National Post

He rubbed shoulders with a premier and is accused of spiriting away millions. He also doesn’t exist

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.”

National Post

DECLASSIFIED: Memo to PM on Ottawa Attack

This “Secret” Memo — almost completely redacted — is the only document the Privy Council Office released in response to an Access to Information request filed by the National Post for copies of all briefings Prime Minister Harper received in the aftermath of the Oct. 20 and 22 attacks in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa. The blocks of information were withheld on grounds of security, international affairs and defence, and solicitor client privilege. An additional four pages were completely withheld because they were deemed “personal information.”

Hot, sweaty, risqué: Moncton promotes University with video implying students all over each other

Canadians go to university to get an education. But it arrives, we know, at a particularly hormonal moment in most young peoples’ lives — a hot, sweaty, risqué fact that the Université de Moncton has bravely recognized by doing something universities never do: producing a sexy (yes, sexy) new promotional video marketing the, ah, all-around student experience at the French-language school.

The 30-second video spot features attractive young people engaged in many acts, from peering through a gizmo in a science lab — to sucking face in the library stacks. It is that not-so fleeting kiss that has sparked a minor kerfuffle in Moncton, while generating tens of thousands of YouTube hits for an advertising campaign that, were it not for a few lab coats, could easily be mistaken for a beer commercial.

“When you launch an ad campaign there is people that like it, and people that don’t,” says Marc Angers, UdeM’s director of communications and marketing. “We did [market] testing for a target audience of 16-18 years of age. And the research showed they were looking for lifestyle when they chose a post-secondary education.”

And the point of the campaign, beyond its shock value, and its nods to Acadian pride (the Acadian flag makes two cameos), its clever play on the French word “langue,” — which is French for “language” and “tongue,” and which appears at least six times in the video’s voiceover including the exact moment of the library kiss (“It’s the language of business affairs … and other affairs”) — is to convince young people to say to their folks: ‘‘I am applying to UdeM.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSwSIALZZqE&w=620&h=379]

Alas, argues Marie-Noelle Ryan, president of the university’s professor’s and librarians’ association, the kids that bite on the sexy-library bait will be disappointed when they wake up in first-year physics class.

“It is a false image of what it is to study at the university,” the professor told the Moncton Times and Transcript.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether a rape culture exists on Canadian university campuses. But one culture that is indisputably demonstrable, and could be testified to by legions of graduates, male and female, is a randiness that pervades places of higher learning.

As legend had it around Queen’s while I was there for graduate school, things have been known to happen in the Joseph S. Stauffer library. University libraries, it seems, are the campus equivalents of the airplane washroom.

“It’s something we consider much ado about nothing even if there is some perception of a controversy,” Michel Albert, the student union’s communications director, said in response to stories about the ad on CBC and the U.S. Gawker site.

The video’s closing scene depicts a winsome lass glancing over her shoulder, inviting the viewer to sidle on down towards the beach, and a circle of friends gathered there.

They are standing around a fire. The sun has set. Campus life has never looked so good.

“What’s important for us is, it worked,” Mr. Angers said. “It did what it was aimed for: it generated awareness.”

National Post, with files from Ashley Csanady, Postmedia News

Women have casual sex for fun, Ottawa study finds — the mushy emotional stuff comes later

sex-study

In a report that should surprise no one, University of Ottawa researchers have determined that women have one-night stands for the sex.

In a survey of 510 mostly Canadian women, “the person’s physical appearance turned me on” was rated as the number one reason heterosexual respondents had opted for casual sex.

Although women in committed relationships reported having sex as an expression of love or affection, casual sex was almost purely physical. The number two and number three reasons for casual sex, respectively, were “It feels good” and “I was ‘horny.’”

“To my knowledge, this is the first study to specifically compare physical and emotional reasons for casual sex,” said study co-author Heather Armstrong, writing in an email to the National Post.

Emotional closeness barely even made the list. As per the survey, women are more likely to have casual sex because a man had “beautiful eyes” and “smelled nice,” rather than doing it because they wanted to feel intimate.

Prepared by the University of Ottawa’s Human Sexuality Research Laboratory, the study’s stated goal was to “explore women’s motivations to have sex” — whether it be straight sex, gay sex, casual sex or sex with a spouse.

“As expected, women reported more physical motivations for casual sex and more emotional motivations for sex in a committed relationship,” read the study.

As expected, women reported more physical motivations for casual sex and more emotional motivations for sex in a committed relationship

Namely, committed women were far more likely to have sex with their partners to “show my affection,” “communicate at a ‘deeper’ level” or solidify “the natural next step in my relationship.”

However, even in marriages and long-term courtships, “it feels good” still held the #1 spot as to why a heterosexual woman would take her partner to bed.

Recruited mostly from a “large, urban university in eastern Canada,” the study’s 510 subjects were 78% Caucasian, mostly non-religious and had a mean age of 21.6 years.

Possibly due to the relative youth of the group, it included a high number of current or recent virgins, as evidenced by the #24 reason for having casual sex with a man being “I wanted to see what it would be like to have sex with another person.”

