Daughter, 18, charged with 2nd-degree murder after woman reported missing in Ottawa

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An 18-year-old woman has been charged with second-degree murder after her mother was reported missing earlier this month. 

Ottawa police asked for the public’s assistance Thursday to help locate 37-year-old Susan Kublu-Iqqittuq. The Inuk woman was last seen in the area of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue on Jan. 10, police said.

Lennese Kublu has been charged with second-degree murder and indignity to a human body, police said.

The family confirmed with CBC News that Kublu is the daughter of the woman who was reported missing.

Ottawa police are using the spelling « Kuplu » for both women. Police said that their major crime unit is investigating.​

The suspect appeared in court Saturday morning. 

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Hamilton woman searched for 24 years for the daughter she was forced to give up. Then fate brought them together

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HAMILTON—It was the saddest of happy endings.

Darcy Dee was slipping away, her body finally giving in to the breast cancer she’d been fighting for four years.

But Darcy had already won another battle — one that she’d waged for a quarter-century — the struggle to find the little girl she’d been forced to give up in 1991, the baby the system had taken away from her all those years ago after deeming her an unfit mother because of her disability.

At her bedside during those last few days was the 29-year-old woman who had been taken away from her mother as a toddler, fostered and soon adopted, the woman who had grown up and lived most of her life with a loving adoptive family just minutes from the birth mother she never knew. But miraculously, fate had brought them back together in 2015, allowing for three years that would have to make up for nearly three decades lost.

Darcy Dee, 59, died Jan. 20 in Hamilton’s St. Peter’s Hospital. Her funeral takes place Saturday.

She is survived by 10 siblings, and by her daughter — Veronica Ann — the daughter for whom she searched for 24 years.

“Knowing that my mother got her greatest wish, to heal the wound of losing me, has been a huge inspiration,” Veronica said after her mother’s passing. She marvels at how through all those years that they were apart, Darcy essentially built her life around the quest for her lost daughter.

“She formed habits throughout her city to be visible and available so that I might by chance find her,” Veronica said. “She never gave up and I’m so grateful I could be there to show her it was all worth it.”

I told the first chapter of Darcy’s story nearly 30 years ago in November 1990, in the Star, as Darcy was waging a losing battle with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society in Hamilton for the custody of Veronica.

I’d met Darcy by chance in the food court of a Hamilton mall that autumn while I was on assignment. Darcy had been left disabled by a brain injury after being hit by a truck while walking to school on a winter day, when she was 8. She was declared dead at the scene, but somehow survived.

That day in Hamilton, she rolled up beside my table in her scooter, which had a carrier basket full of loose-leaf papers. Once she discovered I was a reporter, Darcy wanted me to read the documents in her basket, notes she’d been typing over the months, the journal of her struggle to regain custody of her daughter. (Over the years, she would type thousands of pages.)

Darcy’s speech was slurred. She had difficulty controlling her movements and articulating her feelings. But her journal read like poetry. Page after page of fluid and heartbreaking detail about how she’d had Veronica with a guy she’d met, and then lost her. Estranged from her family, the fiercely independent Darcy had been living in an apartment in downtown Hamilton.

She contacted the children’s aid society during her pregnancy, and shortly after the baby’s birth, Darcy was deemed unfit as a parent.

“All my life people told me I couldn’t do anything,” Dee said during one of several interviews in her tiny subsidized apartment in 1990. “Well, now I did the thing that is supposed to be the most important of all — I created a life. Now they want to take that away from me.”

After a year of increasingly infrequent and restricted supervised visits, the courts ruled on Feb. 11, 1991, that Veronica would be placed for adoption and that Darcy would not be allowed to see her again.

The system was true to its word, for 24 years.

The story that Darcy shared with me in 1990, the story that continued to unfold in the intervening decades, reads like a screenplay.

She was born in Buffalo in 1959 to John and Rayme Dee, professional actors who immigrated to Canada for work and settled in Ancaster, Ont. Anyone who watched Canadian television in the 1970s and early ’80s would recognize Darcy’s dad, John, who played Al Waxman’s crusty neighbour Max on King of Kensington.

Darcy left home at 21 after getting a Grade 12 diploma from a vocational school. She eventually moved to Toronto, where she took some courses in English and history at Ryerson, without much success. Back in Hamilton in 1982, she sat in on courses at McMaster University and Mohawk College.

When I met her in the small, dingy apartment in 1990, I noticed how she made the best of the lack of space and narrow hallway: because of her limited mobility, she got around by practically bouncing off the walls, propelling herself from the table, to the chair, to the bed.

The journal entries I read in 1990 were heartbreaking and gave voice to the thoughtful, eloquent and angry young woman that the system had written off.

She wrote about when her daughter turned 1.

“Yesterday was Veronica’s birthday. Her very first. I did not get to see her. Although I carried on with my own life, I had a pretty heavy heart, thinking of her. Remember last year at this time, I was in the hospital, in pain, having just had Veronica the night before?

“Yes, but the greatest pain of all is not being able to see my baby.”

Darcy Dee with her young daughter, who she had to give up to children's aid three decades ago.
Darcy Dee with her young daughter, who she had to give up to children’s aid three decades ago.

After losing Veronica, Darcy reconciled with her large family, and her sisters in particular became the champions of her efforts to locate her daughter. Her parents have long since died.

Darcy’s family and friends recall a spunky, unpredictable woman who could fly into a rage at those she felt were putting her down, and just as quickly flash a wide smile and howl with laughter.

