go on and on and on.

Q: Tell me about how you grew up.

A: I grew up on Little Black Bear (in Saskatchewan). I was born in 1962. Hunting, fishing, trapping. If we didn’t hunt, we didn’t eat. It’s that simple. Chopped wood for a wood stove. Hauling snow for water. We didn’t have running water. All of that stuff. Done all of that.

Q: Was that poverty?

A: I didn’t think it was poverty. I just thought that’s how everybody lived. That’s just what I thought as a child growing up on the reserve. That’s what I assumed life to be. Straining water two or three times so there’s not as much bugs floating around. Not realizing that’s a tough way to live in 1960, 1970, 1980 and even beyond.

Q: Your dad went to the residential schools? Was he affected by it?

A: Oh yeah. He was a good father, lots of love. But you can say the alcohol was there. He passed on (when Bellegarde was 17) and mom picked up the reins and raised six boys. A part of the challenge we have in Canada now is the inter-generational effects of the residential schools. The school taught us it’s no good to be Indian. Cut your hair, your ceremonies are no good, your languages are no good. It’s cultural genocide. We’re still feeling the effects. And the stereotype that Indians are dumb, stupid, lazy, drunk, welfare. That permeated in the racism and discrimination.

Q: On missing and murdered aboriginal women, how do you make the case to Stephen Harper that an inquiry is the right thing to do?

A: Very forcefully, very firmly. And question him. Do you think it’s right? Do you think it’s fair that these numbers keep going up? Would you want one of your siblings or one of your daughters or nieces to be affected in this manner? What would you do? What would you want to see as a parent? To try to get him understand that this is a big issue. It’s not just a crime. It’s a societal thing.

Q: He said it’s not a sociological phenomenon.

A: We need to open his eyes, we need to open his heart. And then we need to create that dialogue where that process can happen.

Q: Following a Supreme Court ruling, you say Canadians cannot cross your land (for an energy project) without your consent.

A: Exactly. It’s a huge arrow in our quiver. It’s a huge game-changer. When you start talking about a national energy strategy, we need to be part of that as indigenous peoples. We’re tired of this poverty that we face and the hopelessness. Everybody else seems to be benefiting from the land and resource wealth. But indigenous peoples aren’t. We need to be there every step of the way, not just for the jobs and the economic wealth creation. But as well, we bring the added element of respecting the land and water.

Postmedia News

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tongue-in-cheek scientific study proves that men are bigger idiots than women


In case there was any doubt before, a team of British researchers has proven men are idiots.

There is even a name for the field: Male Idiot Theory.

Researchers from Newcastle University decided to test the theory by examining sex differences in “idiotic risk-taking behaviour” among Darwin Award nominees over a 20-year span. The Darwin Awards commemorate those who die not in accidental deaths but in idiotic accidents involving “astonishingly stupid methods,” the team writes in the annual Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal.

Past winners include an Iraqi terrorist who mailed a letter bomb with insufficient postage, only to have it explode in his face when he opened his own “return to sender” letter, and a man who died after hitching a shopping cart to the back of a train. He was dragged three kilometres to his death before the train could stop.

Overall, males made up 88.7% of Darwin Award winners over the study period, a “highly statistically significant” sex difference in idiotic risk-taking behaviour, the authors report.

The finding, they conclude, supports their working hypothesis “that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.”

The paper, a departure from the BMJ’s usual diet of serious medical studies, appears in the journal’s Christmas edition, an annual issue featuring quirky scientific papers based on real data. This year’s offerings include a study on which magazines disappear fastest from doctors’ waiting rooms (gossipy magazines are more likely to go missing than The Economist or Time) and “what’s on your surgeon’s playlist?”

The male idiot theory study is described as the first systematic review of its kind.

It has been well established that men are more likely than women to be admitted to hospital with accidental or sports-related injuries. They’re also more likely to die in car crashes.

