She was handcuffed for not holding an escalator’s handrail. Ten years later, she’s headed to Canada’s Supreme Court

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The court will also rule on whether Kosoian’s lawsuit for damages is valid.

“It’s not about money,” says Kosoian, who sued for $69,000, split between the officer and Montreal’s transit commission. “I did not commit any crime. I did not do anything wrong. It was abuse of power on the part of the police.”

Kosoian lives in a cosy bungalow in London, Ont., with her husband and two teenage children. She says she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after the escalator incident in 2009, and decided it was best to leave Quebec.

“I was afraid to go outside. I had trouble sleeping. I was shaking. I was afraid of police. I always wanted to sit in the dark.

“I said, ‘I have to go somewhere where there is no métro,’ she adds, referring to Montreal’s subway. “And every time I see a policeman I’m thinking, ‘They’re going to arrest me.’ ”

“It’s about principles. It’s about the rule of law,” she says, nervously fingering court documents on her dining table. “It’s not just about me.”


Kosoian was born 47 years ago in Russia. She grew up in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, where she would meet her Canadian husband, Richard Church, an information technology specialist. She showed promise in chess by the age of 9, and played at semi-professional levels in France when she moved there in her 20s.

She came to Canada with her family in the early 2000s, settling in Quebec to pursue her studies in French. For years she worked as the “women’s co-ordinator” for the Canadian Chess Federation, organizing tournaments and corralling sponsors.

“In chess, if you don’t follow rules, you’re dead,” Kosoian says, emphatically. “I’m a person who followed more rules than anybody else since childhood.”

At about 5 p.m. on May 13, 2009, Kosoian stepped on the down escalator at a subway station in Laval. She was heading to her history class at a university in downtown Montreal.

Kosoian had used that same escalator almost every day for four years. She knew that at the front of the escalator, as well as at a spot halfway down, were yellow pictograms that said, “Caution … hold handrail.”

She deemed the pictogram nothing more than a warning or recommendation. Besides, the H1N1 virus was making the rounds, and Kosoian considered the handrail a cesspool of microbes.

The escalator takes 59 seconds to get to the bottom. Kosoian’s backpack was at her feet. She reached down to get a $5 bill from her wallet for subway fare and placed the pack on her back.

A police officer with the Laval force walked past her on the escalator and continued until he stepped off. A second officer in uniform then stopped in front of Kosoian on the step below when the escalator had taken her about halfway down.

The officer, Fabio Camacho, said something Kosoian didn’t hear. Two years later, during testimony at a municipal court hearing, Camacho said he saw Kosoian bent over at a 90-degree angle and told her to be careful. He claims Kosoian responded in an aggressive tone that he should go outside and do some real police work.

Camacho then ordered her to hold the handrail. Kosoian says she responded: “It’s my right to hold the handrail or not to hold it.”

According to Camacho, he warned Kosoian he would issue her a ticket and she responded by crossing her arms. Kosoian insists Camacho never warned her about a ticket. She insists he asked her for ID out of nowhere.

“I told him, ‘What have I done for you to ask for documents?’ ”

Camacho says he never asked her for ID on the escalator.

What isn’t disputed is that when Kosoian reached the bottom of the escalator, Camacho and his partner, the officer who initially walked past Kosoian, grabbed her by the arms and took her to a nearby locked room that also contained a jail cell.

In the room, Kosoian said she reached for her cellphone and announced she would call a lawyer. “They started to push me and shove me and took my bag and took my (identity) documents and handcuffed me at once.

“It was shocking for me,” Kosoian says. “We’re in a country of laws, no?”

Camacho testified that he immediately asked for Kosoian’s identification when they entered the room so he could write her a ticket for not holding the handrail. Kosoian insists that even then she was never told what she allegedly did wrong.

Camacho says she repeatedly refused to produce ID, so he placed her under arrest. He handcuffed her, he says, when she refused to hand over her bag so he could search for ID.

“I know that’s taking matters pretty far,” Camacho said, according to a transcript of his testimony. “I didn’t want to get to that point either. We had reached a point where I explained things to her but I wasn’t getting through at all.”

Camacho and his partner cuffed Kosoian’s hands behind her back and sat her in a chair. He searched her bag, found her driver’s licence and began writing her two tickets: a $100 fine for not holding the handrail, and a $320 fine for obstructing the work of a police officer.

Kosoian tried to get up to see the tickets they were writing. Camacho told her a camera in the room was recording the events and Kosoian calmed down. She says she was relieved to learn there would be evidence of what transpired.

The officers removed the cuffs, gave Kosoian her tickets, and let her go. She had spent about 15 minutes in the room.

She went to her history class in a state of shock. She told her husband of the arrest and took pictures of the red rings around her wrists made by the handcuffs.

The next day, she went to a doctor, who noted Kosoian “is in a state of shock and cries profusely,” according to court evidence. Another doctor diagnosed PTSD and put her on medication.

