Church partially collapses after being struck by lightning

Friday, May 28, 2010 | CBC News

Rubble from the collapsed bell tower lies on the sidewalk and road in front of Knox United Church. (CBC)
One of Winnipeg’s oldest churches has partially collapsed after being struck by lightning.

Just before 7 a.m. Friday, in the middle of a thunderstorm roaring through the city, a Tyndall stone spire at the top of the Knox United Church bell tower crashed to the ground.

It slammed into the church stairs then rumbled into the street, narrowly missing a parked car.

The base of the collapsed spire is also at risk of falling. (CBC)

No one was injured but a daycare located in another part of the church has been evacuated.

Staff and some children were inside at the time of the lightning strike but the daycare is well back of bell tower area.

Those people have been moved to another building down the block from the church on the same street.

Emergency crews are on the scene and have closed the roadway near the intersection of Edmonton Street and Qu’Appelle Avenue.

It is expected the area will be blocked for the entire day as fire officials are concerned another section might also topple.

Motorists are asked to avoid the area and take alternate routes if possible.

Knox United Church, as it appeared before lightning struck down one of its spires. (Province of Manitoba)

Knox Rev. Bill Millar said it is too early to determine what will happen with Sunday’s church services or any of the numerous other programs the church hosts for new Canadians and area residents.

“The big thing [is] the building itself isn’t collapsing. I mean, this is serious, but the most important thing is nobody was hurt,” he said.

“People sit on the steps all the time, you know, so there was nobody hurt.”

Originally built between 1914 and 1918 as a Presbyterian church, Knox is currently the largest United church in Manitoba.

It was one of the last great building projects undertaken in Manitoba during the Edwardian era, according to the Manitoba government, which designated it a provincial heritage site in 1990.

Jean Chrétien defends political class

Go to The Globe and Mail

Ottawa — The Canadian Press

May 25, 2010

‘They work hard, these guys,’ former PM says, lamenting bum rap given to politicians as his official portrait is unveiled

Jean Chrétien thinks politicians are getting a bum rap from ungrateful and cynical Canadians.

He’s using today’s unveiling of his official prime ministerial portrait to defend the honour and achievements of Canada’s political class.

“They work hard, these guys,” the self-described “little guy from Shawinigan” said in an interview shortly before the portrait ceremony.

“And you know, they are an honest crowd and everybody pictures them as a bunch of crooks. It’s very unfair.”

Public cynicism has mounted recently amid outrage over controversies like the Guergis-Jaffer affair and MPs’ refusal to allow the auditor general to scrutinize their expenses.

Mr. Chrétien blamed “gotcha” journalism for the cynicism.

“Trivia is what attract the attention. The debate is very rarely now on policies, it’s always on all sorts of gotcha politics because the media need gotcha politics. They need blood.”

But he conceded politicians share the blame for bringing themselves into disrepute.

“Members too, they’re stupid because they play the game. You know, they attack each other for nothing.”

Mr. Chrétien suggested Canadians need a dose of perspective. He compared Canada’s progress over the last 70 years with that of Argentina, a country of similar population and potential as Canada in 1940.

Whereas Argentina has weathered “all sort of dictatorships and coups and what not,” since then, Canada has become a stable, prosperous democracy with a standard of living six times higher.

And all that occurred “with these terrible politicians,” he noted dryly.

“Imagine if they had been good.”

Mr. Chrétien said having his official portrait hung alongside those of the “great and not-so-great” prime ministers since Confederation is the “crowning of my career.” And he makes no apologies for having devoted most of his adult life to politics.

“In spite of all the bad stories about politicians, I’m very proud of my career because we feel that we made a lot of changes during the 40 years I was on the Hill,” he said.

“It’s 47 years ago that I arrived on the Hill and I never expected to be hung in there. I had no commitment with destiny. I never told my professor or my mother that I would be prime minister.”

Mr. Chrétien was known as a “happy warrior,” who used humour and his trademark, lop-sided grin to disarm opponents and charm voters.

His portrait, however, shows the serious side of the 76-year-old. Ottawa artist Christian Nicholson has portrayed an unsmiling Mr. Chrétien, holding his spectacles in one hand.

“I wanted to have a picture that is very simple, minimalist type of thing,” Mr. Chrétien said.

“You know, me . . . What you see is what you get.”

Mix-up leads to cremation of wrong baby


May 25, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The body of a 14-month-old boy was cremated by mistake in a morgue mix-up, leaving distraught family members critical of the coroner, who has apologized, placed an employee on leave and began making procedural changes.

An initial review indicated the body of Jaylen Talley was released to the wrong funeral home because a forensic technician did not follow proper procedures, which include opening the body bag, looking at the body and matching up paperwork with toe and ankle tags, Franklin County Coroner Jan Gorniak said.

The cause of death is still pending for Jaylen, whose family said he died May 18 after suffering breathing difficulties since birth. The body was picked up from the morgue the following day and cremated in place of a dead 22-day-old boy whose family wanted cremation.

Gorniak learned of the mistake Sunday after her office called to find out when the funeral home would be picking up the body of the younger child and was told it had already done so.

Jaylen’s relatives had been planning to bury him in a tiny white tuxedo. The coroner went to their home to explain what had happened.

“I cannot imagine what this family is going through,” Gorniak told WBNS-TV, her voice choking with emotion. “Sorry doesn’t cover it at all, and obviously I’m deeply sorry. I offered them my condolences. But I know that’s not enough.”