“This is the story of a woman who grew up fighting — for her independence after a severe brain injury, for her life with a cancer diagnosis — and then, in the short time left to her, to find the daughter she was forced to give up,” her sister Betsy wrote in an account of Darcy’s struggle.

Darcy and I were in touch sporadically over the years.

In a journal entry on Veronica’s 10th birthday, June 10, 1999, Darcy wrote: “I will never stop praying for you, and loving you, even though I do not know where you are. You could be in the house in front or behind me for all I know.”

In 2007, when Veronica would have been turning 18, I contemplated trying to find her myself, or even publishing the baby photos of Veronica that I had taken at Darcy’s apartment in 1990. But I concluded that would be a violation of the girl’s privacy.

In late 2014, Betsy let me know that Darcy had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that the family was stepping up efforts to find Veronica.

By then they’d already been through years of paperwork, trying to make contact and obtain official records of the adoption. I went to see Darcy in Hamilton in November of 2014. She was very ill and was now confined to a wheelchair. And she still talked about finding her Veronica.

Little did anyone know that the clue to Veronica’s identity and whereabouts was already in Darcy’s possession. After my visit, Betsy sent a follow-up email to share some adoption-related documents that Darcy had received from Service Ontario in response to one of her requests. The key document was the 1992 record of Veronica’s adoption. While all of the adoptive family’s identifying information had been dutifully blacked out, for some reason the document showed Veronica’s legal name at the time of her adoption.

It took a minute on Google to find Veronica, a young web design and marketing consultant who was at that point living and working in Hamilton, blocks away from her birth mother.

Darcy’s sisters were in a quandary. How should they go about confirming Veronica’s identity and making contact? They didn’t share the finding with Darcy until they could get in touch with Veronica. After weeks of deliberating, they dropped off a letter at Veronica’s apartment, informing her of the identity of her birth mother and extending the invitation for a meeting.

Several weeks later, on Jan. 25, 2015, a Sunday afternoon, the family arranged for Veronica to make a surprise visit to her birth mother’s apartment.

Darcy was seated with her back to the door when Veronica entered and made her way into view.

“Do you know who this is?” the sister asked.

Darcy didn’t.

At that point, the striking young woman with blond hair and blue eyes knelt down in front of Darcy’s chair and took her hand.

“I’m Veronica.”

Veronica looks back now on that remarkable reunion and the months that followed.

“My reunion with Darcy was joyful, compassionate, all about doing things together as newly introduced people,” she said. “We went and did fun activities all through the summer. Darcy always pictured us in the sunshine together and she got her wish.”

Veronica was struck by her resemblance to Darcy, in physical appearance, and in attitude.

“She’s passed that focused, never-say-die spirit on to me.”

In the little time they had together, a lot was left unsaid, in part because it had become so difficult for Darcy to communicate.

“Most of what happened between Darcy and I was over coffees and in each other’s hearts,” Veronica recounted. “We couldn’t easily communicate but the wonder and surreal happiness of beating the odds together was our primary emotional story.”

In the days before Darcy’s death, Veronica spent hours at her birth mother’s bedside in Hamilton, still holding her hand. And while Darcy is gone, she has left her daughter a written legacy, thousands of pages of her writing.

Years before, on Nov. 11, 2007, Darcy typed this poem in her journal. After her death, it seems almost prophetic:

I can only hope and pray

That maybe, just maybe some day

That in heaven, or on earth

It will be like a rebirth

We will meet face to face

I will hug Veronica

And hold her

And she? She will touch my shoulder

Never to let go of each other

Allan Thompson was a reporter with the Toronto Star from 1987 to 2003, when he became a journalism professor at Carleton University.

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‘I don’t know how I did it’: Mom saves daughter, 4, from sinking car after crash

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As her car skidded across black ice and began rolling down an embankment toward an icy pond, Ashley Holland thought she was going to die.

But moments later, the Hantsport, N.S., woman found the strength to not only save herself, but also her four-year-old daughter who was strapped in the backseat as freezing water rushed in. 

« When something like that happens, it’s like your parental instincts just kick in, right? And you do what you need to do to get your child to safety, » Holland, 24, told CBC Radio’s Mainstreet on Monday, a day after the terrifying ordeal.

The mother of two managed to haul her daughter free from the sinking car and swim to a nearby embankment. 

‘A miracle’

« How they were even able to get out of that car was a miracle, » said Capt. Ryan Richard of the Brooklyn volunteer fire department, who arrived at the scene shortly after the pair made it out of the water. 

« To be able to swim to shore and get up over that embankment is totally unheard of, » he told CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon

« I’ll be honest with you, in my last 26 years I’ve been to many similar incidents and unfortunately they’re usually very fatal. »

Holland had been taking her daughter to a birthday party around noon Sunday when she struck black ice just a few minutes away from her home.

Ashley Holland and her daughter Macy were in the car when it crashed. Holland’s youngest child, 14-month-old Nyla, was at home at the time. (Submitted by Ashley Holland)

She lost control of the vehicle and it ended up rolling down an embankment.

« Terrifying, completely terrifying. My daughter just started screaming and I was just thinking in my head, ‘The water, please just don’t go in the water, like please,' » said Holland.

« Then we hit the water. »

As the car rolled, her daughter Macy kept screaming, « Mom, I’m going to die! » The car initially landed on its roof and both passenger side windows smashed to pieces on impact. 

Water started gushing in, filling up the Toyota Corolla. 

Struggling to open door

Holland unbuckled herself, falling onto the roof of the car, and crawled out a window into the water. She tried to open her daughter’s door from the outside.

