Day: February 12, 2020

Canadian journalist Christie Blatchford has died at 68

Longtime newspaper columnist, author and firebrand Christie Blatchford, a hardnosed scribe known for deep-sourced scoops and biting opinion pieces, has died.

She was 68.

Blatchford had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.

The cancer had metastasized to bones in the spine and hip by the time it was detected late last year, according to a profile her newspaper the National Post published in November.

“We’ll miss her always,” her brother, Les Blatchford, said Wednesday morning. “She was a great gal.”

Known as a tenacious reporter and unflinching social critic, Blatchford leaves behind a large body of work that was often bracingly frank, charged with emotion, and cut with humour.

A five-decade career cemented Blatchford as one of the country’s most enduring voices on the courts and crime beat, and her willingness to critique controversial social issues earned her a reputation for uncompromising, and often polarizing, viewpoints, most recently on the .metoo movement.

Christie Blatchford

For the candid and notoriously ribald “Blatch,” this was all in service of her mission to speak truth to power.

Criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein spoke of this as she presented Blatchford with the George Jonas Freedom Award at a gala in Toronto last June, describing an unapologetic, tough-as-nails writer whose pieces captured the “humanity” of a courtroom.

“None of it is sugar-coated and why should it be? In these times more than ever don’t we need a good dose of unvarnished truth? Don’t we need a good dose of Christie?” said Henein, who rose to national prominence as Jian Ghomeshi’s defence lawyer, a trial that Blatchford covered extensively.

“While lawyers and judges may rail against what she writes sometimes — may get infuriated even — here’s our dirty little secret, I’m going to share it with you: They all get nervous when she walks into court. We know she is there and everyone — every single one of them, every judge and every lawyer — reads her first. And they do it for one reason: Her opinion matters, her perspective matters.”

Blatchford’s recent reports for the Post and Postmedia chain of newspapers ranged from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s blackface and SNC-Lavalin scandals to the death of her beloved white bull terrier, Obie, in September.

In one of her final columns in October, she wrote about nagging muscle pain that forced her to leave the Liberals’ federal election tour only six days in — a mysterious ache that kept her from logging her daily 10-to-15-kilometre runs and instead led to a devastating diagnosis.

In many ways, journalism ran through Blatchford’s blood.


Although she never met her grandfather, Andy Lytle was a prominent sports writer and editor for the Vancouver Sun in the ’20s and ’50s, and a sports editor at the Toronto Star in the ’30s and ’40s. Her uncle, Tommy Lytle, was a longtime Toronto Star editor who retired in ’74, and for whom she wrote a touching tribute in the Globe and Mail in June 2005.

Blatchford’s story began May 20, 1951 in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., where she was born to Kay Lytle and Ross Thomas Blatchford, a navigator and flight lieutenant during the Second World War.

She joined the Globe and Mail in 1972 while studying journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, and spent the first four of those six years as a sports columnist. A natural storyteller, Blatchford was captivated by both professional and amateur sports and served as the marquee Olympics columnist for various papers that followed.

She quit the Globe “in a snit” when the sports department “began messing with my copy,” Blatchford says in her 2016 book “Life Sentence,” heading to the Star for the next four years.

It was during her second year there, on Jan. 16, 1978, that she covered her first criminal trial at the age of 26: “I had no idea I was beginning to serve a self-imposed life sentence,” she writes.

Blatchford next headed to the Toronto Sun as a columnist, and her 15 years at the city tabloid firmly established her dynamic flair for inspiring water-cooler rants among readers, whether they loved her or hated her.

Such was the vitriol she generated with divisive hot-takes that her work later inspired a website and Facebook page dubbed “Fire Christie Blatchford” — essentially a repository for likeminded readers to quote vivid prose they most despised while calling for her ouster.

When the National Post was created in 1998, Blatchford was one of the first writers hired, and the following year she won a National Newspaper Award for her column writing.

She returned to the Globe in 2003 to write columns and cover the courts, but in 2011 was drawn back to Postmedia News, which she called her “natural home.”

Former Postmedia president and CEO Paul Godfrey, who currently serves as the company’s executive chairman, admits his “immediate goal was to get Christie back” when he took over Postmedia in 2010.