Family members expressed shock and demanded that the coroner change the way her office handles things.

“They really just hurt my son. They really just put him in some fire and burned my son,” Jaylen’s mother, Jamere Sydnor, told WSYX-TV, tears rolling down her cheeks. “It’s like he got killed twice.”

The coroner said she put the forensic technician on paid leave pending the results of an investigation. The coroner’s office on Tuesday implemented a new requirement that bodies be photographed as they are discharged, to help ensure that the body bags are opened and their contents checked, Gorniak said.

Dan Pallay, the owner of the funeral home that cremated Taylen, said members of his staff were unaware that the body was that of an older child and not a 22-day-old infant because they did not open the bag out of respect for the deceased.

Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth

New York Times

May 3, 2007

Escape from the Gender Ghetto


The very same morning that I began to read the new essay collection: “One of the Guys: Women as Aggressors and Torturers,” which examines the role of women in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and in other instances of American military abuse, I came upon a man out for a walk with his baby daughter. He was wearing shorts; she was in a sunsuit. He wore a hat; she wore a bonnet. He carried her in a BabyBjörn-like-thing on his chest, and as he reached down for a moment to hike up her bottom (reassuring himself, I imagine, that she was still hanging in there), he looked so blissfully happy, so beatific, in fact, that I had to give him a smile.

He smiled back – the somewhat sheepish grin of someone caught in a moment of guilty pleasure – and I thought, what a blessing it is for this man to be able to be a father today.

In the foreword to “One of the Guys” progressive icon Barbara Ehrenreich writes about how seeing the now-infamous Abu Ghraib photographs “broke [her] heart.” The sight of Lynndie England, with a naked Iraqi man on a leash, and Specialist Sabrina Harman, “smiling an impish little smile and giving the thumbs-up sign from behind a pile of hooded, naked Iraqi men,” she writes, shattered her “illusions about women.” While she “never believed that women were innately gentler and less aggressive than men,” she says, she did believe that “women were morally superior to men,” due in part to the fact that “women do most of the caring work in our culture.” The presence of women in our armed forces, she had hoped, “would over time change the military, making it more respectful of other people and cultures, more capable of genuine peacekeeping.” (The essay was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.)

How odd, I thought, reading this.
Continue reading

Brasilia: A ‘Radiant City’ Vision in Concrete –Oscar Niemeyer’s work continues to enchant and appall students of architecture and urban planning.

By Benjamin Schwarz

It was a heroic and inhuman scheme. From 1956 to 1960, Brazil—in an effort to cleanse itself of its colonial past, to flee its burgeoning social afflictions, and to fulfill its long-prophesied emergence as a great power—conjured a new capital, Brasília, on an empty plateau in an endless savanna 3,500 feet above sea level. The city’s planner, the architect Lúcio Costa, found the setting “excessively vast … out of scale, like an ocean, with immense clouds moving over it.” No invented city could accommodate itself to this wilderness. Instead, Costa declared, Brasília would create its own landscape: he devised a city on a scale as daunting as the setting itself. In conformity not with its environment but with those modernist utopian theories of the rational, sterile “Radiant City,” Brasília was not to grow organically but to be born, Costa said, “as if she had been fully grown”—he even refused to visit the site, because he didn’t want reality to impinge on the purity of the original design. Brasília was the first place built to be approached by jet, and the city’s roads—inspired by Robert Moses’s deadening expressways belting New York’s outer boroughs—were like runways. Here was a city without a traffic light, containing thoroughfares without crosswalks. The result was (or should have been) obvious, as Simone de Beauvoir reported after visiting Brasília the year it was inaugurated:

What possible interest could there be in wandering about? … The street, that meeting ground of … passers-by, of stores and houses, of vehicles and pedestrians … does not exist in Brasília and never will.

Today, the city is quite correctly regarded as a colossally wrong turn in urban planning—but Brasília, paradoxically, contains some of the most graceful modernist government buildings ever produced. All were designed by Oscar Niemeyer (now 100 years old and still working), who helped select Costa’s master plan and who was the creative influence behind the building and shape of the city. Both facts must be considered in any effort to reckon the legacy of Niemeyer—the last great architect of the modernist ascendancy—and his relationship to modernism, a relationship that both spurred and warped his creative achievement.

A crop of books published over the past few years illuminates both Brazil’s extraordinary achievements in modern architecture from the 1930s to the 1960s (Lauro Cavalcanti’s clear and intelligent When Brazil Was Modern and the ambitious if at times pretentious Brazil’s Modern Architecture, edited by Elisa­betta Andreoli and Adrian Forty) and specific aspects of the career of Niemeyer, an architect revered in his country as its greatest living cultural treasure (Oscar Niemeyer: Houses, by Alan Hess, and Modernist Paradise, by Michael Webb, an opulent explication of the only Niemeyer-designed residence built in the United States). These join such older works as Brazil Builds, the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal introduction to Brazilian modernism; Henrique E. Mindlin’s Modern Architecture in Brazil; Norma Evenson’s Two Brazilian Capitals: Architecture and Urbanism in Rio and Brasília; David Underwood’s Oscar Niemeyer and Brazilian Free-Form Modernism; and Niemeyer’s self-indulgent but (intentionally and otherwise) revealing memoir, The Curves of Time.