« I finally did get it open, but I had slush and ice all over my hands and everywhere and my hand slipped and the door slammed shut. So I’m freaking out trying to think, what do I do? » 

For the briefest moment, Holland thought she wouldn’t be able to save Macy. The car was sinking too fast. Her numb hands and legs were working too slowly.

This photo was taken soon after Holland and her daughter escaped the car. (Submitted by Ryan Richard)

But she didn’t give up.

Holland climbed over the car and went back in through a window and worked with her daughter to free her from the car seat. Macy undid the top straps while Holland unbuckled the bottom ones. 

« I just grabbed her and pulled her out and I tried to keep her above the water. I didn’t want her to be hypothermic. So from the waist down she was soaked, but I mean her hair didn’t even get wet and I don’t know how I did it. »

She managed to carry Macy to shore and push her up onto the embankment, but Holland’s body had reached its limit.

« It was really icy and slushy and I was having a really hard time because I thought I was going to pass out. I was freezing so I was having a hard time getting up the hill, and I just said to her, ‘Run, you need to run, go,’ because I saw there was a car coming our way and I didn’t want them to miss us. »

It took some time to haul Holland’s car out of the pond. (Submitted by Ryan Richard)

As Macy flagged down the passing car for help, Holland managed to haul herself to the top of the embankment. The woman in the car wrapped Macy and her mother in a jacket and called 911 while the pair warmed up in the vehicle. 

At about the same time, a fire truck from Brooklyn drove by on its way to assist another fire department. Richard spotted something sticking out of the pond and had the truck turn around. 

They gave Holland and her daughter warm clothes and blankets while they waited for the paramedics. Richard said Holland and her daughter were hypothermic, in shock and disoriented. 

As a precaution, two firefighters put on diving suits and went into the water to make sure no one else was on board, but the car was empty.

Holland said she was lucky she didn’t take her 14-month-old with her or things could have been much worse. 

« You see stories like this on the news all the time, you know through winter and even in the summer, and it’s like a lot of them don’t make it, » she said. « So I’m just thankful that, you know, we did. »   

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‘If it is not my daughter, it will be somebody else’s’: Family of Crystal Papineau calls for changes after woman’s death

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“If I have anything to say about it, there won’t be any more of those bins,” said Kuno. “It is not the Canadian Mint. It is clothes. If it is not my daughter, it will be somebody else’s. These containers, from the sounds of it, would never be safe.”

Kuno spoke to the Star on Saturday from the bungalow where his daughter grew up, about 40 kilometres south of Ottawa.

“She left a mark and I guarantee she won’t be forgotten,” he said.

Papineau was a regular guest at drop-ins and respite sites, places that provide shelter and community for people who don’t have housing, are living in poverty, or are dealing with mental health and addiction issues.

While she spent almost two decades in Toronto, that bungalow near Ottawa was where she grew up. The little girl with blond hair and a stubborn streak came to them at age 5, said stepmother Evelyn Simser, who said they loved each other as mother and daughter.

“Crystal had whatever she wanted here. We weren’t rich but she got everything that I could possibly give her,” she said. That meant a bedroom decorated with new white wallpaper, with yellows stripes and roses, and a yellow shag rug in a house on an acre of property where the sometimes wild little girl could run free.

During those years she took her father’s last name. Papineau was her family name on her mother’s side.

Papineau loved unicorns and butterflies and was obsessed with Kraft Dinner. At age 8 she would climb up an antenna on the side of house so she could dance on the roof with a neighbourhood friend, said Simser, clearly not amused by that activity.

She developed an early and distinct sense of style, Simser said. “The worse she could put on, the better. We had dresses for her here and she would put on a pair of jogging pants or an old T-shirt. She didn’t want to be pretty.”

Simser said Papineau was beautiful and bright but despite years spent trying to make her feel loved and secure, she never seemed able to overcome challenges with her mental health. She could lash out and acted out more as she grew older, they said.

“You could get close to her, but only close enough. Because she didn’t want to lose you,” said Simser. Papineau was with them until age 15 and soon after was in Toronto. She could always come home but was devoted to her chosen family in the city, said Simser.

She takes some comfort knowing the young woman is at peace now. “I can almost guarantee she is telling me not to cry and worry. She is always going to be here. She is always going to be with me.”

But Simser shares her husband’s anger over how Papineau was found, and like him believes there is a need for better services.

“They have no right putting those so close to women’s shelters knowing those people are freezing and need what is in those boxes,” said Simser. “Maybe they shouldn’t be in them, but they are starving and freezing … I just wish I could get to Toronto. There wouldn’t be a box there. I’d smash every one of them. They need to be off the street.”

While the drop-ins and sites Papineau visited provided a temporary safe haven, advocates and people close to those lost to poverty and homelessness say they shouldn’t exist — that people need more mental health supports and places to live.

“We have all been so angry for so long … you hope to God that something breaks, that people are in the right mood to pay attention to what you have been saying for years and are saying again,” said Meg Inwood, 34, a close friend of Papineau. “There were no beds for her that night. There was nothing in the f—ing city.”

Inwood met Papineau when they were teenagers in Toronto. When Inwood left her home, Papineau took her under her wing.

“She helped show me the ropes. She helped show me how to survive on the street,” Inwood said, adding that they bonded over a deep love for the printed word.

“She, like me, just ate novels for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Inwood said her friend struggled with addiction and mental health problems, and experienced homelessness for periods of her life, although the last year was particularly rough. But no matter what shape she was in, she said, she still always gravitated to others in need or in pain.