“She was a jewel to have in your stable of journalists because she could write about anything. If you asked her to cover politics, sports, crime, anything like that, ask her to become a columnist and do a feature story on someone, she got to the bottom of it. Nothing fazed her,” Godfrey says of Blatchford, also a mainstay on local radio through regular appearances on Toronto’s NewsTalk1010.

She was competitive to be sure, but Blatchford could also be incredibly sentimental and deeply moved by the tragedy she often encountered, says Godfrey, recalling the 2005 Boxing Day shooting that killed 15-year-old Jane Creba as especially hard.

“The tears that covered her computer on the night of the shooting outside the Eaton Centre at Christmas time, she was a total mess on that. She had trouble writing the story because she was crying so much.”

Blatchford was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame last November but was too unwell to attend.

She was also the author of several non-fiction books, including “Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army,” based on her experiences during four trips to Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. It won the 2008 Governor-General’s Literary Award in non-fiction.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2020.

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Family struggling to make sense of four-year-old girl’s sudden death

An Ontario family says it is struggling to make sense of the sudden death of their four-year-old daughter, whose body was found alongside her father’s at the bottom of an escarpment west of Toronto.

Keira Kagan and her father, Robin Brown, went missing Sunday afternoon after they went hiking in Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton, Ont. Their disappearance triggered a massive search that ended hours later when their bodies were found.

Halton regional police have said the pair’s injuries were consistent with a fall, and their deaths are not considered homicides “at this point.”

“We’re not doing well,” the girl’s stepfather, Philip Viater, said through tears. “We go through a cycle of stages between sadness, confusion, anger, helplessness.”


The custody dispute over Keira has been difficult, Viater said early Tuesday, as he and his wife, Jennifer Kagan, were getting ready to go to the coroner’s office to view Keira’s body.

“We’ve been traumatized by this man for three years.”

He said they were incredulous about the police theory that father and daughter had been hiking.

“Keira’s never been hiking in her life to the best of our knowledge,” he said. “When you take Keira out for Halloween, she trips 20 times going down the street. She asks us to carry her all the time.”

Jennifer Kagan had brought forward an urgent motion on Jan. 28 seeking a court order to suspend Brown’s access to Keira or give him only supervised access.

Robin Brown - inline

Brown had Keira on alternating weekends, including this past weekend, according to court documents.

The judge said the motion was “serious,” but not urgent because Jewish Family and Child Services – a children’s aid society for the Jewish community in Toronto and York Region – was investigating and had “eyes and ears on the ground.” The group was expected to complete a report on the case before the next court hearing set for Feb. 20, court documents said.

Jennifer Kagan, a doctor, and Robin Brown, an engineer, got married in 2013 and separated three years later, after which Kagan left the couple’s home in Burlington, Ont., and moved in with her parents in Thornhill, Ont.

“Each party has made allegations against the other as to verbal, emotional and sexual abuse,” Justice Douglas Gray said in his 2018 decision, following an 11-day trial in the fall of 2017.

Kiera's mom

The judge noted there was “some confirmation” about one incident in which Brown became enraged when one of their dogs picked up a mouse in the backyard and then he shoved the mouse into Kagan’s mouth. He later said he had no recollection of the incident.

A court-appointed assessor, Dr. Peter Sutton, a psychiatrist with 30 years’ experience, was satisfied the incident occurred.

Sutton said he spent 230 hours on the case, the second-longest of his career, court documents said.

“Throughout the visit Mr. Brown was attentive to and engaged with Keira, aware of her whereabouts and activities, gentle and encouraging, tactful in managing limit setting and appropriately aware of safety concerns,” the judge said of Sutton’s testimony.

But the judge also noted Brown’s propensity to lie.

Kagan and Brown fought over whether their daughter was allergic to milk. A gastroenterologist opined that it was unlikely the girl was allergic, but might have a mild aversion.

After an appointment with the gastroenterologist on May 31, 2016, Brown “absconded with Keira. He refused to return Keira to the respondent’s care unless she signed an agreement providing for an equal parenting schedule,” the documents said.

The judge also found that Brown had lied to Kagan, her mother and his employer about earning a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“In this case, the relationship between the parties is so toxic that any form of joint parenting, including parallel parenting, would be doomed to failure, and would only exacerbate the conflict,” Justice Gray wrote.