None of these books approaches Sty­liane Philippou’s forthcoming Oscar Niemeyer: Curves of Irreverence, one of the richest historical, cultural, and aesthetic assessments of an architect’s work I’ve read. To be sure, Philippou, a British architect and architectural historian, indulges in some academic gobbledygook (that marker of hip academese, “the Other,” makes its appearance far too often), but in authoritatively assessing Niemeyer’s work and its place in architectural and Brazilian cultural history, she has marshaled such diverse subjects as 18th-century colonial Portuguese architecture, bossa nova, the topography and cultural geography of Copacabana Beach, and the design-selection process for the UN headquarters. The book is also a marvel of presentation. Philippou fluidly explicates her narrative and arguments with detailed site diagrams and maps; drawings, plans, and elevations; photographic comparisons of buildings historically linked to Niemeyer’s; and her own lavish, precise photography of Niemeyer’s work, including both general views and details.

Although he was a disciple of Le Corbusier’s and clearly embraced modernism, Niemeyer, with his love of curves and organic shapes, offered a jaunty alternative to the geometric severity of the International Style (a “monotonous and repetitive architecture … so easy to create that it quickly spread from the United States to Japan,” as he characterizes it in his own, often repetitive, memoir). Confirming Niemeyer’s assertions, Philippou repeatedly shows how eroticism inflected Niemeyer’s approach—“form follows feminine” is one of the architect’s many, somewhat tiresome, pronouncements—and how that approach quite literally grew out of his girl-watching (something of a dirty old man, he’s forever explaining his architecture by sketching women’s breasts and backsides for mock-scandalized journalists). He was obviously also inspired by the undulating beaches and topography of his native Rio de Janeiro (his longtime studio, in the penthouse of an Art Deco landmark building, takes in famously sweeping views of Copacabana and Sugarloaf).

Philippou demonstrates that Niemeyer’s highest achievements are profoundly informed by a Brazilian aesthetic, which has long made sinuous forms a basic element of its vocabulary (see the mosaic pavements of alternating black and white waves, both from the colonial period and, on Copacabana, from the early 20th century). True, since the 1960s Niemeyer’s penchant for curves and, worse, flying-saucer shapes has gotten the better of him (a penchant he could indulge because of engineering advances in his favorite medium, reinforced concrete, that increased the plasticity of that already famously plastic material)—too many of his later buildings, such as the 1996 Museum of Contemporary Art in Niterói, smack of kitschy Futurama. Niemeyer’s work was best when Brazilian idioms tempered his modernism—and when modernism’s crispness tempered his tendency toward bio­morphic and sculptural excess. Philippou makes this point clear in her brilliant, meticulous analysis of Niemeyer’s first masterpiece, the 1943 Ministry of Education and Public Health in Rio (the design team was made up of Brazilian architects, and Le Corbusier himself served as a consultant, but Niemeyer led the group and designed the project’s key elements). Hailed by MoMA upon its completion as “the most beautiful government building in the Western hemisphere,” the ministry boasts the first use of the curtain wall—which would soon be ubiquitous, as the defining feature of the glass boxes of the International Style (think Lever House). Philippou reveals the peculiarly Brazilian admixture of this modernist masterpiece: the tropical rooftop and street-level gardens featuring organically curved paths and tropical plants (up until this time, native plants were considered unworthy of serious landscape design); the Moorish-Portuguese tiles used on the building’s wall mosaic (itself a somewhat unmodernist embellishment); the brises-soleil inspired by wooden Brazilian colonial Baroque antecedents (to this day, they obviate the use of air-conditioning in this tropical high-rise); the free-form designs on the carpeting (a high level of detail, craft, and finish characterize this and all of Niemeyer’s best buildings, although those qualities are hardly typical of all of his work); and the shady plaza, created by cylindrical columns, which unifies the building site with the parallel streets abutting it and is reminiscent of the cloisters of 17th-century Brazilian monasteries.

All of Niemeyer’s early masterpieces—the Brazilian Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the Casino in Pampulha, buildings that married the precision and clarity of the International Style with sinuous, organic lines; the Boavista Bank building in Rio, whose undulating glass-brick walls covering its rear and lateral facades created “one of the most beautiful internal spaces of modern architecture,” as Cavalcanti correctly avers; his house at Canoas, which roofed a slick glass pavilion with a seemingly weightless, free-form concrete slab resembling a lily pad, thus creating a shady overhang that allowed the outdoors and indoors to merge—fused modernism’s astringent grace with a sauntering, often lyrical style. That approach would culminate in Niemeyer’s three best “palaces” in Brasília: the presidential residence, the Foreign Ministry, and the Supreme Court. These seats of power were in fact inspired by houses (fazendas, those colonial Brazilian, low-slung plantation houses with their colonnaded verandas), which helps account for their unintimidating grandeur. With their poised and delicate colonnades and their almost buoyant, paper-thin platforms and roofs, these limpid buildings fairly float upon their sites. They’re at once monumental and ethereal, as Philippou makes clear:

The Supreme Court’s columns em­-brace the glass box … like pleats fluidly unfolding and refolding, carrying the eye along. Their marble cladding touches the earth at one infinitely small point … The fluid, fan-like effect is best appreciated when walking along the verandas: the great white marble leaves open and close languorously, in slow, perpetual motion, seemingly the source of the cool breeze under the large roof overhangs.

