From Canada’s most notorious hitman to “meltdowns” in the Conservative party, we’ve selected some of the best long reads of the week on thestar.com.
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1. He’s Canada’s most notorious hitman. For the first time, he talks about his rise from tormented boy to infamous Mob killer
You could start the story in 1977: a mother and son, riding in an Oldsmobile east on Highway 401, Lake Ontario filling the horizon, placid and blue and still as a painting.
It might not seem an unusual scene, except that 15-year-old Ken Murdock is at the wheel. He has no licence, or experience, apart from driving his stepfather Bert’s car in the laneway since he was eight.
Ken’s mother urges him to pass a big rig he’s trailing; first time he has ever attempted a pass on a highway, and he pulls it off.
He is driving his mother three hours from Hamilton to Collins Bay federal prison in Kingston, to visit one of her boyfriends, John Akister. Big John goes six feet, 300 pounds, and is doing 11 years for armed robbery of a Hamilton bank.
He too is like a stepfather. Ken eventually starts calling him “the old man.”
You could start the story 10 years earlier.
A gunshot echoes.
2. ‘Meltdowns.’ ‘Smear jobs.’ ‘Harassment’: Michelle Rempel Garner is calling out her fellow Conservatives — and some are trying to kick her out of the party
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner walked away from running for leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party on Thursday, citing the inhospitable internal political environment she’d inherit and a lack of time to fix it.
But the high-profile MP is not returning to an overly hospitable federal political environment either.
The Star has learned some of her fellow Conservative MPs have repeatedly threatened to kick her out of caucus in recent months over how she’s handled everything from her advocacy of LGBTQ rights to the party’s ongoing leadership campaign.
In turn, she’s raised formal questions about why the conduct of members of Parliament toward one another isn’t covered by workplace harassment laws, and whether the law that allows MPs to kick one of their own out of caucus actually violates those laws.
3. Detained at Pearson airport. Searched for drugs. X-rayed. All he had was apples and milk. ‘I’m tired. There’s a flaw in the system’
It’s been more than three years since Royland Boothe was detained by border agents upon returning from a funeral in Jamaica, and he says he’s haunted by the sound of the metal gate shutting behind him that day.
It triggers the humiliation and anger the Newmarket man felt at being accused of smuggling narcotics, held in a cell the size of a three-piece bathroom, searched with his pants down and forced to defecate in an open space to provide a stool sample.
“It’s a traumatic experience. It’s torture,” paused the 37-year-old father of two, sobbing. “I do try to forget the sound of the metal gate closing, but the clink still echoes in my ears.”
Boothe, a telecom field technician, has filed a human rights complaint against the Canada Border Services Agency, claiming he was unfairly subjected to discriminatory searches and detention because of his race, ethnic origin, skin colour and religion.
The allegations are based on the events over an 18-hour span from his arrival at Pearson airport at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2019, to his release from the Etobicoke General Hospital, without charges, before 2:30 p.m. the next day.
4. Here’s why a Pierre Poilievre victory in the Conservative leadership race may not be a given
On the surface, the math looks obvious: Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre claims his supporters equal roughly half of the total number of people expected to be eligible to vote in the party’s leadership race.
So even though the ballots aren’t even in the mail and the victor won’t be announced until Sept. 10, is the race already over?
It’s not quite that simple.
Although Poilievre’s rivals cast doubts on his claim to having sold 311,000 party memberships, two party sources — each unaffiliated with a campaign but privy to the numbers — told the Star that figure is not far off the mark.
Those same sources said Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown’s claim of 150,000 memberships sold is overstated by tens of thousands, although the Brown campaign stands by its figure.
Then there are the wild cards.
5. Unvaccinated workers are heading back to the office — and it’s going to be awkward
The executives at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment were hardly the only bosses hyping their supersafe COVID-19 protocols.
Back in September, when then-CEO Michael Friisdahl touted the company’s vaccine mandate for staff as the “the ultimate safeguard” against the Delta variant and whatever came next, MLSE joined ranks with a wave of employers expelling workers who refused the jab.
But a safeguard from the virus, of course, wasn’t a safeguard from internal backlash.
Not long after the words left Friisdahl’s mouth, MLSE wound up in legal arbitration with a disgruntled workers’ union defending its furloughed members.
Several MLSE employees had been suspended without pay for refusing to disclose their vaccination status — one of them, an employee of 10 years who set up event spaces in Scotiabank Arena — and the union argued the mandates were an invasion of workers’ medical privacy.
6. This funeral director got permission to liquify bodies five years ago. Now, Ontario wants to ban the process
For funeral director Trevor Charbonneau, the decision to purchase a machine that turns a deceased body into liquid and bone didn’t come easy.
Charbonneau was committed to offering clients at Newcastle Funeral Home what he believes is a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional flame cremation, even though the process, called alkaline hydrolysis, requires a vessel that costs $150,000 (U.S.) — a significant purchase.
But months after Charbonneau received his crematorium licence in 2017 allowing him to use this machine, the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, which oversees the province’s funeral industry, inspected his establishment, issued numerous violations — none of which had to do with the actual machine — and then suspended his licence. The BAO also issued a notice that his licence would be revoked.
The BAO, overseen by registrar and CEO Carey Smith, said it believes the effluent from the kind of alkaline hydrolysis machine that Charbonneau purchased poses a public health risk.
7. Tears. Doubts. Death threats. And a job well done. COVID-19 warrior Peter Jüni bids Ontario adieu
It’s a beautiful day on a rooftop patio and Peter Jüni is screwing up his face, trying not to cry, writes Star columnist Bruce Arthur.
