Saturday, January 16, 2010



I'm tired of watching the latest convicted criminals squirm their ways from the courtroom protected by gaggles of cops or court security.
Let the public and the media get up close and personal. Let the cameras capture every bead of sweat. Let the victims curse them. I guess it wouldn't be proper to spit on them, since that's a legal offence now because of myriad diseases, and a slap or punch wouldn't be proper legally either, but if some jerk who had done harm to my family walked by free until the appeal was finished, I would drop-kick them in the crotch.
And take the punishment with a grim smile.
I'm not talking about "perp" walks where the police tell the media about the movement of an accused and the cameras swarm in. A good idea, even if some suspects manage to hide their face with clothing provided by the cops.
Nope, I'm talking of the Ponzi schemers who run the gauntlet of public and media protected by a half-dozen burly men wearing police or security credentials. Let them fight their way through the crowd armed with the same arrogance that they used to fleece friends, charities and suckers.
Too often today we have judges and police brass who forget or ignore that publicity is one edge of the mighty swords of justice. If names and faces are not concealed from the public, there not only will be the punishment of embarrassment, but more people will know of the criminals and what they have been convicted of doing and may well come forward with new cases.
Since capital punishment is out despite the fact most Canadians want it to be an option for the judge in cases where there is no doubt at all, we have to make punishment for major crimes as onerous as possible. Since public flogging doesn't seem to be an option, let the public at least flog the convicted with abusive words, and there's no need for a security screen to get in the way.
And the sentences should be longer and tougher, but that's an issue for another column, or indeed an attractive plank for a political party in the next election.

Friday, January 15, 2010



So the cardiac surgeon is rushing to the hospital to operate on a critically-ill man and the radar cop slowly gives him a $300 ticket.
When that news came out in Toronto recently, we had justifiable rage from the public and the usual defence from police brass when they are caught in a situation where they are right legally but wrong just about everywhere else, including in common sense and compassion.
I was a police reporter in the last century but I don't need to have that experience to remind you, since most of us already know, that cruisers, ambulances and fire engines all speed in an emergency where lost seconds could mean lost lives.
It doesn't matter what the law is, all the people that we need when pain and fire and crooks strike go as fast as safety allows, and the public is grateful when they do.
We also know that no one can be stupider and more pig-headed than a cop who thinks his authority is being challenged. The problem, you see, is too many cops, like too many writers, could be a bit brighter. Several police chiefs have confided to me that what they need is more 25-year-old cops with 45-year-old heads. Enthusiasm tempered by experience.
So what should have happened when the cop pulled over the doc? I join those who think he should have shut down the profit machine known as a radar trap and escorted the heart surgeon to the hospital with siren blaring and lights flashing.
After all, if the cop at the hospital finds out from several people that the operation excuse was just a scam, he has more than just a $300 fine at his disposal. You could start with public mischief charges.
It used to be that a MD on the licence plate cut a lot of ice with cops. I know since my father and uncle were east-end doctors. But they could be a mixed blessing. Cops would go out of their way to ticket you if they were mad at their own doctor. You were often over-charged on car repairs. And the car could be a magnet for drug addicts.
I remember we finally left my uncle's car unlocked at the big house on Gerrard near Greenwood and put a sign in the window saying there were no drugs inside. So they started stealing the radio.
My father was famous in the neighbourhood but that didn't stop him from getting tags because of the hydrant in front of the house. He even got them if he parked in our drive beside the hydrant. So he would know there was a rookie cop on the beat. The sergeants always tore the tickets up but Dad was bugged by the whole procedure. So we held a party for the local station once a year and everyone was diligent about Doctor John not getting a ticket.
He was called that to distinguish him from his brother, Doctor Lou, since they practised together from the office in our home.
Doctor Lou had an interesting take on traffic laws. One Sunday morning we were returning from Simpson Ave. United (which no longer exists) and Doctor Lou didn't even hesitate when he drove through a red light at Pape and Gerrard. When I remonstrated, he argued that no cars were coming, so what the heck.
A young motorcycle cop pulled him over on the QEW near Oakville and because of the MD licence, asked if he was going to an emergency. Doctor Lou was about 84 at the time and not fazed at anything. He said he was visiting his son, at about 75 mph in a 50 mph zone. So the OPP officer asked for his licence. My uncle said he didn't have one. In fact, he had never had one, since he learned to drive in Saskatchewan when he owned one of the few cars and no licences were issued. (When there were only two cars in the province, they collided ... but that's another story.)
The young policeman pondered this for a few minutes and finally decided to quit while he was behind. He let my uncle off with a warning but ordered him to get a driving licence ASAP. My uncle never did.
I'm sure that cop got promoted a few times because he had some smarts. He certainly wouldn't have delayed and fined a surgeon speeding to an emergency operation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010