These imperishable achievements, though, hardly make up for the rest of the city. In Brasília, too many of Niemeyer’s other sculptural edifices (he designed all of the major government buildings, and much of the housing) are soullessly set in immense paved fields that offer few places to sit and little refuge from the blinding sun, save for the colossal shadows cast by the buildings themselves. To be sure, Brasília’s reputation is in part the result of its history: although built by a progressive and more or less democratic government, it became the seat of an authoritarian regime four years after it was completed, and remained so for 21 years (to Zaha Hadid, Brasília means “all those wide streets for the army to drive through”). But it is an awful city—even juror Ada Louise Huxtable’s tribute accompanying Niemeyer’s citation for the 1988 Pritzker Prize (the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for architecture) had to acknowledge Brasília’s horrendous error. With Brasília, Niemeyer seemed to have embraced, or at least acceded to, the worst aspect of architectural modernism—its antiseptic urban theory—and in the post-Brasília period, when his work has too often been hokily sculptural or frighteningly overscaled (see his University of Constantine in Algeria, or his Maison de la Culture in Le Havre), he seems to have forsaken its best aspects: the grace and lucidity born of its restraint.

Justice Served, in the Michael Bryant case

Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits 

National Post editorial board

May 25, 2010

The details of Darcy Allen Sheppard’s death have lost none of their shock value in the nine months since his fatal altercation with former Ontario Cabinet minister Michael Bryant on Bloor Street in midtown Toronto. A fairly standard cyclist-vs.-motorist road rage incident quickly degenerated to the point that Mr. Sheppard was reaching into Mr. Bryant’s convertible, then clutching onto it as it accelerated into an oncoming lane, eventually dislodging him on a fire hydrant.

At the time, militant cyclists took to the streets declaring Mr. Sheppard’s death a “hate crime”; less militant cyclists insisted the altercation proved the need for more and better bike lanes, as if urban planning can anticipate and prevent outbursts of primal madness; and class warriors sneeringly predicted the interests of an anonymous, hardworking 33-year-old bicycle courier would be no match for those of the dapper and well-connected Mr. Bryant. We’re sure the latter will feel vindicated by yesterday’s announcement that all charges against Mr. Bryant have been withdrawn.

They were withdrawn for a very good reason, however: There was no reasonable prospect of Mr. Bryant being convicted of criminal negligence causing death or dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. As became clear during the investigation, Mr. Sheppard instigated the altercation. He was extremely drunk, with a blood alcohol level of 0.183. And had the charges against Mr. Bryant proceeded, the court would have heard that Mr. Sheppard had exhibited “an escalating cycle of aggressiveness toward motorists.”

Yes, Mr. Bryant panicked. We’re sure he’d handle the situation very differently if only he had the chance. But for people to suggest that his reaction is worthy of serious criminal sanctions is to assume that they would behave differently in the same circumstances. Alas, nobody knows just how their fight-or-flight response is wired until it’s put to the test.

This newspaper has little in common with Mr. Bryant’s or his Liberal party’s oppressively nannyish brand of governance. It was particularly ironic to see a former attorney-general at the mercy of a justice system that he and Premier Dalton McGuinty had shamelessly abused for political gain — for example, with their nonsensical pit-bull ban and street-racing law. But no one’s career should be derailed forever by an incident such as this — there but for the grace of God go we all.

Mr. Bryant should be judged in future — politically or otherwise — according to his merits, or lack thereof.

National Post

The Star

DiManno: The 28 seconds that changed Michael Bryant’s life

‘What I will never forget is the unnecessary tragedy of that night,’ said the former attorney general

Wed May 26 2010

Live by rage, die from rage.

Darcy Allan Sheppard was a quixotic hothead consumed by demons from his awful past. But it was the devil inside him on the night of Aug. 31, 2009, that caused his death — and not the man who was once Ontario’s attorney general.

Michael Bryant was merely the hapless vehicle of fate unfolding on a hot summer’s night when all the stars aligned so tragically.

Deranged cyclist meets car. Car bumps infuriated cyclist. The cyclist was the provocateur. The driver was the terrified and disoriented wheelman.

While no conclusive videotape exists of what happened in that confrontation, the déjà vu of it, of Sheppard’s documented fury towards cars and motorists, was captured by an office worker with a camera in a nearby building during a previous and eerily similar altercation: Sheppard, enraged, assaulting a driver only three weeks earlier, spitting on the car, jumping onto the vehicle, and hanging onto the window.

“The photographs clearly show Mr. Sheppard angrily confronting the driver of the vehicle and at one point, hanging onto the car with his hands inside the driver’s window and his feet on the car’s running board,” special prosecutor Richard Peck, a Vancouver lawyer brought in to handle the case, told court Tuesday as he entered the photographs (see below) as exhibits in a packed courtroom at Old City Hall.

Sheppard, a 33-year-old bike courier, may have been a sweet guy, as described by friends, with a humorous disposition. Yet he was also a profoundly violent alcoholic with a criminal record that included two assaults and threatening to kill a cab driver while armed with imitation firearms. Most germane to this case, Sheppard had been involved in six earlier duplicate incidents — four occurring last August — including one in which an elderly woman described him as a “mad man” and another earlier that night.

A night that began with Sheppard in the back of a police cruiser which had responded to a domestic call; a night that ended, an hour later, with Bryant in the back of a police cruiser, about to be charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

Both charges were formally withdrawn in court on Tuesday.

Just 28 seconds was the span of time that has forever linked Bryant and Sheppard, the former flung into a vortex of notoriety and the latter sprawled lifeless on the road.

“In 28 seconds, everything can change,” said Bryant.

What had never changed, regrettably, was the pattern of confrontations that Sheppard not only instigated but seemed hell-bent on ratcheting into crises — his “escalating cycle of aggressiveness toward motorists,” said Peck.

While such previous conduct, entered in court, was not meant to “demonize” Sheppard — nor would aggressive conduct on other occasions have justified committing a criminal offence against him — Peck insisted that a propensity for violence, substantiated by credible witnesses, was relevant in determining whether Bryant had been attacked, essentially making the victim the aggressor and Bryant legitimately entitled to self-defence.

This argument found little traction with Sheppard’s friends and defenders, with one declaring afterward that “it’s open season on cyclists.” But the prosecution’s methodical analysis of events found there was no reasonable prospect of conviction on either charge. Bryant might have conducted himself differently, changing the sad outcome, but under the stress and chaos of circumstances that Sheppard had orchestrated that night — his incendiary actions, his assault on the car, his apparent attempt to take control of the Saab convertible’s steering wheel — the alarmed driver’s response was understandable rather than criminal.

“Mr. Bryant was confronted by a man who, unfortunately, was in a rage,” Peck told reporters outside court. “In such circumstances, he was legally justified in trying to get away. The case could not be proved.”

That case was this:

Bryant and his wife, Susan Abramovitch, had been out for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary. They had not consumed any alcohol, unlike Sheppard who had fallen off the wagon after eight days of sobriety, his blood alcohol level measured after death at 0.183 — more than twice the legal limit for driving a car.

But he didn’t have a car, of course. He had a bicycle and Bryant first spotted him while driving homeward around 9.30 p.m., near the intersection of Bloor and Yonge Sts., noticing a cyclist impeding another motorist by doing figure 8s in front of the car. Other witnesses would later tell police that Sheppard had been throwing garbage onto the road and yelling at drivers.

For reasons of his own, Sheppard clearly did this a lot — menacing motorists and provoking altercations.

Bryant came to a red light between Bay St. and Avenue Rd., where traffic had narrowed to a single lane both ways because of construction. Sheppard, Bryant told investigators, cycled past his car on the driver’s side and then cut in front of the vehicle, stopping directly in front of the Saab.

Bryant hit the brakes and the car stalled. Attempts to get the car started again caused it to lurch forward. There appeared to be no contact between the car and Sheppard’s bike but the cyclist was livid and he was already yelling at Bryant.

He told police afterward he was in a state of panic when, restarting the vehicle, it accelerated unintentionally, shockingly, causing Sheppard to land on the hood. Bryant hit the brakes. Only 2.5 seconds elapsed from the time the vehicle started its forward motion and when it came to a halt, having travelled a total of about 30 feet. At this point, Sheppard was not seriously injured, said Peck.

As Bryant tried to reverse the car and go around the bicycle, Sheppard tossed a backpack that contained a heavy U-shaped lock at either the hood or windshield, and then jumped on the car as Bryant — fearing that he and his wife would be attacked — tried driving away. Sheppard hung on.

Defence lawyer Marie Henein described the scenario in court: “Darcy Allen would not let him go. . . . He ran at the car and jumped onto the driver’s side. Michael believed that he was trying to climb into the car. . . . Michael tried to stop the vehicle and push Darcy Sheppard off. Darcy Sheppard would not let go. Michael wasn’t strong enough to push the 6-foot-1 Darcy Sheppard off. During this attempt, Darcy Sheppard said, ‘You are not going to get away that easy.’

“Darcy Sheppard was deep into the vehicle with his entire upper torso leaning into the vehicle. At some point, Darcy Sheppard was laughing. Michael was desperately trying to control the steering wheel but was having difficulty doing so.”

In Peck’s words, Sheppard was “latched on” to the car.

Finally regaining some control of the steering wheel, Bryant drove into oncoming traffic to get away.

Henein: “Michael was in a complete state of panic and fear. Throughout this brief but frightening attack, Susan thought they were both going to die.”

While some witnesses claimed the car climbed the curb, forensic examination determined this had not happened. But with Sheppard still clinging to the vehicle, the Saab brushed within a foot of a sidewalk fire hydrant. That jostle caused Sheppard to be dislodged from his handhold, striking his head fatally on either the curb or a raised portion of the street.

Bryant drove on around the corner, stopped at the Hotel Hyatt and called 911, waiting for police to arrive.

Peck told court the point from where Sheppard jumped onto the Saab and the spot he fell off was about 100 metres. The fact Bryant drove away — though not far — did not support allegations of errors in judgment to establish criminal liability. The fear of an accused is relevant, Peck noted; Bryant and his wife were in a convertible, vulnerable, and fearful of Sheppard.

While police acted properly in laying the charges, Peck concluded, the couple’s explanation of events and evidence collected afterward demanded that those charges be withdrawn. There was never any special treatment for Bryant because the accused was a former attorney general, he added.

Sheppard — who’d knocked around some 30 foster homes in his childhood — may have had some justification for his chronic distemper. At least, that might help explain it. But his pitiable past was not relevant to what happened last Aug. 31, though the defence — and Bryant — was careful to reference the wretchedness of Sheppard’s difficult life.

“Twenty-eight seconds and you are in the criminal justice system,” said Henein. “Twenty-eight seconds and you’re in the back of a police car. Twenty-eight seconds and you don’t go home to your children.”

Twenty-eight seconds that Bryant wishes he could take back.

“I certainly have gone back and thought about events,” he said later. “Could I have done something differently? I never would have left the house that night. I might have lingered longer on the Danforth. I might have turned right on Bay. . . ”

There is plenty of . . . if only.

The man who once appointed judges said he has been humbled’ by a different and intimate experience of the justice system.

“I now have a unique perspective, from its highest pedestal as attorney general, to its pillory, as a defendant cuffed in the back of a squad car, accused of two very serious offences involving the tragic death of a man.”

The system, he emphasized, had bent over backward to avoid any hint of impropriety. “It can bend in no other direction. It cannot and did not.”

He has no axe to grind against police or the meticulous investigation. “What I will never forget is the unnecessary tragedy of that night. A young man is dead and for his family and friends that remains the searing memory. To them I express my sympathies and sincere condolences. I have grieved that loss and I always will.”

Bryant will return now to his job with a law firm.

“This has turned out to be a tale about addiction, mental health, an independent justice system, a tragic death and a couple out on their wedding anniversary with the top down. It is not a morality play about bikes versus cars, couriers versus drivers, or about class, privilege and politics.

“It’s just about how, in 28 seconds, everything can change. And thereafter time marches on. And so will I.”

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.


Darcy Allan Sheppard taunted other drivers before Michael Bryant: photos


Shannon Kari  May 25, 2010

Darcy Allan Sheppard, the bike courier who died after an encounter with Michael Bryant on Bloor Street, had a documented history of clashes with drivers.

On Aug. 11, 2009 — a few short weeks before his death — Mr. Sheppard had an altercation with the driver of a BMW. Photographs of the incident were taken by an onlooker in a nearby office.

Darcy Allan Sheppard


The man pictured, later identified as Darcy Sheppard, yells at him just because you drive a fancy car you think you can drive along the wrong side of the road.

The driver was in the oncoming lane to avoid parked delivery vehicles on a small street in Toronto’s financial district where couriers gather. At one point, Mr. Sheppard allegedly tried to reach in and grab the keys, hit the driver and grab his earpiece.

Darcy Allan Sheppard


The man shoved Sheppard out of the car. That led to Sheppard allegedly making threats, spitting on the car, banging on it and jumping up on to it, before the motorist was able to drive away.

Darcy Allan Sheppard


Conrad Black’s appeal may change U.S. law

Conrad Black arrives for his sentencing hearing in Chicago December 10, 2007

Theresa Tedesco Chief Business Correspondent,  National Post

May 21, 2010

When Conrad Black entered the U.S. justice system, he was a little-known Canadian-born press baron snared by America’s renowned white-collar crime dragnet. Three years later, however, the noted historian could be on the verge of leaving an indelible mark on the way that country prosecutes white-collar criminals in the future.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to release its highly anticipated decision on the honest services statute by the end of June and many legal observers, including those who prosecuted Lord Black under the controversial law, predict the top court will strike down the 28-word act as unconstitutionally vague. “I really do believe that the

convictions on honest services violations for Conrad Black are going to be vacated,” says Bennett L. Gershman, a law professor at Pace University in New York. “I think the

entire [Supreme] Court does not like this law.”

Added Eric Sussman, the former U.S. assistant attorney who led the trial against Lord Black in Chicago: “It seems unlikely they’ll reject the appeal [by Black] out of hand.”

Indeed, an appeal that was once widely dismissed is increasingly the subject of legal speculation it may succeed.

The stakes are high not only for Lord Black, who could see his fraud convictions overturned and his 6.5-year prison sentenced reduced, if not eliminated entirely. If he prevails, the repercussions could be far reaching, as countless honest-services convictions may be overturned and hundreds more thrown into question.

“There is certainly the possibility that plenty of cell doors can and will open as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling because it has become obvious to all following these cases, that the Supreme Court believes that the government has grossly misapplied the statute,” says Jacob S. Frenkel, a former federal criminal prosecutor and former SEC enforcement lawyer.

“It is certainly a much less lonely battle than it was for the first few years, and I am cautiously optimistic that justice will prevail, but take nothing for granted and am ready for anything that comes,” Lord Black said in an email to the Post. Although he founded the National Post, and continues to be a columnist, he has no official connection to the paper.

He declined to comment further until the release of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Lord Black is appealing his three convictions on mail and wire fraud, which also include separate counts of honest services.

The former chief executive of Hollinger International Inc. was also convicted on one count of obstruction of justice in relation to his removal of 13 boxes from Hollinger’s downtown Toronto office during the criminal investigation.

The former chief executive of Hollinger International Inc., a Chicago-based publishing company that owned the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post, the Daily Telegraph of London and hundreds of community papers in North America, was convicted by a jury in 2007, along with three former senior Hollinger executives Jack Boultbee, Peter Atkinson and Mark Kipnis, of depriving the company’s shareholders of their faithful services as corporate officers.

The 65-year-old, currently serving a 78-month sentence in a Florida penitentiary, began mobilizing a legal fight to overturn his guilty verdicts soon after entering the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in March 2008.