Also that day, Kosoian’s husband called the transit agency, Société de transport de Montréal (STM), and asked to see recordings of the incident captured by subway cameras. His request was noted by STM officials on a form dated May 14.

On May 16, a Saturday, Kosoian’s story hit the news. Camacho was off work, but received a call from his boss that weekend ordering him to get the videos. Camacho waited until he got back to work, on May 18, before making the request.

He learned the next day that the subway cameras record on a five-day loop and evidence of the incident — both on the escalator and in the locked room — had been taped over, according to court testimony.

Kosoian and her lawyer, Aymar Missakila, are incredulous.

“How can it be that the STM didn’t find it necessary to keep the tape?” Missakila asks, noting Church’s official request and the extensive media coverage. “Wasn’t it their duty to make sure the tape was preserved, given how contested the incident was and the threat of a lawsuit?”

“Do you think if I did something wrong police would not show those videos?” Kosoian says. “Of course they would.”

Public reaction wasn’t kind, either. “Surely our resources could be put to better use instead of harassing citizens going about their business,” said a complaint received by the STM, and obtained by Church through a freedom-of-information request.

“Does this ‘peace officer’ carry a gun?” the complainant added. “I hope not, as anyone who demonstrates such poor judgment should not be armed.”

The Laval police force and the transit agency defended Camacho’s actions, while acknowledging in media reports at the time that Kosoian was the first to be issued a ticket for not holding an escalator handrail. They pressed for the fines to be paid, and Kosoian’s refusal triggered a municipal court hearing in May 2011.

In March 2012, Judge Florent Bisson acquitted Kosoian of the tickets, citing numerous contradictions between the notes the police officers made immediately after the event and their testimonies in court.

“The tribunal had the impression that adjustments were made to the evidence to justify the failure of this intervention which, initially, should have been banal,” Bisson wrote.

Kosoian, on the other hand, “is credible and is believed,” he added. The judge noted that under the Criminal Code, a person can refuse to identify themselves “so long as he is not informed of the offence against him.” And Bisson wasn’t convinced the pictogram obligated subway passengers to hold the handrail.

By then, Kosoian had launched a lawsuit against Camacho, the STM and the City of Laval. In August 2015, the Quebec Court dismissed it with a legal tongue lashing.


Justice Denis Le Reste described Kosoian’s behaviour during the incident as “inconceivable, irresponsible and contrary to the elementary rules of civism in our society.”

Kosoian, the judge added, “illegally and obstinately refused to comply” with Camacho’s orders to hold the handrail and to identify herself. He blamed everything on Kosoian’s “gratuitous aggressiveness.”

Le Reste said police officers were fully justified in arresting and handcuffing Kosoian. He noted that Camacho’s actions rested on an STM regulation — R-036 — which states that no one in a building or on “rolling stock” shall “disobey a directive or pictogram posted by the Society.”

“The court concludes that the work of officer Camacho, given all the circumstances of this matter, was exemplary and irreproachable,” Le Reste wrote. “He showed very great patience and acted in accordance with the standards any other reasonable police officer would have applied in the same situation.”

Kosoian describes the ruling as an attempt to assassinate her character. She appealed and, on Dec. 5, 2017, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled against her in a 2-1 decision.

The majority judges described Kosoian as “the author of her own misery” because she refused to co-operate with police officers “who were doing their job.”

It’s not up to police officers to determine whether a regulation is valid, the justices wrote. Camacho was trained to enforce the handrail regulation, and therefore had “reasonable motives to believe that an infraction had been committed.” That justified writing a ticket and arresting Kosoian because she refused to identify herself, the judges ruled. The STM, meanwhile, is immune from civil responsibility because it’s a public body exercising its regulatory powers in good faith.

Their dissenting colleague, Justice Mark Schrager, could not have disagreed more — on all counts.

Escalators come with the handrail pictograms already stuck to them when they’re bought. Schrager argued the transit agency’s regulation about obeying all pictograms is therefore invalid because the STM is in effect delegating its regulatory powers to the company that makes pictograms and sticks them on the escalators.

Besides, the pictogram is nothing more than a warning to hold the handrail, not an obligation, Schrager argued. That’s made clear by the word “caution” in bold letters across the top and the pictogram’s yellow and black colours. The colour of prohibition and obligation is red.

“A reasonable person looking at the pictogram would conclude that she should follow its instructions to act prudently, but that she was certainly not subjected to an obligation to hold the handrail under penalty of receiving a ticket,” Schrager wrote.

Schrager agreed with his fellow judges that, in principle, police officers are subject to the standard of how a reasonable officer would act in the same circumstances. But that doesn’t justify Camacho’s actions, he added.

“The arrest and detention of the appellant, as described, were illegal since the infraction that could have justified them was non-existent,” Schrager wrote in his dissent.

It’s not good enough for Camacho to have honestly believed that the STM’s regulation was valid, Schrager argued. The absence of malicious intent is not a defence against civil responsibility.