At the same time as my wife, son and I were enjoying the 3-D version of Avatar, the Toronto Star - that Liberal mouthpiece for the politically correct - says there was an explosion of Web criticism saying the movie was racist.
And then the Star quoted bloggers and junior profs. Before the Internet, they would have trouble getting other students to listen to them in a scrum after a class. Now their voices are amplified as if they have wit, perspective and experience behind their dissing of a major movie which may become the box office champ of all time.
One suspects that if this critical stew had been around in 1939 when a movie so famous that it became know only by its initials, Gone With The Wind, flamed across the screen, they would have had heart attacks.
My family left the theatre raving about the movie, and raving at the chuckleheads who make more noise chowing down on their popcorn than a vast dairy herd. Wouldn't it be great if they had chow-free zones in theatres so we didn't have to listen to the chomping, slurping and crinkling? No chance since that's where theatres make their money, on the buttered plastic and the giant containers of sugared water.
Of course there are echoes of the real world in this imaginative tale of the giant Na'vi humanoids in their beautiful lush jungles around the giant tree. But you would have to be a fool to miss that the movie was preaching AGAINST the white man's despoiling of peaceful Edens.
Hardly an attack on visible minorities, hardly a whitey-knows best epic trying to save the poor natives. Just as when you saw another great film, District 9, it was obvious the not-so-hidden message was an attack on apartheid. not praise of white enlightenment.
These silly critics must think the award-winning foreign movie, Downfall, was a glorification of Hitler.
Why we even have the Vatican getting into the act, not being sufficiently embarrassed about the papal disasters in movie criticism and banning since the talkies began..
But let me repeat what many said when the Roman Catholic hierarchy went after Dan Brown for Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. They were just movies and best-selling books. The public figured they were fiction right at the start. The Church looked silly when it didn't.
Now we have Avatar, which is just an imaginative sci-fi movie. Stop acting as if it is being sold as another theory for evolution or the superiority of Caucasians. I think bishops and bloggers are publicity hungry when they denigrate and accuse to get us all riled up.
I blame the Star and its incessant PC crusading for ignoring that there are countless bloggers shooting their mouth off about everything. Surely as much attention should be paid to their credentials as their views. I can disagree with my old friend there, Peter Howell, about some movie but at least he has earned some respect for his views because as a Star movie critic he has viewed countless movies and interviewed countless director and actors. And that certainly goes for the gentle voice of the Sun's Bruce Kirkland, whom we should have cloned.
But just because some person can type a blog, sort of, doesn't mean he or she warrants any attention in the media unless it's unique and clever. Rants shouldn't rate. Bloggers should think an hour for every minute of writing.
(Obviously I'm a blogger too. But my background appears to the right of my column and readers can judge whether my decades of journalism mean my views have merit or insight. I got paid because my views and editorial decisions had to survive daily before hundreds of thousands of readers. A true critic has an onerous apprenticeship.)
The Star is only one media outlet that is a trifle hysterical when it comes to repeating criticism. For example, the Star brass showed through its coverage that they were ecstatic when The Economist, the respected British publication, criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for ducking an immediate resumption of Parliament.
I respect The Economist too and have quoted it often, but let's cut to the chase. It means only that several editors and a writer didn't like what Harper is doing. It's hardly the view
of a college of experts after a lengthy seminar on the Canadian political process.
Media have a blind spot on this. When I hated something as Editor of the Toronto Sun, I would write a blistering editorial after consulting associate editors, perhaps the beat reporter, maybe the publisher. And other media would say that the Toronto Sun came out today attacking what the government was doing. Hardly the entire Sun!
But then the Sun was gloriously free of group think. And senior editors didn't have to remember the politics and cant of the brass and how pleased their bosses would be if they give major coverage to the latest propaganda from the strident left and the mushy middle.
Like the Star has done from its creation.
Avatar is not billed as a scientific study of how earthlings would act in 2154 if they mine a planet like Pandora which is 4.3 light years away from a ruined earth. Many critics are just jealous of its enormous success. In the end, folks, it's just a great movie.

