Mount Cashel: After 30 years, the pain still has not gone away


Ask Billy Earle if time heals all wounds.

You get a look, a long breath and an honest answer.

« That’s a hypothetical question, » said the former victim of abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John’s.

February marks the 30th anniversary of the reopening of a covered-up police investigation into child abuse at the orphanage that the lay order of Christian Brothers ran for more than a century in the east end of St. John’s.

In the weeks and months after the police investigation was reopened, the media reported countless details of abuse that boys who were placed at the orphanage had suffered, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government ordered a public inquiry to investigate what went wrong.

The subsequent Hughes inquiry’s proceedings were televised — often across Canada, thanks to then-new cable news channels — and took captivated viewers inside a scandal that involved the police, the top levels of government and the Roman Catholic church. 

Where a Sobeys supermarket now looks over the houses of an infill subdivision used to stand a building where decades of physical and sexual abuse was carried out by the very men trusted to care for troubled and vulnerable children.

It has been three decades since an investigation into allegations of child abuse was reopened after a coverup in the ’70s. (CBC)

The first Mount Cashel resident to go public was Billy’s younger brother, Shane. From his revelations in the press spilled more disturbing stories from more victims.

Three decades later, coverups of institutional abuse — one case after another, in countries everywhere — are still rocking the Catholic Church. But it was the stories told in 1989 by men about what happened when they were young boys at a St. John’s orphanage that drew the world’s attention.

‘I was 10 years old. It was a nightmare’

It isn’t easy for Earle to think back to 1975, when he told a police officer of the abuse he and Shane suffered at the hands of the brothers at Mount Cashel. 

Billy Earle testifies at the Hughes commission in 1989. (CBC)

« It’s not much different than the day it began, » he said. « To think about what happened 44 years ago. I was 10 years old. It was a nightmare. »

The Earle brothers’ young lives were complicated. Their parents divorced, and handling the needs of seven kids — four girls and three boys — was too much. The boys were placed in Mount Cashel to ease the burden. 

Although called an orphanage, Mount Cashel’s residents were often not orphans. Many of the children were placed there as wards of the state because of problems at home. 

Life in the orphanage became a life of torture for the Earle boys. After two years of witnessing and enduring abuse, they snuck out and made their way to their father to reveal what was happening. 

Graphic details taken in original investigation

That set off a cascade of events, of meetings with police and social workers. A Newfoundland Constabulary investigation started, and 21 boys were interviewed.

The youngsters, ranging in age from nine to 17, detailed graphic examples of physical and sexual abuse.  

Det. Robert Hillier testifies at the Hughes Commission in 1989. On Dec. 9, 1975, Hillier began an investigation into allegations of abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage. Nine days later, he was ordered by RNC Chief John Lawlor to end the investigation and file a report. He was also ordered to remove all references to sexual assault from his report. (CBC)

In 1975, they told the police investigator that they were targeted by three brothers who fondled, kissed, raped and beat them. The statements taken from the boys at police headquarters talk of brothers sneaking into beds, lying on top of them as they slept. There was forced masturbation, as well as violent thrashings. 

Revealing the secrets from inside Mount Cashel gave a young Billy Earle some hope.

« Hopefully they were going to do something with the scandal that was going on behind closed doors, » he said.

« Brought in, give police statements and thought, ‘Great, we’ll have it all dealt with.’ Figured we had a concrete foundation around us. There was nothing ever done, and we were back in the hands of the abusers. »

A well-protected secret

What followed, though, was a deliberate effort by senior public servants, church officials, police brass and politicians to not only cover up the sins of the Christian Brothers, but to deliberately hide what had happened.

Reporter Philip Lee says the Mount Cashel story was, in many ways, the biggest story he’s ever worked on. (CBC)

Their actions remained a well-protected secret for 14 years. 

Philip Lee was 25 years old when he started writing Mount Cashel stories at the Sunday Express, a weekly newspaper in St. John’s, in 1989. 

« I was a young reporter and it was really the first big story that I ever worked on, » he said. « In many ways it was the biggest story that I ever did work on. »

Mount Cashel enjoyed a good reputation in the community. It was a favoured charity and an example of « the good work » of the church. 

Mount Cashel in 1996. (CBC)

« I was fairly new to St. John’s at the time and I didn’t know where Mount Cashel was. I had to get a map out, » Lee said in an interview.

« And I remember driving over there and going into the parking lot and knocking on the front doors and asking some questions at the time. »

Those questions and the answers that followed tore open a scandal that was at once a combination of pain, relief and recoil. Months later, by the time the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Response of the Newfoundland Criminal Justice System to Complaints started holding hearings with Justice Samuel Hughes, the story of Mount Cashel was already legend.