“When you were upset, she would not let you push her away and instead of getting mad she would make you feel better,” Inwood said. “She was laughing, you know, but knew how much you were hurting because she had hurt that much, too.” She also kept private the details of her past hardships.

“The fact that the world just kept hammering and hammering her and she never lost that generosity of spirit … it was beautiful.”

Mayor John Tory has called for an expedited review of how donation boxes are licensed and has asked the committee charged with that work to immediately instruct staff to remedy any safety issues identified throughout the process. The city has also pledged to create 1,000 new emergency shelter beds by 2020 and has created a new planning and housing committee.

On Thursday, as Toronto shivered through its first cold weather alert of 2019, the city’s 4,430 emergency beds for women, men and youth were nearly full, according to city data. A block of about 2,850 motel and hotel beds — added to reduce the strain on the system — were 85 per cent full.

An additional 1,034 people took shelter inside drop-ins, the warming centre at Metro Hall, three locations of the Out of the Cold program and the first of the city’s new winter respite sites — domed structures with space for 100 cots.

Despite the persistent winter cold, makeshift encampments remain the living choice of some, often alongside major roads or beneath the Gardiner Expressway. Last week people at some of those sites were told they would face eviction in 14 days, as first reported by the Toronto Sun.

Brad Ross, head of communications for the city, said that members of Toronto’s Streets to Homes Program are working to provide them with access to shelter and housing, or any additional services they need. A key concern, he said, was the risk of fire as people try to stay warm inside tents and makeshift structures. Some sites are also dangerously close to traffic, he said.

“At some point we need to say you can’t camp on the street. We need to remove the structure,” said Ross, speaking with the Star on Saturday. “It becomes a public safety issue, whether for the individual themselves or for the public.”

Several hundred people gathered in the freezing cold to honour Papineau’s memory on Thursday, at a makeshift memorial set up near where she died, and to call on all levels of government to provide more support for people in need.

“This is not a death by misadventure,” said Lesley Wood, with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. “This is death by neglect. Neglect of housing. Neglect of shelters. Neglect of services.”

One place where Papineau was well known was Sistering on Bloor St. W., where women can find safety and support all hours of the day and night.

“Crystal left us a gift. And the gift was the beginning of this gathering,” executive director Patricia O’Connell told mourners at the Thursday night vigil.

“She has given us this opportunity, sadly, to say homelessness in this city, in this province, in this country, is an epidemic,” she said. “Crystal’s death was the result of extreme poverty … we cannot let her death be in vain.”

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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She couldn’t find a girls baseball team for her daughter, so she started a league of her own

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Where most people see obstacles, Dana Bookman sees opportunities.

So she didn’t mope or complain in early 2016 when her daughter, Noa Rae O’Neill, found herself the only girl among more than 400 kids registered for their local youth baseball league. Nor did she indulge her daughter’s initial urge to quit baseball and switch to another sport.

Instead, Bookman, who had no baseball experience until her two kids started playing, spread the word on Facebook that she needed four or five other girls and a coach to practise baseball along with her daughter. Then she upgraded her ambition, figuring 10 girls would make actual mini-games possible.

Word spread faster and interest ran deeper than Bookman anticipated. By that June, more than 40 girls had participated in Toronto Girls Baseball. In August, the program, with founder Bookman functioning as CEO, finished its third summer in Toronto. It also expanded to Halifax and Winnipeg this past summer.

Bookman never imagined becoming a leader in the local baseball community, but she just couldn’t stop herself from fashioning opportunity from a problem. Either way, the program she founded is transforming the way Canadian girls think about baseball, and helping change the gender balance in a traditionally male sport.

“(Noa Rae) was about to quit, but she stuck with it and learned you can do it,” said Bookman, who is currently on leave from her full-time job as a producer at CBC. “(Baseball) gave her so much confidence. Whether she chooses to be a baseball player or something else, that’s something she’ll carry with her forever. To me, that’s what this is about.”

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Participation numbers have swelled since Toronto Girls Baseball’s inaugural summer — up to 350 in year two and more than 500 this past summer. This year’s edition needed 10 diamonds at five different city parks to accommodate rapid growth, Bookman says. And beyond just teaching girls the sport, it let them play. Toronto Girls Baseball fielded five competitive teams this summer, and hosted a 15-team tournament that featured a squad visiting from Arizona.

Bookman had no previous background in baseball. She earned a bachelor’s degree in African Studies from Queen’s and another in Journalism from Ryerson, but the 43-year-old’s current public profile is linked to her girls’ baseball advocacy.

Last year, she made the Canadian Baseball Network’s list of most influential Canadians in the sport, outranking several agents, coaches and active big-league players.

And earlier this year, she was named an RBC Woman of Influence, thanks to her leadership of a program whose enrolment ballooned more than 800 per cent in its first two years.

Baseball stakeholders say the program’s rapid growth highlights a latent demand for girls’ baseball that had gone unmet until Bookman intervened.

“I was surprised at the numbers on the field but not surprised it grew so fast. I know there were girls out there,” says Murray Carr, father of national team member and Toronto Girls Baseball coach Emma Carr. “Yes, it’s baseball but the drive behind it is the empowerment of girls. Anything that’s not ballet or something, you’re looked down on. (Toronto Girls Baseball) has turned that around.”

While producing world-class athletes isn’t Bookman’s priority, Baseball Canada executive André Lachance says the program serves as a critical intake point for a national women’s baseball team with ambitious plans.

In August, Team Canada finished third at the Women’s Baseball World Cup, trailing champion Japan and runner-up Chinese Taipei, and defeating the U.S. in the bronze medal game.

