Monthly Archives: October 2018

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Police identify Toronto’s latest murder victim

Toronto police said Monday the shooting death of Richard “Richie” Durant could be solved in a matter of minutes, if the patrons of a local pub were loyal enough to come forward with information.

“Everyone’s saying, “˜Oh, Rich was such a great guy,’” Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux told reporters Monday morning. “Well, honour his memory and his family and do the right thing.”

Durant, 26, was shot just outside Tom’s Sports Bar and Café, near the corner of Davenport Rd. and Ossington Ave., late Friday night after a confrontation with another man inside the bar.

He was rushed to hospital and died Saturday. Another 26-year-old man was also shot, but the injuries are not considered life threatening.

About 20 other patrons were inside the pub at the time and almost certainly know the shooter, Det. Sgt. Giroux said, describing Tom’s Sports Bar and Café as a neighbourhood pub filled with regulars.

“It’s truly a neighbourhood bar,” said Det. Sgt Giroux “It’s not a bar where you [as an outsider] would be well received.”

Durant, a roofer, lived in the neighbourhood with his common law wife and one child. He was known as a “larger than life” character by his friends and neighbours.

Det. Sgt. Giroux said they believe Durant knew the suspect.

“I take it there could have been baggage between the two for many years.”

Durant is Toronto’s 45th homicide of 2009.


Current vaccines provide good protection against H1N1 pandemic: WHO

GENEVA – The H1N1 swine flu virus has picked up steam in the northern hemisphere and is expected to cause more serious infections and deaths as cold weather sets in, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

But the virus is not known to have mutated, including in people infected in a large outbreak in Ukraine, meaning that the current pandemic vaccines are expected to confer "good protection", it said in a statement.

Mexico is reporting more H1N1 cases than early in the pandemic, which began in April, and the United States shows higher levels of flu-like illness than in past years, top WHO flu expert Keiji Fukuda said. Swine flu is also on the rise in Europe and Central Asia.

"We anticipate seeing continued or increased activity during the winter period in the northern hemisphere. This also means that we expect to see continued reports of serious cases and deaths," Fukuda told a news conference. "At WHO we remain quite concerned about the pattern that we are seeing."

Most people recover without specialised medical care for symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat, but pregnant women and people with underlying chronic conditions like asthma are at higher risk of potentially fatal complications, he said.

At least 5,712 people worldwide have died from swine flu, which is now present in virtually every country, according to the United Nations agency. Most serious illness and fatalities occur in patients younger than 65, a different pattern to seasonal influenza, which traditionally strikes the elderly.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that as of Wednesday, some 500,000 cases of acute respiratory illness and 86 related deaths had been reported in Ukraine.


Pandemic vaccines given to millions of people in some 20 countries in recent weeks have shown them to be "very safe", providing protection with no unusual side effects, Fukuda said.

However, the WHO has yet to receive some 200 million vaccine doses donated by 11 countries, which are intended for distribution in 95 poor countries lacking supplies, he said.

"Vaccine companies out there are producing as much vaccine as quickly as possible. Much of the vaccine has been allocated to different countries on the basis of contracts," he added, referring to deals between drugmakers and governments.

GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis are among some 25 companies producing pandemic vaccine.

The known cases of resistance to antiviral drugs have been "isolated and infrequent", according to Fukuda.

"We see no evidence at all that there is widespread occurrence of antiviral resistance," he said.

Antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir, marketed by Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding as Tamiflu, are considered the frontline drug against the H1N1 virus.

Norway’s decision to allow over-the-counter sales of the drug so as to relieve stress on primary health-care systems appears to be "innovative and prudent", Fukuda said.

H1N1 has caused a small number of infections in swine herds, turkeys in Chile and Canada and a few domestic pets in the United States, but these isolated events pose no special risks to human health, WHO said in the statement.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Lynn in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London; editing by Philippa Fletcher)


Neighbours of alleged U.S. serial killer smelled something foul

CLEVELAND – Neighbours of alleged U.S. serial killer Anthony Sowell had apparently complained about a foul smell for years, but many believed it was coming from a sausage factory next door.

The 50-year-old convicted rapist was arraigned Wednesday on a string of murder charges as investigators examined the gruesome remains of up to 11 bodies unearthed at his home in Cleveland, Ohio.

Local councilman Zack Reed said he would push for an independent investigation into why complaints about the smell didn’t lead to an earlier discovery.

