The Week That Was

The Week That Was


November 19 2001
The Week That Was

The Week That Was


November 19 2001

The Week That Was


A vicious storm hit Atlantic Canada, bringing flooding, property damage, bridge closures and power outages. The storm, a convergence of the remnants of hurricanes Michelle and Noel and a third weather system, was much stronger than forecasters had expected. In New Brunswick, some 7,000 people in the Fredericton area were left without power early Thursday. In P.E.I., storm surges combined with high tides to submerge some wharfs and coastal roads. And in Cape Breton, the causeway across the Strait of Canso was closed as nine-metre-high waves threw boulders onto the pavement.

Israel withdraws

Under intense international pressure, Israel withdrew tanks and troops from Ramallah, the Palestinian commercial centre and seat of government in the West Bank. Israeli forces had plunged into six Palestinian-ruled towns in October, searching for militants after the assassination of ultranationalist tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi. They have since pulled out of four of the towns, with expectations they will soon quit the two remaining locations.

No dodging the pain

Bank of Canada governor David Dodge warned Canadians to brace for even more economic pain.

In response, the loonie dropped to yet another record low-62.36 cents (U.S.).“lt’s going to feel really quite difficult out there,” Dodge said, adding that thirdand fourthquarter growth would be virtually nonexistent or possibly even negative. The Bank of Canada governor also made it clear that the central bank is ready to be “fairly aggressive” in continuing to cut interest

rates to support economic activity-regardless of the effect on the country’s currency.

Spain’s separatists

Despite worldwide outrage over terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Basque separatists were suspected

of keeping up their reign of terror in Spain. Provincial judge José Maria Lidón Corbi, 50, was shot and killed as he drove out of his garage in Gexto on the outskirts of the Basque port city of Bilbao. The day

before, a car bombing in Madrid had wounded 95 people. Police arrested two people in connection with that incident, identifying both as ETA members. The attacks dashed hopes that ETA, which has fought a bloody, 33-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland, would follow the post-Sept.

11 lead of the Irish Republican Army and begin disarming.

Compensation time

A retired Supreme Court judge recommended that Thomas Sophonow receive $2.6 million in compensation for a wrongful murder conviction that landed him in jail for nearly four years. The recommendation was one of 43 in a 200-page report from Peter Cory, who presided over an eight-month inquiry into the case. The document also called for limiting the use of jailhouse informants, who were instrumental in Sophonow’s conviction in the strangulation death of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel in St. Boniface, Man., in 1981. After three trials, a Manitoba Court of Appeals judge released

Sophonow in 1985. He remained the prime suspect in Stoppel’s death until the police and Crown admitted their error last year.

Off the lam

A 30-year manhunt ended when police in Mount Vernon, N.Y., arrested Patrick Dolan Critton, accused of hijacking an Air Canada plane on Dec. 26,1971. Critton, 54, was returned to Canada for a bail hearing after waiving his extradition from the United States. He is charged with kidnapping, extortion and robbery in connection with the hijacking of a DC-9 en route from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Toronto, where all passengers were allowed to disembark. The jet was refuelled and continued to Cuba. Critton was discovered after Canadian police traced his social security number. He had lived in Tanzania before moving to the U.S. in 1994.

NYC’s new mayor

Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg won New York City’s mayoral race, edging out his closest rival, Democrat Mark Green, by 43,000 votes. Running as an underdog Republican in a heavily Democratic city, Bloomberg, 59, founder of the information service Bloomberg LR spent upwards of an estimated $50 million (U.S.) financing his campaign. An endorsement from incumbent mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose approval rating soared with his high-profile role after Sept. 11, was also key. Bloomberg has said he will work for $1 a year, forgoing the position’s $195,000 salary.

Smuggler or refugee?