At The Ottawa Hospital, males represent the majority of trauma patients, according to figures provided to Postmedia News. In 2013-14, men accounted for 69% of all trauma patients seen in emergency (446 men in total, compared to 200 women). Trauma cases involve unintentional falls, motor vehicle collisions and assault.

Cultural and social factors may partly explain sex differences in risk-seeking behaviour, the British team says. For example, men may be more likely than women to engage in contact sports or risky pursuits such as skydiving.

But the researchers focused on a class of risk in a league of its own — “idiotic” risk, defined as “senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent” and the outcome is usually very, very bad.

For their analysis, the researchers reviewed all Darwin Award nominations from 1995 to 2014. They relied on confirmed accounts only, excluding urban legends and “honourable mentions,” such as a man who lost a testicle while using a belt sander as an “auto-erotic” device. He repaired himself with a staple gun.

Of 332 nominations, men and women, typically “over-adventurous couples in compromising positions,” shared 14.

Of the 318 valid cases remaining, 282 awards were awarded to men, and just 36 to women.


The researchers caution women may be more likely to nominate men for a Darwin Award, or that a “reporting” bias may be at play, in that idiotic males may be more headline appealing than idiotic females.

Alcohol may also be a factor, the researchers note. Booze can make men feel “bulletproof.” One 1999 Darwin Award went to three men who played a version of Russian roulette with an unexploded Cambodian landmine. Each took turns tossing back shots and then stamping on the mine. Eventually it exploded, killing all three. Everyone else had already fled the bar.

The authors — all males — were surprised at just how dramatic the gender difference was, “though in truth, I don’t think it surprised any of our female colleagues,” said co-author Dennis Lendrem, a project manager in the medical school at Newcastle University.

His 15-year-old son Ben, the first author, largely drove the study. One day, while reading out entries from one of the Darwin Awards books, he remarked that most of the award winners were male.

“I asked him why he thought that was. And he replied it was because men are idiots, which I thought was very wise for a 15-year-old,” Lendrem said.

He and his co-authors say that men appear not to stop and make any real assessment of the risk. “They just do it anyway.”

In one case, a man was demolishing a car park next to an office building. Office workers watching from the windows wondered how he was going to take down the final support without being crushed, “only to learn on the third day that he actually hadn’t made a plan,” Lendrem said. “The whole thing collapsed and he was crushed, including his digger.”

It was wonderfully quick-witted of him to repair his scrotum with his staple gun. I thought that was just brilliant

Lendrem’s favourite was the man using the belt sander. “It was wonderfully quick-witted of him to repair his scrotum with his staple gun. I thought that was just brilliant.”

Members of the Darwin Awards committee have posited that MIT may be driven by the group selection theory. “It’s about the survival of the species, and that these males are selflessly eliminating themselves from the gene pool in order that the average IQ of the species continues to increase, kind of thing,” Lendrem said.

But that doesn’t hold at an individual level. “Presumably, there has to be some kind of survival advantage to that kind of impulsive behaviour,” when it doesn’t end in death, he said.

Crazy risk-taking may also be a fallout or spillover of the “thrill-seeking,” risk-taking personality, said Temple University psychologist Frank Farley.

“Men do this — pushing the edge — more than women historically, though that is changing fast,” Farley said.

“Going along with that are danger, harm and what some people label as idiocy.”

While tongue-in-cheek, there is a serious message to the study, Lendrem said. His co-author, Dr. Andy Gray, is an orthopedic trauma surgeon, “who literally picks up the pieces of that kind of impulsive behaviour every Friday and Saturday night in the emergency room.”

“I think we should be teaching people that there are high-risk situations where they will be tempted to act upon their impulse, and that maybe they should just pause, give it a second thought and then maybe take action,” Lendrem said.

“I think women do that naturally.”

Watch the U.S. Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWS) blow up a boat and shoot down a plane

U.S. NAVYThe LaWS costs less than a dollar per shot.

The U.S. Navy has long been developing a laser weapon system (or LaWS as they call it) to add to their arsenal.

