The Week That Was

The Week That Was

Jonathon Gatehouse June 10 2002
The Week That Was

The Week That Was

Jonathon Gatehouse June 10 2002

The Week That Was

NORTHERN ALBERTA IN FLAMES

A forest fire in northern Alberta continued to burn out of control. Since the blaze began on May 17 about 100 km south of Fort McMurray, it has consumed some 1,400 sq. km of woodland-an area more than double the size of the city of Toronto-and forced the evacuation of 1,200 people. Meanwhile, smaller blazes continued to affect other parts of Alberta and Western Canada. One brush fire just north of Edmonton had destroyed three homes and assorted other buildings by week’s end and forced 15 families to flee.

Will Libya pay?

Amid confusion over whether Libya had, in fact, offered to settle a lawsuit over the December, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 were killed, some families of the victims were enraged by such a deal anyway. Libya publicly denied it had reached a reported compensation settlement of US$2.7 billion—or US$10 million per victim.

But a lawyer for the U.S. team representing 118 victims' families suing Libya for alleged state-sponsored acts of terrorism said he has no doubt that the Libyan negotiators with whom they met in Paris were authorized to settle the suit. Analysts say Libya considers compensation necessary before it can be welcomed back into the international community and start to repair ties with Washington. But

some of the victims’ families say it’s not a true compensation offer, but a business deal designed to win the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Libya. “It’s outrageous,” said Donna Freeman of Dundas, Ont. whose son, Paul Freeman, died in the bombing.

Sweet medicine

The B.C. Medical Association agreed to a three-year deal that the

government says will give the province’s doctors the best benefits in Canada.The agreement marked the end of a bitter dispute that had seen doctors undertake a job action that resulted in the cancellation of thousands of operations. The tentative contract, which is subject to a mail-in vote, will give the province’s 7,800 physicians an extra $392 million in incomeabout $50,000 a head. Among

the benefits: maternity leave of up to 17 weeks at $880 per week.

New favourite?

Look out Parti Québécois and Liberals-the Action démocratique du Quebec is on the move. Not that you’d know it from the number of seats the party holds: two compared to the PQ’s 68 and Liberals' 51. But according to a Léger Marketing poll released last week,

South Korean soccer fans

while the Liberals still lead with 35 per cent support, the Action démocratique has jumped to 32 per cent from some 12 per cent four months ago. That leaves the governing PQ at the bottom of the heap, with 26 per cent support.

An amazing kickoff

The world’s biggest sporting event

began with one of the biggest upsets in its 72-year history. After elaborate 2002 World Cup opening ceremonies in Seoul, watched by some 500 million around the world, Senegal shocked the heavily favoured defending champion, France-its former colonial ruler— by a 1-0 score. Although Senegal is one of just 32 countries-winnowed from a whopping 198-to make it to the World Cup, being held for the first time in Asia, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, ranks it far behind France. In Dakar, people,

I including children excused from school so they could watch the West African country’s first-ever World Cup match, danced in the streets and a national holiday was immediately declared. “It's an historic victory and a superb exploit,” said Senegal coach Bruno Metsu. “It's like a dream.”There will likely be more such dreams before the final on June 30.

Breaking radio silence

Six weeks after their helicopter disappeared in the mountainous jungles of southern Colombia, a radio distress call renewed hope that three men, including two Canadians, were still alive. A passing plane from the Colombian airline Alianza Suma picked up the call, but poor weather complicated subsequent search efforts. It was not immediately clear how the menGilles Pregent, a pilot from Montreal; Jay Riddell, a mechanic from Vancouver; and Pierre Galipon, a Frenchman who is a partner in the company that owns the Bell 212 helicopter that was headed to Lima from Calgary-might have survived in the jungle.