The judge noted he was not concerned about Keira’s safety, but did award Kagan sole decision-making authority about the child’s upbringing provided she sought input – in writing – from Brown before making major decisions.

Brown continued to fight for more access to his daughter and appealed the decision. He lost, but over time was granted more access to his daughter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2020.

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Report: Death toll in fire likely includes 50 more people

PARADISE, Calif. — Doctors and other experts say at least 50 more people, many of them elderly or ill, likely died as a result of the 2018 wildfire that devastated the town of Paradise, California, but were not counted in the official death toll, an investigation by the Chico Enterprise-Record found.

Authorities have said the deadliest wildfire in California history killed 85 people. But the newspaper reported Tuesday that it had identified at least 50 more people whose deaths were linked to the fire but not attributed to it.

The additional people lived in homes, retirement communities and nursing facilities in the towns of Magalia, Paradise and Concow, according to addresses on wrongful death claims filed as part of a legal case against Pacific Gas & Electric. The utility’s equipment was blamed for starting the fire.

Each claim was vetted by a medical expert and a lawyer, and claimants had to gather evidence showing the person would not have died if not for the fire. Some claims were turned down, lawyers said, because the evidence would not necessarily stand in court.

Attorneys said the online database used to record claims is not perfect, so the number may not be exact.

Joe Earley, a lawyer representing several claims against PG&E and a survivor of the fire, called the list “the tip of the iceberg.” He said most of the people whose family members he represents had health issues, were elderly and died shortly after the fire.

“I believe those people are just as much a victim as everyone else,” he said.

Obituaries and GoFundMe pages offer an additional glimpse into their lives. A husband and wife who were deeply involved in Paradise community organizations passed away within a few months of each other. There was also a grandmother for whom losing her home was just too much stress. One person had a stroke after leaving anti-stroke medication behind when fleeing, Earley said.

Another person on the list is Ramona Ward, a 95-year-old who had a rental business and lived on her own, according to her daughter, Virginia Kraft. She was in rehabilitation in Paradise after a successful surgery when the fire hit and was moved to a Chico facility where she got sick with a norovirus. She died in January. Her death certificate cites hypertension and a cerebrovascular accident.


This story has been corrected to say claimants had to gather evidence showing the person would not have died if not for the fire, not that they would have lived.

The Associated Press

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Not me, us: Bernie Sanders’ vision of democratic socialism

Image: Joshua Mellin/Flickr

The U.S. Republicans have long chastised Democrats for being “socialists.” It started before Ronald Reagan identified “socialism” as something to be stopped in his successful presidential campaign of 1980. Indeed it dates back to the 1930s, the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and his New Deal.

Socialist name-calling reached a crescendo when Barrack Obama emerged as a public figure. By this time it was clear that Republicans (and Wall Street Democrats) were keen to undermine government commitments to even social spending by a party led by a rising star who had yet to define himself.

Crying wolf for so long may help explain why polls show that self-identified democratic socialist Bernie Sanders does not scare regular Americans.

Last year, U.S. data company Morning Consult identified Sanders as the “most popular senator” in the U.S. Numerous polls show Sanders beating President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential contest.

As American blogger Matthew Yglesias explains, Sanders is a smart politician with a record of getting things done in Congress.

In order to bring Americans together — which is what successful campaigns do — Sanders wants to raise the minimum wage, tax billionaires and corporations (instead of giving them handouts), end trade policies that boost profits as workers lose their jobs, enact medicare for all and reduce outrageous pharmaceutical prices.

These economic policies are all very popular: which is why Republicans and Democrats alike have had to spend so much money, for so long, to convince people they were not possible, against abundant evidence to the contrary.

Sanders identified his core political philosophy in a 2015 speech at Georgetown University. For Sanders, “Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.”

Though he does not highlight it in his campaign to be the Democratic presidential nominee, Sanders supports worker control over production through new forms of social ownership, not a state-ownership model of socialism.

Sanders’ version of socialism is steeped in democracy, which is probably why he calls himself a democratic socialist, rather than a social democrat.

He emphasizes the need to “reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.”

Corporate campaign donors buying votes of soon-to-be office holders is the most obvious betrayal of American democracy. Sanders points to the 1990s with “Wall Street spending $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated” and then, after that edifice collapsed in 2008, receiving “trillions in government aid to bail them out.”