The result might not represent an improvement in absolute performance — Canada took silver in the 2016 World Cup. But in relative terms, given the growing popularity of women’s baseball worldwide, Lachance says Canada’s program has made noticeable progress. In 2004, only five teams contested the World Cup. This year, 12 teams participated, and Lachance says up-and-coming programs in countries like Mexico and Argentina could provide an even deeper field for the 2020 tournament.

Lachance, who managed Canada’s World Cup team, says international success starts with making baseball accessible and appealing to as many girls as possible, and that grassroots programs like Bookman’s foster opportunities at higher levels of the sport.

“The first experience in baseball, if it’s not positive, they’ll switch over to another sport,” said Lachance, now Baseball Canada’s business and sport development director. “The greater the pool of athletes we have, the greater chance we have to have better athletes at the national team level.”

Registration numbers show men’s and women’s participation tend to rise and fall together. In 2014, according to Baseball Canada, there were 11,943 registered female players nationwide, compared with 102,615 males. The following year, participation among both groups dipped sharply — 8,179 females and 92,672 males registered in Baseball Canada-affiliated leagues in 2015.

By 2016, enrolment figures rebounded, with 105,799 males and 11,546 females registered nationwide. Last year, male participation continued to climb, with 113,206 registered players, while female players’ numbers levelled off at 11,523, with approximately 75 per cent of them participating in men’s or mixed-gender leagues.

When men’s registration jumped in 2016, Baseball Canada issued a news release crediting the Blue Jays 2015 playoff run — capped by José Bautista’s monster home run and signature bat flip against the Texas Rangers — with attracting young players.

Bookman points out that the Blue Jays’ influence on prospective new baseball players crosses gender lines.

“Girls want to be like the Blue Jays just as much as boys want to be like the Blue Jays,” Bookman said. “It’s a different sport. It’s fun and it’s social.”


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Emma Carr stars on Ryerson’s softball team, but considers the sport — with its bigger ball, smaller diamond and underhand pitching — her hobby. Baseball is her craft and her first sporting choice, but Ryerson, like many North American universities, doesn’t have a women’s program. As a second-year undergrad, she has learned to balance both sports, playing softball for her university and baseball for the national team.

She says Bookman’s program, where she started out as a coach in the summer of 2016, will give successive generations of female players the tools to navigate both baseball and softball instead of making a premature choice between them.

“It’s really important, especially for baseball, because a lot of girls get discouraged from playing,” said Carr, who played in the World Cup in August. “A lot of girls get forced into softball, and it’s a different sport.”

Baseball Canada, too, has recognized the importance of actively recruiting female baseball talent instead of hoping standout players cross over from softball. Lachance points out that while some top Canadian women’s players also play softball, the program relies on players who prioritize baseball.

And by the summer of 2017, Bookman’s initiative had attracted the attention of Baseball Canada executives, who invited her to give a presentation at the organization’s annual convention. By the end of the event, Bookman had received queries from baseball officials in Nova Scotia and Manitoba, hoping she could duplicate her program there. Bookman says 150 girls enrolled in a summer program in Halifax, while 60 more played this spring in Winnipeg.

In every city where her girls’ baseball programs have taken root, Bookman says she sees benefits that reach beyond the diamond. The statistical reality is that very few players will duplicate Carr’s success. Last year, nearly 12,000 girls and women registered to play baseball in Canada, but the World Cup roster contained just 20 players.

But Bookman says the confidence that comes with learning new skills and implementing them in a team setting will benefit program participants no matter how far they pursue baseball.

“The best players fail seven out of 10 times and your team has to be there for you,” Bookman said. “We’re teaching girls how to win, how to lose. We’re teaching girls resilience. We’re teaching them empathy.”


Historically, advances in women’s baseball happen in response to manpower shortages in the sport’s mainstream.

During the Second World War, more than 500 major leaguers, including stars like Ted Williams, joined the U.S. armed forces, boosting the war effort but creating a significant talent drain. Into that void stepped the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which operated teams in the Midwestern U.S., and later inspired the 1992 movie A League of Their Own.

And in the 1950s, as the racial integration of Major League Baseball gutted Negro League rosters, three different women succeeded in suiting up for Negro League teams. Nearly a decade after the all-white AAGPBL denied her a tryout, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson signed with the previously all-male Indianapolis Clowns.

“I’m glad (the AAGPBL) turned me down,” Johnson told The New York Times in 2010. “To know that I was good enough to (play) with these gentlemen made me the proudest woman in the world.”

More than 60 years later, it’s still newsworthy when a woman earns a spot on a men’s pro team. Five different women played minor league baseball alongside men in 2017.

But Bookman’s long-term goal is to normalize a sport still often treated as a novelty.

Story Behind the Story delivers insights into how the Star investigates, reports, and produces stories.

As her network of girls’ programs grows, Bookman hopes to impress upon participants that girls’ baseball isn’t a dead-end sport. Even with a dearth of college and university women’s baseball programs, Bookman says Carr’s career path — national team baseball and university softball — points the way for the handful of girls who develop into elite women’s players.

But more immediately, Bookman wants her initiative to expand from three cities into a national grid of girls’ baseball programs. That women and girls account for just 9.2 per cent of registered players in Canada isn’t a problem for Bookman. It’s an opportunity to narrow the gender gap and make a tradition-bound sport more inclusive.

“Baseball is a tool for me for something I’ve become really passionate about,” Bookman said. “I’m passionate about empowering these girls through the sport of baseball.”

The Star is profiling 12 Canadians who are making our lives better. Next week we talk to Indigenous law trailblazer John Borrows.