The amphibious transport ship USS Ponce has been patrolling with a prototype 30-kilowatt-class Laser Weapon System since late August, according to officials. The laser is mounted facing the bow, and can be fired in several modes — from a dazzling warning flash to a destructive beam — and can set a drone or small boat on fire.

The Ponce “provides a unique platform” to deploy the new capability “in an operationally relevant region,” Vice Admiral John Miller, the 5th Fleet commander, said in an e-mailed statement. The ship is the 5th Fleet’s primary command and control afloat staging base for operations.

In the video, made public on Wednesday, shows the LaWS shooting out a boat and an aerial drone.


The advantages of such a laser system over traditional munitions are manyfold. Firstly, lasers can be incredibly accurate and fire shots that can’t be manoeuvred around. Secondly, the damage they do can be very precise, avoiding collateral damage. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that once built the LaWS is plain cheap. According to io9, it costs less than one dollar per shot to fire.

Of course, if you want something to blow up impressively, a traditional shot is still your best bet.

The laser deployment is “a worthwhile experiment” because “it’ll help us feel out the operational limitations” such as power constraints, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in April.

However, he said, “I still think we have some work to do on the technology side.”

John F. Williams / U.S. Navy

John F. Williams / U.S. NavyThe U.S. Navy’s laser cannon, pictured while it was temporarily installed aboard the USS Dewey in 2012.

“What am I looking for? How does it operate in that environment — heat, humidity, dust and at sea,” Greenert said in the interview. “It’s got to roll, move around, how much power does it take to sustain it?”

“I have to take it out and get it wet, and the Arabian Gulf’s a pretty tough environment,” he said.

Naval Sea Systems Command technicians developed the prototype over seven years at a cost of about US$40-million. The Ponce crew was authorized to deploy the weapon after it passed a series of at-sea tests, including lasing static surface targets, the 5th Fleet spokesman Commander Kevin Stephens said in an e-mail statement.

Man faces $75,000 in fines and year in jail after he’s caught bathing in home of endangered Banff Springs Snail

A man is facing up to $75,000 in fines and a year in jail after he was caught in the thermal pool at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site — home to the endangered Banff Springs Snail.

Around 2 p.m. on Nov. 26, Parks Canada staff reported that a man was bathing in the cave’s pool in Banff National Park.

“Park wardens responded and arrested the suspect, who was subsequently charged with entering a closed area under the national parks general regulations and Species At Risk Act,” Mark Merchant, spokesman for Banff National Park, said Wednesday in an emailed statement. “Bathing in the thermal pools damages the snails’ ecosystem.”

The Banff Springs Snail was first discovered in 1926, but it wasn’t studied until 70 years later, in 1996. A year later, it made history as the first mollusk to be designated as threatened.

The world’s entire population of the snails is confined to tiny patches of rare and fragile habitat — the thermal springs. It could easily become extinct unless its habitat is protected, and it has already disappeared from some of its historic range.

Human activities pose the greatest threat, according to Parks Canada.

“By bathing or dipping their hands in the water, people may unintentionally disturb or kill snails as well as their eggs,” it states on its website. “Even minor movements in the water can upset the floating microbial mats on which the snails feed and lay their eggs.

“Chemicals such as insect repellents and deodorants on people’s skin can also harm the snails and their habitat, as can changes in water levels.”

The snails are also susceptible to natural threats — including competition from soldier fly larvae and predation by waterfowl, thrushes, garter snakes and robins, as well as the drying up of the water due to climate change and drought.

They are the size of a kernel of corn or smaller and only spotted when they cling to algae, bacteria, sticks or rocks at the water’s surface as they breathe.

Merchant declined to comment further on the matter, because it’s now before the courts.

The maximum fine for entering a closed area under the National Parks of Canada General Regulations is $25,000. Separately, fines under the Species at Risk Act can go up to $50,000 and/or a year in jail.