Concluding what is believed to be the longest refugee hearing in Cana-

dian history, Citizenship and Immigration officials accused Lai Changxing of spearheading a smuggling and corruption enterprise that ran into the billions of dollars. During the four-month hearing, immigration lawyers told the two-member panel that Lai was the kingpin behind an operation that saw cigarettes, textiles and other raw materials smuggled to China through Hong Kong between 1996 and 2000. Lai, who came to Canada with his wife and three teenage children in August, 1999, has denied all charges. The panel is expected to take several weeks to deliver its decision.

Grounding Canada’s No. 2 airline

Thousands of passengers were stranded when Canada 3000 Inc., the country’s second-largest airline and the one with the least legroom, suddenly grounded its planes. The move came the day after the company had won protection from its creditorsalthough at least one of its airplanes was seized on Friday in St. John’s, Nfld. The airline, launched in 1988 as a charter service for vacationers, had been offered a $75-million loan guarantee from Ottawa as a stopgap measure in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But it was unable to meet the government’s conditions, which included striking a viable deal with employees and creditors.

Like other airlines across North America and around the world, Canada 3000’s business dropped off dramatically following Sept. 11. But Canada 3000 was already ailing before those tragic events. Earlier this year, it had bought up its charter rivals, Royal Aviation Inc. for $84 million and CanJet Airlines for $7 million. The purchases turned out to be moneylosers and ended up creating a hodgepodge fleet—only adding to Canada 3000’s maintenance bills. On top of that, competition from Air Canada, the country’s dominant carrier, was brutal. To keep its planes full, Canada 3000 was pricing tickets on some flights at about half their actual cost.

Pulling the plug on the Montreal Expos

It’s game over. Just three days after the Arizona Diamondbacks nipped the New York Yankees in a World Series classic, baseball owners-never ones to let fans’ good feelings last too long-voted overwhelmingly to kill off two of the 30 major-league teams. Commissioner Bud Selig refused to identify the victims of “contraction," but speculation was rampant. Would one of them be the Minnesota Twins, Rorida Marlins or Tampa Bay Devil Rays? The smart money was on the Twins. But of the second team destined for oblivion there seemed little doubt: the Montreal Expos.

Founded in 1969 amid the hoopla of being the majors’ first Canadian club, the Expos have been in a death spiral of declining attendance, shrinking revenues and demoralizing trades. The slide started after 1994, the year the team was enjoying its gaudiest record-74-40-when a players'

strike abruptly ended the season. The fans never really came back. This past season, the Expos-the same franchise that thrilled Montrealers while falling one win shy of playing in the World Series back in 1981-attracted just 619,451 fans to charmless Olympic Stadium, by far the worst attendance in the majors. Owner Jeffrey Loria says he will lose $20 million

on the team this year.

So what went wrong? Take your pick. Blame management, some say. After all, they’re the ones who over the years failed to retain stars like Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez and Moisés Alou. Blame corporate Canada, say others: few of the business community’s big players stepped up to the plate and, in the end, majority ownership fell to New York City art dealer Loria. Blame the weak Canadian dollar, say others. Canadian teams, notes Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey, can’t compete forever with a 62-cent dollar, considering salaries are in U.S. funds. (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was quick to reassure fans that the league’s governors are not considering cutting any struggling franchises.)

Then there’s sports entrepreneur Wild Bill Hunter’s theory. Hunter, 81, who was involved in football, curling and softball before founding the

Edmonton Oilers, was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame last week. He let loose before the ceremony: “There’s so much money today, and money is a terrible equalizer. You may not even be interested in sport, but you have a big ego, so what do you do? You buy yourself a hockey team or a baseball team. You’re no more interested in it than flying a kite. Look at the ownership in all leagues. The worst enemies of sport are sitting at the owners’ table.”

In baseball’s case, the owners will be saving money by chopping franchises they’ve been subsidizing through revenue sharing. The players' union filed a grievance against contraction, claiming it violates the league’s labour agreement. So it’s unclear when the axe will officially fall-only that the owners, if they remain true to form, will never let the game itself interfere with the business of baseball.