Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS August 18 1997
Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS August 18 1997

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS

It's not over till the

RCMP says it's over

It may come as a surprise to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, to whom the federal government apologized last January for dragging his name through the mud, but the RCMP is still investigating the Airbus affair. Last week, RCMP commissioner Philip Murray told Maclean’s that a team of seven investigators is working on the case full time. “It’s proceeding,” he said, “very much so.” The viability of the Airbus investigation was thrown into question when the government acknowledged in its apology that allegations against Mulroney were unjustified. In return, Mulroney dropped a $50-million libel suit he had launched in November, 1995, against the RCMP and Ottawa. He had learned he was named in a letÜ ter that the justice department had | sent to Swiss officials, on behalf of £ the RCMP. The Mounties were in-1 vestigating Air Canada’s 1988 deci-1 sion to buy 34 Airbus A-320 pas° senger jets for $1.8 billion from Airbus Industrie, a European consortium.

Not only is the RCMP continuing the Airbus investigation, but Kimberley Prost, the justice department lawyer who wrote as many as seven drafts of the infamous letter, is still writing such letters to foreign officials. “Kim Prost is in charge of that area,” said Murray, “and a number of lawyers who work with her, they review these things.” But there is at least one glitch. In a separate suit now

before the Supreme Court of Canada, German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber (to whom Ottawa also apologized) argues that the government’s use of the Mutual Assistance Treaty Act violated his charter rights. As well as holding up the RCMP’s access to various Swiss bank accounts, the suit could have wider implications. “Ultimately, if the act is ruled unconstitutional, there will have to be some other act developed,” says Murray. “I just don’t know what that would be, because this is the vehicle all countries use to work with police and acquire evidence from another country.”

New set of wheels

As if bicycles, skateboards and Rollerblades were not enough, yet another type of human conveyance may soon be distracting drivers and pedestrians: the Go-Ped. With solid rubber wheels at each end and a post with handlebars at the front, it may look like an oldfashioned scooter. But a 1.2-horsepower engine—which can propel it at speeds of up to 25 km/h—makes it a toy of the ’90s. According to the California-based (where else?) manufacturer, the Go-Ped has a single brake, is easily portable (it weighs just nine kilograms and folds as easily as an umbrella), and can run for more than an hour on a litre of gas. Such attributes may make it appealing to the alternative transportation crowd, but they will have to be prepared to shell out about $850. As for using it on city streets, the Go-Ped is in much the same category as skateboards and Rollerblades: probably not legal, but enforcement will be uneven. “I was pulled over by a cop once, but he was just curious,” says Scott Newman, a mechanic at Snow City Cycle, a Toronto shop that now sells the machines. “He just wanted to know where I got it and how much it cost.”

'La plume de ma tante...'

The certainty that national unity will be a hot topic in the coming Parliament has spurred Canada’s two unilingual party leaders into action. To improve their sketchy French-language skills, Reform Leader Preston Manning and NDP Leader Alexa McDonough have immersed themselves deep in francophone Quebec. Not surprisingly, they have gone about it in different ways. Starting this week, Manning will spend three weeks at a school in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, 30 km southeast of Montreal, where he hopes to improve to the point where he can speak

to Parliament in Canada’s other official language. McDonough agrees that that is an important goal: “No politician can aspire to the Prime Minister’s Office without being able to speak both languages.” But rather than taking the academic route, she has spent 10 days with a family of four in Jonquière, 170 km north of Quebec City, reading, writing and speaking only French. Despite being committed sovereigntists, the family welcomed her, says McDonough. And she naturally feels her method is better than Manning’s—“Maybe he’ll think about doing it that way next time.” The proof will be in the speechifying.

'Easier on the nose'

Boxer Alex Hilton is about to make some money working outside the ropes. The Montreal middleweight has landed a role in Brian de Palma’s latest film, Snake Eyes, starring Nicolas Cage. In the movie, which begins shooting this week in Montreal, Hilton will play a cut man, the person who attends to the boxer in the corner between rounds. He landed the role after a friend arranged an audition. “I heard de Palma liked my face,” says Hilton, 32, who will be in 15 scenes, including the main fight scene to be filmed at the old Montreal Forum. Hilton is the second oldest of five brothers who were all prominent boxers in the 1980s. But alcohol abuse and convictions on a variety of crimi-

nal charges between 1986 and 1988 derailed his career. Now working on a comeback and the part-owner of a new boxing club that bears his name, he hopes his appearance in Snake Eyes will open new doors. “A movie career would be great,” Hilton says, “and it sure would be a lot easier on my nose.”

Scenes from a mall

Regina city council has approved installation of a video surveillance camera focusing on a downtown pedestrian mall as part of a $50,000, six-month pilot project. If successful, it will be expanded by as many as six cameras. “If we could eliminate 50 per cent of the criminal activity, that would certainly be a bonus for the city,” says councillor Bill Wells. Video cameras are common in banks, shopping malls, and on some roads, but privacy advocates are uneasy about extending surveillance to city sidewalks. “Clearly, things like this put a chill on our freedoms in a democratic society,” says Julien Delisle, executive director of the Office of the Privacy Commission. But John Hopkins, associate executive director of Market Square, Regina’s downtown business association, says the perception of crime, rather than actual crime levels, is the real problem. “We’re just trying to increase the public sense of safety.” Orwell would be proud.