The Week That Was

The Week That Was

June 17 2002
The Week That Was

The Week That Was

June 17 2002

The Week That Was

Footprints in time

Scientists have long been fascinated with trying to determine when the first creatures crawled onto land from the primordial seas. Now a group studying an abandoned quarry near Kingston, Ont., has found footprints embedded in sandstone that is 480 million to 500 million years old. That pushes the generally accepted time frame for the emergence of the first terrestrial creatures back some 40 million years. Writing in the journal

Geology, Robert MacNaughton, a scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada, and five Canadian and British co-authors, said the find includes some 25 tracks that typically have a central area where a body and tail made impressions and parallel areas where rows of legs left multiple footprints.

They suspect the fossil tracks were left by euthycarcinoids, insect-like arthropods whose bodies included protective outer shells and long legs. (Limbed vertebrates-whose descendants include humanscame ashore much later, around

370 million years ago.)

Scientists had known about the tracks for about a decade, but the footprints had been erroneously identified as being left by marine creatures trapped in shallow seas. Ironically, it was the tracks that had rendered the sandstone (used for, among other things, ornamental facing in fireplaces) commercially less valuable. The owner of the quarry-who is co-operating in keeping the site’s exact location secret to discourage looters and fossil hunters-had even used some of the stones as lawn ornaments.

Back to the U.S.A.

Anti-abortion activist James Kopp, 47, was returned from France to the United States, where he pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the 1998 sniper slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian in Buffalo, N.Y. Kopp, captured more than a year ago after an international manhunt, dropped his fight against extradition when the French goverment received an assurance from American authorities that he would not face the death penalty. In Canada, Kopp has been charged with the 1995 attempted murder of Dr. Hugh Short of Ancaster, Ont., and is a chief suspect in two other sniper attacks on Canadian abortion providers in Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Against animal cruelty

Canadians who abuse animals may soon face steeper penalties. Last week, the House of Commons passed the hotly contested animal cruelty bill, under which those found guilty of intentional cruelty will face up to five years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000. Currently, guilty parties are subject to a maximum sentence of six months and fines of up to $2,000. Critics are concerned the bill may incite animal activists to target farmers and ranchers for branding and other traditional practices. C-15B must still be approved by the Senate before becoming law.

Skakel convicted

After more than three days of deliberation, a jury found Michael Skakel, 41, guilty of murder in the 1975 beating death of Martha Moxley. Her family, who had long wondered whether anyone would ever be convicted, was jubilant.

“This is Martha’s day, this is truly Martha’s day,” said her mother Dorthy outside the courtroom. Skakel and Martha Moxley were 15-year-old neighbours in an exclusive neighbourhood of Greenwich, Conn., when the pretty blond was found beaten to death with

a golf club on her parents’ property. The case went cold for more than 20 years, stirring speculation that a world of wealth and privilege was protecting the murderer. A spate of books in the 1990s reignited interest in the case and Skakel, the nephew of Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, was eventually arrested. Skakel, who will be sentenced on July 19, could face life in prison.

Continuing crisis

Even as President Pervez Musharraf was promising U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that Pakistan would not start a war with India, heavy artillery blasts and

gunfire continued on both sides of the border. Escalating tensions between the two nuclear-armed archrivals, at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir, have prompted many foreign embassies to warn their nationals to return home.

At week’s end, Armitage, who also travelled to India, said tensions had begun to ease, although the two sides were still exchanging mortar and machine-gun fire.

Hitting back

Forty former Southam Inc. executives took out a one-page nationwide newspaper ad castigating CanWest Global Communications Corp. for limiting freedom of the

Finger-pointing time

Congress began hearings into the burning question in Washington these days-Who knew what, and when? In the search for answers to how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could have happened and how future attacks can be prevented, most people agree on one point-there was a colossal intelligence failure. Both the FBI and the CIA have accused each other of not sharing information that could have averted the massive loss of life-as have those within their own ranks. A star witness last week was Coleen Rowley, a Minneapolis agent who sent FBI Director Robert Mueller a blistering 13-page letter accusing her superiors of putting up obstacles into the investigation of the alleged “20th hijacker,” Zacarías Moussaoui. Agents in

Minneapolis became suspicious after a flight-school instructor told them Moussaoui was interested in learning to fly large commercial jets. FBI headquarters hindered their request to seek a search warrant to examine Moussaoui’s computer. “The cumbersomeness of getting approval for even the smallest decision is obvious,” Rowley tetestified.

George W. Bush isn’t waiting for answers. In a move plainly designed to divert criticism of the government’s pre-Sept. 11 performance, he proposed a major reorganization to increase homeland security. He has asked Congress for a new cabinet-level department to co-ordinate efforts to prevent future terrorist attacks, including border security, intelligence and other issues now housed in 22 separate federal agencies.

press.The ad, which ran in the June 6 issue of the Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, was in response to CanWest’s decision last December to force all of the Southam chain’s 14 dailies—as well as the National Post-to run headoffice editorials. CanWest’s policy has been denounced by journalists, who claim it will lead to the censorship of ideas which differ from those of the Asper family— CanWest’s controlling shareholders.

Zero tolerance, sort of

A group of Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. released a report intended to address the ongoing sex abuse saga that has plagued the Church in recent months. The report, prepared by the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, recommends that priests who molest children in the future face a zerotolerance policy. However, those found guilty of past abuse should, under certain conditions, be given a second chance-including counselling and agreeing to public disclosure. The report will be voted on when bishops from across the U.S. meet this week in Dallas.