He is sitting next to flower boxes in the afternoon sunshine, and it’s gorgeous here. The now-famous doctor has accepted a job at Oxford, one of the world’s finest universities; his house is sold, his life is packed, his time as the face of Ontario’s independent volunteer science table is all but over.
On the way out of the restaurant later, a woman will walk up, clasp her hands and say “thank you, thank you,” and Jüni’s smile will be soft and polite, but here at the table, the 54-year-old is somewhere else: a bullied boy back in Switzerland afraid to say anything; a man who nearly lost a child and diagnosed a partner with the cancer that killed her; a doctor who took one day off in 2021, and not due to the death threats.
I mention it’s easier not to think about people who are less fortunate, especially sitting on a tony midtown patio in the sun: Why couldn’t you not care so much? That’s when Jüni screws up his face, the first time.
“I can’t,” he says, looking away, out over the balcony, into the city. “You see, I can’t.”
8. Toronto’s hot housing market is making divorce even messier — here’s how splitting couples can cope
Going through a divorce is a complicated and emotional experience enough as is, especially when children are involved.
But going through a divorce in Toronto’s hot housing market during a pandemic as mortgage interest rates rise? The challenges when it comes to how to afford to live apart can seem insurmountable.
While the average home price in Toronto has dropped by three per cent over the last three months — it still sits at a cool $1.21 million. The cost of renting, meanwhile, is steadily rising.
In the past, to deal with the matrimonial home — the legal term used to describe the home occupied by both spouses at the time of separation — one of the parties would often look to buy the other out.
But experts are warning those days may be behind us, at least for now — for many, rates will be too high to qualify for a mortgage, and high mortgages taken on during the past few years will make it almost impossible for one party to afford the home solo.
9. Many students fell behind in the pandemic but the youngest ones are hurting most. Learning loss is the least of it
Kindergarten teacher Amanda Ricketts-Fredrick worries some of her students won’t be ready for Grade 1.
By June, many in senior kindergarten know letter sounds, are starting to read, describe their emotions and play well with others.
But this year, that’s not the case. That’s because so much time was spent teaching them basic social and daily living skills — how to talk to other kids, put on their coat, climb stairs — essentials they had missed out on during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.
“The biggest thing we’re seeing in the classroom is lack of social dynamics,” said Ricketts-Fredrick. “Social and emotional skills — they don’t have them.”
As the academic year comes to an end next week with a renewed sense of normalcy, it may feel like the disruptions of two-and-a-half years of pandemic learning are over. But many students — especially in kindergarten but all the way to Grade 12 — are behind with remote learning, irregular semesters and COVID restrictions to blame.
10. Sprawl, highways and gravel pits: ‘Where I live, the Greenbelt is broken’
Kate Hepworth lives in the Greenbelt. But by her own account, you wouldn’t know it.
When she moved here years ago, she thought living in the Greenbelt would mean being surrounded by idyllic landscapes, quiet ravines and sprawling farmers’ fields.
But Hepworth says her neighbourhood in Caledon Village is increasingly a messy collision of urban development and rural living, where tree-lined homes face multi-lane roadways, back on to aggregate mines and are surrounded by more proposed developments than she thought possible for the protected area.
She says her community is being shaped by the Greenbelt, but not with what she would describe as good planning or good environmental policy in mind.
“The way we are approving projects in and around the Greenbelt seems haphazard and frantic. There is more land for sale up here than there isn’t. We don’t have sewage up here, but developments are being approved,” said Hepworth.
11. Inside Moscow’s growing darkness, as the war on Ukraine subtly changes the Russian capital
What’s it like in Moscow?
Over four years living in the Russian capital, I fielded the question countless times, writes Star reporter Allan Woods.
My pat answer went something like this: It’s a fascinating place with history and drama on every street corner. Clean and bright and safe on the surface, but with dark and menacing forces that emerged at the slightest hint of a challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s power.
Beyond the lights and glamour of the Bolshoi Theatre, human rights abuses. Barefaced repression at Pushkin Square demonstrations. The contrasts of a city where Detsky Mir(a popular children’s shopping mall) is separated from the Lubyanka (the headquarters of the FSB and the KGB before it) by just four lanes of traffic.
And this is to say nothing of the yawning gulf that exists between conditions in Moscow and the rest of Russia.
What is it like now, nearly four months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? After four months of economic sanctions meant to bring Putin to heel?
12. The world faces widespread starvation. Here’s how Canada is seizing an opportunity — and may help avert a crisis
It was a bittersweet moment when Saskatchewan-based Nutrien, the world’s largest fertilizer company, decided this month to put hundreds of millions of dollars into an expansion in an effort to feed the world in a time of crisis, writes columnist Heather Scoffield.
It was only when interim CEO Ken Seitz allowed himself to grasp that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was not going to end quickly that his company could justify investing in an aggressive increase in potash-based fertilizer, with the goal of boosting volumes by 40 per cent over 2020.
“We’re coming to the conclusion that this is going to be a challenge for years, and therefore Nutrien can step in and ramp up production, and get crop nutrients into the hands of more growers,” Seitz explains in an interview.
In theory at least, Canada has what it takes to solve some of the world’s most urgent problems right now, and to boost our own prosperity while we’re at it. We have an abundance of oil, gas, grain and fertilizer at a time when the world is desperate for more of all those things, and faces widespread poverty and starvation without them.
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