“The infraction did not exist. The appellant’s refusal to identify herself was therefore justified … since no infraction was committed,” Schrager wrote. And since the arrest was illegal the search of Kosoian’s bag was also illegal, he added.

Still, Schrager believed Kosoian’s “inflammatory behaviour” made her partly responsible for her misfortune. He described Camacho’s request to hold the handrail as “common sense.”

Schrager said Kosoian should be awarded $15,000 in moral damages, plus legal costs and interest. The City of Laval, Camacho and the STM are all responsible. But only the STM should pay the award because of its faulty regulation, the inadequate training it gives to police officers, and for insisting on pursuing Kosoian in municipal court, Schrager wrote.

Kosoian and her lawyer again appealed, this time to the Supreme Court. They asked four questions: Does the pictogram legally oblige people to hold the escalator handrail? Can a police officer be sued if his actions against a citizen, including use of force and arrest, are not supported by an existing law? Is the STM responsible for Camacho’s actions? Did Kosoian contribute to the damages against her by refusing to identify herself when Camacho acted on a non-existent regulation?

A spokesperson for the City of Laval, which employs Camacho, refused to comment or make Camacho available for an interview. Their legal brief urged the Supreme Court not to grant the appeal, arguing that the STM regulation governing the pictogram is valid. They added it can’t be left to citizens to decide whether they’ll co-operate with police officers based on their personal interpretation of a regulation being enforced. “You can imagine the social chaos that would ensue,” they argued.

In the last decade, the Supreme Court has only granted about 10 per cent of the 500 or so requests for appeals it receives each year. So Thomas Slade, a lawyer who is not involved in the case, says he was initially surprised when the court agreed to hear Kosoian.

“Almost every year the Supreme Court grants at least one case that’s sometimes a little bit of a head-scratcher at first,” says Slade, a partner at Supreme Advocacy, an Ottawa-based firm that specializes in appeals to the highest court.

In hindsight, Slade believes the ruling will determine the validity of pictograms across the country, and decide whether police officers can be held responsible for acting on the fictitious belief that a law or regulation exists.

“If you’re punishing someone for an offence that doesn’t exist, that seems pretty far beyond what you can actually call reasonable,” Slade says in a phone interview.

If she is successful, the money Kosoian might win will not begin to cover the costs of the multiple court battles and the Supreme Court appeal. Missakila, her lawyer, is considering how he might raise funds to help cover the costs.

Slade did “a double take” when he realized Kosoian’s battle dates back to 2009: “The wheels of justice turn quite slowly, but this is definitely going at a bit of a snail’s pace.” He doesn’t expect the court to rule until at least next fall.

For Kosoian, a Supreme Court ruling can’t come soon enough.

“I want to get on with my life,” she says. “I don’t want to become obsessed.”

Sandro Contenta is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @scontenta

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As a child, she witnessed brutal bullying. Now she’s teaching thousands of kids to stand up to tormentors

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CALGARY—Just before the start of a new school year, Lisa Dixon-Wells is standing in front of a group of teachers, as she does countless times, with a message.

As she opens her session in the small, cluttered classroom, she jokes that if she had her way, she would have two full days to discuss the issue of bullying. But given the busy pre-September prep time, a three-hour talk will have to do.

Despite the lighthearted tone, she’s not exaggerating: Dixon-Wells is a fountain of facts, figures and statistics about bullying and its impact, and she has big ideas about how to create change — far more than she can fit into just a few hours.

It’s not about changing the bullies, she explains, but creating communities where bullying behaviour is unacceptable.

Her organization, Dare to Care, has brought bullying prevention and education programs to more than 1,200 schools since the group was founded nearly 20 years ago. She and her team work with kids, parents and teachers in an effort to make sure everyone in a school community has the tools to identify and address bullying.

When Dare to Care was founded in 1999, the organization was a one-woman show. Dixon-Wells handled every aspect of the work under a single corporate sponsor until making the official transition to a non-profit organization in 2013. Now the group has a volunteer board of directors and four trained contract facilitators who run sessions at schools. Dixon-Wells is focused on bringing more people onto the team so she can reach even more kids.

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Dixon-Wells’ work focuses on children, but her message is about the insidious ways bullying can affect everyone. During her session at the school, she asks the teachers to think about the names and faces of people who were considered their school bullies growing up. “I’m sure even now you can remember,” she says, as many nod along.

Those little bullies often turn into big bullies and bring the same behaviour into their adult workplaces and relationships, Dixon-Wells says. And that’s a cycle that she aims to stop in its tracks.

Dare to Care’s message emphasizes creating safe communities by educating the people who witness bullying but don’t do anything to stop it — and Dixon-Wells says she counts herself among those who have been bystanders. Sometimes people assume her passion for the cause comes from experiences of being bullied herself, but it’s the thought of a boy she knew through all her school years that reminds her of how damaging bullying can be.

“In Grade 8, this boy was in my homeroom and I watched daily as he was threatened, pushed down the hall, shoved into lockers, glasses stepped on — just absolutely ruthlessly treated,” she says.