Sanders’ political education as an activist took place as the civil rights movement was gaining strength, and the struggle to end the Vietnam War was beginning.

Martin Luther King Jr. was famous for leading battles against racial segregation. Usually overlooked by mainstream America was King’s opposition to the Vietnam invasion, and his espousal of a Christian gospel inspired socialism.

Sanders often quotes King: “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”

Michael Harrington was a self-described democratic socialist, and author of the 1962 exposé of poverty The Other America, which became mainstream once president John Kennedy began referring to it in his speeches. In 1982 Harrington founded Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a group well to the left of the Democratic party and intended to transform centrist Democratic party thinking.

In 2014, DSA initiated a successful call for a Sanders candidacy in the 2016 Democratic primaries, and have campaigned non-stop for him ever since.

Sanders situates his politics in the FDR era. FDR built a coalition to combat fascism abroad and extinguish right-wing extremism in the U.S. His presidential social agenda was obscured after his death in 1945, as the U.S. pursued its cold war against communists abroad and so-called “reds under the bed” at home.

In 2019, when Sanders took the stage again at Georgetown University, the Democratic presidential hopeful referred to the 1944 state of the union address by FDR, in which FDR called for a second bill of rights guaranteeing economic rights.

Sanders calls for a 21st century economic bill of rights that protects rights to: a decent job that pays a living wage, quality health care, a complete education, affordable housing, a clean environment and a secure retirement.

Sanders’ creed is straightforward: “What Roosevelt was stating in 1944, what Martin Luther King Jr. stated in similar terms 20 years later and what I believe today, is that true freedom does not occur without economic security.”

The affordability crisis that is “breaking America” makes Sanders’ version of democratic socialism meaningful to millions.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image: Joshua Mellin/Flickr​

February 11, 2020

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Key moments since Jussie Smollett reported Chicago attack

CHICAGO — “Empire” actor and R&B singer Jussie Smollett told Chicago police in January 2019 that two men physically attacked him and yelled racial and homophobic slurs. Some key moments in the story:

Jan. 22, 2019

— Smollett receives a racist and homophobic threatening letter at the studio in Chicago where “Empire” is filmed. Police later say that they believe Smollett sent the letter himself.

Jan. 29, 2019

— Jussie Smollett tells police he was physically attacked by two men in downtown Chicago while out getting food from a Subway restaurant at 2 a.m. The actor says the men used racial and homophobic slurs, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an “unknown substance” on him. Police say Smollett, who is black and gay, told detectives the attackers also yelled he was in “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan that some Trump critics have decried as racist and discriminatory.

Jan. 30, 2019

— Chicago police say they’ve reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage, including of Smollett walking downtown, but none shows the attack. Police obtain and release images of two people they would like to question, calling them “persons of interest.”

— Reports of an assault on Smollett draw outrage and support for him on social media from some politicians and celebrities.

Jan. 31, 2019

— Trump tells reporters at the White House that he saw a story the night before about Smollett, saying, “It doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned.”

— Smollett’s family issues a statement calling the attack a racial and homophobic hate crime. Smollett’s family says he “has told the police everything” and “his story has never changed,” disputing assertions levelled on social media that he had been less than co-operative and changed his story.

Feb. 1, 2019

— Smollett i ssues a statement telling people he’s OK and thanking them for their support. He says he’s working with authorities and has been “100 per cent factual and consistent on every level.”

Feb. 2, 2019

— Smollett gives a concert in West Hollywood, California, opening with an emotional speech, saying he had to play the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.

Feb. 12, 2019

— Chicago police say Smollett turned over some, but not all, of the phone records detectives requested as part of their investigation. Police say the heavily redacted files aren’t sufficient. Smollett says he redacted information to protect the privacy of contacts and people not relevant to the attack.

Feb. 13, 2019

— Chicago police pick up two men they identify as Nigerian brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on their return from Nigeria after police learn at least one worked on “Empire.” Police question the brothers and search the apartment where the men live.

Feb. 14, 2019

— Chicago police say local media reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed.

— Producers of “Empire” dispute media reports that Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, was being written off the show.