Morgan Campbell is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MorganPCampbell

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Long-separated mother and daughter reunite at Edmonton airport

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When Alexa Rudi rode down an escalator to the arrivals level at Edmonton International Airport on Friday night, she found a cheering crowd of more than 20 of her family members. They were waving signs and wearing name tags. Some of them had known her as a child, but many had never met her before.

Among the crowd was her mother, Theresa Atkinson, whom she had not seen face-to-face for more than 30 years. The pair locked eyes, then held each other and cried. Each woman had spent years searching for the other.

« You spend your whole life walking around with a hole in your heart that nothing can fill, » Alexa said through tears on Friday night. « Finally I have answers to questions I didn’t know existed. »

The separation

Alexa Rudi was born Viola Pepper Atkinson in Edmonton on Aug. 4, 1977. Her first name came from a family member and her middle name came from the nickname of an undercover police officer played by Angie Dickinson on the 1970s TV show Police Woman. Family members remember her as a bubbly, inquisitive child who was talkative like her mother and had long dark brown hair.

She spent only a few years with Theresa before being placed for adoption.

An old family photograph of Theresa Atkinson with her young daughter, Viola Pepper Atkinson. (Phil Laplante/CBC)

« Theresa ran into some minor problems and then child welfare came and investigated, » recalled Cyndy Atkinson, Theresa’s sister. She said Theresa, who is mentally disabled, signed papers allowing the adoption but did not fully understand what was happening at the time.

« They didn’t have nobody to advocate for her, so she was basically on her own, signing what she thought was going to be a promise that she’ll get her daughter back, » Atkinson said.

The loss of her daughter devastated Theresa, but for years she collected stuffed animals and dolls in case she returned. She begged family members to help search for her and the family obliged, contacting adoption agencies and scanning adoption records for her name.

Meanwhile, Alexa was also searching for her birth mother, calling every Atkinson she could find in the phone book. After her adoption, she had spent a year in Fort McMurray, Alta., before moving to Ontario, where she grew up in Peterborough. She moved around over the years, spending time in Tucson, Ariz., before returning to the Toronto area. She’s now a student at George Brown College and has two children: Eddie, 9, and Vada, 6.

Connecting through social media

A few days before her 41st birthday in August, Alexa wrote about searching for her birth mother on Facebook and asked friends to share the post. The post was shared on a global Indigenous group with more than 160,000 members and before a day had passed, it caught the attention of someone who knew her family.

Before long, Alexa and Theresa were video-calling and chatting on Facebook daily. They started planning Alexa’s trip to Edmonton and asked friends and family to donate money online for flights.

Alexa Rudi stands among her long-lost family members at Edmonton International Airport on Oct. 19. (Phil Laplante/CBC)

Understanding her identity

Alexa, who is Métis-Cree, said finding Theresa has helped her better understand her culture and identity.

« I felt lost and so broken my whole life and I had to talk to her and my family, » she said. « Things started making sense. »

Her story is far from unique. The separation of Indigenous children and their parents was common for decades in Canada. Even today, Indigenous children are over-represented in foster care.

Indigenous women are also more likely to be victims of homicide than non-Indigenous women — a brutal statistic Alexa’s family has lived through.

Theresa’s sister, Peacha Courtepatte, was the mother of Nina Courtepatte, who was raped and murdered in Edmonton in 2005. Nina was just 13 years old at the time.

Nina’s mother, who became an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, died in 2015.

For Cyndy Atkinson, Alexa’s return is a step forward for the family, « taking away a little bit of heartache and bringing in happiness. »

Cyndy Atkinson said her sister Theresa spent years searching for her daughter. (Phil Laplante/CBC)

Future in Edmonton

Before Friday, Alexa hadn’t set foot in Edmonton since she was a little girl.

At the top of her to-do list — after a family gathering on Friday night — was a trip to West Edmonton Mall.

Clutching old framed photographs, Theresa and Alexa talked about their future together.

« Come back home with me, » Theresa said. « I want to do it all over. »

« That’s the plan, » Alexa replied. Once the school year is over, she intends to move back to Edmonton so she can help take care of Theresa and Theresa can help look after her grandchildren.

« You’re a kokum now! » she said. (Kokum means grandmother.)

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‘He was crying, sweating’: A boxer’s daughter stares down his killer

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Jessica Melo didn’t wear any makeup and wore her hair pulled back tightly from her face.

She wanted Charles Gagne, the underworld hitman who murdered her father, to see the family resemblance — the rounded cheeks, buttonish nose, and sharp, often sad, eyes.

“I never stared at somebody so long and so hard as I did that day,” she said, recalling she made a point to not look away that August day in Muskoka, at Beaver Creek minimum-security prison.

Gagne, 45, murdered Eddie “Hurricane” Melo, a middleweight boxing champ and feared underworld figure, on April 6, 2001.

Jessica was 19.

Gagne was on a day pass for an armed robbery conviction when he killed Eddie and Pavao. He drove down to the GTA from a halfway house near Ottawa, shot them dead outside the café, then drove back in time for curfew.

The Crown first charged him with two counts of first-degree murder, but he cut a deal and pleaded guilty to second.

The first-degree charge would have given him a life sentence.

Instead, he was eligible for parole after 12 years.

Melo said she needed to talk to Gagne to help her understand how that was possible.

No one was ever convicted for ordering the hit on her father, who was linked by police to the late Santos (Frank) Cotroni, a Montreal mob boss.