Saturday, January 9, 2010



The backers of all the aquarium plans for Toronto over the decades have told more fibs than most fishermen. We have a right to be skeptical about new proposals, even though this one for the base of the CN Tower looks like it has been safely landed.
Believe it or not!
There have been tantalizing schemes before, but also strange locations. Can you remember them - on Bay south of Dundas beside the Eaton Centre and in the basement of CBC headquarters are just two examples.
But then, I admire a great aquarium in New Zealand, Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, which was built in 1985 in only 10 months in and around the tanks of an old sewage treatment plant. It pioneered the clear plastic tunnel where you ride a moving sidewalk and gaze out at all the wonders of the deep, some of which, like sharks, are released regularly back to the sea.
We have had logical locations in Toronto, like several on the waterfront stretching from Yonge past Exhibition Place. And there was one for the lakeshore of the western suburb of Etobicoke, and for all I know, southern North York and the bluffs of Scarborough too.
It reminds me of all the stories before we finally got a domed stadium. It seemed there was a new one every six months.
I've been paying attention because I love aquariums. I've visited them everywhere, from that inventive one in Auckland to the giant Shedd in Chicago to a new one in Taiwan that was packed with Chinese from the mainland even though it was technically forbidden to visit.
It's not always easy. Mary and I set off for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach because the California complex had a tank of the most bizarre sea horses you've ever seen. The experts hadn't been sure they existed.
It was the first day of the Long Beach Grand Prix, right next door to the aquarium. I blundered on to the track just before the cars practiced. Pit crews were screaming at me and I was screaming back at them about how I could get off to the aquarium. It took 40 minutes to zig zag to the expensive aquarium garage.
I often wrote columns about how I wished we had had an aquarium before the new zoo. After all, the zoo's teething problems were amazing. The moat around the lions wasn't wide enough if the lion was mad. The inventive platform for the camels kept the camels enclosed without a barrier but kids could step up to wander around the animals. The glass bead curtains kept the birds in, and seemed a great screen, until the birds landed and walked underneath to freedom. And then the boss left and was convicted later of having sex with animals and taking kickbacks on animal purchases.
By comparison, an aquarium seemed shiny clean and less money, the very thing a major city should have if it was located on a great lake in a province where fish were important. So I columnized and pushed and shoved.
Maybe 15 years ago, my friend Jeff Lyons, now the disgraced lobbyist and lawyer, came calling with a group including Jim Pattison Jr. and asked if I would be on the board if the Pattison Group, the third largest private company in Canada which owns Ripley's Believe It Or Not, built a Toronto aquarium.
A great idea, because the boss of it all, Jim Pattison, is respected and was building, two aquariums in the southern states, and had plans for a water park in Niagara Falls. But I said as Editor of the Toronto Sun, I couldn't be a director of a private project like this that would be so intertwined with politics. But I wished them well.
In the early 1990s, Walter Oster, who runs the Great Ontario Salmon Derby and heads the convention centre and sportsmen's show, led a group that wanted an aquarium. He had built and sold a hotel on the waterfront and still owns a wonderful sea food restaurant there, Pier Four Storehouse.
The group persuaded Etobicoke council to give it $500,000 to study an aquarium on the Etobicoke lakeshore in a Metro park. A few councillors like Doug Holyday were furious because the suburb didn't own the land, and Holyday grew even more irate when the group accomplished nothing, not even a useful report.
Since then it seems not a year has gone by without talk of an aquarium in Exhibition Place. Politicians like Joe Pantalone and Gloria Lindsay-Luby, and officials like general manager Dianne Young, were regular visitors, at our expense, to the southern U.S. and those Ripley's aquariums.
The Ex issued RFPs but found that not only did they not get any good proposals, there were arguments that it wouldn't be cheaper to build right on the lake. I'm still surprised about that.
I had a ringside seat on some of this as a long-time Canadian National Exhibition director, including CNE president and Exhibition Place board vice-chair. Because of that, I was approached once with a staggering proposal, supposedly from Chinese interests, to spend around a billion dollars on a casino and aquarium at the Ex. The mystery people said they were unable to get an appointment with anyone in power, including the mayor and premier. I provided phone numbers and advice and offered to do more but they faded into oblivion. It really did seem to be in the believe-it-or-not category, and I didn't believe.
As a fervent supporter of the Ex, I lament that it won't get this great attraction, but building is a lot simpler downtown when you can avoid the politics of the Ex and City Hall. If you don't believe me, consider that what I still call SkyDome was shoehorned beside the railway tracks because the two most important politicians around then, Bill Davis and Paul Godfrey, didn't trust Toronto council.
The latest example of how City Hall screws the Ex came when council passed a bylaw forbidding guns on city property. It was aimed at handguns, but obviously prevented long guns, which aren't the problem, from being shown at the sportsmen's show located at the Ex. So city taxpayers lost the million-dollar profit as the show moved to the provincially owned convention centre.
I can't wait to ride the moving sidewalk and look up at the rays and all the other attractions of the deep. It will be a lot simpler, and probably clearer, than all the countless snorkel and SCUBA dives I've been on. And being under the water is a lot pleasanter than being on top.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