Lawyer Geoff Budden says ‘this evil of child abuse can be controlled but it can’t be eradicated, apparently.’ (CBC)

Geoff Budden was a young lawyer when Mount Cashel unfolded, and he has built his law practice around suing on behalf of victims of abuse. His first client from the orphanage came to him in 1991.

Since then, he has represented 110 victims of abuse at Mount Cashel.

« I did realize pretty quickly that this was not a local story, » he said.

« This was not a story of St. John’s, or Newfoundland or even Canada. There were lawyers, commentators, church officials, writers of various sorts throughout North America and throughout the world who were paying attention to what was happening with Mount Cashel and were drawing lessons from it. »

In 3 decades, abusers have changed, too

In the 30 years since that covered-up police investigation in St. John’s was reopened, the shock of child sexual abuse has become a daily story from somewhere in the world. The internet means predators have moved from the halls of a long-gone orphanage into the bedrooms of vulnerable young people who are lured through their smartphones.

What about the government officials, the politicians, the coverup with the police? There was nothing ever done with them.– Billy Earle

« This evil of child abuse can be controlled but it can’t be eradicated, apparently, » Budden said.

« I think there will always be people who by reasons of illness of some sick and frustrated power dynamic will want to sexually exploit children. New times present new problems. I don’t think we can never not be vigilant as a parent, as a society. »

Billy Earle said time and healing is « hypothetical. » What’s not hypothetical, though, is that he says not everyone involved felt justice was evenly delivered.

« A lot of guys who went through the inquiry are very sick. Close friends of mine have committed suicide, » Earle said.

« We talk about the Christian Brothers who paid their dues big time and went to jail. What about the government officials, the politicians, the coverup with the police? There was nothing ever done with them. »

Mount Cashel is gone, replaced by a grocery store overlooking residential homes. (CBC)

Three decades later, Lee believes the characters who orchestrated the cover up of that 1975 investigation « didn’t think twice about the boys. » 

« It’s disappointing that they didn’t have the courage, or the moral courage, to come forward and say what they did and admit that they had done wrong, » Lee said. 

That wrong allowed an evil to roam through Mount Cashel, piling pain on victims for years to come.

And it’s a pain that is still inflicted on children because, for whatever reason, the lesson of Mount Cashel was never fully learned.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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Was the Eaton Centre gunman in a ‘dissociative state’? Nearly seven years and two trials later, a jury is set to decide


After a second trial almost identical to the first, a jury is once again deliberating whether Christopher Husbands murdered two men and injured several other people when he opened fire in the Eaton Centre food court in 2012, or whether he was in a “dissociative state” while shooting and therefore not criminally responsible for his actions.

Husbands, 29, admitted he was the gunman in the shooting at the landmark downtown Toronto mall at 6:22 p.m on June 2, 2012. Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, and Ahmed Hassan, 24, died from gunshot wounds. Connor Stevenson, 13, who was at the food court with his mother and sister, survived after being shot in the head. The shooting and subsequent chaos, during which a pregnant woman was trampled, was captured on surveillance video from the mall.

Christopher Husbands, seen here in a courtroom sketch from June 4, 2012.
Christopher Husbands, seen here in a courtroom sketch from June 4, 2012.  (Tammy Hoy / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The jury at Husbands’ second trial was told he had been tried once before. But it did not know he was initially charged with first-degree murder, that he had been convicted on two counts of second-degree murder by the first jury in 2014 nor that he had been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years. His jury was also never told it was a judge’s mistake that resulted in the Court of Appeal ordering a new trial.

The mistake — which resulted in a number of appeals — occurred while potential jurors were being questioned about bias. Instead of allowing the defence request to use “rotating triers” — where two different people from the jury pool assess each new juror — the trial judge, Superior Court Justice Eugene Ewaschuk, imposed “static triers,” where the same two people assess all twelve jurors.

Since the Crown did not appeal the first jury’s finding of second-degree murder, Husbands could not be charged with first-degree murder at his second trial. As such, he faced the lesser murder charges in addition to charges of aggravated assault.

The defence of not criminally responsible presented by Husbands was the same as in the previous trial, though this time it was supported with more expert witnesses, including Boston-based psychologist and PTSD expert Dr. Mark Miller.

In his closing address, Husbands’ lawyer Dirk Derstine argued his client is not criminally responsible for the shooting because he was in a dissociative state where his body did things his mind could not control.

Husbands, who testified to having been physically and sexually abused as a child growing up in the Regent Park neighbourhood, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a violent attack in February 2012. He told the jury he was ambushed at an apartment, tied up with duct tape, beaten, pistol-whipped and stabbed two-dozen times by six men. Husbands testified his attackers that night included Nixon and Nisan Nirmalendran — two men who were in the food court on June 2, 2012.