It will be up to a judge to determine the fine after hearing the case.

Omar Khadr, already blind in one eye, needs immediate surgery to save failing sight in the other

EDMONTON — Shortly after Omar Khadr wrote his Grade 12 social studies exam in prison this summer, his eyesight began to fail.

By the end of August, Khadr, 28, was unable to read and resorted to audiotapes of books while prison authorities looked for medical care. His studies “slowed dramatically,” said longtime tutor Arlette Zinck.

Khadr, who spent 10 years in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lost the sight in one eye when he was 15 during a 2002 battle in Afghanistan against U.S. soldiers.

In a 2010 plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to five crimes when he was a teenager, including the murder of a U.S. special forces soldier in the same battle in which he lost the sight in his eye, attempted murder, conspiracy, spying and providing material support for terrorism.

A medical appointment this fall confirmed failing sight in the second eye is also the result of wounds sustained in that battle, Ms. Zinck said.

‘We’re optimistic; the doctors have said there is a good chance it will be cured with surgery’

Surgery can restore the sight in that eye, but it needs to happen soon to avoid permanent damage, said the tutor, an English professor at King’s University in Edmonton.

“We’re optimistic; the doctors have said there is a good chance it will be cured with surgery,” she said.

Khadr has completed about half of his high-school degree, said Ms. Zinck, who met with the prisoner in Guantanamo and has organized his studies for years.

Ms. Zinck said Corrections Canada took over his studies in August while her team of professors provides additional support.

Khadr can barely see words out of his one eye so stopped reading. Writing is “very slow, difficult and tiring,” Zinck said.

“The prison is aware of the issue and working to accommodate this” in his studies, she added.

Khadr is about halfway through the eight-year sentence he received in his plea bargain with a U.S. military commission. He is eligible for a parole hearing in June.

He will find out Thursday if the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the federal government’s challenge of an Alberta decision that ruled Khadr’s sentence for crimes committed at 15 years is a juvenile sentence. If the court rules in his favour, he would be moved to a less harsh provincial jail.

Khadr has since repudiated his guilty plea, saying that was the only way to get out of Guantanamo. Unlike civilian courts, the military commission accepts evidence obtained under torture.

A U.S. Senate report released this week described CIA’s techniques at Guantanamo and other secret “black sites” as illegal interrogation and “harsh and brutal torture” that did not any produce information that aided in capture of terrorists.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled Khadr’s charter rights were violated when Canadian officials participated in Guantanamo’s abuses by interrogating Khadr after weeks of sleep deprivation.

Postmedia News

Roadmap of skin cells’ transformation into stem cells by Canadian-led researchers hailed as medical breakthrough

TORONTO — A Canadian-led international team of researchers has begun solving the mystery of how a cell taken from a person’s skin is reprogrammed into an embryonic-like stem cell, from which any other cell type in the body can be generated.

The research is being touted as a breakthrough in regenerative medicine that will allow scientists to one day harness stem cells to treat or even cure a host of conditions, from blindness and Parkinson’s disease to diabetes and spinal-cord injuries.

In addition to creating the reprogramming road map, the scientists also identified a new type of stem cell, called an F-class stem cell due to its fuzzy appearance. Their work is detailed in five papers published Wednesday in the prestigious journals Nature and Nature Communications.

Dr. Andras Nagy, a senior scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, led the team of 50 researchers from Canada, the Netherlands, South Korea and Australia, which spent four years analyzing and cataloguing the day-by-day process that occurs in stem-cell reprogramming.

The work builds on the 2006-2007 papers by Shinya Yamanaka, who showed that adult skin cells could be turned into embryonic-like, or pluripotent, stem cells through genetic manipulation, a discovery that garnered the Japanese scientist the Nobel Prize in 2012.

Dr. Nagy likened the roughly 21-day process to complete that transformation to an airplane’s “black box” that tracks its flight, because scientists did not know what went on within the cells as they morphed from one cell type into the other.