Politics and ETA

Spanish legislators took the first step toward outlawing the political party of the Basque separatist group ETA. Members of the Congress of Deputies-parliament’s lower house-overwhelmingly approved a bill that allows the Supreme Court to dissolve political parties viewed as encouraging or supporting terrorism. ETA has killed more than 800 people during its three-decade-long struggle for an independent Basque homeland. The legislation goes before the Senate June 25 and is expected to pass.

Power games

What does a Tory premier in trouble do? Why, turn to a former NDP premier, of course. In a growing crisis over electricity privatization, Ernie Eves’s Ontario government was due to name ex-NDP leader

‘A cruel disclosure’

A Vancouver television station reported that police found at least one head, along with the hands and feet of two women, in a freezer at the suburban pig farm they’re searching in connection with the disappearance of 50 women from the city’s seedy Downtown Eastside. BC-C7V claimed that the joint Vancouver police-RCMP task force that has been scouring the Port Coquitlam farm since February found the remains several months ago. Normally one of the officers updates the victims’ families about developments before they're made public, so the TV revelation left some of the women’s relatives shaken. “It was a cruel disclosure,” said Ernie Crey, whose sister

Dawn disappeared in November, 2000.

Police have refused to confirm or deny the report-or whether they’re investigating a leak. “What people want to know about this case is the kind of information that, if made public, could well jeopardize a fair trial,” said Vancouver police Det. Scott Driemel. The controversy erupted as police and experts in archeology and osteology-the study of human bones-began excavating the 4.5-hectare farm and an adjoining property. The experts, mostly students from universities across Canada, had to sign non-disclosure agreements and go through criminal background checks. Robert Pickton, 52, who co-owns the farm, is charged with the first-degree murder of seven of the missing women.

Bob Rae to the board of Hydro One Inc., its power transmission utility, along with several other ex-politicians. The entire previous board resigned in a dispute with the government over executive pay levels. The furor erupted after it was reported that Hydro One CEO Eleanor Clitheroe earned $2.2 million last year, and would also earn $6 million if she leaves under almost any circumstances-plus receive an immediate lifelong annual pension of $1 million. Board supporters argued that such compensation was typical in private industry, while critics said Hydro One remained a government entity, with its sell-off increasingly in doubt after an adverse court ruling.

Yes and oui

New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province, introduced changes to revamp its 1969 Official Languages Act. Premier Bernard

Lord’s Tory government tabled a bill that would, among other things, create a commissioner to oversee the act and investigate complaints, ensure access to health care in both languages, and require municipalities with linguistic minorities of more than 20 per cent of the population to have bylaws in both French and English.

Bullying in the courts

David Knight, 17, and his sister Katharine, 16, launched a lawsuit against the Halton District School Board in Ontario and various school officials. The two claim they suffered more than four years of harassment and abuse at Lester B. Pearson High School in Burlington, Ont., and that the school failed to protect them. Spokesmen for the Halton school board said instances of harassment were dealt with appropriately. The case is one of many that has focused attention on bullying in schools.

Deadly drama mounts in the Middle East

In as sharp a warning as can be delivered, Israeli soldiers once again stormed Yasser Arafat’s West Bank compound last week, this time riddling his bedchamber with bullets and tank shells, Arafat was unhurt in the pre-dawn reprisal-he had been working through the night, as is his style, in a lower floor of the building. But one of his security officers was killed and several others injured.

Israeli officials denied the raid was directly targeted at the Palestinian leader. Still, there are increasing signs that both Israel and, more recently, its U.S. ally, have lost all confidence in Arafat’s ability to negotiate a Middle East peace. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has long

held that Arafat is a detriment to the peace process and has been condoning terrorist attacks on the Jewish state. And while Washington has repeatedly warned Israel against harming or toppling Arafat, a White House spokesman now says that George W. Bush feels Arafat “has never played a role of someone who can be trusted and who is effective.” The spokesman added that the U.S. is starting to reach out to other potential Palestinian leaders.

The attack on the compound came a day after an 18-year-old Islamic militant blew up a Renault van packed with explosives while driving beside a bus in northern Israel, near the town of Megiddo. At

least 17 people, including the bomber and 13 Israeli soldiers returning to their posts, were incinerated as the bus burst into flames-one of the most dramatic and deadly suicide bombings in recent months. A further 40 were taken to hospital, including driver Mickey Harel who has now survived four terrorist attacks.

Syria-based Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. It was symbolically timed for the anniversary of the start of the 1967 war which led to Israel’s 35-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It also came just as CIA director George Tenet was leaving the region. He had spent two days trying to convince Arafat to reform his security apparatus and crack down on terrorism. He was also

laying the groundwork for a meeting between Sharon and Bush at Camp David this week. That is supposed to follow a separate get-together between Bush and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that is aimed at starting a new international peace process for the region. A key component of the Mubarak plan is that Israel withdraw completely to its pre-1967 borders. That has become more complicated of late as, faced with a spate of terrorist bombings, Sharon has begun the construction of a 109-km buffer zone of high fences, ditches and electronic monitoring around certain predominantly Israeli cities on the West Bank. More hawkish members of his government are even calling for Israeli forces to fully reoccupy the territory.