After a lower appeals court upheld his convictions, he was granted the rare privilege to be heard by the nine judges on the Supreme Court in 2009 – one of only about 100 of the 75,000 petitions received annually by the high court.

Soon after, similar appeals by Jeffrey Skilling, former CEO of Enron Corp., and Alaska state legislator Bruce Weyhauser followed.

Generally, the honest services law requires that public and corporate officials act in the best interests of their stakeholders. Originally designed to prevent government officials from using their positions for personal gain, it has also become an essential tool for U.S. prosecutors to combat corporate fraud.

The law makes it illegal for public officials and corporate executives to engage in activities that deprive those they serve of the “intangible right to honest services.”

U.S. law enforcement officials have increasingly relied on the statute’s lower burden of proof to convince juries that a defendant has deprived others of their honest services, rather than using other more specific anti-corruption laws with higher evidentiary thresholds.

Among them, Mr. Skilling, who was convicted in 2006 of a bevy of frauds, including honest services, after the spectacular collapse of the energy company in 2001. Mr. Weyrauch, a former member of the Alaska House of Representatives, was charged with honest services and mail fraud after the U.S. government accused him of failing to disclose his attempts to procure future employment from an oil company before voting for legislation that would benefit the company. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been indicted under the controversial statute, while former New York state senator Joseph Bruno was convicted on two felony counts of theft of honest services last December. He is awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling before starting his two-year jail sentence.

“It’s safe to assume that the Court considers extending honest services fraud into the corporate boardroom was an overbroad and misapplication of the statute,” said Mr. Frenkel, now a securities lawyer based in Potomac, Md. “The lesson here is prosecutors should not be getting cute and look to over extend the laws on the books.”

As a result, U.S. law enforcement authorities are concerned that a potent weapon in their anti-corruption arsenal is in jeopardy, as are possibly scores of convictions secured with it.

Critics argue the honest services statute is too vague and open to interpretation, and that it has been used to criminalize minor transgressions and ethical violations.

Lord Black argued this point when he appealed his case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in 2008. But the 11 appellate judges upheld his convictions.

To the surprise of most legal experts, his last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court had greater currency with some of the jurists who are highly skeptical of the honest services law.

Earlier this year, Justice Antonin Scalia described it as “mush” and said it “invites abuse by headline-grabbing prosecutors in pursuit of local officials, state legislators and corporate CEOs who engage in any manner of unappealing or ethically questionable conduct.”

Justice Stephen Breyer criticized the statute as one “that picks up 80 to 100 million people” and observed that a “citizen is supposed to be able to understand the criminal law.”

Chief Justice John Roberts noted that if a person is not able to understand what is legal and what is not, the law is invalid. The broad wording of the statute makes it difficult to know with certainty what conduct runs afoul of the law.

That failing, according to Mr. Gershman, violates due process and makes the act unconstitutional. As a result, the convictions “would be vacated because you can’t be convicted under a law that is unconstitutional,” he argued.

While it was widely recognized that Justice Scalia had issues with the anti-corruption law, many are surprised the criticism “went deeper,” according to Mr. Sussman.

“I don’t think that any of the people who were dealing with it and arguing it [the Black case] felt that the legal issues we were dealing with were the issues that would one day be addressed by the Supreme Court,” he said.

Mr. Frenkel concurs.

“Everyone’s collective analysis previously was that it would fail on appeal,” he said. “No one could have suspected the Supreme Court collectively would have viewed the application of the statute as misapplied and overbroad.”

Even so, John Coffee, a law professor at Columbia University in New York City, predicts “it won’t be unanimous, I think it’ll be a split decision.”

Mr. Black and two of his co-defendents want the honest services convictions overturned arguing they intended no economic harm to the company when they received US$5.5-million in management fees. The money was collected as non-compete payments and crafted to receive favorable tax treatment in Canada. (Mr. Atkinson did not participate in the appeal to avoid delaying his transfer to a Canadian prison.)

However, Mr. Sussman and his fellow U.S. prosecutors successfully argued at the Chicago trial that the millions were stolen because they belonged to the company and its shareholders.

During the oral appeal at the Supreme Court last December, Lord Black’s lawyer argued the Chicago jury was given flawed instructions when it was told the former Hollinger executives could be found guilty if they merely failed to provide honest services to the company’s shareholders.

Miguel Estrada, Lord Black’s Washington-based lawyer, argued there was no evidence that Hollinger had suffered economic loss because of the non-compete and management fees received by Lord Black and his co-defendants.

Mr. Estrada urged the top court to strike down the honest services law because it was “vague, amorphous and open ended.”

While Lord Black’s appeal challenged only the fraud convictions, his legal team served notice in court filings that a victory on that issue would also require a reversal of the obstruction of justice judgment.

Some legal observers predict that may be a long shot.

“The majority of white collar prosecutions are ones in which people go to prison not for the original crime, but for what they did after the criminal investigation began,” observes Mr. Coffee.

Mr. Frenkel suggests that “Conrad Black’s case could be Martha Stewart revisited in that obstruction becomes the real reason he goes to jail, not the underlying conduct.”

For his part, Mr. Sussman isn’t betting that Lord Black’s criminal slate will be wiped clean.

The former prosecutor turned criminal defence lawyer anticipates the Supreme Court will remand Lord Black’s case to the lower appellate court for a “harmless error” review to determine how the top court’s ruling affects the rest of Lord Black’s convictions.

“I would be very surprised if the Supreme Court makes the final decision in terms of vacating the convictions in Mr. Black’s case. Even if they vacate the honest services convictions, the question still remains what happens to the mail and wire fraud? They are separate even though the same count,” he says.

Even if Lord Black prevails at the Seventh Circuit, he could still find himself before federal Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided over his trial, for re-sentencing on the obstruction charge. At that time, the U.S. government can decide to retry him strictly on the mail and wire fraud.

Mr. Frenkel says that’s unlikely to happen as long as the obstruction conviction remains. “As long as one conviction survives the ultimate appeal [Supreme Court], it’s not good use of government resources to retry an entire case,” he explains.

Mr. Gershman agreed, citing a legal doctrine that discourages vindictive prosecution as retaliation against defendants after they’ve raised legitimate claims on appeal and won.

“It strikes me if their convictions are vacated because this law is invalid, I don’t know that there’s any basis for further prosecution legitimately,” he said.

Those future machinations will begin to take shape once the Supreme Court has rendered its verdict.

“There’s a great deal of uncertainty right now,” said Daniel Petrocelli, the high-profile lawyer who argued the Supreme Court appeal for Mr. Skilling. “And all we can do is wait patiently, or even impatiently.”

Explaining the honest services law Conrad Black is appealing against

Conrad Black leaves the Derksen Federal Courthouse after being sentenced to 6-1/2 years in prison.

By Jim Middlemiss

Not just Conrad Black is waiting for the United States Supreme Court to rule on the validity of his honest-services conviction.

U.S. defence lawyers, prosecutors, judges and perhaps hundreds of white-collar criminals will all be watching their country’s top court rule on a trilogy of cases that attack Chapter 18, section 1346 of the U.S. Code, which makes it a crime to use the mail or wire services in a scheme that deprives another of the “intangible right of honest services.”

Some judges have put off sentencing those convicted of charges under section 1346 until the top court rules. “There are a whole bunch of cases that are in limbo waiting for this decision,” said Eric Breslin, a partner at Duane Morris in Philadelphia, who defends white-collar criminals.

“This is a very, very hot area in federal criminal practice in the United States. This is the opinion from the [U.S.] Supreme Court that, on a substantive criminal law basis, everyone is waiting for.”

Lord Black, along with former Hollinger executives Jack Boultbee and Mark Kipnis, have appealed their convictions under section 1346 to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court is considering similar challenges from Jeffrey Skilling, the former president of Enron Corporation, and former Alaska state politician, Bruce Weyhrauch, who faces charges of soliciting legal work from a company that sought lower oil taxes from the state legislature. In the Weyhrauch case, a district court judge ordered evidence excluded from his trial related to an honest-services charge, and an appeals court ruled it was admissible, setting up the Supreme Court showdown.

Honest services is a quirky law originally conceived to keep public officials honest. But it has been used as a catchall to put white-collar criminals behind bars for various deceits. Lawyers and judges have grown increasingly critical of the law, calling it broad and vague. Just this week, federal prosecutors were reportedly looking at the law as a way of going after top Catholic church officials in Los Angeles, for covering up abuse of minors by priests.

In a 2003 case, federal appellate Judge Barrington Parker Jr. wrote: “It is quite clear that the statute imposes insufficient constraint on prosecutors, gives insufficient guidance to judges, and affords insufficient notice to defendants.”

The Supreme Court could choose to strike down the law, which could lead to those currently in jail for honest-services charges being able to seek release. The court could also uphold the law or it could seek to limit its reach by putting in restrictions on how it is applied or interpreted.

In the Black case, the charge centres on non-compete payments executives received in the sale of publications. Under Canadian law, such payments were tax-free at the time of the sale.

The jury dismissed the bulk of charges against the men which were grounded in fraud involving theft of money, but found them guilty on three counts of wire fraud for failing to provide the intangible right of honest services.

The problem with the law, said Jonathan Marcus, one of the lawyers who intervened in the Black appeal on behalf of the U.S. Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, is that it “gives prosecutors too much leeway and too much latitude. It’s vague and doesn’t provide clear guidance to the average citizen about what’s prohibited and what’s not. It’s very vulnerable to being invalidated.”

Lord Black’s lawyers have argued that “the government has stretched this malleable phrase, unknown in the common law, far beyond the public corruption context that gave rise to its enactment, treating the statute as ‘nothing more than an invitation for federal courts to develop a common-law crime of unethical conduct.’”

The main thrust of the appeal is that the prosecutors had to show some sort of harm flowed to Hollinger, which the defence said the prosecutors failed to do and the jury instructions omitted. The government takes the position that it does not have to show economic harm to get a conviction.

The law was enacted in 1988 essentially to undo a Supreme Court ruling that the government could not use the fraud laws as they were worded at the time to prosecute schemes that deprived citizens of the intangible right to honest services.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has attacked the law, noting in its legal brief that it “imposes an unwarranted burden on American companies and executives who are entitled to fair notice of what conduct is and is not prohibited.”

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has joined the government’s side, arguing that imposing a harm test on the law would “deprive prosecutors of this critical tool,” which the group says is used to “indict public officials on the basis of their intentional non-disclosure of a material conflict of interest.”

The court must rule on the matter before its term recesses in June.

National Post