On the day of the shooting, Husbands claimed he was temporarily “holding” a loaded gun for a person known as “Gaza,” who was concerned about being stopped by police in the Entertainment District.

Husbands and his then-girlfriend went to SportChek to buy rollerblades, and then picked up burgers to take away. It was when his girlfriend went to get sushi that Husbands saw the Nirmalendran brothers and three other men.

Seeing them put Husbands, already fearful and paranoid, into a scenario from his worst nightmare, Derstine said. He argued that if Husbands had been after revenge, he knew where to find the brothers.

The Crown disputes how serious Husbands PTSD was at the time of the attack and maintains Husbands faked his dissociative symptoms which fall at the “extreme end” of the scale and would be extremely rare.

The Crown’s expert witness Dr. Peter Collins testified Husbands did not appear to be acting in the disorganized and robotic manner he would expect in a dissociative state — including when he “executed” Nixon Nirmalendran at point-blank range as he lay on the floor.

Instead, the Crown argues Husbands, who was armed with a loaded gun, intended to kill Nixon and Nisan Nirmalendran as revenge or “street justice” for their attack on him.

“The video tells the story perfectly clearly. It tells a very powerful story of an intentional murder. It was not the result of any fear. It was not the result of a spontaneous act because of a loss of control. It was not because of his PTSD,” Crown John Cisorio said in his closing address to the jury.

Nixon Nirmalendran never said “shoot him” as Husbands claimed he heard, nor did he did see Nisan Nirmalendran appear to reach for a gun, Cisorio said, adding there is no evidence Nisan Nirmalendran had a gun on him.

“This is not a situation where the group approached him and confronted him and he reacted on impulse to a threat,” Cisorio said. “It was Mr. Husbands who was the threat.”

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati


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A photo taken on Toronto’s Corso Italia 49 years ago became a family legend. No one saw it — until now


Mary and Nick Pascale have always told their children about the summer day, nearly 50 years ago, when a newspaperman snapped their photograph on Corso Italia.

In 1970 they had just started dating. Nick was 19, welding in a factory by night and studying at the Marvel Beauty School by day. Mary was nearly 16 — in high school, working part time at Mr. Textile on St. Clair W., the place where Italian ladies shopped for imported silk, wool and Crimplene, that miraculous stretch fabric.

On St. Clair Ave. W. in 1970, photographer Bob Olsen asked Nick if he would pose for a photo, then he saw Mary walking toward them and changed his plan slightly.
On St. Clair Ave. W. in 1970, photographer Bob Olsen asked Nick if he would pose for a photo, then he saw Mary walking toward them and changed his plan slightly.  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)

It was a Saturday in July when Mary and Nick decided to meet on St. Clair. Mary had lived in Canada for about four years, and the street felt like home with all the Italian voices. Money was tight, and if she wanted the latest fashions, she sewed them herself. Nick can still remember the softness of the jersey knit fabric of her red paisley mini-dress. He was about two years in Canada then, by way of Milan, and he lived with his sister in Toronto, where fashion was “zero.”

A Star photographer named Bob Olsen was walking along St. Clair W. and College St. that summer, taking pictures of Toronto’s growing Italian community.

According to the 1971 census, there were 270,000 Italians in Metro Toronto, many arriving after the Second World War. Men found jobs in the construction industry, and many Italian women worked in factories. More than 90 per cent of Italian families owned their own homes or were planning to buy them, according to a survey by Corriere Canadese, the city’s Italian-language newspaper.

Italians had changed Toronto forever, and it wasn’t just the cement verandas. “The town’s cosmopolitan flavour, due in large part to the Italian influence, is several kilometres removed from the homburg-and-briefcase, roast-beef-sandwich Toronto of the early 1950s,” Star reporter Trent Frayne wrote in 1970, noting that Italians had worked hard for a good life in Canada, but faced challenges. Children learned English in school, but the language divide was hard on adults.

According to the 1971 census, there were 270,000 Italians in Metro Toronto, many arriving after the Second World War.
According to the 1971 census, there were 270,000 Italians in Metro Toronto, many arriving after the Second World War.  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)
The image of Nick and Mary, who in 1970 had just started dating, was arresting. But what became of the photo, and the couple?

Olsen asked Nick if he would pose for a photo, then he saw Mary walking toward them on the south side of St. Clair, east of Lansdowne Ave., and changed his plan slightly. He didn’t know that Nick and Mary were an item ever since they met at La Rotonda, a restaurant and dance hall on Dufferin St., where every Sunday afternoon Italian teens danced to live bands. Southern Italian parents were especially strict so Mary pretended she was going to the library, but her dad knew better.

One Sunday, Nick was there. He ordered a Coke, and held a cigarette to look cool. He saw Mary in her red leather skirt and white blouse, turning down every guy who asked for a dance. What’s she here for if she doesn’t want to dance? he thought. He walked over to her, prepared to make a point, but he asked her to dance instead. She had already noticed him when he walked in, handsome in beautiful Italian clothes.

Part of a photo series on Toronto's Italian neighbourhood in the summer of 1970.
Part of a photo series on Toronto’s Italian neighbourhood in the summer of 1970.  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)

They danced all afternoon.

They were both born in small towns in Calabria, the sun-drenched southern region where the air was fragrant with sage, rosemary and oregano, and a faint smoky smell from the small fires that always seemed to be burning.

At the dance, someone had a car, and a group of them went to Vesuvio’s Pizzeria in the Junction. Nick passed her a family business card for a painting company. Call me, he said. “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles was playing on the radio.

Olsen didn’t know any of this, when he snapped their photo in front of a small grocery store on St. Clair. The story about the Italian community ran that fall, but not their photo, which was filed away in a plastic box of slides in the newsroom. The couple married four years later. Mary sewed the blue silk bridesmaid dresses. Three children followed. She worked at COSTI, an organization that had been founded to help Italian immigrants adjust to life Toronto. (As the city became more multicultural, the organization widened its focus.) Nick became an in-demand hairstylist in Yorkville.

  (Bob Olsen/ Toronto Star)

In 1993, they opened a gourmet grocery shop near Yonge and Eglinton, with Italian deli, cheese and imported food. All the while, they wondered about the photo. It became a family legend, and even this past Christmas they were talking about it. Their daughter Cinzia always wanted to see it. Her parents didn’t have a lot of money then, and cameras were expensive. There weren’t many photos.

Toronto Star visuals editor Kelsey Wilson, who runs the @torontostararchives account, recently found the box of extrachrome slides in the newsroom. She posted the photos online in January, and one of the most arresting images was a woman in front of a St. Clair grocery shop, a young man beside her, with a child in an apron holding an orange. People recognized her face.

Not long after, Mary was at the back of Pascale Gourmet when a customer came in waving her phone: Is this you?

Mary and Nick Pascale and their daughter Cinzia hold a framed copy of the photo taken by Bob Olsen in 1970. They're pictured at the grocery store they own, Pascale Gourmet.
Mary and Nick Pascale and their daughter Cinzia hold a framed copy of the photo taken by Bob Olsen in 1970. They’re pictured at the grocery store they own, Pascale Gourmet.  (Toronto Star)

Mary saw the sunny Saturday of 49 years ago on the screen. She screamed. She jumped up and down. She drove home where Nick was busy making dinner. He shrugged it off at first, and then he “really saw it.”

It was the photo. The photo.

“I had tears,” he says. “I really had tears.”

At their shop, where you can buy sandwiches named for customers, or try “The Mary” or “The Nick,” they hold up the slides to the light and Mary reflects on how they “grew up together.” “The Long and Winding Road” was on the radio this morning, she says. It’s been the song of their life.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re still together. That’s what I find is amazing,” she says. “Here we are 50 years later … still very much in love the way we were then.”

  (Bob Olsen / Toronto Star)


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Autism group says Ontario minister warned of 4 ‘long’ years if they didn’t publicly back changes


An association of behaviour analysts says Ontario’s minister in charge of the autism program told them it would be a long four years for them if they did not publicly support recent changes.

The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis says in a note to members today that Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod and her staff requested a quote of support a few days before the new program was announced.

They say the request came without providing full details of the new program — which they say will leave many children without the level of therapy they need.

The association says MacLeod and her staff indicated that failure to provide a supportive quote would result in « four long years » for the organization.

MacLeod’s office did not immediately provide a response. MacLeod announced last week that in order to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for publicly funded autism therapy, families will get up to $140,000 to pay for treatment, though funding will be subject to annual caps that families and advocates say will fall far short of what’s needed for intensive therapy.

The funding is dependent on age, rather than individual needs for varying levels of intensity. Families will receive a maximum of $140,000 for a child in treatment from the ages of two to 18, also dependent on family income, but advocates say intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 per year.

Families will receive up to $20,000 a year until their child turns six. From that time until they are 18 it would be up to $5,000 a year.

 ‘We were expecting more’ 

MacLeod also reportedly told the Waterloo Region Record that Autism Ontario was among the organizations that support her plan, but the group released a statement saying that isn’t true.

« Autism Ontario neither proposed nor endorsed the announced changes to the (Ontario Autism Program) and is concerned about the impact these changes will have on children and families accessing the program, » it said in a statement.

The president-elect of the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis said when her group met with government officials ahead of the policy announcement, they were disappointed in the tone.

 « Our meeting with the minister’s staff and the minister was prescriptive in nature, basically letting us know the direction of the changes, » said Kendra Thomson. « We were expecting more of a collaborative consultation process, given the gravity of the file. »


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Autism group says minister warned of ‘long, hard four years’ if they didn’t support changes


Behaviour analysts say children’s minister Lisa MacLeod and her staff threatened to make their lives miserable for the next four years if they didn’t endorse the government’s changes to autism services.

In a memo to members Wednesday, the board of the Ontario Association for Behavioural Analysts said “the minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support, without providing full details on the program, and indicated that failure to do so would result in “four long years’ for the organization.”

It went on to say that “the minister also indicated that if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office … In spite of the implied risk, the organization refused.”

One analyst who attended the meeting said it was more “akin to dealing with a mob boss than an elected official.”

The rift with ONTABA is part of an escalating division between the Ford government and some in the autism community in the wake of its overhaul to the system, which MacLeod has pledged will clear the massive wait list for services in two years.

Parents of children with autism are also feeling bruised by the government’s dismissal of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a grassroots Facebook group of parent advocates, as “professional protesters.”

A senior source in the community and social services ministry said staff had met with ONTABA four times — and had provided details of the coming changes, and was under the understanding a supportive quote was planned. However, the source said, different representatives attended the final meeting and the tone changed.

The government “had a number of productive and cordial meetings” with the therapists as well as others in the autism community, from parents to service providers, said the source.

The source did not recall MacLeod saying that should the group not provide public support, rocky relations would ensue.

“She certainly said that we are committed to this plan,” said the source.

Several service providers and hospitals provided endorsements of the plan.

Meanwhile, the government faced more opposition from Autism Ontario, which said despite ministry claims, the organization will not be managing intake or dispersing money to families over the next year while the province overhauls autism funding.

Autism Ontario said its statement is aimed at correcting a “number of misunderstandings or assumptions,” since the government announced age-based funding caps to clear a therapy wait list of 23,000 kids, the organization said.

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The organization came under fire from angry parents last week when MacLeod suggested Autism Ontario was playing an integral part in her government’s plan to shift control of provincial funding for autism services from regional agencies to parents.

In at least one media interview, MacLeod said Autism Ontario will be directly involved with the new funding regime.

Under the changes announced by MacLeod Feb. 6, children with autism up to age 6 will receive lifetime caps of up to $140,000 until age 18, while those over age 6 will get $55,000. Funding will be aimed at low- to moderate-income families with those earning more than $250,000 no longer eligible, she said.

But parents, whose noisy protests in 2016 convinced the previous Liberal government to reverse a similar age-based funding scheme, say the Progressive Conservative plan makes the same mistake. They say the new funding falls woefully short of meeting the needs of children with complex needs whose therapy may cost as much as $80,000 a year. And it may be too much for others. It will likely mean cuts to 8,400 children currently receiving help with no funding cap, they add.

In a statement, ministry officials confirmed Autism Ontario will not be directly involved with the wait list or the funding.

Autism Ontario has been supporting families and people with autism in Ontario for the past 46 years and has parent representatives across the province through 25 local chapters, said spokesperson Katharine Buchan. It supports and advocates on behalf of both children and adults with autism through workshops, training and individual support, she added.

Social media attacks against the organization’s staff and volunteers, many of whom are also parents with autistic children, have been difficult, she said.

One part-time Autism Ontario staffer in a local chapter, who is a mother of an autistic child, called police over what she felt were threatening Facebook posts from another mother, Buchan confirmed.

“The anger is justified, but I’m not sure it makes sense to be directing it at one another when we need to be working together ensure that all children’s needs are met,” she said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should not be “labelling groups of parents who are doing their best for their children as professional protesters.

“It’s despicable. Shameful.” she added.

“They are using these tactics to try to besmirch these parents, parents who are very worried about their children,” she said in an interview

She called analysts’ claim they were pressured to endorse the autism overhaul “strong arming professionals in the autism field, trying to knuckle them down and prevent them from providing their professional opinion on the government’s changes.”

Kendra Thomson, the incoming president of ONTABA, said her organization was not provided with any details about how their profession would be regulated, and because they weren’t told what the government’s planned registry would look like, they could not publicly support it.

As for allegations ONTABA is a lobby group, she said it is a non-profit that represents a number of professionals and promotes evidence-based services.

She also said the group was not “meaningfully consulted” on the autism changes, and despite the discord, “if we were given the opportunity to provide meaningful conversation, that would surpass the tone and anything (communicated) to date.”

She said ONTABA’s representatives left that final meeting feeling very disappointed, though “the tone was consistent with previous meetings with myself and others.”

Louis Busch, a past-president of ONTABA who attended the final meeting with the minister and her staff, said he went as a “private citizen” and that it was a tense meeting from the outset, unlike any he has attended with the past five ministers to hold this portfolio.

Busch, a board-certified behaviour analyst who works with adults, said after pressing for details, they were told a regulatory college would not be announced, but a website would provide a list “which is not regulation.”

Busch noted that MacLeod said without public support from ONTABA, “it’s going to be a long, hard four years for you.”

“This was more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official,” Busch said.

Meanwhile, at a Wednesday announcement on Ontario’s fiscal situation, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said there will no additional funding for autism services beyond the $321 million announced last week.

“There were 23,000 families with children with autism who received no help whatsoever, so this plan is a fair, sustainable, and equitable plan,” said Fedeli, noting it has been well-received in his hometown of North Bay.

“We all don’t have the same services that are readily available in the south, so we’ve delivered on that. That’s why at home they’re very happy with this plan,” the treasurer said.

With files from Robert Benzie

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

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy


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Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette sentenced to life in prison, no parole for 40 years


Alexandre Bissonnette, the man responsible for the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years.

READ MORE: Quebec Muslim community welcomes statement by accused shooter’s parents

Bissonnette pleaded guilty last March to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in the attack at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec.

Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot chose not to give him consecutive sentences, where he would have been eligible for release in 150 years.

The judge said Friday he took all 24 past decisions of consecutive sentencing — Section 745.51 of the Criminal Code, which was added in 2011 — into account before rendering his decision.

WATCH BELOW: A timeline of the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting.

Huot concluded demanding consecutive sentences was “constitutionally invalid” and is calling for the federal government to reform the law.

Bissonnette also faces a lifetime ban on owning firearms.

Friday morning, Bissonnette entered the Quebec City courtroom, wearing a dark blue suit with a white dress shirt.

WATCH BELOW: Alexandre Bissonnette arrives for sentencing in Quebec City mosque shooting

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Before giving his sentence, Huot warned the room of about 250 people to be respectful of the decision, noting that no protest will be tolerated.

READ MORE: Judge tells Quebec mosque shooting victims not to blame killer’s parents

“[It was] a premeditated and gratuitous act,” he told the court, adding that it was “a tear of our social fabric.”

“Despite the time passed, it will remain forever engraved in our collective memory.”

Huot noted Bissonnette was not working in January 2017 because of an anxiety disorder. Doctors had prescribed him Paxil.

The judge summarized Bissonnette’s internet search history, which included looking up the 2015 San Bernardino attack, information on how to prepare his guns and research on other possible targets — including feminist groups, schools, malls and airports.

He mentioned an incident two months before the mosque attack when Bissonnette loaded his weapons and went to a local mall in Quebec City intending to commit mass murder, but changed his mind.

READ MORE: Inside the mind of a killer: What we now know about Alexandre Bissonnette’s Quebec mosque shooting plot

Huot spoke of the night itself, when Bissonnette walked into a mosque in the provincial capital at 7:54 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2017, and opened fire during evening prayers.

WATCH BELOW: Alexandre Bissonnette parents arrive ahead of sentencing

Citing security footage, Huot mentioned “a small girl with a pink hat runs without knowing where to hide,” until someone pulls her to safety. There were four children in the mosque that night.

READ MORE: After nearly two years of fighting, Quebec City Mosque shooting widow will get compensation

He noted Bissonnette acted with “calculation, determination and in cold blood,” adding he held racist beliefs and the crime was precipitated by a “visceral hate for immigrants.”

The entire massacre was 90 seconds. There were 48 shots fired in that time.

READ MORE: Quebec City mosque shooting: Remembering the victims and moving on 2 years later

As the judge talked, Bissonnette stared down at the ground, moving only occasionally to fidget or look briefly up at the ceiling.

WATCH BELOW: Victims of Quebec City mosque shooting ‘accept’ guilty plea from gunman

READ MORE: Defence argues 150 years in prison for Quebec mosque shooter would deprive him of hope

According to the numerous victim testimonies, many of the people there that night are still traumatized, live in fear, and some are unable to work because of the terror they feel.

The victims of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting arrive to sentencing, Fri., Feb. 8, 2019.

Jean-Vincent Verville/Global News

Bissonnette’s trial was expected to be a landmark case, forcing Huot to declare last October that he needed more time to decide between sentencing him consecutively (150 years) or concurrently (25 years).

READ MORE: Defence argues 150 years in prison for Quebec mosque shooter would deprive him of hope

Bissonnette’s defence team had previously stated consecutive sentencing should be declared unconstitutional and invalid as it contravenes Article 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects citizens from cruel and unusual treatment.

“It (Section 745.51) denies outright the possibility of humanity for a person,” he told Huot last summer.

“Without hope, what is the meaning of a life? There isn’t any.”

The mosque shooting claimed the lives of six men: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41; Khaled Belkacemi, 60; Aboubaker Thabti, 44; Azzeddine Soufiane, 57 and Ibrahima Barry, 39.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Small businesses in Alberta haven’t been this pessimistic in years, lobby group says


Small businesses in Alberta haven’t been this pessimistic in years, according to an industry lobby group who says the oil-price differential is largely to blame — even if prices for Canadian crude have recently recovered.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says confidence among its Alberta members plunged in December and January, according to a monthly survey it conducts.

Prices for Western Canadian Select also plunged in late 2018, reaching a low point in late November, and CFIB chief economist Ted Mallett believes that’s related to the sudden shift in business sentiment.

« Because it’s in such recent memory, I think that’s why you saw a decline in optimism happen so quickly this time, » he said.

The CFIB’s « business barometer index » for Alberta plunged more that 15 points over December and January, falling to a level of 37.5 on a scale of zero to 100.

The index measures how CFIB members feel about the future.

Mallett said a score of zero would represent « perfect pessimism » (meaning every member surveyed expects things will be worse for their business in one year’s time) while a score of 100 would represent « perfect optimism. »

A score of 60 or more is usually associated with a growing economy, Mallett said.

The plunge over the last two months marks the sharpest decline in Alberta since the oil crash of late 2014, when the price for crude on world markets was cut roughly in half in a span of six months.

The CFIB’s ‘business barometer’ results for Alberta (in blue) and Canada (in red) over the past decade. (Canadian Federation of Independent Business)

Mallett said the massive oil-price differential that developed in late 2018 had a similar impact.

« The price for Western Canadian Select vis-à-vis WTI caused some big problems and concerns with businesses in the province, » he said.

« A large shift in the economics of oil-and-gas pricing has a big effect on other businesses all the way down the line. »

In an effort to close the differential, the Alberta government took an extraordinary step in December, mandating temporary cuts in the province’s oil production.

On Wednesday, the province announced it was easing those production limits because prices for Canadian crude had recovered to a sufficient degree.

But it’s unlikely business confidence will recover as quickly, Mallett said.

« It takes a long time for optimism to come back, » he said.

And that sentiment can have a broader impact on the entire economy.

The impact of business confidence

The CFIB is a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of small businesses across Canada.

It has roughly 10,000 members in Alberta, which represents about six per cent of the 175,000 total businesses in the province.

If its members’ sentiments are representative of the broader business community, it could present a problem for the economy as a whole, says Anupam Das, an economist with Mount Royal University.

Business confidence matters, he said, because it affects investment decisions.

If there’s an optimistic sentiment out there, he said, businesses are more likely to hire more workers or expand their capital spending. But if the mood is pessimistic, the fear of losing money can make those investments less likely.

« When that fear comes into people, they start making certain decisions, » Das said.

« So I think the perception — or the fear — is, actually, an important factor. »

Political opinions

Speaking to a gathering of mid-sized city mayors in Calgary on Thursday, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney described Alberta’s current business climate as particularly dire.

Kenney said he’s hearing negative things from people who are looking at investing in the province.

« I was, just last night, meeting with the CEO of a global company visiting Calgary with a market cap of $50 billion who told me people aren’t walking away from investing in Alberta — they are running away from investing in Alberta, » Kenney said.

He didn’t name the CEO or the company.

Premier Rachel Notley spoke during an NDP rally in Calgary on Thursday while UCP Leader Jason Kenney addressed a gathering of mid-sized city mayors. (James Young/CBC, Monty Kruger/CBC)

Premier Rachel Notley, also speaking in Calgary on Thursday, said there’s been billions of dollars of new private-sector investment announced in the past couple of months alone and there is « more investment on the way. »

During an NDP rally at the downtown legion, she highlighted Inter Pipeline’s recent decision to go ahead with a $3.5-billion petrochemical project and Value Creation Inc.’s plan to invest more than $2 billion in an upgrading facility aimed at turning bitumen into higher-grade crude that can flow more easily through pipelines.

Both projects came as the result of government incentives aimed at spurring investment and diversifying the economy, Notley said.

« And we’re already seeing results, » she said.

The CFIB surveyed 276 of its Alberta members in December and January.

A random sample of that size would yield a margin of error of about 5.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


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Survivor Aymen Derbali sets out to combat hate, 2 years after Quebec City mosque shooting


Aymen Derbali swivels his wheelchair toward the large windows of his new living room, sparsely furnished with ornate rugs.

He bows his head and closes his eyes, taking a moment for his afternoon prayer, before talking about the turning point in his life — moving into a new home with his family last August, after being apart for nearly 18 months.

« I was able to go back to my home and have a normal life, like before the tragedy, » he said.

Derbali, a father of three, nearly avoided the attack that killed six people and seriously wounded him and four others at Quebec City’s Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29, 2017.

He was debating whether to go his local mosque that evening, but eventually told his wife he was going, and would be home in time to put their eldest son to bed.

Derbali was in his usual corner at the back of the room, when he saw the gunman come in and raise his weapon toward him.

He was hit with seven bullets, including one that struck his spinal cord. In a second, the life he’d set out for himself and his family made an abrupt turn.

Derbali regularly attends the mosque where he was shot on Jan. 29, 2017. (Julia Page/CBC)

Derbali was in a coma for the next two months. His doctors feared he’d lost most of his cerebral capacities, after surviving four heart attacks.

When he woke up, he was told he’d never walk again.

But « being able to recognize my children and my wife, for the rest of my life, that was the main thing for me, » he said.

His coma was especially hard on his then-eight-year-old son, Ayoub, who was convinced his father was dead.

« He was very upset. So when he saw me back at my home he was very, very happy. »

The wide hallways of his new home allow Derbali to move around easily. (Julia Page/CBC)

Outpouring of support

The soft-spoken 42-year-old can now move freely around the house, purchased thanks to a $400,000 fundraising campaign.

People from around the world answered the call from Dawanet, a Muslim charity, to help his family move out of their Sainte-Foy apartment — which was too cramped and ill-equipped for Derbali’s needs.

The wide hallways and door frames in the new home allow him to move around during the day, from his small desk in his bedroom to the sitting room where he can watch television with his children.

He can also watch them play soccer in the backyard in the summer.

« This solidarity has encouraged me to be more positive, and this is the beautiful thing, » he said.

Grateful for the wave of support he’s received, Derbali refuses to dwell on the act of violence he fell victim to that night. « There is much more goodness than evil on this planet, » Derbali said.

Derbali smiles at his two youngest children, Maryem, 2, and Youssouf, 6. (Submitted by Aymen Derbali)

His home still needs a few more modifications to make it fully adapted to his needs, including an adapted shower and an elevated platform to allow him to go straight to the garage from the kitchen.

But he is able to help in planning all this, now that he can type on his keyboard with two fingers and answer calls on his cellphone, lessening the burden he felt he put on his family, just 12 months before.

« I can plan the work around the house, pay the bills and help my son with his homework. »

He is also there every afternoon to greet his children when they return from school, just a few blocks away.

Second life

Derbali has started sending out resumés  in hope of landing a part-time job, to supplement the income provided by the government’s compensation for victims of crimes.

But his daily routine still takes up a lot of his time. He requires three hours of home care every day, and the bullets that exploded inside his body cause him constant pain.

Nonetheless, he is committed to the humanitarian work he began long before the shooting.

Derbali, who worked as an IT specialist, is now able to type on his computer and hopes to go back to work part-time. (Julia Page/CBC)

He continues to be involved in an orphanage he helped set up in Bolivia and now wants to do more within Quebec City, to foster dialogue between groups that may have been on separate paths for too long.

« We woke up after this tragedy and said ‘We have to be more open to all the communities,' » he said.

He is encouraging Muslim youth to get involved and volunteer for homeless shelters, for example.

« In this way we can fight hate crimes and we can fight ignorance. This is the most important thing, to have concrete actions, » he said.

Derbali has also started giving conferences in high schools to show young men and women the mark hatred left in his life, convinced these face-to-face meetings will leave a much deeper impact than any government initiative.

Derbali sits in the dining room of the new home his family was able to purchase thanks to a fundraising campaign that netted more than $400,000. (Julia Page/CBC)

« You know if we have an open-minded teenager, we don’t have to be afraid for his future. »

The two-year anniversary will be an important milestone for Derbali. So will knowing the fate that awaits the young man he crossed paths with in his place of worship, two years ago.

Convicted gunman Alexandre Bissonette will be sentenced just days after the anniversary, on Feb. 8, at the Quebec City courthouse.

Derbali says that will be another chance to turn the page and focus on the good he has seen emerge from that dark night.

« It’s my second life that is starting. »


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Parliament Hill’s going to look a lot different over the next 10 years


Since Confederation, Parliament Hill’s Centre Block has been Canada’s most iconic image of democracy. But 2019 marks the start of a new era.

For the next decade (and likely longer) MPs and senators will have new homes.

Here’s where everyone is moving – and why

The verbal jabs and heckling associated with question period likely won’t change, but they’ll play out in new chambers.

Take a look inside West Block

The new House of Commons is located in what used to be the outdoor courtyard of the West Block building and features a stunning glass ceiling.

The building also houses the committee rooms where MPs will discuss future government policies and hear witness testimony.

A new home for the Senate

For years, senators did their work down the hall from MPs. Now they’re down the road.

The Red Chamber has been temporarily relocated to the former Government Conference Centre, which originally was built as a train station.


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


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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