In recent decades, the science of casual sex has been informed heavily by a 1989 study out of the United States. Prepared by researchers Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield, the study recruited men and women on U.S. university campuses and asked them to approach classmates with random propositions for sex.

Of the men approached by female participants, an incredible 69% agreed. By contrast, not a single woman assented to a man’s random request to “go to bed with me tonight?”

More recently, a 2011 study out of the University of Michigan found that when women can be assured of “safety” and “sexual prowess,” they were just as likely as men to opt for a night of commitment-free sex.

“The extent to which women and men believed that the proposer would be sexually skilled predicted how likely they would be to engage in casual sex with this individual,” read the study.

Asked if she suspected that her study reflected a change in sexual norms, Ms. Armstrong responded that rates of casual sex are likely rising — but that the reasons for it are pretty much the same as they always have been.

“People have casual sex because it feels good and because their partner’s attractive and I think that probably would have been the case in the past as well,” she said.

National Post

• Email: thopper@nationalpost.com

Infected and undocumented: Thousands of Canadians dying from hospital-acquired bugs

Handout

Kim Smith was no stranger to stress — her job in community corrections often brought her face to face with members of Winnipeg’s violent street gangs.

But as she lay in a local hospital’s gynecology ward more than a year ago, nurses called her brother with an unusual question: Did Kim suffer from any kind of emotional troubles?

The woman, her caregivers said, had been telling them she wanted to kill herself.

It was a shocking turn of events, coming a week after Ms. Smith entered St. Boniface Hospital for a routine hysterectomy and ovary removal. In the days since the operation, however, she had been complaining of escalating pain in her gut, so intense she began to fear for her life — and then apparently wanted to end it.

By the time medical staff took the woman’s complaints seriously, an infection inside her belly had developed into necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) and devoured large chunks of her abdomen.

Within hours of emergency surgery to drain “brown, foul-smelling liquid” and excise dead tissue, and four days after her 45th birthday, Ms. Smith was dead.

“She kept yelling at me, ‘I know my body, I know there’s something wrong in my stomach and nobody wants to listen to me. And I’m going to end up dying here,’ ” said Kym Dyck, her sister-in-law. “She died the most horrible, painful death anybody could suffer, and nobody would listen to her and reach out to her.”

Ms. Smith’s tragic demise was more dramatic than many cases of hospital-acquired infection (HAI). Necrotizing fasciitis is a frightening, but rare, complication. Still, about 8,000 Canadians a year die from bugs they contract in facilities meant to make them better, while many more see their hospital stay prolonged by such illness.

Yet after years of well-intentioned work and millions of dollars spent on combatting the scourge, the details and extent of the problem remain murky.

No national statistics, for instance, document the number of surgical-wound infections like Ms. Smith’s, one of the most common types of hospital-acquired pathogens.

A federal agency now publishes rates of sepsis, or blood infection, at individual hospitals, but their methodological value is a matter of debate. Government tracking of worrisome, drug-resistant bacteria is patchy and of questionable practical use, say infectious-disease physicians.

“There is no question that at a national level, both our surveillance for hospital-acquired infection and our surveillance for anti-microbial resistance is not serving our needs,” said Allison McGeer, an infectious-disease specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. “[And] we know, very substantially, that you can’t fix what you’re not measuring.”

Meanwhile, important lessons about how diseases spread inadvertently within health facilities often come to light in fits and start.

Two hospitals in Toronto and one in Quebec, for instance, announced independently in the late 2000s that they had discovered contaminated sinks were the source of separate, deadly outbreaks of infection.

Some word of the episodes got out through specialized medical journal articles, academic conferences and sporadic news stories. But there is no systematic way of disseminating such information across the system, said Darrell Horn, a former patient-safety investigator for the Winnipeg Region Health Authority.

“It’s just totally loosey-goosey,” he said.

You could sit and call every hospital in the country, and ask them when was the last time they cleaned the sink in the [neonatal intensive care unit] and how they cleaned it, and you’d get nothing but blank stares

“You could sit and call every hospital in the country, and ask them when was the last time they cleaned the sink in the [neonatal intensive care unit] and how they cleaned it, and you’d get nothing but blank stares.”

Health care is paying much more attention, at least, to the HAI problem than it did a decade ago, said Dr. Michael Gardam, infection-control director at Toronto’s University Health Network.

HandoutDarrell Horn, a Winnipeg-based medical error investigator, says the few reports done on incidents often end up in “black holes” with no one seeing them.

After heavy media coverage of the mostly hospital-based severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak and deadly hospital infestations of Clostridium difficile, said Dr. Michael Gardam, infection-control director at Toronto’s University Health Network.

As health-care-related infection became a very public affair, hospitals started hiring more experts, encouraging hand-washing and generally striving to prevent infection, rather than just treating it after the fact as an unavoidable cost of doing medical business.

Dr. Gardam’s hospitals have even begun characterizing hospital-acquired infections as adverse events, akin to more traditional medical error.

Whether because of such measures or not, Ms. Smith had few fears when she entered St. Boniface on Sept. 30, 2013, for an operation for uterine fibroids, her family says.

She likely did not know that most surgical-wound infections arise from bacteria patients carry into hospital on their skin, which can then sneak inside through incisions, especially when infection-control safeguards are not optimum.

As early as the day after her operation, the Métis woman began to complain of pain in her abdomen, only to be told by nurses that she simply needed to walk about, Ms. Dyck recalls.

Some of that suffering is reflected in her patient charts, obtained by the family and provided to the National Post.

On Oct. 1, she complained of gastrointestinal bloating and discomfort; the following day, heartburn, bloating and slight nausea, the records note.

On Oct. 3, the chart refers to her feeling unwell and weak, then projectile vomiting. The next day, she had “lots of gas pains,” and the day after that abdominal pain “controlled with PO” (prescription opioids).

Finally, early on Oct. 6, came the call about her self-destructive thoughts.

“Nurse found her confused, half-naked, pulled her IV out anxious. Saying she is at her end and is suicidal,” the chart said. A later notation suggested anxiety was prolonging her recovery and the sedative Ativan was administered.

Then, sitting at her side 12 hours later, her brother Trevor Smith noticed a strange purple discolouring of his sister’s feet, the kind of “mottling” that can be a sign of imminent death, and raised the alarm.

Lyle Stafford for National Post

Lyle Stafford for National PostTrevor Smith, the brother of Kim Smith holds her portrait in her Winnipeg, Manitoba home.

Ms. Smith was soon being wheeled into the operating room, where the surgeons who opened her up first observed “a large effluent of brown, foul-smelling liquid from the abdominal cavity.” They removed several abscesses, drained the liquid, then discovered the worst — necrotizing fasciitis expanding through the peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen) and abdominal muscles.

St. Boniface declined to comment on the case, saying it was prevented from doing so by provincial legislation. But Ms. Dyck said one doctor told her staff had likely not adequately disinfected her sister-in-law’s stomach before the hysterectomy, ensuring any bacteria that came with her into the operating room stayed on the outside.

medical-errors-

While not every surgical infection is preventable, “they can be dramatically minimized” with well-documented precautions, Dr. Gardam says.

If hospital infections are at least sometimes preventable, to what extent is the problem being monitored and how much of that information becomes public?

Some provinces, such as Ontario and British Columbia, require hospitals to report to the government on a few common infections, such as C. difficile, blood infections transmitted by the “central lines” used to access major blood vessels, and pneumonia from ventilator use. Ontario hospitals must report their compliance with tactics designed to prevent surgical infections, though not the infections themselves.

Experts debate whether publicly reporting data actually benefits health care, but a 2012 study found that C. difficile rates in Ontario hospitals dropped by 25% after the province started divulging statistics on the disease.

Many provinces, though, have no such requirements, and the national picture is hazy. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reports rates of sepsis, and stats that indirectly address infection, such as the rate of death and re-admission to hospital following some procedures.

Some infectious-disease specialists, though, are unimpressed by its infection numbers, obtained by analyzing hospital records after the fact.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” Dr. McGeer said of the figures. “You cannot count infections using CIHI data, and CIHI knows that.”

What is needed to paint an accurate picture is experts at each hospital reporting “true cases,” she says.

That is the goal of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program, arguably the country’s premiere example of transparency on the diseases that health care gives its patients.

The program’s focus is drug-resistant bacteria, the increasingly familiar methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) and C. difficile. It is based, though, on a sampling of just 57 teaching hospitals, a fraction of the country’s 250 or so acute-care hospitals. The SARS outbreak, for instance, erupted at a community hospital that is not part of that network.

Infectious-disease doctors have long complained that it takes too long for the data those hospitals submit to the Agency to be posted.

Lyle Stafford for National Post

Lyle Stafford for National PostBy the time medical staff took Kim Smith’s complaints seriously, an infection had developed into flesh-eating disease and devoured large chunks of her abdomen.

“If I want to know what’s happening with MRSA, I call my friends,” said Dr. McGeer.

More complete, and easier to access, is the system developed by the European Centre for Disease Control, says Lynora Saxinger, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Alberta. It not only tracks drug-resistant bugs, but matches those stats with the use — or possible over-use — of antibiotics, considered the main cause of the problem.

The latest concern of infectious-disease specialists is a class of antibiotic-defeating organisms known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacaeae (CRE), a “game changer,” said Dr. Saxinger. The death rate is as high as 50%.

CRE is part of the public health agency’s surveillance system, meaning those 57 hospitals submit their numbers, but Dr. McGeer said all acute-care hospitals in Canada should have to report them.

Meanwhile, “the last CRE outbreak … I heard about it on the news,” said Dr. Saxinger.

There is no evidence Ms. Smith was infected with a drug-resistant organism, but by the time she went in for emergency surgery, it appears little could have saved her. Indeed, once begun, necrotizing fasciitis has a 70% death rate.

Early the next morning, her blood pressure had sunk, the tell-tale black of more dead tissue had spread around her side to her back and she went into cardiac arrest, dying minutes later.

The hospital investigated the incident and assured the family that lessons learned from it would be passed on to staff — and help future patients, says Ms. Dyck. Mr. Horn says his experience across Canada suggests it is unlikely those lessons will be shared with anyone else in the health-care system, or the public.

Meanwhile, Ms. Dyck says the sight of doctors and nurses fruitlessly attempting to revive her sister-in-law — her abdomen left open as part of the flesh-eating treatment — remains etched in her mind, as is the thought it might all have been prevented.

“What I witnessed, I was traumatized by for months and months,” she said.

“It was just a terrible, terrible, painful death. And she knew she was going to die, that’s the worst thing.”

National Post

• Email: tblackwell@nationalpost.com | Twitter: tomblackwellNP

Barbara Kay: Quebec’s face-cover Bill is not a return to the ‘Values’ war

Jacques Boissinot/CP

It was with a great sigh of relief that all right-thinking Quebecers saw the PQ crash and burn in last spring’s election. The authors of their own defeat, the PQ’s primary strategy had been, via a “values” charter, to stir up animosity, in the name of nationalism, towards members of religious groups that demonstrated love of their faith through visible accessories, notably the Jewish kippa, the Muslim hijab and the Christian cross.

The proposed charter would have banned such symbolism in public services. But in spite of most Quebecers’ firm commitment to secularism in the public domain, the Charter went too far in the proposed suppression of freedom of expression for popular comfort.

The niqab is not simply #4 on a list of religious symbols.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard campaigned on a far more inclusive platform that reassured targeted minorities of their secure place in Quebec society, which helped to win his party a majority government. But he did not entirely reject the legitimacy of the need for a gesture articulating the line between freedom of expression and behaviour – or to be more precise, what one might call sartorial lamination – that is considered unseemly in a free society. I speak, of course, of the veiled face, or the niqab.

In today’s National Post, the editorial takes M. Couillard to task for moving forward on his promise to regulate against face cover in the giving and receiving of public services. The editorial errs, though, in suggesting that the regulation was prompted by Mme Marois’ Charter, stating that “the only reason ‘values’ were ever in the spotlight was because the PQ spotted a wedge issue.” That is not the case at all where face cover is concerned.

Jacques Boissinot/CPQuebec Premier Philippe Couillard: Reviving a ban on face cover

M. Couillard is merely reviving Bill 94, which was tabled in 2010. Bill 94 proscribed face cover for women in service-providing government institutions, including licence bureaus, hospitals, schools, courts, and other institutions that represent the official face of Quebec. The principle behind Bill 94 was a refusal to endorse the lower status of women that is represented by the veil. As Quebec immigration minister Yolande James forthrightly put it at the time, “if you want to integrate into Quebec society, here are our values. We want to see your face.”

While the PQ’s Charter of Values received but tepid support in Quebec, according to polls of the time, Bill 94 was approved of by more than 90% of Quebecers. Indeed, Bill 94 was approved of by 74% of Canadians. Virtually all Quebecers, and the vast majority of Canadians understand that the niqab is not simply #4 on a list of religious symbols. Face cover is sui generis. It strikes to the heart of social reciprocity, which is the basis of a healthy society.

The niqab is not a religious obligation; it is a cultural custom. It is not “clothing”; it is a mask. It is not politically innocent; it is associated with a form of Islam that endorses the oppression of women. In Europe, moreover, the niqab had also been adopted by extremists as an overt political statement in support of radical Islam, and that was the main, and certainly justifiable, impetus for banning it. The fact that we have not seen mass violence in Canada or that Canada’s immigration situation does not resemble France’s or Belgium’s is irrelevant to the niqab debate. One doesn’t need to suffer violence to feel psychologically intimidated, precisely what the niqab’s effect is on those Canadians who refuse to be dictated to by political correctness.

Nothing reduces a woman’s opportunities to integrate into public life more than a face veil, which advertises her lack of personhood. Many women – we don’t know the numbers, but one is surely too many – are forced to wear the veil. Of those who wear it voluntarily, many if not most have never been exposed to gender equality as a norm, and have no idea what a “human right” is. We do them no favours by endorsing their continued ignorance.

The niqab is not a “values” issue. It is a “principles” issue. Either we believe in gender equality or we do not. Either we believe that in a free society, citizens show their faces to one another in trust, or we do not. Either we are a democratic rather than a tribal society, or we are not. We do not permit public nakedness because we are not animals. We should not permit full cover because we are not things. M. Couillard is fulfilling a principled promise that was made five years ago, and he is right to do so.

National Post

Tight security at Harper’s speech marking Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th birthday

KINGSTON, Ont. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrated the 200th anniversary of Canada’s founding father — Sir John A. Macdonald — by stating so much good came from what he called an ordinary man of whom little was expected.

“Without Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada — the best country in the world — simply would not exist,” Harper told a crowd of dignitaries under tight security at Kingston City Hall in eastern Ontario.

It was a decidedly non-partisan event — with former Liberal prime minister John Turner and Progressive Conservative Kim Campbell in attendance — but Harper’s comments dovetailed with his Conservative party election message this year that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is unready to govern despite his high-profile name.

Harper praised Macdonald’s vision and leadership while acknowledging his well-known history as a heavy drinker.

“As Canadians we’ve insisted on understanding even our greatest citizens as human beings,” Harper said. “Macdonald was acutely aware of his own humanity and as a consequence very forgiving of it in others.”

The prime minister is expected to call a vote by next October’s fixed election date, and his every appearance now appears groomed to that goal.

Harper did not make himself available to the large media contingent on hand for the event and did not take questions from reporters.

With files from National Post staff

University of Calgary students given power to police intramural team names some say add to ‘rape culture’

CALGARY — The University of Calgary is tightening up on the names used by intramural teams after complaints about sexist labels appearing on T-shirts and jerseys such as “Cunning Stunts” and “Frigid Whore.”

A student committee been given the job of policing the hundreds of teams of students and alumni who square off against other amateur players in sports ranging from basketball to dodge ball.

Each team pays a fee to the school to cover administration and facility rentals, and they had, until recently, been allowed to pick their own names.

They include: for flag football teams, “Let Me See Your TDs” and “Beats By Ray” (a reference to the National Football League running back Ray Rice who was filmed knocking his fiancée unconscious in an elevator). Volleyball teams have been called “Just The Tip” and “Muffin Stuffers,” while in bubble soccer there was “Ball Touchers.”

Some observers see the team name choices as perpetuating a “rape culture,” while others believe they are harmless puns, if somewhat off-colour.

Now, the university says it will highlight the potentially offensive names and send them to the elected student advisory board, which can nix anything offside.

‘We don’t actually believe we’re [students’] parents and it is a bit of a slippery slope’

“There’s never been any process like that in place in the university,” said Don McSwiney, a spokesman for the kinesiology faculty.

“We don’t actually believe we’re [students’] parents and it is a bit of a slippery slope. These are adults that go to this institution and for the most part the feeling has always been that these people can govern themselves by the rule of society.”

When students first complained in October, he said, the administration was moved by the argument the sexist team names could discourage some from participating in intramural sports.

“Changing the name should not diminish your ability to enjoy competition. But it will make it easier for others to enjoy it in the spirit of inclusiveness,” he said.

In addition, students themselves will decide what’s acceptable.

“[There isn’t] a giant bureaucracy at work with time to go through all this,” Mr. McSwiney said.

“We’re going to do a quick scan of the names that go through, some of the innuendoes … we may not get it.”

‘Do you really want to be someone who comes across as promoting violence against women as a fun thing?’

Lexi Naroski, the arts representative on the student union, said she went to the university administration after several students approached her with their concerns.

“Some of the names had perpetrated rape culture, I guess you could say,” she said.

“In an academic environment where students are supposed to be progressing and learning about this — women’s’ studies are taught here — this is so inappropriate.”

Ms. Naroski added she’s received countless “bullying” and “belittling” comments via social media since the tale of the team names broke.

“I kind of welcome the debate because I feel that if an issue like this is creating as much controversy as this has been, obviously a lot more learning needs to be done,” she said.

“It’s a good thing that this is still being raised.”

Not all students have reacted to the directive well. A Facebook group imploring the university to allow all team names in intramural sports has garnered support from 300 people.

The group is casting the issue as one of freedom of thought and speech, and sees the university’s actions as censorship.

“Censorship of thought and speech is unacceptable in a free society such as ours. We believe you can say what you want. And it is your right to offend or be offended.”

It added team names were being dismissed seemingly arbitrarily. Those that referred to drugs and alcohol were taken off the student union’s website, it said.

“It is clear that there is no real standard aside from the ever subjective emotional state of the reader.”

Melanie Bethune, a second-year undergraduate and humour editor of student newspaper the Gauntlet, which wrote about the name controversy last month, said she believes objectors to the new directive were in the minority.

“A lot of people suffer from serious domestic abuse. [A] respectful, decent human being shouldn’t trivialize those sorts of issues,” she said.

Noting that intramural leagues at other schools have encountered the same kinds of problems, Mr. McSwiney said he hoped just raising awareness would encourage the athletes to be more sensitive to the issue.

“[We’re asking them] is this something you’re aiming for? To make people feel bad? Do you really want to be someone who comes across as promoting violence against women as a fun thing?” he asked.

National Post

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‘They play a high stakes game’: Tattooed crime boss named a wanted fugitive after leaving Canada for Cuba

York Regional Police

The vicious cycle of gangland life is perfectly told in the muscular, tattooed form of Daniele Ranieri, named Wednesday by Canadian police as a wanted fugitive: he took his place as a police target after the murder in Sicily of his crime boss, a killer who, in turn, replaced a hulking mobster publicly gunned down in Toronto.

The deadly path to leadership of a mob-backed crew hardly deters men like Ranieri, who was so enamoured of the underworld he had “Cosa Nostra” tattooed on his chest.

“In their world, being killed is not an abnormality. Eventually these guys meet their demise, they play a high stakes game,” said Insp. Dieter Boeheim of York Regional Police intelligence bureau.

“He lives in that world, the world of The Godfather. Some of the guys need to get their hands dirty to progress.”

Tuesday, when police raided six premises in Project Forza, the Italian word for “strength,” their prime target was not found: Ranieri had left for Cuba two weeks before and is believed to still be there. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, and police consider him “armed and dangerous.”

Ranieri, 30, of Bolton, Ont., was featured in a lengthy National Post exposé in October about the murder in Sicily of two mobsters from Canada. It was his visit to Sicily on July 6, 2012, that inadvertently revealed Juan Ramon Fernandez, allegedly Ranieri’s boss, had moved there from Canada, sparking a large anti-Mafia probe.

Ranieri was under surveillance the moment he got off the plane in Palermo, with an officer in Sicily saying he stood out: “Typical of American gangsters — big muscles and tattoos.”

Police say Ranieri took over leadership of the crew from Fernandez, after he was ambushed and his body burned outside Palermo in April 2013. Fernandez, in turn, had seized control from Gaetano “Guy” Panepinto, a mobster who ran a discount coffin business before his own murder in 2000.

Ranieri’s assuming control of the crew made him the next police target for investigation.

The men named alongside him Wednesday add to that colourful, violent cast of characters, described by police as a dangerous crime group that forged bonds in prison.

“They are a sight to behold,” said Insp. Boeheim.

Justin McPolin, 38, of Toronto, is a 6 ft. 2 in. former professional hockey player, recruited into the Ontario Hockey League as an enforcer for the London Knights. His sports claim to fame was tallying 281 penalty minutes in 43 games and being banned for punching a referee. He is charged with extortion, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and attempt to obstruct justice.

York Regional PoliceDanny Rubino.

Like Ranieri, Lucas Day, 41, of Toronto, was not found when police moved to arrest him and is named as a fugitive. He has a manslaughter conviction and assaulted a prison guard while behind bars. He is considered armed and dangerous.

Danny Rubino, 44, of Vaughan, is a longtime subject of interest to York police who was a close friend of Fernandez when the mobster lived in Ontario. He was frequently heard on wiretaps chatting with Fernandez, doing his bidding.

“When you get home put an empty cassette in the machine there for eleven o’clock tonight on channel 271,” Fernandez told him in 2001, recorded on a police wiretap. “It’s the thing on the Mafia. It’s supposed to be really good there. Get it taped.”

“OK,” replied Rubino.

He is charged with extortion and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.

Also arrested were: Craig Hall, 38, of Toronto, charged with trafficking in cocaine and heroin; and Richard Maciel, 36, of Toronto, and Arkadiusz Bukinski, 38, of Milton, Ont., both charged with parole violation.

I could get killed if he f — ks up because I bring him to the table

Ranieri was Fernandez’s favourite, acting as his eyes and ears in Ontario after Fernandez was deported from Canada and settled in Sicily.

York Regional Police

York Regional PoliceLucas Day.

Fernandez even said he was trying to have Ranieri officially inducted into the Mafia, according to wiretaps recorded by police in Italy and obtained by the Post.

“I want to ‘make’ Dani,” Fernandez told a visitor from Canada in March 2013. “I want make Dani a made man.”

“F — k, he’ll cry,” his visitor said. “He will be so happy he’ll cry.”

“Because he’s my guy,” Fernandez continued, “so I am responsible, I could get killed if he f — ks up because I bring him to the table and I vouch for him.”

And Fernandez vowed to protect Ranieri if anyone in Ontario moved against him.

“I go back in a heartbeat; something happens to Dani, they’ll all get it the same day,” he bellowed.

Fernandez’s murder prompted police in Canada to re-evaluate their investigation of the crew. It was always an important link because Fernandez was a key representative for Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto in Ontario.

ROS Carabinieri

ROS CarabinieriDaniele Ranieri, left in Sicily in 2012, and Juan Ramon Fernandez, the mobster he replaced after Juan’s murder.

“Is Ranieri less of a threat with Fernandez dead or is he more of a threat? We sat down as a team and assessed it and concluded he was more of a threat and we needed to do something about,” said Supt. Keith Finn of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

York police Inspector Michael Slack said Ranieri surrounded himself with hardmen with extensive criminal records for guns, drugs and violence.

“Many of Ranieri’s crime-group associates have a high propensity to commit violent crimes and have served time in prison for aggravated assault, forcible confinement and murder,” he said.

Despite Ranieri’s brashness, he may have learned a thing or two from old-school mobsters while visiting Fernandez in Sicily.

Soon after his return, he reportedly had his Cosa Nostra tattoo inked over.

National Post

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Rare look inside secretive family court reveals parents struggling with poverty, addiction and mental illness

Tim Fraser for National Post

There isn’t a spare seat in this courthouse waiting room on a Wednesday at noon: Multi-generational families sit huddled together, wearing their winter coats. A woman talks on her cellphone, vowing to record her next interaction with the Children’s Aid Society, to have some kind of proof of suspected misdeeds. A man’s hushed argument with a child protection worker escalates: “I’ll make sure to call you if he loses a shoelace,” he says dismissively before turning away. A child, about 6, bolts from his father and veers through the maze of strangers. Dad catches up eventually.

Tim Fraser for National PostThe Hounorable Justices, from left, Robert Spence, Stanley Sherr, and and Geraldine Waldman are see here at the Ontario Court of Justice Family Court in North York.

It is routine activity, but the anxiety is palpable. No wonder: their family’s future is held in the hands of the judge within a courtroom they haven’t even entered yet.

Behind the heavy blond wood doors, parents come under the microscope, their circumstances studied and abilities analyzed in order to determine whether their child is safe in their care or better off in the system.

But the eventual interactions with these judges and lawyers at 47 Sheppard Avenue East in Toronto feel less like a cross-examination and more like a conference with a concerned, yet understanding elder.

The judges try to alleviate the natural tension, to help parents reduce or eliminate risks. Yet they won’t budge if a child’s safety seems imperiled. The law is their guide.

Because family courts are private, the public knows very little about what goes on inside, unless they’re themselves involved. And yet the courts play a critical role in the child protection system — deciding custody matters, assessing risk, recommending resources that may help a family stay intact.

The National Post was given rare access to this court for one day — a day that provides a snapshot of the unique challenges and the powerful impact that good judges can make. The names of the parents who appeared in court that day have been changed in compliance with Child and Family Services Act of Ontario provisions. This is their experience.

Most families who get involved with Children’s Aid never come to court

“Most families who get involved with Children’s Aid never come to court,” says Justice Stanley Sherr, who represented families in child protection matters for 25 years as a lawyer before becoming a judge. Cases only get here when a “protection application” is filed, usually after a family refuses to voluntarily work with the agency, which has concerns that physical, emotional, sexual harm or abandonment of the child has taken place or might. Once there, Children’s Aid Societies have to make a case for why the agency should be involved. Parents need to prove how they’ve made their home safe enough for the child to be returned. Judges make the call.

“The majority of these people are not child abusers,” Justice Sherr says. Most of the time they just need help. Judges here see parents struggling with poverty, addiction issues, mental illness — various things that impact their environment, the way they parent.

The court at 47 Sheppard practices case management — an approach that’s taking hold in urban centres across the province, but isn’t the norm in all family courts in Canada. Specialist judges get to know the families before them and follow cases all the way through.

Sometimes the society’s involvement, at a certain point, can be counterproductive

In a smart, leather-sleeved jacket, her braided hair pulled back, Stella rises when Justice Sherr enters the courtroom. The Children’s Aid Society has reached an impasse with Stella, its lawyer claims, because this mother of three hasn’t allowed the child protection agency contact with her youngest daughter’s daycare.

There are no new concerns, the lawyer says, except for that. Stella’s lawyer says her client hasn’t told the daycare the Children’s Aid Society was involved with the family because she feared “stigmatization.” But a stack of daily reports on the table prove this child is happy and healthy and doing well.

Justice Sherr asks Stella how she’s faring. She beams and thanks him for asking.

“Everything is doing so well, your honour. I start a new job tomorrow.” She is going to go door-to-door trying to convince people to switch energy providers. They joke about how she may one day knock on his door.

“I’m impressed by the improvements you’ve made in your life,” he says. He tells the lawyer to hand the daycare reports over to the CAS lawyer. If they are positive, the CAS will leave Stella alone.

“When that woman first came to court, she was on the ceiling,” Justice Sherr says after the hearing. Back in 2012, her children were apprehended over allegations of physical harm. “There had been broken bones,” Justice Sherr says. The parents blamed each other. Stella was livid. The CAS tried to facilitate temporary custody, but failed. “Then she started the work,” he says, which involved parenting classes and anger management. The court gradually increased her access to a point where the children returned home, one by one.

Tim Fraser for National Post

Tim Fraser for National PostA courtroom at the Ontario Court of Justice Family Court in North York.

“I could justify a supervision order, but sometimes the society’s involvement, at a certain point, can be counterproductive,” he says. In this case, the CAS’s attempt to keep tabs on an otherwise healthy, happy child has the potential to backfire. Over-intervention, he says, carries its own risk.

Stella’s progress through court provides “almost a classic example of how case management can work if you can get the client buying in, the judge buying in and then the lawyers buying in,” he says. “She’s to the point now where she has her children back and maybe we’re close to terminating [CAS involvement].” But it took building a relationship to get there — the winning ingredient. Without that relationship, it’s easy for the court to feel adversarial.

“When you come into child protection court, the dominant emotions we face the most are fear – what’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to my family? What’s going to happen to my children?” Justice Sherr says. “The other dominant emotion in child protection is humiliation. It’s tremendously humiliating when your children have been taken away from you. How do you face your family? How do you face your community? Am I that bad a person that the Society has to take away my children?”

In case management, the judge involves the parent in a plan. He had a long talk with Stella and convinced her that he wanted her to succeed. While not everything is perfect, by and large, she has. A few hours after her 10-minute hearing, the CAS came back with the stack of daycare reports. They were willing to end their involvement.

Our job and the Society’s job is to help make sure your daughter is OK

Heather does not want her daughter to come home. It’s not safe there. Not since her father came home a few months back and Heather let him in though she swore she’d never do it again.

“He’s a junkie…he hit me, he broke up my house, I don’t want him around me,” she says, claiming he also blew through $52,000. “Right now I’m messed up and I need to get better,” she says, her voice cracking.

The Children’s Aid lawyer tells court that Heather pulled a knife on her daughter’s father and threatened to stab him 28 times.

“All I want is what’s best for my family,” she says through tears. “The rage I have towards him is unbelievable.”

Justice Geraldine Waldman listens carefully and keeps her gaze fixed to this crying woman before her.

“Are you seeing a doctor?” Justice Waldman asks calmly. Yes, she is, but the pills make her feel like a zombie.

“Does the Children’s Aid have an obligation to call the police?” Justice Waldman asks. The lawyer responds that Heather’s daughter is not in danger. “Oh, I would never hurt my children, I love my children,” Heather cries.

“I think for the moment, your access to your daughter needs to be supervised,” Justice Waldman says. This is not what Heather wants to hear.

She pleads, then resigns herself, then pleads again for unsupervised visits with her daughter.

Justice Waldman is firm that there be no overnight visits. “Our job and the Society’s job is to help make sure your daughter is OK,” Justice Waldman says. “We are worried that when your daughter is there, you can frighten her by your emotions and your behaviour.”

Then, with a simple switch in wording, Justice Waldman changes the tone from despair to relief. “Let’s call the visits ‘managed’ and not ‘supervised’,” she says. The air returns to the room.

“Oh, I like that word better. ‘Managed’,” Heather says. She looks calm now and walks out, still flushed from the emotional rollercoaster.

“You can see how multi-dimensional my job is,” Justice Waldman says when the door behind Heather shuts.

“Mental health, intellectual capacity, immigration, parenting conflict, substance abuse, domestic abuse, systemic poverty,” Justice Waldman lists off the social dimensions she routinely sees. “And in how many of these cases do they say ‘Mom was a crown ward?’” The answer is ‘lots.’ The system has not yet found a way to break the pattern, she says. But by trying to identify the core challenges these families face, they can at least try to ensure these parents get the resources they need to help make them into better parents.

No one wants to sever the relationship with your daughter

Arjun and Tanvi have been at loggerheads over their daughter for most of her short life. Now they stand before a judge on a summary judgment motion brought by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society, which argues their little girl, who is 5, is in need of protection. The domestic conflict and risk of violence she may be exposed to in her father’s care is too great, court hears, so they are supporting a bid to give Tanvi sole custody.

She wants another chance to keep her family, but acknowledges “not everything is rosy.” She worries he might try to take the child back to India, where the couple had emigrated from a few years before.

There are emerging concerns about Arjun’s mental health, lawyers for the CCAS argue. He believes there’s a great conspiracy against him, one that involves his workplace, the CCAS workers, the police and society at large.

He had also struck Tanvi during an argument, though most of their fights were verbal. And, though he claims innocence, Arjun pleaded guilty to assault because he believed he had a “responsibility” to do so, he says. The major sticking point, Justice Robert Spence points out, is that Arjun refused a court-ordered mental health assessment. The society raises concern that the girl is at risk of emotional harm.

It’s a tortuous back and forth between Justice Spence and Arjun, who gives roundabout non-answers to his questions.

The eventual decision does not play into Arjun’s favour.

“I find that the child was at risk of emotional harm, the high conflict was exacerbated by the father’s behaviour.

“I will leave the child in the custody of the mother,” Justice Spence says. “It’s the least intrusive action as it takes the CCAS out of the equation.”

Tears are pooling in Arjun’s eyes. “No one wants to sever the relationship with your daughter,” Justice Spence tells Arjun, his voice softer than earlier. “You need to find a way to have a normal relationship with your daughter, and there’s things you can do.” Justice Spence wants Arjun to acknowledge his mental health challenges and seek help.

Arjun represented himself in court — a choice many parents make. Had he accepted duty counsel’s help, he may have been quicker to acknowledge the risks and address them sooner. That’s a huge challenge for a lot of parents, because they are resistant to Children’s Aid intervention.

And in the cases of new immigrants, such as Arjun, entering a society with vastly different expectations can be a shock, Justice Sherr says.

“Not only do you have to admit [the risks], you have to get the services, you have to be able to address them,” he says. “You have to show progress.”

The added hurdle is the short window of time you have in which to show progress: Children under six should not be made society wards after one year, the law says, so this means the court needs to decide the child’s future quickly.

National Post

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