Melo said she also needed Gagne to explain his plea deal. She said she has unsuccessfully tried for answers from the retired prosecutor who tried his case, court records officers and several others she thought might help her.

She said she has even recently written Premier Doug Ford in an effort to get answers about why the killing of her father wasn’t considered first-degree, premeditated murder.

She noted that Gagne had a long criminal record before he was hired to kill her dad, with 11 criminal convictions between 1991 and 2003, including multiple armed robberies.

“Charles should have been designated as a dangerous offender,” she said, noting that may have kept him off the streets for life.

Her curiosity about Gagne’s plea deal meant she sat for six hours at minimum security Beaver Creek prison in Muskoka with the man whom she says has put her family through hell since 2001.

Melo is 36 and a mother of two now. Her two-year-old and five-year-old children never met their grandfather, and yet the murder still haunts them all.

“There are nights that my babies cry for a man that they never met,” she said. “My aunts and uncles have never been the same since their big brother’s murder.”

“My grandmother can never feel the warmth of her first born, or smell his cologne, or watch him smile as he speaks with her, or hear his voice as he calls for her when opening her door for a visit.”

She said it disgusted her to ask her father’s killer for answers, but she wasn’t going to back down either.

She said she wanted the hitman to see up close that Eddie Melo’s daughter has grown up unafraid of him; that she’s angry, disgusted and deeply sad.

But not afraid.

It was just how her father must have felt before a big fight, she said.

Gagne had repeatedly asked her for a meeting over the past decade, she said.

Before she agreed to sit down with him, Melo said she had several conversations with his wife, Melissa, whom he married behind bars after his murder convictions.

She said Melissa said something she found particularly bizarre: “His crime doesn’t define him.”

Melo said she can’t get those words out of her mind.

“I don’t know Charles other than from the horrific crime he committed,” she said.

They sat down together in an office room at Beaver Creek, with only a prison official present. She said his back was towards the window and he looked down a lot.

“He was crying, sweating,” Melo recalled in a series of phone conversations after the meeting. “Couldn’t get his words straight at first.”

Gagne quickly made it clear that he craves forgiveness, she said, adding she wasn’t ready to offer him that.

Instead, she said she gave him blunt advice: “Do your time like a man.”

Between tears, Gagne said he wanted to be a better man. Melo told him he has no right to call himself a man. Her father was a man.

Their meeting lasted six hours. Gagne said he was sorry, over and over, she said.

Between tears, Gagne said he has often thought of killing himself, but changed his mind because he thinks he still has something to offer the world.

Gagne told her that he once was ready to end his own life when a squirrel ran by his cell window, stopped, and began vigorously scratching itself. Somehow, Gagne took this as a message to go on living.

“So he talks to squirrels,” Melo said later, sounding amused.

He cried more when she pulled out her family scrapbooks. They included a photo of her dad at age 18 when he beat Fernand Marcotte to win the Canadian pro middleweight boxing title in Montreal.

There were also plenty of family photos, several of them taken at her birthdays — one of her giving her dad a cake on Father’s Day. “Happy Knock-out FATHER’S DAY,” the icing read.

“He (Gagne) was crying when I went through the photo album of my dad,” she said.

In particular, she remembers the photo of her and her dad at Mont Tremblant outside Montreal when she was 14 and they went on a skiing adventure.

“He was terrible at it,” she recalled, laughing at the memory. “Wiped everyone out …. He felt bad because he did knock a few people down.”

When their meeting finally ended, Melo said Gagne made promises to help her in her quest for information on the plea deal.

So far, she hasn’t received anything, she said.

Meanwhile, she shudders at the thought that Gagne has already been out in the community on day passes, performing community service near his prison. She hasn’t heard yet if he was successful in an application he filed this October for a family visit to see his teenaged daughter in Mississauga, who was born shortly after his arrest in 2003.

Melo said she is generally proud of how she handled the meeting with Gagne, even though she didn’t get the information she sought.

She cried a little too. Even so, she loves the thought that her dad would have been proud of her.

“I wasn’t bawling like (Gagne) was,” she said.

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Frank Stronach sues daughter Belinda for allegedly mismanaging family fortune

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An Ontario business magnate is suing his daughter, two grandchildren and others for allegedly mismanaging the family’s assets and trust funds.

Frank Stronach, the man who started the auto-parts business Magna International, and his wife Elfriede have launched the lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court and say they have done so as a last resort.

Stronach says in a statement that the couple has made « considerable efforts » over the last two years to resolve the matter.

Thoroughbred Daily News reports the couple have accused Belinda Stronach, the chairman and president of The Stronach Group that runs horse racetracks around the world, of conspiring by « unlawful actions » against the best interests of other members of the Stronach family.

The suit, which has not been proven in court, seeks more than $500 million in damages.

‘His allegations are untrue’

Belinda Stronach has denied the allegations.

« Family relationships within a business can be challenging, » she said in a statement Wednesday night.

« My children and I love my father. However, his allegations are untrue and we will be responding formally to the statement of claim in the normal course of the court process. »

A spokesperson for The Stronach Group CEO Alon Ossip, who is also named in the suit, called the allegations « baseless and are not grounded in fact or reality. »

« Alon has always honoured his obligations and acted in good faith to preserve and grow the Stronach family’s assets and to protect the interests of all members of the family, » Paul Deegan said in a statement.

« This is a dispute between Stronach family members that should be resolved between family members. »

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Frank Stronach sues his daughter Belinda alleging mismanagement of assets and trust funds

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Frank Stronach, the 86-year-old who built global automotive parts empire Magna International from humble beginnings in a Toronto garage, is suing his daughter Belinda and others — including two of his grandchildren — in Ontario Superior Court alleging mismanagement of assets and trust funds.