The Hysteria That Doesn't Protect Us

By now, the blunders in not catching that Nigerian with the explosive underpants have been recited until we could all pass a test on the facts.
We have also listened in excrutiating detail to how we could improve our airport security. New searches, new machines, new techniques....
And we have heard the jokes. The Fruit of the Boom guy! Wouldn't he have been a disappointment for the 72 virgins! Etc.
What else is there to say?
But because of political correctness, there are only a few commentators who have pointed to a root problem. The silence about that is deafening, although there are few among us who have respect for either the process or the screeners who guard the portals to the airplane.
There is a bitter quip around, however, that when you look at who is doing the screening, perhaps the passengers should be checking them out.
The tragedy is that because so many countries and airlines pay their screeners so little, too many are minorities who aren't exactly rocket scientists. And their bosses seem rather slow too because they are too busy covering their asses and not busy enough protecting us.
It can seem the revenge of the Third World and the immigrant communities as you are bossed around with arbitrary commands and demands which are not always that understandable. But then you get what you pay for, and until the pay of ordinary screeners is raised, security will remain a gamble when it comes to detecting even obvious suspects.
Journalists, police and regular air travellers are filled with admiration for the El Al approach. Their screeners often are young too, and they often are part timers, but they are bright students who have done their military service. This is not the only job they can get.
And then they do interviews too, real questioning, so any 23-year-old who paid cash for a one-way ticket travelling without a coat to Detroit in winter would be caught.
I have experienced the lengthy El Al process many times, and the screening often takes longer than at other airports, but I was never annoyed because they are so thorough and professional.
Even when I was a guest of the Israeli prime minister's office, even when they have had a copy of my passport in advance, even when I had just spent the week with the famous Jerusalem mayor, the questioning and searching continued.
No wonder it is safer to fly El Al even though Islamic terrorists and the jerks who run too many Arab countries want to wipe Israel off the globe..
I have written often about just how stupid the screening process can get.
The surgeon who flew unchallenged out of New York the night of Sept. 11 with five skulls in his hand luggage that he was taking to a medical conference.
The confiscation of lighters when you could replace them at a news stand within sight of the gauntlet.
Why the screeners are so dumb, they used to routinely hassle Ted Kennedy, the late and famous senator, because there was another man of that name on the do-not-fly list.
Now that authorities have the guts to propose that we be strip searched by machines, it would be nice if they had guts to start racial profiling too. I know it would drive the PC folks nuts but young Arab males, indeed Arab males of all ages, should be given more attention than elderly nuns or an aged congressman with an artificial leg, to mention just two more of the notorious goofs.
My 74-year-old wife has had a metal knee replacement, so she is now patted down for more than five minutes. I even have to wait for her, and I have always got special attention as a big bearded man who often wears a vaguely military-looking Tilley jacket. My suspenders also give them hysteria.
Yet you just have to look around at who is getting the special attention to wonder if all of these screeners are playing with a full deck. A small group of us had been on a tour of Turkey and I volunteered to help a tiny 95-year-old woman whose daughters wanted to sneak off for a smoke and souvenirs. The screeners were demanding that the little lady removed a thin windbreaker so they could poke around her blouse when I erupted. I was so mad that they forgot to screen me as I told the woman to ignore them and move on.
I confess that from all my visits to the Middle East I am aware that, tragically, young mothers and teenagers can now be suicide bombers as well as radicalized males. But statistically, every cop in the world knows who are the more likely suspects.
So let's pay more attention to the passengers who make the rest of us uneasy just to sit near them. And let's buy more sniffers and scanners and train more dogs. We should have done this years ago.
There was a Canadian company that I invested in maybe a decade ago after the FBI and other policing agencies said its detection device for explosives was promising. But the tightwads in government security stalled on buying any equipment so the company went bankrupt.
A psychiatrist and his wife were driving to Florida through Detroit customs and immigration a few years ago and they were surrounded by gun waving security because she had been in hospital to have a minor radioactive test on a hip. That could be detected two weeks later through the wall of a Honda van. Why hasn't equipment like that been standard at border crossings for years?
When you consider the waste and pork barreling of every government, paying a decent wage to airport screeners and giving them the latest training and detection devices hardly seems onerous for taxpayers. If it is, charge us $5 a crossing, a small price to pay when you consider the waste of our time.
This present mix of dumb or rude or antagonistic screeners - with the exception of El Al personnel and a few gracious standouts - just can't continue. Any hamburger stand would fire them, so why are they poking under my clothes?
In the world of the future, they will look back on our primitive queues and and indecent probes and say no wonder our civilization became crippled because our governments were stupider than the combined leaders of the vanished Incas, Mayans and Easter Island civilizations.