“You start with a skin cell, you arrive at a stem cell — but we had no idea what was happening inside the cell.” he said Wednesday following a briefing at the hospital.

Dr. Nagy’s team set about cataloguing the changes as they occurred by removing cells from culture dishes at set points during the three-week period, then analyzing such cellular material as DNA and proteins present at that moment.

The result is a database that will be available to scientists around the world, which the team hopes will spur new research to advance the field of stem cell-based regenerative medicine.

Co-author Ian Rogers, a scientist in Dr. Nagy’s lab, said the database will allow researchers to identify various properties of developing stem cells, which could mean improving their ability to treat or cure disease.

‘You start with a skin cell, you arrive at a stem cell — but we had no idea what was happening inside the cell’

Dr. Jim Woodgett, director of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai, said Dr. Nagy’s team has in effect created a rule book for tissue regeneration.

“This encyclopedic data set … will worldwide help to power many more discoveries by hundreds of research labs working in this field and in the fields of cancer and fetal development and many other areas,” he said.

Calling it an extraordinary achievement, Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins hailed the research as a game-changer that will open up new frontiers in scientific and medical knowledge around the globe.

“This research can and will and is leading to new medical treatments using a patient’s own cells,” he told the briefing. “That kind of individualized treatment is something that physicians like me have only dreamed of in the past.”

Dr. Nagy said the next step is to further mine the database to understand more of what is happening during the cell-to-stem cell transformation. He estimated the work so far represents only about 10% of the knowledge that can be gleaned about the process.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to translate the basic science into therapies that will help patients, he said.

“In the end, we hope that this research and this knowledge is going to accelerate the process of using cell-based therapies for regenerative medicine. Then everybody’s going to benefit.”

The Canadian Press

Middle-aged man stabbed to death in Toronto’s quiet High Park neighbourhood

A man in his 50s was stabbed to death in Toronto’s High Park neighbourhood on Tuesday night, police say.

Emergency crews found the man suffering from multiple stab wounds at an apartment building at 100 High Park Ave., around 8:40 p.m. He was pronounced dead at hospital.

A man in his 20s was arrested at the scene and will be charged with second-degree murder, Toronto police Const. Victor Kwong said. The accused is expected to appear at Old City Hall court sometime Wednesday afternoon.

Const. Kwong could not confirm whether the victim knew the suspect.

Prince William, Duchess Kate wrap up New York visit with trip to 9/11 memorial

AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool

NEW YORK — No one visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York expects to be anything but moved, but the Duchess of Cambridge admitted she was unprepared for just how affecting it would be as she spoke of her “awe” at what she was seeing.

After laying a wreath to the victims at the site of the twin towers, the Duchess described her emotional response at being able to touch the names of the nearly 3,000 victims cut into bronze rails around the monument’s reflecting pools. On the final day of the Duke and Duchess’s brief visit to the U.S., she placed a bouquet of white roses, the state flower of New York, on part of the memorial.

A handwritten message on the flowers said, “In sorrowful memory of those who died on 11th September, and in admiration of the courage shown to rebuild,” followed by their signatures, William and Catherine.

Allison Blais, the museum’s chief of staff, said the Duchess “talked about how in awe she was of the enormity of the space. It was something she did not anticipate. She also talked about how moving the memorial was, and being able to touch the names of the victims outside on the pools.”

AP Photo/Richard Drew, PoolKate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William are escorted by Joe Daniels, CEO of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, during their visit to the memorial, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.

Joe Daniels, the museum’s chief executive and president, said: “You could see it really in both their eyes, the sort of care and curiosity they had for the story of what happened and the people who died that day.”

A handful of onlookers braved the wet weather for a glimpse of the royals.

“I love them so much,” said Kristina Crossan, a 24-year-old teacher from New Jersey. Her mother, Marianne Crossan, called the rain “a small price to pay.”