Mystery afloat

Has Robert Ballard, who found such famous sunken wrecks as the Titanic, Bismarck and Lusitania, struck again? According to tj Solomon Islands Broadcasting i Corp., the undersea explorer has |J located the remains of the famed 1 PT 109 under 375 m of water in fthe Blackett Strait in the South

Holding the phones

Don’t hang up-we’ve got a great deal for you. You get to keep paying the same amount for your local phone service in coming years, while we big phone companies and would-be competitors complain bitterly about it.

That pleasant victory for consumers was delivered last week by the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission in a long-awaited decision on pricing for deregulated local phone service. The CRTC even said pay phone rates can’t go up, at least until it holds public hearings. It froze residential phone bills-the basic charge and rates for services such as call waiting and voice mail-for the next four years, unless the annual inflation rate breaches 3.5 per cent, which it hasn’t for 11 years now. Increases for business

subscribers were held to the rate of inflation, with a currently hardto-imagine maximum of 10 per cent a year.

The so-called “incumbents,” giants such as Bell Canada and Telus Corp., were disappointed: they had wanted to raise rates across the board. At the same time, new players, including AT&T Canada and Sprint Canada parent Call-Net Enterprises Ltd., had demanded steep reductions-up to 70 per cent-in the access charges the incumbents can levy for using their networks. But the CRTC cut those charges by only 15 to 20 per cent, leaving a major income stream for the big guys relatively intact. “I think they’ve chosen regulation over competition,” complained Call-Net CEO Bill Linton. With so many players unhappy, analysts predicted there would be appeals to the federal cabinet. Consumers, though, seemed unlikely to join.

Pacific. John F Kennedy was captain of the patrol torpedo boat when it sunk on Aug. 2, 1943, after being struck by a Japanese destroyer; Kennedy’s heroic rescue of an injured survivor became the stuff of legend that helped launch a future presidency. Ballard was not available for comment and no one from the National Geographic Society in Washington, which is sponsoring and making a documentary about the search, would confirm that the remains of the wooden vessel Ballard found are

in fact from Kennedy’s boat. But Solomon Islands officials noted that PT 109 is the only such boat recorded as sunk in the wreckagelittered area. Naval experts will review the results in the coming weeks.

Who’s laughing now?

The British satirical magazine Punch, which first appeared on July 17,1841, is ceasing publication because of serious financial losses. It’s the second time the biweekly magazine has stopped publishing; it shut down in 1992 before billionaire Mohamed al Fayed revived it in 1996. But this time Punch may be down for the count. AI Fayed, who also owns the London landmark Harrods department store, said he couldn’t keep pumping cash into it because “sometimes the head has to triumph over the heart.”

Skakel avoids the stand

Lawyers for Michael Skakel, charged with firstdegree murder in the 1975 beating death of Martha Moxley, rested their defence without calling their client to testify. Skakel, 41, is charged with beating Moxley to death with a golf club when they were 15-year-old neigh-

bours in an exclusive enclave of Greenwich, Conn. That means the only account the jury heard from the defendant was a 1997 tape recording the prosecution played in which Skakel said he’d been masturbating while perched in a tree, peering into Moxley’s window. The last person to testify on Skakel’s behalf was his sister Julie, 44, who told the court she no longer believes a figure she saw running across the family property the night of the murder was her brother-contradicting statements she made to police in 1975 and her testimony before a grand jury in 1998. Skakel, a nephew of former U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, could face life in prison if found guilty.

Castration in court

Sandra Crockett says her developmentally handicapped son’s 1997 castration curbed his sexual aggressiveness and other behavioural problems. B.C.’s public guardian and trustee said the operation, done without the now 25year-old’s consent, was “unlawful, unethical, high-handed, arrogant and demeaning.” It sued Crockett, the Nanaimo hospital where the operation took place and the doctors involved in the case. Last week, some of the parties agreed to a settlement. Dr. Michael Oxley, the urologist who perfomed the operation, offered to pay $150,000 plus legal costs to the son, who has the mental capacity of a four-year-old. The offer would settle the lawsuit against all parties, including Crockett. Justice James Taylor of the B.C. Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether to approve the deal. It was unclear at week’s end whether Crockett will pursue a countersuit against the public trustee.