Feb. 15, 2019

— Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielimi says the two “persons of interest” are now considered suspects. He says the men — identified previously by police as two brothers from Nigeria — are in custody but have not been charged with a crime.

— Chicago police release the two men without charges after arresting them on suspicion of assaulting Smollett and holding them for nearly 48 hours. A police spokesman says the two are no longer considered suspects and that investigators have new evidence to consider as a result of questioning them.

Feb. 16, 2019

— Police say the investigation has “shifted” after detectives question the two brothers about the attack and release them without charges. Police say they’ve requested a follow-up interview with Smollett. Smollett’s lawyers say the actor feels “victimized” by reports that he played a role in the assault.

— Smollett’s account of what happened is met with some skepticism on social media in the wake of the new developments.

Feb. 17, 2019

— Chicago police say they’re still seeking a follow-up interview with Smollett after receiving new information that “shifted” their investigation of a reported attack on the “Empire” actor. Guglielimi says police reached out to Smollett’s attorney, but says an interview has not been conducted.

— Guglielimi declines to address reports that a grand jury may hear evidence in the case, saying: “We’re not confirming, denying or commenting on anything until we can talk to him and we can corroborate some information that we’ve gotten.”

Feb. 19, 2019

— Chicago police investigate tip that on the night Smollett reported being attacked, he was in an elevator of his apartment building with the two Nigerian brothers. Police later dismiss the tip, saying it’s not credible based on video evidence.

— Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recuses herself from the investigation. Her office says the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution … to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case.” No details were provided. Foxx later says the reason for the recusal is that she had conversations with a Smollett family member after the incident was reported in late January.

Feb. 20, 2019

— Chicago police say Smollett is officially suspected of filing a false police report when he said he was a victim of a racist, homophobic attack in downtown Chicago in January. Police also say that two brothers who were questioned about the attack were testifying before a grand jury and detectives were presenting evidence to the grand jury.

— Chicago police say the Cook County State’s Attorney has charged Smollett with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report that he was attacked by two masked men. Police detectives were contacting Smollett’s attorneys to arrange his surrender for arrest.

Feb. 21, 2019

— Chicago police say Smollett turned himself in to face a felony charge of disorderly conduct, which could bring up to three years in prison.

— Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says Smollett staged a racist and homophobic attack because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity. Investigators say they have a $3,500 check that Smollett used to pay the two brothers to help him.

Feb. 22, 2019

— Producers say Smollett’s character will be removed from the final two episodes of this season.

March 7, 2019

—A Cook County grand jury returns a 16-count indictment charging Smollett with falsely reporting an offence.

March 26, 2019

—Attorneys for Smollett say charges alleging he lied to police about attack have been dropped.

March 28, 2019

—A city official says Chicago is seeking $130,000 from Smollett to cover the costs of the investigation into his reported beating, which police say was staged. A letter sent to Smollett says over two dozen detectives and officers investigated the entertainer’s report that he was attacked, racking up a “substantial number of overtime hours.”

April 11, 2019

—City of Chicago files a lawsuit in Cook County court seeking to recoup the costs of investigating the reported attack.

April 12, 2019

— Foxx asks the county’s inspector general to review how her office handled the criminal case against Smollett.

April 15, 2019

— Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office releases thousands of documents in the Smollett case in response to open records requests, including a text from Foxx calling Smollett a “washed up celeb” who had been overcharged.

April 23, 2019

—- The two Nigerian brothers who said they helped Smollett stage the attack on himself file a defamation lawsuit against the actor’s attorneys.

May 31, 2019

— Foxx shifts explanation for why she recused herself from Smollett case, saying she stepped aside due to false rumours she was related to the “Empire” actor.

Aug. 23, 2019

— Judge names former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as special prosecutor to look into why charges against Smollett were dropped.

Oct. 4, 2019

— Judge decides to retain Webb as special prosecutor, despite his acknowledgement that he donated to Foxx’s campaign and his law firm co-hosted a fundraiser for her.

Jan. 8, 2020

— Judge orders Google to give special prosecutor year’s worth of Smollett’s emails, private messages, photographs and location details.

Feb. 11, 2020

— Webb says grand jury returns six-count indictment against Smollett, accusing him of lying to police regarding his assertion that he was the target of a racist and homophobic attack.


Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.

The Associated Press

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