Curious museum-goers stood by to get a look at the royals — including the pregnant Kate’s hot-pink Mulberry coat, black tights, and black stiletto-heeled pumps, over a black dress from maternity designer Seraphine. Other fans braved heavy, cold rain outside.

AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool

AP Photo/Richard Drew, PoolPrince William, Duke of Cambridge and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, view the art installation of Spencer Finch during a tour of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014 in New York.

The royals, now 32, were beginning their studies at the University of St. Andrews when the attacks happened.

The morning visit to the World Trade Center site where 67 British citizens died — the most of any foreign country — came on the last day of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s trip. Their visit to New York and his to Washington was the first time either of them has visited those cities.

Jason DeCrow - Pool/Getty Images

Jason DeCrow – Pool/Getty ImagesPrince William and Catherine go to the St. Andrews 600th Anniversary Dinner on Dec. 9, 2014 in New York City.

After the museum, the royal couple watched dance and storytelling performances at The Door, a youth development organization. Tapping his feet quietly during a hip-hop-style dance performance, William also showed he was moved by one young man’s story of his father’s incarceration and his own brush with a jail term in an assault case.

“I had a low period in my life, and never in a million years did I expect I would be performing for the duke and duchess,” Steven Prescod, 22, said later.

William approached Prescod and peer educator Ely Olivero, 22, after the show, calling it “incredible,” Olivero said.

The royals went on to a reception celebrating the arts, with guests including actor Patrick Stewart and producer Harvey Weinstein. And William got a look at the view from the Empire State Building’s famous 86th-floor observatory while attending an innovation-focused reception with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The duke and duchess ended their trip at a black-tie scholarship fundraiser for their alma mater, St. Andrews, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kate wore a dark green crepe, pleated, off-the-shoulder Jenny Packham dress, one she has worn before.

The Daily Telegraph, with files from The Associated Press

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

AP Photo/Craig RuttlePrince William, the Duke of Cambridge, walks outside the Empire State Buidling in New York Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.
Paul Edwards - Pool/Getty Images

Paul Edwards – Pool/Getty ImagesPrince William, Duke of Cambridge visits the observation deck of the Empire State Building on Dec. 9, 2014 in New York City.
Kena Betancur-Pool/Getty Images

Kena Betancur-Pool/Getty ImagesKate, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, are applauded by students and staff after a visit to “The Door” and the City Kids Foundation, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014 in New York.

CIA misled Congress about terror interrogations, torture report finds

The CIA misled Congress and White House officials about its interrogations of terror suspects and mismanaged a program that was far more brutal and less effective than publicly portrayed, according to a report by Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee.

The harsh interrogations weren’t effective and didn’t produce key information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, contrary to claims by program supporters. Details of the program were kept hidden from policy makers, according to an executive summary of the 6,000-page report released today in Washington.

“This document examines the CIA’s secret overseas detention of at least 119 individuals and the use of coercive interrogation techniques — in some cases amounting to torture,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence panel, said in a statement.

At least 26 of the detainees didn’t meet the standards for being held, according to the report. In the fall of 2002, a detainee died of hypothermia while shackled to a concrete floor. Another detainee was held for 17 days in the dark without anybody knowing he was there.

The final report, which cost $40 million and took six years to complete, is the most comprehensive assessment of the Central Intelligence Agency’s so-called black site detention facilities and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

‘Amounting to Torture’

The report’s release has renewed debate about the CIA’s tactics and prompted warnings of possible reprisals against Americans or U.S. facilities abroad. President Barack Obama ordered a stop to the program when he took office in 2009 and supported the report’s release.

Contrary to claims by the agency, the brutal methods didn’t lead U.S. officials to the identity of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a finding that helped uncover the al-Qaeda leader’s location, according to the findings.

The interrogation of terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded at least 83 times, was more brutal than previously known. At one point, he was put in a 1 1/2 meter box and was knocked unconscious during a waterboarding session during which water and bubbles poured from his mouth, according to the summary. Other detainees with broken legs and feet were inappropriately forced to sit in stress positions.