Frank Stronach and his wife Elfriede are co-plaintiffs in the $520 million lawsuit that names Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, Alon Ossip, the CEO of The Stronach Group, grandchildren Nicole Walker and Frank Walker and the Stronach Consulting Corp. as defendants.

In their statement of claim, the Stronachs accuse their daughter and Ossip of “having undertaken a series of covert and unlawful actions” that have been contrary to the best interests of other members of the Stronach family.

Also in the allegations contained in the statement of claim: Belinda Stronach, 52, led an extravagant lifestyle that has drained the company in excess of $70 million, including a new office in Yorkville that cost more than $10 million.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. No statements of defence have been filed.

The Stronachs are also demanding the removal of their daughter and Ossip from positions of power within the business corporation. The Stronachs are seeking a total $520 million in compensation for losses and damages the company suffered over the years, according to the statement of claim. Other accusations in the claim include allegations of breach of contract, fraudulent concealment and unjust enrichment.

Belinda Stronach also released a statement Wednesday.

“Family relationships within a business can be challenging,” she said through spokesperson Greg MacEachern.

“My children and I love my father. However, his allegations are untrue and we will be responding formally to the statement of claim in the normal course of the court process.”

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Ossip spokesperson Paul Deegan said in a statement Wednesday that the allegations against Ossip are “baseless and are not grounded in fact or reality.”

“Alon has always honoured his obligations and acted in good faith to preserve and grow the Stronach family’s assets and to protect the interests of all members of the family,” Deegan said.

“Alon created huge wealth for the family, and he has always operated in a prudent and commercially-sensible manner. Frank Stronach was a great auto parts entrepreneur, but his recent excessive spending and numerous failed ventures put his family’s wealth at risk.”

Deegan added “this is a dispute between Stronach family members that should be resolved between family members.”

The Stronachs’ statement of claim alleges that their daughter and others have undertaken actions “to appropriate Stronach family assets for their own personal benefits” to the detriment of the defendants as well as their son Andrew and their granddaughter Selena. These actions are alleged to have occurred in the period between 2011 and 2016, when Frank Stronach had appointed his daughter as the chairman and president of The Stronach Group, the claim says.

“Belinda and Alon have asserted control over The Stronach Group in an oppressive manner, and have taken steps to shut the rest of the Stronach family out of the family’s business,” the claim reads in part, describing a “complete break-down in the relationship” within the family businesses.

“Belinda has appropriated funds from The Stronach Group and has acted in a self-interested manner. She has placed herself repeatedly in situations of potential and actual conflict,” the statement of claim says.

The Austrian-born Stronach came to Canada in 1954, when he was 21. Over the years, he went on to become the largest owner and operator of thoroughbred race tracks in North America. He is also the founder of Magna International, a network of more than 330 auto parts manufacturing operations in 28 countries.

The statement of claims notes that an employment agreement was reached in 2013 to appoint Ossip as the CEO of The Stronach Group, where he would be paid $1 million annually plus “substantial employee benefits and a sizable discretionary bonus.” He was also granted a 5 per cent interest in some assets of the company.

“From virtually the moment this arrangement was entered into, Alon failed to fulfill his most basic obligations as CEO of The Stronach Group. Instead, he breached repeatedly his legal, equitable and fiduciary duties,” the claim says.

Belinda Stronach suspended Ossip from his role as the company’s CEO in 2017, although Frank Stronach — who accused Ossip of inattention and insubordination — wanted him fired, according to allegations contained in the statement of claim. Ossip still maintains positions as a trustee, director and officer of various trusts within the company.

Another twist in the saga of the Stronach family business came near the end of 2013, when Frank Stronach resigned his positions within the company to chase a lifelong dream of becoming a member of parliament in his native Austria. But barely four months after assuming his political post, he resigned and came back to Canada “in order to devote his time, efforts and attention” to the family business, according to the statement of claim.

The Stronachs, in their claim, paint a picture of their daughter and Ossip as less-than-diligent corporate executives over a three-year stretch.

“They routinely failed to report to work for days or weeks at a time in the period from late 2013 to November 2016, and failed or refused to return calls, emails and texts on a timely basis, or at all, including from members of The Stronach Group and from others associated with the various businesses carried on by The Stronach Group,” said the statement of claim.

“Belinda would show up for scheduled meetings hours late, or sometimes not at all. Frank has also become aware that Belinda has hired, and continues to hire, her friends and acquaintances to occupy positions of authority in The Stronach Group that they are unqualified to fulfill,” the statement of claim said.

The statement of claim says Frank Stronach did not take steps to reappoint himself to his previous leadership positions within the company but no one disputed his authority until later in 2016.

In November of 2016, Belinda Stronach and Ossip “informed Frank for the first time that The Stronach Group was facing significant liquidity issues” which “came as a surprise to Frank and raised red flags about their management of The Stronach Group,” according to claims contained in the lawsuit. Around that time is when Stronach’s daughter and Ossip informed him he “had no signing authority or ability to access corporate funds” since the date of his resignation in 2013, according to the lawsuit.

“Alon belittled and embarrassed Frank, and did so with the blessing and encouragement of Belinda,” the Stronachs say in their statement of claim. “Belinda and Alon made clear to Frank, Elfriede and employees of The Stronach Group that they intended to exert control over the organization, and to eliminate Frank’s role in the family enterprise that he had created and funded,” the claim says.

Mary Ormsby is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Reach her via email: mormsby@thestar.ca

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

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