Quebec money

Quebec’s separatist government plans to create a new super-agency to oversee the province’s financial industry, underscoring its rejection of calls for a national securities regulator. Finance Minister Paul Martin became the latest to back a national body to replace the 13 provincial and territorial regulators. But Quebec has introduced legislation to go it alone with a consolidated agency reporting to the finance minister. At the same time, the government appointed Henri-Paul Rousseau, CEO of the Montreal-based Laurentian Bank of Canada, as head of the powerful Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Canada’s biggest pension fund manager. Provincial Finance Minister Pauline Marais promised reforms that would make the Caisse, often seen as an arm of the government, more independent.

Controversial verdict

The alleged motive was a nonstarter and the prosecution’s case-entirely circumstantialseemed weaker than stone soup. Yet, astoundingly, last week a Kuwaiti court closed the books on the murder of Luc Éthier, rejecting strong indications that it was an act of anti-Western terrorism and instead convicting his widow and three other Filipinos.

In a decision delivered after only two days of testimony, the Court of First Instance sentenced Teddy Tomara, 39, a janitor, to life in prison for the Oct. 10,2001, street ambush that killed Éthier, 36, a Canadian aircraft technician, and left his wife Mary Jane Bitos with three critical gunshot wounds. Bitos, who was originally accused of being at the centre of an elaborate plot to kill her husband for his insurance moneydespite the fact she was not the beneficiary of the policies-was acquitted of murder-related charges, but sentenced to three years in prison for “misidentifying” a Kuwaiti man as the gunman. Noraisa Asiak, a friend of Bitos, was handed five years for allegedly supplying the murder weapon-though the 9-mm pistol was never found-and “committing adultery” with Tomara. Another friend, Lourdes Viray, received three months for being an accessory after the fact.

Éthier’s family and friends are calling the court case a sham and a cover-up designed to deflect attention from anti-Western sentiment in Kuwait. They point out that there is no physical evidence linking the Filipinos to the crime.

The only proof presented by the prosecution were confessions that Bitos, Tomara and the other suspects made after their arrest last November, but later recanted, saying the statements had been extracted through torture and intimidation.

“I think the whole thing is bizarre,” Claude Éthier, Luc’s father, said from his Montreal home. “The process

wasn’t transparent-not at all.”

In March, following a Maclean's investigation of the case, the Éthiers sent a letter to Kuwaiti authorities via the Canadian embassy, asking for information about the evidence against their daughter-in-law and the other accused. The family never received a response. “They have never had the decency to contact us, to talk with us,” Éthier said.

Ottawa has also failed to follow up on the family’s concerns about a miscarriage of justice. “They’re telling me that the suspects are Filipino so they’re not going to get involved,” said Éthier. Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the

Department of Foreign Affairs, said Canada is simply following “the rules” of diplomacy. “We do not challenge a country’s judicial or investigative system,” said Doiron. “The murderers have been prosecuted and convicted. Justice has been rendered.”

Éthier died three days after the beginning of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan-as al-Qaeda’s Kuwaiti-bom spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, was calling for a “holy war” against the enemies of Islam. Kuwaiti authorities initially characterized the shooting as an act of terror. Police paraded several suspects before Bitos in hospital.

On four occasions, she identified Majed al Mutairi, a 30-year-old Muslim activist and Interior Ministry policeman, as the killer. He was held in custody, but then released.

Benoit Rivard, Éthier’s best friend in Kuwait, said he can’t accept the guilty verdicts. He testified in court that Bitos and the others had no motive-she knew nothing of the insurance policies, and the couple’s relationship was, by all accounts, rock solid. “Mary Jane honestly believes Mutairi killed Luc,” said Rivard. “I don’t understand how the Kuwaitis can convict these people without evidence.”

Jonathon Gatehouse