Years later, he showed up to her high school reunion and Dixon-Wells decided she had to say something.

“I remember going up to him and saying, ‘I’m so sorry for how we treated you.’ And he burst into tears and said, ‘Thank you. You’re the first person who’s ever acknowledged how tough things were for me.’

“His life, I happen to know, has never recovered from that.”

Former CFL player Randy Chevrier is now a workshop facilitator with Dare to Care, a bullying prevention organization. He says the program has had an immeasurable impact on the lives of the young people it reaches. Follow the Toronto Star on social media:

Taking on bullying prevention involved a few unexpected turns from her original career plans. Growing up in Calgary, Dixon-Wells, 56, knew from the time she was 12 that she wanted to be a physical education teacher. As a competitive swimmer, sport had been at the centre of her life and family from an early age.

After studying kinesiology and education at the University of Calgary, she took her first phys-ed teaching job in Portage la Prairie, Man. But just a year after she arrived, Dixon-Wells was asked if she’d be interested in filling an unexpected vacancy for a school counsellor. She agreed to apply, and got the job.

“It was the worst mistake I made in my life,” she tells the gathering of teachers, nearly 30 years later, adding, “And also the best mistake.”

That mistake was the first step on the way to founding Dare to Care.

“I worked harder my first two years as a school counsellor than I did in all of my university, because now it was real,” Dixon-Wells says. “These issues were real, these kids were real, and I didn’t want to let them down.”

Bullying was an issue that stood out right away. At first, Dixon-Wells focused on the kids identified as bullies and their targets, bringing them into separate groups and working on skills to try to stop the cycle. But she saw, time and time again, that any progress was reversed as soon as the children went back to their classrooms.

“In the safety of that little group, (the targets) seemed to be thriving, but you send them back to the classroom where nobody else stood up for them and they quickly reverted to being a target again.”

After a few years in Manitoba, Dixon-Wells took a new job as the district school counsellor for the Golden School Division in British Columbia. She thought the job would be a significant step up and a chance to lead a team of counsellors working at all the different schools. But she soon learned she was a team of one: the only counsellor serving all the elementary schools in what was, at the time, one of the largest school districts in Canada.

Soon she was spending two to three hours every day on the highway between Field, Golden and Revelstoke, B.C., instead of spending time working with kids.

“That was my wake-up call,” she says. “I said, I’m going to burn out here and this is not what I want to be doing.”

Despite her efforts, she wasn’t sure she was having a lasting impact on the kids who needed help. And while that frustration led her to quit, it wasn’t because she wanted to give up. She returned to the University of Calgary to do a master’s degree in education, focusing on educational psychology, in order to figure out how to effect concrete change in schools.

Today, the vast majority of schools that have gone through the Dare to Care program are in Alberta. But Dixon-Wells has also taken the sessions for students, teachers and parents across western Canada, as well as to a handful of schools elsewhere in the country and internationally. Last year, they began giving workshops to amateur sports teams as well, with Dixon-Wells pushing to keep expanding the organization’s work.

Randy Chevrier, a former CFL player who is now one of the Dare to Care workshop facilitators, says that relentless drive is one of Dixon-Wells’ defining characteristics.

“She’s tireless,” he says. “Basically, she wears every hat for Dare to Care and she’s been doing it for years.

“From Lisa I’ve learned that if you’re passionate about something, the opportunities will come.”

Dare to Care’s philosophy turns the old focus on bullies and their targets on its head. Instead, parents, teachers and students are taught that the “silent majority” of bystanders who witness the behaviour have to create a culture where bullying is unacceptable.

“We may not change the 2 per cent of kids in the school who really are the ringleaders, the bullies of the school,” Dixon-Wells says, “but we can darn well empower the 98 per cent to take a stand to the 2 per cent.”

Nimue Lacelle, a Grade 9 student at Calgary’s H.D. Cartwright School, went through the Dare to Care program earlier this year. She said the all-day session went beyond many of the messages she’s heard about bullying throughout her school life: the basics about what not to do and to always tell an adult if someone is being bullied.

“I feel like Dare to Care dove deeper into what all of that actually means,” she said.

“The presentation definitely opened up some options for if I see bullying going on,” she said. “It helped me understand what, exactly, I can do to help.”

Eryn Willis, a Grade 8 student who attended the Dare to Care program at St. Matthew School, agrees.

“Before I saw the presentation, I thought that if you became a target, you would always be a target, and there’s nothing else to do,” she said. “But I learned there’s always time to start fresh.”

Dixon-Wells is full of catchphrases that help illustrate how bullying works: “stinking thinking” from adults in a child’s home life can lead them to adopt bullying behaviour to get what they want in their own relationships. And a “bag of excuses” is what bullies pull out to deal with feelings of remorse about how they affect others, placing blame instead of taking responsibility for their behaviour.

It’s all part of helping people understand why bullying happens and how to intervene. Dixon-Wells maintains that bullying is a learned behaviour, and it can be unlearned, but early intervention is key. She also emphasizes that it’s important to define bullying properly as a repetitive, intentional pattern of targeting someone.

“I would like to say that Dare to Care was one of the first programs to start looking at the bystanders as the secret,” she says.

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

Dixon-Wells’ work in bullying prevention happened somewhat by accident, but she says it’s not entirely surprising. She was a “rescuer” as a child, something she continues in her adult life rescuing animals. At one point, she had four rescue animals living with her — three cats and a dog — but she’s now taking care of just two senior cats.

“I seem to attract people who need to talk,” she says. “I seem to be the one people come to.”

And she’s motivated to help people feel capable of intervening in a way she never did for the boy she still remembers.

At the time, she says, bullying was a kind of “rite of passage” for kids, and nobody was dealing with it. Even up until Dare to Care was created, the conversation about what bullying is and how it can hurt people was still just developing. Dixon-Wells wants to make sure that message keeps moving forward.

Dare to Care’s facilitators are in front of about 45,000 students every year, and Dixon-Wells says those presentations can be especially intense. For middle-school students, it’s a full day of learning that can quickly become emotional.

“We often find that toward the end of the day, those kids who have been identified as the bullies are actually going up and having heartfelt apologies,” she says.

“Tears — lots of tears and a lot of relief that these kids are finally owning what they’ve done and realizing the damage they’ve done and making those apologies.”

Chevrier says the impact of Dare to Care’s message is clear from watching those sessions that the message Dare to Care brings is having an impact. Ultimately, they’re trying to ensure that the cultural change they advocate is woven into the cultural fabric of as many schools as possible.

“You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives, but that eight hours a day … that might be the time they get to escape what’s going on,” he says. “Hopefully, the place you’re existing in with them is not the place they’re trying to escape.”

Dare to Care proves that the solutions aren’t necessarily easy, but he says they are simple.

“It’s treating each other with respect and having an awareness that everyone has a story.”

It looks as if you appreciate our journalism. Our reporting changes lives, connects communities and effects change. But good journalism is expensive to produce, and advertiser revenue throughout the media industry is falling and unable to carry the cost. That means we need you, our readers. We need your help. If you appreciate deep local reporting, powerful investigations and reliable, responsible information, we hope you will support us through a subscription. Please click here to subscribe.

The Star is profiling 12 Canadians who are making our lives better. Next week we talk to Indigenous culture booster Sage Paul.

Madeline Smith is a reporter/photographer with StarMetro Calgary. Follow her on Twitter: @meksmith

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Growing up, she dared not dream she could be a scientist. Now she’s helping hundreds of kids believe it’s possible

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Seated in the hallway of her high school, Eugenia Duodu’s head was buried deep in her science textbooks when a student teacher approached.

“You like science?” asked the teacher. Duodu, then in Grade 11, nodded.

Duodu loved science, even though her friends thought it was uncool. It had been a closeted passion since childhood, when she relished TV shows such as The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy. But she had never dreamed of pursuing science. Being Black, raised by a single mom in social housing in Etobicoke, she didn’t see herself in that world. She didn’t know any scientists and thought they were old white men in lab coats with messy hair. Albert Einstein types

The teacher told Duodu about an upcoming summer mentorship program at the University of Toronto, where students of Indigenous and African ancestry work alongside researchers in labs and clinics. Duodu had grappled with impostor syndrome, doubting her accomplishments and questioning if science was a good fit for her, even though she was a hard worker and had the grades to prove it. And, although she didn’t know it, science was literally in her DNA.

She applied, was accepted, and, for the first time, stepped onto a university campus, where she met scientists who looked like her with similar upbringings.

“We were like, ‘What? You exist?’… My classmates and I were like, ‘We can do this.’… It was a game changer.”

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Duodu went on to get a PhD in chemistry. She’s now CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning, a charitable organization that runs free educational programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for youth in low-income communities. It works with Toronto Community Housing (TCH) and Peel Housing Corporation in 24 locations across Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton, serving more than 500 youth from Grades 3 to 12.

The goal is to break down barriers — negative perceptions of STEM and limited funding for and access to opportunities and engage kids with hands-on learning experiences. A reason for this is 70 per cent of future jobs will require STEM-based literacy and skills, according to Let’s Talk Science, a national STEM-based organization.

“I’ve always had a passion for youth from (social) housing,” says Duodu, 30, who last year moved out of her mom’s apartment in TCH. “I saw the opportunity gaps, but also saw their potential.”

The organization runs STEM clubs for kids in Grades 3 to 8 on Saturdays from October to May in community spaces such as a building’s recreation room or community centre. Children participate in experimental workshops and learn, for instance, how to make paint, build robots and create hydraulic mazes. And they visit places such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ontario Science Centre.

When Duodu stepped into a volunteer leadership role at the organization in 2012 — she became CEO in 2016 — STEM clubs were in six communities and are now in 24. They were so successful that a STEM Community Leaders program was created for kids in Grades 8 to 12. In the summer, they visit places such as labs, universities and hospitals. And during the school year, they help run the STEM clubs for younger children, which develops leadership skills.

With Duodu at the helm, the organization became a charity and has been steadily growing, with six full-time staff, 24 part-time workers and 95 volunteers, mostly university STEM students. The organization receives federal funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which is a provincial agency.

Dawn Britton is the associate director of outreach at U of T Engineering, which has partnered with Visions for almost two decades. Since Duodu came on board, the relationship has deepened. With each passing year, Britton says she sees more kids who aren’t afraid to put up their hands, are thinking of taking Grade 11 physics and who want to go to university.

“She’s creating a culture within Visions where it is cool to be smart,” says Britton. “That’s powerful.”

And, she says, Duodu has been very good about engaging the support network of youth — parents, grandparents, siblings, influencers — and inviting them to events, which is key to their success.

Nawaal Ali Sharif is one of the hundreds of kids exposed to STEM programs thanks to Visions of Science Network for Learning. The charitable organization runs free educational programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for youth in low-income communities.

Nawaal Ali Sharif, 16, a Grade 11 student at Humberside Collegiate, says Visions programming “will change your life.” Four years ago, she started going to the STEM club in her Swansea Mews complex in the city’s west end. Back then, Sharif had little interest in science, which was synonymous with lectures and textbooks. That’s not the case now. “I actually truly love STEM,” she says, noting there were other changes too.

“I was shy. I didn’t like speaking and my confidence level was not at its peak … But since joining the program, my confidence has gone up.”

She hopes to study STEM in university and become a teacher. And, she thinks she’d be pretty good too, given her newly acquired leadership skills.

“Visions gave me an understanding of how to handle kids, make them have fun and help them understand and learn concepts they would not ordinarily understand at their age.”

She hasn’t ruled out becoming a scientist — she knows it’s possible.

“When I met Eugenia, I was like ‘Whoa.’ There are people who look like me who can be scientists. She completely changed my (perception) of what a scientist looked like.”

Duodu was raised as an only child in Etobicoke, in a TCH building on Capri Rd., in the Eatonville neighbourhood. She credits her mother with instilling in her a deep sense of community, that was reinforced at their local church — Church on the Queensway — where they are both still active.

Duodu remembers her mother making breakfast for a kid who lived down the hall, and giving it to him in a bag at the elevator so he wouldn’t go to school hungry. Her mother modelled kindness and Duodu was a fast learner.

As a toddler in daycare, according to stories her mom tells, Duodu would wipe the runny noses of children and alert caregivers to poopy diapers. And when she grew up, she’d help her peers by leading tutoring and reading groups.

Duodu’s mother, an accounting clerk, was always ready to help with homework, especially math. And she’d sign her daughter up for library programs, piano lessons and art camps. “We didn’t have the money to do certain things but my mom made sure to go after opportunities and see what subsidies were available,” recalls Duodu.

“I was very empowered to learn and go forward with my learning, but I didn’t see that empowerment translate to my classmates, who I knew had the ability … From a young age, I remember feeling like, ‘Why is it that I like this and some people don’t?’ or ‘Why am I doing well and some people aren’t?’”

Growing up, she was interested in science, but it was a “weird closeted passion.” Then, in Grade 10, at Martingrove Collegiate Institute, she took a biotechnology course. A class project involved having to do a series of tests to determine an unknown bacteria strain. Duodu was hooked. She researched tirelessly and figured it out.

“We had the best teacher. He was a complete light, and was totally hands-on,” recalls Duodu. “He opened up my world to the practical side of science. It was like science lifting off your textbook and operating in real life.”

She had not planned on continuing science but when Grade 11 started she asked to switch into physics, chemistry and biology. The guidance counsellor discouraged it, saying, “Why would you do that? It’s going to be so hard for you.”

Duodu was confused. The previous year she had aced science, but maybe the counsellor was right and she couldn’t hack it. But Duodu decided to follow her mom’s advice and insisted on getting into those science classes.

“As I excelled in university I would think back to that moment and think, ‘Oh my goodness, what if I had listened to (the guidance counsellor)? Did she say this to other people who didn’t know much about their abilities or themselves?”

During that “game-changer” of a summer mentorship program at the university, Duodu shadowed scientists in labs and followed doctors on rotation, witnessing live births, reading X-rays and studying MRIs.

“It was awesome,” recalls Duodu, who returned to high school with a new focus. “I knew I wanted to go to university and I was no longer afraid of going to school for a long time.”

While doing an undergraduate degree at U of T — she earned an Honours Bachelor of Science (chemistry and biology) — Duodu worked part-time as a youth worker for Toronto Community Housing.

“I (saw) what life was like across housing, across the city. That started shaping my perspective drastically, seeing how some challenges were the same, and some were completely different, depending on where you lived. Certain ends of the city were better resourced than others and that inevitably affected what happened in school.”

At the time, TCH was in the midst of the Tower Renewal project, retrofitting older buildings to make them more energy efficient. Residents complained about things such as low water pressure, and Duodu explained the science behind it and how money being saved could go back into community programs.

“I began to realize that it’s so important for communities to be scientifically literate, especially when science is happening to you anyways.”

After her undergrad, she pursued a PhD in chemistry. (The Master’s program is rolled into the PhD.) Spending countless hours in the lab researching cancer diagnostic tools taught her to look at problems and challenges in a different way and to be open to new possibilities. She drew upon those lessons when she began volunteering with Visions in 2011.

“There were systemic barriers to participation in STEM for youth in low-income communities and I began to think of ways to provide even more opportunities, despite these barriers.”

It was also during her PhD that she established a relationship with her father — a chemist — with whom she’s now very close.

“It put together a lot of pieces as to why I liked science,” she says. “It’s funny, I grew up not knowing any scientists and it turns out (I am the daughter of one.)”

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

After finishing her PhD in 2015, Duodu could have pursued academia or industry, but was “deeply passionate” about Visions and dedicated herself full-time to the organization.

There’s little research in Canada on children in low-income communities and academic achievement in STEM. But according to a 2014 Toronto District School Board report, the 2011-2012 EQAO results — tests administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office — show that 65 per cent of students in Grade 3, and 57 per cent of Grade 6 students, from low-income families (earning less than $30,000), achieved the provincial standard for math. By comparison, 89 per cent of students in Grade 3, and 85 per cent in Grade 6, from high-income families (earning more than $100,000), met that standard.

Given the lack of research, Visions is tracking the progress of kids in their STEM clubs.

“We’re trying to get the data … Why are youth from low-income communities so under-represented in STEM? What are the determinants that go into that?

“It doesn’t mean that children from low-income communities have less aptitude for science or less interest. Everyone grows up, to a certain point, liking it … But then it stops.”

Maurice Bitran, CEO & Chief Science Officer of the Ontario Science Centre, which partners with Visions, says “every kid who drops out of school or doesn’t get the opportunity to pursue what they have talent for, is a loss for society as a whole.”

“Anything we can do to inspire kids from these backgrounds and give them opportunities will change their lives, but also will be a positive impact for society.”

As for Visions’ future, there are plans to expand into communities in Scarborough and Rexdale and grow the programming aimed at high school kids. Beyond that, Duodu hasn’t yet decided whether to focus on deepening the impact in the GTA or moving into other parts of Ontario or Canada.

“We have had the opportunity to watch so many of the youth that we work with grow in many ways,” says Duodu. “From what I can already see now I am excited about the future of our communities, this city and the country. They are extraordinary and I can’t wait to see all that they do.”

Eugenia Duodu will be speaking at TEDxToronto at the Evergreen Brickworks on Friday, Oct. 26, at 2:35 p.m. Tomorrow’s day-long event can be viewed on a live stream www.tedxtoronto.com beginning at 10 a.m.

The Star is profiling 12 Canadians who are making our lives better. Next week we talk to fiscal transparency watchdog Kevin Page.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

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‘She’s way out of her league’: Steel exec slams Freeland’s handling of tariff fight

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A prominent Canadian steel executive told MPs this week that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland​’s « ego » is getting in the way of ending American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

Barry Zekelman, the chairman and CEO of Zekelman Industries, delivered a scathing assessment Thursday of how the Liberal government is handling the tariff fight with the United States, accusing the government of squandering opportunities to resolve the issue months ago.

« They have stalled and blown this big time, and our consumers and our industry in Canada is suffering because of it, » Zekelman told MPs on the standing committee on international trade.

« We’re waiting for someone’s ego. They need to get into a room and get the deal done … whether Freeland picks up the phone and calls (U.S. Trade Representative) Robert Lighthizer and says here it is … the deal is available this afternoon. »

Zekelman said he was making those claims based on his personal connections with President Donald Trump’s circle; he said he has dined with Trump and has met with Lighthizer. He said he believes the Americans will drop their 25 per cent tariff on steel if Canada agrees to limit its exports into the U.S. through a quota system.

« This can be solved. Literally, I can do it this afternoon, » Zekelman said. « How do I know that? I’ve talked to Mr. Lighthizer myself. »

« We could have had that a long time ago. This is the worst negotiating I’ve seen, » Zekelman said as he testified before the committee via video link.

But two senior government sources tell CBC News that Canada is not interested in accepting any sort of quota system on steel or aluminum — and Ottawa has made that clear to the Trump administration.

The quota system

Last June, the administration invoked a rarely used national security provision — Section 232 — to impose 25 per cent tariffs on steel and 10 per cent tariffs on aluminum from multiple countries, including Canada and Mexico. 
Both Canada and Mexico responded with reciprocal tariff measures shortly after.

It had been widely expected the tariffs would be lifted upon the successful completion of the NAFTA negotiations. But when all three countries reached an agreement in principle before the October 1 deadline for a new deal — the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) — the U.S. did not remove the tariffs.

« The best outcome for both countries would be for the U.S. to rescind their tariffs, » said Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Freeland.

« The unjust and illegal tariffs that the U.S. has imposed under Section 232 are separate and apart from the USMCA negotiations. We have taken strong responsive measures to defend our workers and our industry, including measured, dollar-for-dollar tariffs. »

Zekelman’s comments came as the parliamentary committee has been taking a closer look at the impact of the tariffs on Canadian businesses and workers.

Over several days of testimony, some business owners have told MPs they have been forced to introduce layoffs or reduce shift work as a result of the tariffs.

Zekelman said that pain could have been avoided had the Canadians just accepted the American quota system.

« They will do reduced shipments, or level shipments, but they will not do increased shipments, » Zekelman said of the American negotiators.

An outspoken critic

He also took a personal shot at Freeland over her difficult relationship with Lighthizer.

« He can’t stand negotiating with her because she’s just not a businessperson. She’s way out of her league. »

Zekelman has been outspoken on the issue of U.S. tariffs — and even welcomed the idea when it was first floated back in March as a way to crack down on the dumping of cheap steel, mostly from Asia.

« Is that 25 per cent duty enough? I don’t think it is and I actually think those duties should be much higher, » he told CBC News at the time.

But his previous comments suggested he thought that Canada would get some sort of exemption. « President Trump doesn’t view Canada as an enemy, » he said at the time.

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Chef Fatima Ali on Having Terminal Cancer and What She’s Doing With the Time She Has Left | Healthyish

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Fatima Ali is a chef in NYC and a former ‘Top Chef’ contestant. Last year, she was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and surgery and wrote about how the experience changed her relationship to food. In September, Ali learned that the cancer had returned and was told she had a year to live. Here, she writes about how the terminal diagnosis is giving her a new perspective on life.

Sitting in the airport lounge, I can feel her gaze locked on the back of my head before I see her. Her brows furrowed under dark bangs, small fists curled up around the sides of her princess dress. She stares at me, eyes full of curiosity and confusion. She senses that something is not quite right. It’s not just the baldness that gives it away or the sallow skin or baggy clothes. A cloud of death is following me. It’s followed me all the way to the first class lounge at LAX. I have never flown anything but basic economy on a domestic flight, but my illness has forced me to upgrade my life.

The cancer cells my doctors believed had vanished are back with a vengeance in my left hip and femur bone. My oncologist has told me that I have a year to live, with or without the new chemotherapy regimen. I was looking forward to being 30, flirty, and thriving. Guess I have to step it up on the flirting. I have no time to lose.

It’s funny, isn’t it? When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living. When that choice is yanked away from us, that’s when we scramble to feel. I am desperate to overload my senses in the coming months, making reservations at the world’s best restaurants, reaching out to past lovers and friends, and smothering my family, giving them the time that I so selfishly guarded before.

I hate to use my illness as a tactic, but I swallow my guilt as I slip into Noma’s DMs to see if somehow the Copenhagen restaurant can accommodate a table for two for their already booked seafood season. I’m floored when I receive a reply from chef Rene Redzepi himself. Turns out that people respond when you tell them you’re dying of cancer.

In my wallet, I keep a crumpled cocktail napkin with a list of names scrawled on it. They’re people I need to make amends to before I go. I have to learn how to ask for forgiveness without expecting to receive it. It’s probably the most frightening thing I have ever had to do, and I’ve experienced some seriously terror-inducing moments.

I’ve spent more time in sterile hospital rooms in the past year than I have in my own apartment. This has become my new home, and the staff a part of my family. I wonder if I’ll accidentally call my nurse “Mom” when she sneaks in to check my vital signs in the middle of the night. My blood pressure always stays on the low side of calm. Everyone’s amazed that I’m taking it so well. But when you hit rock bottom, there really is no place to go but up.

An odd sense of relief has settled inside me, knowing that I can finally live for myself, even if it’s just for a few more precious months. I call a local hair stylist to come to my hospital room to dye half my hair platinum blonde and buzz the rest. He panics a little as he’s setting up, whispering to my brother in his thick Italian accent. “The dye… it won’t, uh, burn her scalp will it?” I tell him to carry on even if it does. It’s the only sense of control I feel like I have right now. I have embraced my alter ego. She doesn’t hold back.

“I love your hair!” they all say when I’m done. They think I’m brave, but really, I’m not. I’m scared. I suspect I won’t last very long. There’s a faint feeling deep inside my gut like a rumble of passing air, ever expanding and filling slowly until, one day, I’ll pop.

Until then, every day is an opportunity for me to experience something new. I used to dream of owning my own restaurant. Now I have an ever growing list of the ones I need to visit. From decadent uni and truffle toast at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare to spice-laden Szechuan hot pot in Flushing, I’m sketching a plan to eat my way through New York and the boroughs while I can.

I think back to my favorite movie of all time, American Beauty. “I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary,” Mena Suvari says as she sits with Kevin Spacey’s lecherous character. I was always deathly afraid of being average in any way, and now I desperately wish to have a simple, uneventful life.

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