20 Cases

The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of interrogation cases that the CIA claimed produced valuable information. None of the cases showed that information was obtained that saved lives or that couldn’t have been gleaned from other means, according to the findings.

Instead, the panel found that the CIA used interrogation techniques that differed significantly from those authorized by the Department or Justice and described to U.S. policy makers and lawmakers, according to the summary.

President George W. Bush and the full Senate intelligence committee weren’t briefed on the techniques until 2006. Some members, including Feinstein and Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, raised objections. However, the CIA then turned around and informed the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel in a classified setting that no senators objected.

Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee released the findings over the objections of current and former U.S. officials including Bush.

Bush, Cheney

The panel found no evidence that the CIA briefed Bush about the harsh interrogations prior to 2006, although it learned that former Vice President Dick Cheney was in meetings where the tactics were discussed.

Despite warnings from opponents of the report’s release, including some Republicans on the panel, that Americans would face retaliation overseas, Obama supported release of the report, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday.

“The president believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired,” he said. Earnest said the administration has taken steps to improve security at U.S. facilities around the world.

Releasing the findings will give terrorists fresh ammunition to escalate their violence and put the lives of additional U.S. officials and allies at risk, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee.

‘For What?’

“All they’ve got to do is find something they think indicates something and they’ll use it for their propaganda machine,” Rogers said yesterday at a meeting of Bloomberg Government reporters and editors. “Why are we going to risk the lives of some diplomat, for what? We’re going to risk the lives of some intelligence official who had nothing to do with this, for what?”

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats are firing back against such warnings.

The eight Democratic members of the intelligence committee, as well as Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, an ex officio member as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to “memorialize” what they said is his support for releasing the report in a Dec. 6 phone call with them, according to a U.S. official who’s read the letter.

“As the government official making the formal decision to declassify, it is your assessment that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the potential damage to national security and that you believe that you share the responsibility for making the committee’s study publicly available,” their letter says, according to the U.S. official and two congressional staff members, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss the internal correspondence.

‘Elegant Time’

“There will never be an ‘elegant’ time to release this study, as it describes in stark detail the detention and interrogation actions of the CIA,” the letter continues, according to the U.S. official. “As such, you believe it is better to release the report now so that the intelligence community can begin to move past this chapter of its history.”

The nine Democrats said they disagree with the accuracy of some statements in a classified Nov. 25 intelligence community assessment of the potential consequences of releasing the report, according to the official.

Some Democrats and human-rights activists have hailed the report for finally exposing flaws and possible crimes in the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, which largely operated from 2002 to 2005.

White House officials this morning were scheduled to brief former intelligence and counterterrorism officials who are prepared to defend the report’s release on television and elsewhere.

Kerry’s Support

Secretary of State John Kerry also supports releasing the findings, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. Kerry discussed the implications of the release in a phone call Feinstein and said it was up to her to decide when to do so, Psaki said.

Republicans and former Bush administration officials who ran the program condemned the report in advance as a biased attempt to rewrite history. They say the interrogations produced significant intelligence that helped capture terrorists and protect the country.

Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Jim Risch of Idaho, both members of the committee, criticized the report yesterday as “one-sided” and faulted Democrats on the panel for releasing it.

“This report does not qualify as either serious or constructive,” Rubio and Risch said in a statement. “This was a partisan effort that divided members of the committee, and the committee against the people of the CIA.”

Riots, Retaliation

U.S. officials are bracing for international blowback that could fuel riots and retaliation in countries hostile to the U.S. The Defense Department warned U.S. commands overseas on Dec. 5 to take appropriate force protection measures in anticipation of the findings release, and the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies have directed overseas posts and personnel to review and in some cases bolster their security.

The report appears to be “way off-base,” Bush said in an interview Dec. 7 on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” Bush said. “These are patriots. And whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.” Others who are part of the campaign include Bush’s former CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden.