Paralympian awarded $9M after U of Regina found negligent in swimming accident

The University of Regina has been deemed negligent by a jury in a June 2005 diving accident that left Miranda Biletski a quadriplegic.

Biletski and the Piranhas Swim Club were deemed not at fault in the same accident.

The jury indicated that verdict at Regina Court of Queen’s Bench Friday evening, bringing an end to a legal saga that began in 2007, when Biletski filed the lawsuit.

In total, the Jury awarded Biletski more than $9 million for damages, residence modifications, care items, loss of future earnings and loss of marriage/interdependence benefits.

Biletski began weeping softly when the verdict was being read and once proceedings ended, she was embraced by those around her.

‘It’s finally recognized’

“I think it’s finally recognized that it wasn’t a fault on my end or the swim club’s,” the athlete, who competed as a member of Canada’s national wheelchair rugby team in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, told reporters, struggling not to break down in tears.

“I think we all knew all along but to actually be able to say it now, I think that’s the most enjoyable part of this.”

Biletski dove into a pool from competition starting blocks at the university during a Piranhas Swim Club practice in June 2005. The then-16-year-old hit the bottom and fractured her cervical vertebrae, leaving her a quadriplegic.

At the time of the accident, Biletski was a promising speed swimmer who’d recently joined the Piranhas Swim Club. She’d been swimming with the club for just 37 days

After Friday’s verdict, she expressed relief by joking about going home to a bottle of wine and bed, before taking a more serious tone in encouraging others who might be dealing with a similar situation.

Miranda Biletski swim

Miranda Biletski on the diving block at a swim meet in Assiniboia, Sask., in 2004. (Submitted by Miranda Biletski)

“Don’t give up,” she said.

“It would’ve been really easy to throw in the towel five or six or even seven years ago,” she said.

Regarding what the dollar amount awarded by the jury meant to her, she said, “Honest, I kind of zoned out after they said the U of R was liable for everything.”

Her lawyer, Alan McIntyre, noted that the process had been a struggle, saying “we’ve toiled mightily for the last 10 years or so.

“My client is a champion and we prevailed.”

A shallow dive

The university argued during the trial the pool depth and the height of the starting blocks met Swimming Canada guidelines.

The block from which Biletski dove was in an area of the pool 1.22 metres deep — in line with international standards. However, the International Swimming Federation, a world governing body for competitive swimming, now requires a minimum depth of 1.35 metres where swimmers will be diving from blocks. Swim Canada only enforces that depth for new pools built after 2002.

miranda biletski

Miranda Biletski playing wheelchair rugby. She competed as a member of Canada’s national wheelchair rugby team in the 2016 Rio Paralympics. (BC Wheelchair Sports)

McIntyre argued that amount of water in the pool at the time of the dive was a key issue.

Workers from the facility and pool supervisors confirmed that water depth drops over time as swimmers splash about and remove water that’s been absorbed into their swimsuits.

Pool maintenance logs indicated that water had been added to the pool only once during the two months leading up to Biletski’s accident.

Craig Chamerblin, the university dean in charge of the pool at the time, testified that record keeping was a continuing problem.

He told the jury that three witnesses had told him the water level was at the top of the pool when Biletski was injured, but that no measurements or photos were taken.

While being cross-examined, the U of R aquatics supervisor, Gabor Jerkovits, said he couldn’t say for sure where the water level was when Biletski performed the dive.

The university filed its own suit against the Piranhas Swim Club to cover damages if liability was established.

The club’s lawyer, Reg Watson, brought forward evidence that the Piranhas never signed a rental contract relieving the university of liability.

Miranda Biletski

Biletski says it was difficult to hear testimony that quadriplegia would shorten her life by two decades. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

Personal details laid bare

Throughout the course of the trial, the court heard information of a personal nature from Biletski, outlining the physical difficulties she has experienced since the accident.

A bowel movement now takes her several hours and and she must put in her own catheter to go to the the bathroom.

Experts also provided projections that quadriplegia will likely shorten her life expectancy.

“You definitely have to check your ego and dignity at the door on that one,” she said, responding to a question about what it’s like to share such details before the courts.

Until now she has gone without equipment that could could assist her, for financial reasons.

However, a large part of the total funds awarded to her by the jury is intended to help her attain such equipment, including $250,000 for modifications to her residence and over $500,000 for care items.

At age 6, he was flagged a security threat. Now he’s taking fight to clear his name to Ottawa

Two years after Adam Ahmed was stopped at Pearson airport while travelling to a hockey game and flagged as a possible security threat, the young boy’s fight to clear his name and that of hundreds of others is heading to Parliament Hill.

On Friday, dressed in his best suit and red sneakers, the eight-year-old boy did something few others his age have done. He sat in a closed-door subcommittee meeting in Toronto with a select group of invitees to push for the funding of a federal redress system for those falsely flagged on Canada’s controversial no-fly list.

Next month, Ahmed and his parents will head to Ottawa to deliver a petition to the House of Commons, along with letters from some 150 MPs from all federal parties backing them.

“It started with Adam, but it’s become something a lot bigger,” his father, Sulemaan Ahmed, told CBC News ahead of the deputations. “What we’ve learned now is that there are hundreds of children across Canada and thousands of adults who are impacted.”

Canada’s no-fly list — officially called the Specified Persons List under the Secure Air Travel Act (SATA) — dates back to 2007, and while the government has refused to confirm specific numbers, is estimated to contain as many as 2,000 names of people considered a threat.

But critics have pointed out the system is built on names rather than on unique identifiers such as dates of birth or passport numbers, meaning Canadians who simply share the name of someone considered a threat are wrongly caught up in the system. 

Living ‘under cloud of suspicion’

As calls mounted for Canada to implement a system to eliminate false positives, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced last fall that a redress system modelled on the American system could be in place as early as 2018.

Last June, a redress office called the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office was established to help resolve that problem. The office said earlier this year that it had “resolved” the cases of 11 children falsely flagged so far, but a pitch for $78 million be allocated annually to create the technology to eliminate false positives was ultimately nixed by the federal government. 

‘Why am I flagged because of my name? That’s not the only thing about me.’ – Yusuf Ahmed

Testifying before the subcommittee Friday, Ahmed’s mother pointed to the dangers of false positives being shared with other countries that may not uphold the same commitment to human rights that Canada does.

“Innocent people risk being associated with acts they did not commit, resulting in possible detention, false imprisonment and torture, as has happened in the past with Mr. Maher Arar,” said Khadija Cajee.

“My eight-year-old son has been ‘designated high profile’ since infancy. I do not want him living the rest of his life with the cloud of suspicion lingering over him. He is a child now. I am with him to advocate for and protect him. But this won’t always be the case as he gets older.”

Problem ‘shouldn’t exist’

Meanwhile, Goodale’s spokesperson, Scott Bardsley, told CBC News Friday that Bill C-59, the government’s proposed national security legislation overhaul, “takes an important first step” toward a redress system, by leaving the screening of passenger information against the no-fly list to the government, rather than airlines.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter said the testimony Friday added to the argument in favour of funding a redress system, but acknowledged there are competing demands on the budget.

“You’d think it would be simple in that you’d just the check the age of the individual along with the name.… Technology costs money and we’ll have to look at it from that perspective, but it’s a problem that really shouldn’t exist in our own country.”

Stephen Evans

Stephen Evans, who works in the digital technology sector, found out in the fall of 2015 that he couldn’t check in online. And upon further inquiry, he learned that he too was on the no-fly list. (CBC)

Since the Ahmeds came forward with their story, they say they’ve heard from more than 40 other parents whose children are in the same position. And they aren’t the only ones.

Stephen Evans, who works in the digital technology sector, found out in the fall of 2015 that he couldn’t check in online. Upon further inquiry, he learned that he too was on the list. He managed to get a redress number in the U.S., but said that his case shows it isn’t just Muslim or Arabic-sounding names falsely flagged. Any Canadian could find themselves on the list.

“This isn’t just an issue of kids with certain types of name, it’s a much broader Canadian issue for all of us.”

‘A name doesn’t define you’

Nineteen-year-old Yusuf Ahmed is another example. The third-year university student is on the list along with his two brothers and father, a surgeon. He said he’s been accustomed to longer waits at the airport since he was a baby.

“Yusuf, you’re going to have to go to the back of the line because you’re going to get held up,” he vividly remembers his Grade 11 classmates telling him while on a soccer trip to Nova Scotia.

“It doesn’t make sense right.… A name doesn’t define you. Obviously you’re very proud of your name, and why am I flagged because of my name? That’s not the only thing about me.”

Friday’s meeting was held by a subcommittee of the finance committee. The decision on whether or not to fund the system, will ultimately fall to the finance minister, who did not respond to a CBC News request for comment.

But eight-year-old Ahmed and his parents hope Friday’s testimony will help make that happen.

At age 6, he was flagged a security threat. Now he’s taking the fight to clear his name to Ottawa

Two years after Adam Ahmed was stopped at Pearson airport while travelling to a hockey game and flagged as a possible security threat, the young boy’s fight to clear his name and that of hundreds of others is heading to Parliament Hill.

On Friday, dressed in his best suit and red sneakers, the eight-year-old boy did something few others his age have done. He sat in a closed-door subcommittee meeting in Toronto with a select group of invitees to push for the funding of a federal redress system for those falsely flagged on Canada’s controversial no-fly list.

Next month, Ahmed and his parents will head to Ottawa to deliver a petition to the House of Commons, along with letters from some 150 MPs from all federal parties backing them.

“It started with Adam, but it’s become something a lot bigger,” his father, Sulemaan Ahmed, told CBC News ahead of the deputations. “What we’ve learned now is that there are hundreds of children across Canada and thousands of adults who are impacted.”

Canada’s no-fly list — officially called the Specified Persons List under the Secure Air Travel Act (SATA) — dates back to 2007, and while the government has refused to confirm specific numbers, is estimated to contain as many as 2,000 names of people considered a threat.

But critics have pointed out the system is built on names rather than on unique identifiers such as dates of birth or passport numbers, meaning Canadians who simply share the name of someone considered a threat are wrongly caught up in the system. 

Living ‘under cloud of suspicion’

As calls mounted for Canada to implement a system to eliminate false positives, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced last fall that a redress system modelled on the American system could be in place as early as 2018.

Last June, a redress office called the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office was established to help resolve that problem. The office said earlier this year that it had “resolved” the cases of 11 children falsely flagged so far, but a pitch for $78 million be allocated annually to create the technology to eliminate false positives was ultimately nixed by the federal government. 

‘Why am I flagged because of my name? That’s not the only thing about me.’ – Yusuf Ahmed

Testifying before the subcommittee Friday, Ahmed’s mother pointed to the dangers of false positives being shared with other countries that may not uphold the same commitment to human rights that Canada does.

“Innocent people risk being associated with acts they did not commit, resulting in possible detention, false imprisonment and torture, as has happened in the past with Mr. Maher Arar,” said Khadija Cajee.

“My eight-year-old son has been ‘designated high profile’ since infancy. I do not want him living the rest of his life with the cloud of suspicion lingering over him. He is a child now. I am with him to advocate for and protect him. But this won’t always be the case as he gets older.”

Problem ‘shouldn’t exist’

Meanwhile, Goodale’s spokesperson, Scott Bardsley, told CBC News Friday that Bill C-59, the government’s proposed national security legislation overhaul, “takes an important first step” toward a redress system, by leaving the screening of passenger information against the no-fly list to the government, rather than airlines.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter said the testimony Friday added to the argument in favour of funding a redress system, but acknowledged there are competing demands on the budget.

“You’d think it would be simple in that you’d just the check the age of the individual along with the name.… Technology costs money and we’ll have to look at it from that perspective, but it’s a problem that really shouldn’t exist in our own country.”

Stephen Evans

Stephen Evans, who works in the digital technology sector, found out in the fall of 2015 that he couldn’t check in online. And upon further inquiry, he learned that he too was on the no-fly list. (CBC)

Since the Ahmeds came forward with their story, they say they’ve heard from more than 40 other parents whose children are in the same position. And they aren’t the only ones.

Stephen Evans, who works in the digital technology sector, found out in the fall of 2015 that he couldn’t check in online. Upon further inquiry, he learned that he too was on the list. He managed to get a redress number in the U.S., but said that his case shows it isn’t just Muslim or Arabic-sounding names falsely flagged. Any Canadian could find themselves on the list.

“This isn’t just an issue of kids with certain types of name, it’s a much broader Canadian issue for all of us.”

‘A name doesn’t define you’

Nineteen-year-old Yusuf Ahmed is another example. The third-year university student is on the list along with his two brothers and father, a surgeon. He said he’s been accustomed to longer waits at the airport since he was a baby.

“Yusuf, you’re going to have to go to the back of the line because you’re going to get held up,” he vividly remembers his Grade 11 classmates telling him while on a soccer trip to Nova Scotia.

“It doesn’t make sense right.… A name doesn’t define you. Obviously you’re very proud of your name, and why am I flagged because of my name? That’s not the only thing about me.”

Friday’s meeting was held by a subcommittee of the finance committee. The decision on whether or not to fund the system, will ultimately fall to the finance minister, who did not respond to a CBC News request for comment.

But eight-year-old Ahmed and his parents hope Friday’s testimony will help make that happen.

How Quebec’s face-covering ban stacks up to laws elsewhere around the globe

Quebec’s new law on religious neutrality prohibits anyone from receiving or giving public services with their face covered, making it the first place in North America to effectively ban face veils in public places.

Bill 62, passed Wednesday in Quebec’s National Assembly, means Muslim women who wear a niqab or burka have to uncover their faces to access health services, attend school, and ride a public bus or Metro.

While the guidelines for how the legislation will be enforced won’t be ready until next summer, Muslim advocacy groups and civil liberty organizations have criticized the legislation as an unconstitutional infringement on peoples’ rights.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has defended the bill, saying it’s necessary for “communication, identification and safety” reasons.

Quebec is not the only place in the world to restrict face coverings in the public sphere.

Here’s where some of the laws regulating face coverings, and religious attire, have also been passed.

France

France introduced a law banning face coverings that conceal peoples’ identities in public in 2010.

Though it doesn’t explicitly mention religion, critics say the legislation targets Muslim women, who have been barred from public places like streets and parks while wearing niqabs.

The debate in France pits religious freedom against laïcité​, or secularism, which holds a venerated place in French society.

The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban in 2014. It ruled it was proportional because its aim was to preserve the idea of “living together.”

Last year, a handful of French mayors passed measures banning the “burkini,” a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women at the beach.

The issue garnered international attention after a photo showing French police forcing a Muslim woman to remove her long-sleeved covering on a beach went viral.

France’s top administrative court suspended the “burkini ban,” as the measures became known, last year, calling it an “attack on fundamental rights”.

Belgium

Belgium passed a law barring people from wearing anything that fully or partially covers their faces in places accessible to the public in 2011.

Two Muslim women challenged the law in the European Court of Justice, alleging that it violated their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to practice their religion and freedom of expression.

The Court upheld the government’s ban in a decision released earlier this year.

Austria

Austria banned face veils in public places earlier this month.

The ban, which came into effect on Oct. 1, forbids any kind of face covering in public, including on public buses, metros and trains.

Police can ask people to remove their face coverings on the spot and fine anyone 150 euros for contravening the law. Refusing to remove your face covering can also land you in a police station.

Austria’s Foreign Ministry says the law “is aimed at ensuring social cohesion and social peace in Austria,” but critics say it unfairly targets Muslim women who wear a niqab or burka.

Last month, a man in a shark costume was fined 150 euros in Vienna because his face was covered in public.

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out against Islamic face coverings last December, when she accepted her party’s leadership nomination a few months ahead of a national election.

“Full veiling is not appropriate here — it should be banned wherever that is legally possible,” Merkel said, according to The Associated Press.

In September, the German parliament passed a law banning drivers from wearing anything that partially or fully covers their faces.

Turkey

For decades, Turkey maintained a ban on women wearing headscarves in state institutions, including universities and government offices.

Restrictions on religious dress in Turkey date back to the country’s founding as a secular republic in the 1920s.

But the enforced ban on headscarves came after a 1980 coup.

The restriction “kept young women, especially from religiously conservative families, out of the educational system,” said Ariel Salzmann, an associate professor of Islamic and World History at Queen’s University who specializes in Turkish history.

“It’s the historic experience of Turkey in dealing with religious dress that shows how such bans actually backfire,” Salzmann told CBC News in an interview.

The result over the last 20 years has been “a sort of backlash by lower-middle-class and middle-class people from the provinces who resent these decades of imposition on their lifestyle,” Salzmann said.

Turkey’s current President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lifted the ban on headscarves in universities and government institutions in 2011, when he was the country’s prime minister.

Erdogan announced earlier this year that women in the Turkish armed forces would be able to wear headscarves as part of their uniforms.

Breaking down the boot boom: Why are Blundstones so popular?

Imagine this: on the way out of a house party, you realize your boots have been stolen — because everyone’s boots are the same and someone mistakenly walked off in yours.

It seems to be a common problem in mudrooms across Canada, and it’s all because of the popularity of Blundstone Originals — slip-on, ankle-length leather boots with elastic sides.

‘If you’re taking them off, take a permanent marker, put your initials on the inside.’ – Jameila Ali

The boots aren’t a new innovation; they’ve been made in Australia since 1870, and are sold in more than 50 countries. But in the last five years, Blundstones have boomed in Canada, despite a price tag north of $200 for an adult pair.

“Every porch you go into, pretty much, you’re going to see a pile of, typically, rustic browns in the corner,” says Jameila Ali, who handles marketing and inventory at First Western Boutique in St. John’s, one of Canada’s earliest sellers of Blundstones.

Ed Grace and Jamelia Ali Blundstones

Ed Grace and Jameila Ali say Blundstone boots are the best-selling item at First Western Boutique in St. John’s. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

“I tell everybody now, if you’re taking them off, take a permanent marker, put your initials on the inside.”

First Western Boutique on Duckworth Street has been open since 1999, and started selling Blundstone boots shortly after.

Ali said wearers have to be careful not to have their Blundstones accidentally nicked.

“They’re going to house parties, everyone has the same boots, and they’ll literally come in the next Monday and say, ‘I lost my boot,’ or ‘I have one that’s a size 9, one that’s a size 8, what do I do?'” she said.

“They’ll have to get a new pair. It’s a very very common thing now, because everyone has them.”

Why so popular?

Blundstones are all the rage in part because of the trendy celebrities — like Ellen Page and David Beckham — who have been spotted wearing the boots.

But the company says the comfortable fit, high quality, and suitability for the Canadian climate have won over wearers, and word of mouth has helped grow the brand.

Blundstone Boxes at First Western

Staff at First Western Boutique say they sell hundreds of pairs of Blundstones a month. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Whatever the reason, they’re selling plenty of boots at First Western Boutique. Ali said the store’s most recent order included 408 pairs of Blundstones, nearly three-quarters of which were sold before they hit the shelves.

In December 2016 alone, Ali said the shop sold almost 300 pairs of just its most popular model, Blundstone 585s in rustic brown.

Never out of style

Ed Grace has worked at First Western for 18 years, and said Blundstones have become the best-selling item.

The boots are a product he’s serious about — he’s got five pairs of his own.

Blundstone Fitting

Many Blundstone wearers say the boots have a comfortable fit and last well, in addition to being trendy. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

While the boots may be in high demand for now, Grace said a classic, quality boot will never be out of style.

“The trendy fact will still be forgotten over time [and] it will still be comfort, it takes over,” said Grace.

“You get people now who are repeat customers, who have more than one pair. It really is addictive footwear.”

Blundstones for Canada

Blundstone boots also seem to be well suited to the Canadian climate. (Tom Cochrane/Facebook)

And it’s not just adults buying for themselves.

The broad appeal has made for “Blundstone families,” Ali said, with kids, parents and grandparents all having their own pair.

“We’ll have parents with like four kids, they all have different styles, but they all have them,” Ali said.

“Every Christmas time, they’ll say my brother has them, or my son has them, my husband has them, and now we all do.”

Sales ‘off the charts’

Tim Stacey, Blundstone Canada’s president and chief operating officer, couldn’t provide exact sales numbers, but he told CBC News that Canada is in the top three in sales worldwide, and has the widest selection of colours and styles outside of Australia.

Sales are strongest along the coasts, he added, particularly in St. John’s and Halifax where the numbers are “off the charts.”

Blundstones on the street

Blundstone boots have experienced a surge in popularity in the last five years across Canada. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

In fact, sales have been so high that it’s roused suspicion at Blundstone’s head office, Stacey said, prompting the company to double-check its sales figures.

The boots are most popular among younger women, Stacey said, but he added that Blundstones are a “cradle to grave” product that appeals to all ages.

Blundstones’ trendy appeal, comfort, durability and fit for the climate have made the boots a staple of the Canadian wardrobe — even if there’s a risk of unintentional theft.

Blundstone styles

While Blundstones boots come in a wide range of colours and styles, the rustic brown is most popular. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Trudeau reluctant to reveal too much on Quebec’s face-covering law: Aaron Wherry

Over the course of three days this week, the prime minister was poked and prodded for a position on Bill 62.

The Quebec law, passed by the provincial legislature on Tuesday, prohibits anyone delivering or receiving public services from covering their face. That again makes an issue of the niqab.

On Wednesday, in the House of Commons, a Bloc MP asked Justin Trudeau to guarantee the federal government would neither challenge the law nor fund a challenge.

“I will continue to ensure that all Canadians are protected by the charter, all while respecting the choices made by lawmakers at all levels,” Trudeau said.

On Thursday, in Quebec, Trudeau told reporters “it’s not up to the federal government to challenge” Bill 62.

And for that and other comments that suggested deference or timidity, he was chided.

Trudeau on Quebec’s Bill 620:41

On Friday, the prime minister was confronted again. “As a federal government,” he told reporters at another stop in Quebec, “we’re going to take our responsibilities seriously and look carefully at what the implications [of the bill] are.”

For Trudeau, it is now down to how he chooses to exercise those responsibilities.

Trudeau’s options for Bill 62

Technically, the federal government might not be able to “challenge” Bill 62 in court.

“The federal government does not have standing to directly challenge a provincial law on the basis of the charter, because governments don’t enjoy charter rights,” said Carissima Mathen, vice-dean of the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa.

But the Liberals do have options if they want to get involved.

If an individual launches a challenge, the federal government could seek to act as an intervenor and file arguments in the subsequent proceedings. In 2013, for instance, the federal government intervened in a case involving Quebec’s Bill 99, which deals with secession.

A re-instated Court Challenges Program could also, conceivably, help fund a challenge.

Alternatively, the federal government could refer the legislation directly to the Supreme Court, asking the high court to review its constitutionality instead of waiting for any legal challenge to reach that level. The federal government could make arguments in those proceedings.

When Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois government proposed its “charter of values” in 2013 — a more expansive attempt to regulate the wearing of religious symbols — the Conservative government of the day seemed ready to get involved.

“If it’s determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously,” Jason Kenney, as multiculturalism minister, said at the time.

The Marois government was defeated before that willingness could be tested.

Trudeau’s record on the niqab

While the charter of values was up for debate, Trudeau, as leader of the third party, was quick to denounce it. In 2013, he penned an op-ed for the Globe and Mail on the subject

Later, when Kenney’s own move to ban the niqab from citizenship ceremonies was being contested, Trudeau delivered a long and considered speech on the issue. When Kenney’s gambit became an election issue, Trudeau’s opposition became a mark of his leadership.

But it is perhaps easier to condemn a federal government or a separatist Quebec premier than it is to castigate a federalist Quebec premier. And a prime minister might have to exercise more caution than the leader of a third party. 

It is still unclear how or where the law will be applied. And Bill 62 might eventually be struck down — or mocked out of existence — regardless of federal involvement.

Bill 62 protest

People covering their faces waited at bus stops along Parc Avenue in Montreal on Friday to protest Bill 62. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

But if Bill 62 is an objectionable piece of legislation, anything less than a full-throated condemnation might seem to fall short.

“I will always stand up for Canadians’ rights, I will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s what Canadians expect of me,” Trudeau said on Friday.

“As I’ve said a number of times, as well, I don’t think it should be the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing.”

Depending on how events proceed in Quebec, he might be called on to say that again and again, maybe louder or somehow more forcefully.

Regardless, he could also have the Justice Department’s lawyers get involved at some point.

Senate delay on sex assault training for judges bill ‘makes my blood boil’: Ambrose

In the wake of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s meteoric downfall over sexual misconduct allegations and the rise of the #metoo campaign, former interim leader Rona Ambrose said it’s frustrating the Senate still hasn’t passed her bill mandating sexual assault training for judges.

“It makes my blood boil, to be honest, because it’s really about creating a level of confidence so that people will come forward,” Ambrose told Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio’s The House.

Before leaving politics, Ambrose introduced Bill C-337 to mandate training for judges on sexual assault law, saying it was needed after a series of high-profile cases revealed many judges adhere to archaic stereotypes about women who are subjected to sexual violence.

In one notable case, former Federal Court judge Robin Camp questioned why a sexual assault complainant couldn’t “just keep [her] knees together.”

Camp later resigned.

Bill C-337 passed the House of Common with bipartisan support in May, but has languished in the Senate ever since.

Reporting takes ‘guts and courage’: Ambrose

Ambrose pointed to “a few Liberal senators and Independent senators that are blocking it from even getting to committee.” She called out Liberal Sen. Joan Fraser, in particular, who has argued “it is neither appropriate nor wise for Parliament to be getting into the fine details of dictating what legal education must include.”

“I also have to bear in mind the fact that people can change. Someone — a lawyer or even a judge — might start out with a completely biased and inaccurate view of some aspect of the human condition, but most people don’t get to be judges unless they’re quite intelligent,” said Fraser in the Senate earlier this month.

Ambrose said she doesn’t buy that argument.

“I think people grow and change when they’re made aware and they become more educated,” said Ambrose, who also expressed frustration no senator took up her offer to meet and discuss the bill.

Ambrose said after women muster the “guts and courage” to report a sexual assault and go through with a trial, they should be able to have confidence that the judge understands sexual assault law.

Fraser’s office turned down a request for comment for this story.

Twitter is ‘a sewer for women in politics’

The issue of sexual assault is pervasive, said Ambrose, pointing to the lightning rod of the #metoo social media movement.

Thousands of women are identifying themselves as victims of sexual harassment or assault by using the hashtag #metoo following the Weinstein scandal.

Some women have gone a step further in explaining they didn’t feel comfortable or supported enough to report incidents.

Harvey Weinstein Abu Dhabi

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment or abuse by more than three dozen women, including several top actors. (Steve Crisp/Reuters)

“And the judiciary is unfortunately part of one of those institutions where people think, ‘they’re not going to help, they don’t understand. I will not get justice there,'” Ambrose said.

“I think there are a lot of people in this day and age who still don’t realize what a huge public issue this is.”

Ambrose notes that despite some of the campaign’s shortcomings, mainly that it doesn’t call for concrete action, the #metoo hashtag is bringing some empowerment to a space that’s often hurtful towards women.

“Social media itself has been a very abusive, misogynistic place for a lot of women,” said Ambrose, adding that Twitter, especially, can be “a sewer for women in politics.”

“I think it’s overwhelming for some people to actually realize and recognize that this is such a big deal and for a lot of men in our lives to say, ‘Wow I had no idea that every woman I work with, my sister, my Mom, my wife, have all experienced something in this lifetime.”

Gord Downie’s brothers open up about his childhood and legacy

Gord Downie’s brothers sat down with the q host Tom Powers for an intimate interview following the Tragically Hip singer’s death earlier this week.

Patrick and Mike Downie share some of their fondest memories of their brother, their plans to carry on his legacy, and what it’s been like to witness an outpouring of grief from Canadians.

Here’s an excerpt of that conversation. 

TOM: Can you give me a story about childhood Gord?

MIKE: I’ll tell you a story. Gord was in his first year of minor hockey … and we were coming home at the end of a season — last game. Gord’s team was in the finals. Gord was a defenceman. So anyway they lost the game, and Gord … he’s pissed off. The goalie let them down, right? And they had this team and they’d had a great season and they lost the final game. And I remember a conversation along the lines of, “Hey, don’t blame the goalie.” Gord is like, “Next year I’m going to be the goalie.” And I laughed and I laughed. Because Gord wasn’t a great skater. He was a lanky guy, right, you know he was young. He was probably seven or maybe eight.

PATRICK: Did you say he wasn’t a great skater?

MIKE: Not that first year.… He became a better skater, don’t get me wrong. But so anyway, so I laughed, and I’m like, this’ll be interesting. So the next September comes, and I’ll never forget, he comes home from the first practice with those brand-new pads, because they supply the equipment. And we’ve been playing road hockey you know like on the ice pads up and down the street for years and all of a sudden we’ve got a full set of goalie equipment. Then it kind of dawned on me: this is a good thing. That season, Gord got 15 shutouts and they won the Centre 70 minor hockey championship. And I gotta tell ya, he was good. That’s my Gord story.

TOM: Mike is there anything you’d say to him right now?

MIKE: Anything I’d say to Gord? You know, I guess what comes along with battling an illness for that amount of time, you get opportunities to, you know, to have the conversations.

What personally I’m really going to miss is having him as a witness to a big chunk of my life. Gord had a great memory. There was a lot of things that happened in those childhood days and I always got such a thrill out of … just going back and forth on it. Could have been almost anything, high school dance or somebody’s girlfriend or something, you know, that just was a part of the family lore. Or maybe just something that only two of you experienced. And I think that’s what I’m going to miss because I really like going to those places.

patrick-and-mike-downie-tom-power

Gord Downie’s brothers, Patrick, left, and Mike, right, speak to the q host Tom Powers about coping with the loss of their brother and how they hope to continue his legacy. (CBC)

We went to a couple of those places over the last six months or so, like almost recreating, blow by blow, something that happened. And I’m going to miss that. I’ve got a pretty good memory; I’m going to hang on to all of it. But it’s a little bit more fun when you can share it with somebody who was there.

PATRICK: Well really, you know, it’s obviously really fresh and our whole family is feeling pretty tender at this point. But it’s not too much unlike that last show in Kingston, where Gord sort of suddenly realized he had this huge audience and he could say something and actually take advantage of the attention and put it to work. You know it’s not an easy situation to come out in this particular time to speak about this publicly, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t take advantage of the attention that he’s getting to do some actual work, to actually put it into something. 

TOM: Mike, tell me about the Chanie Wenjack Gord Downie Fund?

MIKE: Well, Tom, we started it last year, it really came out as a result of our trip. Patrick and Gord and I and some friends took up to Ogoki Post to meet the Wenjacks and just show them all the Secret Path pieces, Gord’s record, Jeff Lemire and Gord’s graphic novel and the first part of the animated film, to ask the family for their blessing and really to meet them for the first time.

I had been talking to Pearl [Wenjack, sister of Chanie] ever since Gord went into the studio to record the songs, way back like four years ago, and this was our first meeting. And it was a powerful experience for all of us. And while we were up there the Secret Path had been announced … that a new project from Gord was coming out, and it really caught fire. You could just see it spread right across the country, from way up there …

‘There’s got to be a way to keep this energy, to keep this sort of awakening alive.’ – Mike Downie, Gord Downie’s brother

And so, on the way home we were talking. It was just such a beautiful project, but the question was, how do we keep that going? And that’s really where the idea of the fund came from. There’s got to be a way to keep this energy, to keep this sort of awakening alive. So that’s when we started the fund. And that was a year ago.

And since then we’ve been taking the funds Canadians generously donated, it came from everywhere … thousands and thousands of people, classrooms, we get letters, we get artwork — Chanie on the tracks, Gord on the tracks — we cannot believe what some of these kids are doing, it’s beautiful.

And so with the fund, we are supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Centre. There’s a Gord Downie Trust within there.  They are going to try to find more of these kids who never made it home; there’s unmarked graves surrounding all these residential schools, which are now gone, there’s still grave sites around many of these places and we want to support the Truth and Reconciliation Centre to try and find these children that still have families.

Second is education. We’ve got 40,000 teachers in the country, that we know of, using Secret Path in their classrooms, we want to support them. We have lessons plans for them to share, they’re sharing with each other. We’re trying to continue to support that. 

And lastly we are giving out these small grants to people that have an idea of active reconciliation, they have an Indigenous partner, and we’re trying to plant a bunch of these small seeds, kind of like startup money, but we want to validate … it has to be something I think, there’s a few small criteria. But it’s about action. 

Secret Path with Chanie Wenjack

(Jeff Lemire/Secret Path)

TOM: So what can ordinary Canadians do today to fulfil that dream of Gord’s?

PATRICK: I think like Mike said, you can educate yourself, you can get involved in small ways … I think a lot of people are hurting, grieving. I know we are. And maybe put some of that into action, you know. You can spectate, but in this situation you might be better just to be a little bit of an actor. And that’s what they can do.

TOM: Through the grief that you guys are experiencing, which I know is so deep, that you want to use this moment and kind of push away your personal grief and kind of do something with it, Patrick.

PATRICK: Well. That’s truly honouring Gord. And that’s what we’re here doing.


You can catch the full interview Monday on q and Gord Downie’s  Secret Path in Concert airs Sunday, Oct. 22 at 9 p.m.  (9:30 NT) on CBC. It will also stream at  cbc.ca/secretpath.

MMIWG inquiry leaves Manitoba families wanting more

After five days of hearings, the stories of at least 50 missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls were heard by the national inquiry in Winnipeg.

More than 80 survivors and families testified, including the family of Jennifer Catcheway, who’s been missing for nine years.

“I feel a load of weight off of my shoulders,” said Bernice Catcheway, the mother of Jennifer.

The family attended all five days. They were originally scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, but their slot was changed Monday night after receiving a call from a commission lawyer. 

St. Johns MLA Nahanni Fontaine (St. Johns) speaks to the inquiry with Willy and Bernice Catcheway, o

Manitoba member of the legislature Nahanni Fontaine speaks to the inquiry with Willy and Bernice Catcheway, on behalf of their missing daughter Jennifer (pictured). (CBC)

Bernice said she was offered a private session because her daughter’s case is an active RCMP investigation, but she refused. 

“I was upset with that and I made it known,” she said Friday, following her 2½-hour public testimony with commissioner Michele Audette.

“This is our inquiry, not theirs. They’re getting paid $53 million. They can sit there and listen to the families and not rush them.”

Not enough time was also a complaint of Sue Caribou, who is the aunt of Tanya Nepinak.

Susan Caribou

Sue Caribou has sat on the family advisory council since the inquiry began. She said more time was needed for families who speak. (CBC)

Caribou has sat on the family advisory council since the inquiry began. She said this week in Winnipeg was not what she was expecting.

“I think they need more time,” she said. “I’m not saying to have a reset or anything like that. I think it should be here, maybe two weeks, not one week.”

Caribou said the family advisory council will meet following this hearing, and that she would offer some advice.

“Please take your time with the families, because it affects their health, their sleepless nights,” she said. “Please consider the families and not do this in a rush.”

Caribou’s niece went missing in 2011. Her body has not been found. Convicted serial killer Shawn Lamb was originally arrested for her death, but charges against him were stayed in 2013.

Caribou said she wasn’t given enough time at the inquiry to fully explain the effect Nepinak’s death has had on her entire family.

“They [inquiry] just told me last minute I am sharing in the circle,” she said.

Caribou was one of the last to testify alongside two other families. She complained that the schedule changed frequently throughout the week.

On Thursday, a survivor burst into tears during her testimony, saying she felt like walking out because she felt rushed.

Inquiry staff said over the five days, 24 families showed up last-minute asking to testify. A spokes

Inquiry staff said that over the five days, 24 families showed up at the last minute asking to testify. A spokesperson said all were accommodated and set up with statement-gatherers, not a commissioner. (CBC)

Following that session, Audette, the commissioner, went behind closed doors for more than hour with a family who approached her asking for her time. 

Inquiry staff said that over the five days, 24 families showed up at the last minute asking to testify. A spokesperson said all were accommodated and set up with statement-gatherers, not a commissioner. 

The inquiry is heading to Membertou, N.S., at the end of October. The interim report is due Nov. 1.

A press conference with Audette and commissioner Brian Eyolfson was scheduled for Thursday, but was pushed back to Friday and eventually cancelled because of time constraints.

Black people awaiting trial in Ontario jails spend longer in custody than white people

Black people in Canada’s most populous province spent longer behind bars awaiting trial than white people charged with many of the same categories of crimes in each of the past five years, according to data obtained by Reuters.

Between April 2015 and April 2016 — the most recent period in which data is available — black people awaiting trial in Ontario jails were there longer, on average, than white people charged with the same crime in 11 of 16 offence categories Reuters examined. There were approximately 6,000 black people and nearly 26,000 white people remanded to pre-trial detention during the period.

The data showed similar patterns in the four prior years.

Among the categories examined, black people spent almost twice as long in remand in 2015-2016 for weapons offences, equivalent to an additional 38 days. They also spent 46 per cent longer for serious violent offences and 36 per cent longer on charges of obstructing justice.

In three categories, white people awaiting trial were held longer in remand during the same period. Those included drug possession, theft and traffic offences. In two categories, the difference was 1 per cent or less.

The data also showed black people arrested and held in custody between 2011 and 2016 were more likely than white people to spend more than a year in pre-trial detention.

Locked Up For Life Q And A

Data obtained by Reuters also showed black people arrested and held in custody between 2011 and 2016 were more likely than white people to spend more than a year in pre-trial detention. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Reuters obtained the previously unreported data through access-to-information requests from Ontario, which asks inmates to indicate their race when they enter jail. Other provinces either do not collect this data or categorize it differently.

A spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said the province “takes systemic racism seriously and is working to address racial inequities,” but declined to comment on the data. The Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association, which represents the province’s prosecutors, and the Association of Justices of the Peace, which represents the people who decide most of Ontario’s bail cases, declined to comment.

More than a dozen defence lawyers as well as prosecutors, criminologists, and a judge interviewed by Reuters said shortcomings in Canada’s bail system appeared to play a role in the racial disparities shown in the data.

Ont Justice Reform 20170221

A spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi declined to comment on the data. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Unlike the United States, Canada virtually eliminated cash bail almost half a century ago. Instead, courts often require prisoners awaiting trial to secure a surety, meaning a relative or close friend who can appear in court and subsequently monitor them.

A surety needs assets to pledge, a crime-free record and, often, a home where the accused person can live until the case is complete. A surety cannot represent more than one defendant at a time.

Current and former prosecutors interviewed for this story said securing a surety can be onerous and the requirement is perhaps relied upon too often; but some said sureties remain the best way to protect the public and ensure defendants show up for trial.

Harder on the poor

Critics of the system say the poor are less likely than middle-class or wealthy people to have connections to provide the assets to pledge or housing to act as a surety. They add that this has an outsized impact on minorities, who are over-represented among Canada’s poor.

“Surety is a huge issue in Ontario,” said Nicole Myers, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “If you are from a marginalized community or a criminalized community, it can be very difficult to find a surety the court deems appropriate.”

The data did not take into account specifics of each case, the person’s criminal record, the frequency of plea deals, whether the person had a bail hearing and why bail may have been denied.

Reuters focused on offences with the largest pre-trial populations when comparing the average periods in remand, to minimize the impact of outliers. Inmates charged in multiple offence categories were counted in only the more serious one; multiple charges could affect someone’s chances of getting bail.

Studies, including one published last year by the Ottawa police, have found Ontario’s black communities are more heavily policed than white ones.

SCOC Judge Appointment 20161017

The Supreme Court of Canada is seen in October 2013. In a 2017 ruling, it called sureties ‘one of the most onerous forms of release.’ (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

This makes black people more likely to be caught breaching bail and makes it harder to find a surety without a criminal record who is not serving as surety for someone else, said Chris Sewrattan, a defence lawyer who represents many young black men from eastern Toronto.

In a ruling this year, Canada’s Supreme Court called sureties “one of the most onerous forms of release,” not to be used unless other options have been considered, such as programs that assign a case worker and require the accused to check in regularly with the courts.

The court did not address race in its ruling.

At least six provincial governments in Canada, including those of Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba, have said they are reviewing bail practices. An earlier Reuters investigation found inmates awaiting trial are more likely to die behind bars than their sentenced counterparts.