Canada NOTES

September 8 1997

Canada NOTES

September 8 1997

Canada NOTES

ACCUSING A JUDGE

Quebec Superior Court Justice Robert Flahiff appeared in court to face charges that he laundered $1.7 million in drug money through Swiss banks from 1989 to 1991. The charges, which date back to when Flahiff was still a lawyer, are thought to be the most serious ever levied against a Canadian judge. The Mulroney government appointed Flahiff to the bench in 1993.

SKINHEADS AND GYPSIES

About two dozen neo-Nazi skinheads chanting “Out, Gypsies, out” marched outside a suburban Toronto motel occupied by Gypsy refugee claimants from the Czech Republic. One skinhead carried a placard that read: “Honk if you hate Gypsies.” The Canadian Jewish Congress decried the incident. About 200 Gypsies arrived in Toronto after a recent Czech television documentary depicted Canada as a haven.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

The grand opening of Ontario’s first private jail, a boot camp for young offenders, was spoiled by the escape of two inmates. The 16-year-olds were captured after a 12-hour search. In another disturbance at the institution, called Camp Turnaround, two other inmates assaulted a guard. Critics dubbed the jail “Camp Getaway.”

TESTING FOR PCBs

Health Canada said it will take samples of blood, hair and, in some cases, breast milk from 200 natives in Alberta’s Swan Hills area. The samples will be tested for dioxins, furans and PCBs. The region is home to the Bovar Inc. toxic-waste disposal plant, which has been plagued by leaks and a recent explosion. Tests have shown that wildlife has been contaminated.

A COLONEL REASSIGNED

Canadian Forces Col. Reno Vanier, whose mysterious disappearance for two weeks in June has yet to be publicly explained, was reassigned. Vanier had been the director of arms-control verification at national defence headquarters when he vanished. He later was found, disoriented, in the Rideau River near Ottawa. Vanier will now oversee the downsizing of the foreign liaison officers corps.

Toxic

headache

Test results released by the Ontario environment ministry last week confirmed what many Hamilton residents already feared. The ministry announced that the charred wreckage of the Plastimet Inc. plastics-recycling warehouse, razed by a fire that burned for four days in July, is dangerous and will take longer to clean up than the 30 days originally forecast. According to the study of soil, soot and rubble, the site contains 66 times more toxic dioxins than is permitted by ministry guidelines, and 60 times more poisonous lead. “I would say it’s a seriously contaminated site,” said ministry spokesman Hardy Wong at a news conference.

Despite the high level of contamination— dioxins are powerful carcinogens and lead can damage the nervous system—Wong insisted that nearby residents are safe. The toxins, he said, have been contained, in part by regular hosing with water to stop the spread of poisonous dust. Earlier in the week, the environmental group Greenpeace issued its own contamination report with similar findings, calling

the site “probably the most toxic in Canada.” Provincial Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, meanwhile, demanded a public inquiry into health risks posed by the fire—as did many concerned Hamilton residents. “I’ve got four kids,” McGuinty said. “If I was living across the road and I heard we have 66 times the allowable levels of dioxins in there, that we have 60 times the allowable levels of lead, I wouldn’t believe the government when they told me this thing is not dangerous.” A report last month by the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office warned that lax enforcement of fire-safety standards across the province means another similar blaze is possible. Last fall, Plastimet was found to have violated 20 provisions of the fire code. When fire struck in July, a sprinkler system had yet to be installed.

FISHERIES

Ocean showdown

Crews aboard about 80 B.C. trolling vessels staged a mock salmon-fishing protest off Vancouver Island to demonstrate against federal regulations that limit where they can fish. Federal officials wearing bulletproof vests boarded some boats, but made no arrests because the fishing lines had no hooks. Trailers say they cannot meet their quotas because federal licensing practices strictly limit where a boat can drop its lines—regulations that Ottawa says prevent overfishing by keeping boats from going to where the fish are. Last week’s showdown marked an escalation in the ongoing battle for a share of the $400-mi11 ion salmon industry. Some B.C. fishermen have also staged recent protests against native-only fisheries. “[Protesters] will get no change whatsoever," vowed Fisheries Minister David Anderson. But the next day, department officials promised to find a way for the trailers to fill their quotas.

Exposing museum fakes

A donated collection of 700 African artifacts at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John is little more than “trash.” That is the opinion of Belgian consultant Marc Félix, commissioned by the museum to assess the collection. Félix’s internal report, which was leaked to reporters last week, described much of the collection as “disgusting,” “rotten garbage” and “an insult.” Almost one-third of the sculptures and masks are utter fakes. “They are not even copies of types of figures and masks that exist,” Félix reported. Half of the artifacts are exceptionally poor copies of existing works, he added, while only 20 per cent are authentic.

This is the second time the provincial museum has been embarrassed by fakes. In 1986, David Campbell, a well-known Toronto art dealer, donated 130 Fabergé art pieces to the museum, including several jewelled eggs. In 1994, a European expert discovered that only six of the items were authentic. Campbell also donated about 400 of the African pieces at the centre of the latest controversy. Jacques Germain, a Montreal dealer in African art, said the New Brunswick Museum should have had the pieces appraised before it decided to accept them. Such gaffes, Germain maintains, only serve to give Canadian museums a bad name. “It’s why we don’t have a good reputation around the world,” Germain said.