"Residents are mad and they have every right to be mad," he told AFP.

Reed said his office called the public health department about two and a half years ago after a neighbor reported the smell. He wondered whether an earlier detection could have prevented some of the murders.

"I know darned well that our health department should have been able to tell the difference between the smell of a dead body and the smell of dead meat," he told AFP.

At the arraignment hearing, defense lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Sowell should be granted bail as he had a heart condition that required him to wear a pacemaker and had other undisclosed medical problems.

Prosecutors were adamant the alleged serial killer, who has already served a 15-year stint behind bars for a 1989 rape, should continue to be kept under lock and key.

"The state believes he is an incredibly dangerous threat to the public," assistant county prosecutor Brian Murphy told the hearing.

A frail looking Sowell stared straight ahead at judge Ronald Adrine as he was ordered to remain in jail pending trial on five charges of aggravated murder. Police said they expected further charges to follow.

"After 26 years on the bench, this is without question the most serious set of allegations I’ve ever faced," said Adrine, refusing bail due to the "gruesome nature" of the crimes and the defendant’s criminal history.

The horrific murders came to light last Thursday when police went to Sowell’s house to arrest him on unrelated rape and assault charges for a September attack on a woman who survived.

Sowell was not in but instead police discovered the decomposing bodies of six women over two days in the house and yard.

Four were reportedly found rotting in the back garden with other remains inside the house. Investigators unearthed four more bodies and a skull at the property on Tuesday, bringing the total number of victims to a possible 11.

"We have located 10 bodies and a singular skull," Cleveland police spokesman Thomas Stacho told AFP. "It is not known yet if the skull is an 11th victim."

The first six bodies have all been identified as African-American women and coroners are working on the sex and race of the rest with the help of an anthropologist from a local museum. At least five of the women were strangled.

None of the victims have yet been formally identified and earlier in the week worried family members clasped photos of missing loved-ones outside the Sowell house, fearing the worst.

Local ministers met with the city’s police chief Wednesday to offer their support for families and friends of victims once they have been identified.

Sowell was arrested on Saturday after a local resident recognized him walking down the street and notified police. He did not try to resist arrest.

Neighbours said his family had lived for many years at the relatively well-kept house in Imperial Avenue, where he had returned in 2005 after being released from prison.

On unemployment benefits after being laid off from his job about two years ago, Sowell lived on the third floor and liked to sit on the concrete front steps at the front of the house.

He was often spotted rolling a shopping cart down the street collecting cans and scrap, said residents in the poor Cleveland neighborhood, which is dotted with vacant and boarded-up buildings.

"It’s a hard pill to swallow," said Wanda Thomas, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades. "People used to look out for each other. Now people are scared," she told AFP.

Police said they planned to search vacant buildings within a half-mile radius of Sowell’s home, looking for additional bodies.

Sowell’s case will now be forwarded to a grand jury. He faces a possible death penalty if found guilty.


UN evacuates foreign staff from Afghanistan

KABUL – The United Nations said on Thursday it would evacuate hundreds of its international staff from Afghanistan for several weeks due to deteriorating security, a sharp blow for Western efforts to stabilize the country.

Spokesman Aleem Siddique said the United Nations would relocate about 600 of its roughly 1,100 international staff, with some being moved to safer sites within Afghanistan and the rest withdrawn from the country temporarily.

The move, a week after five UN foreign staff were killed by militants in Kabul, complicates U.S. President Barack Obama’s counter-insurgency war strategy, which foresees an influx of civilian assistance alongside extra troops.

Obama is due to decide within weeks whether to approve a request from his commander in Afghanistan for tens of thousands of additional troops. U.S. forces in Afghanistan have already doubled in the nine months since Obama took office.

The United Nations said the evacuations would not disrupt its operations in the country.

"We’re doing everything we can to minimize disruption of our work during this period," UN special envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.

"We are simply doing what we have to do following the tragic events of last week to look after our workers in a difficult moment while ensuring that our operations in Afghanistan can continue."

Eide said some staff would relocate to Dubai where the United Nations has a facility and where it is "inside the mission area."

Siddique said the UN staff would return in three to four weeks after its security measures are changed.

"It will be a consolidation of staff. At the moment we have 93 guest-houses across Kabul and there will be a consolidation of those guest houses so that we can provide better security in fewer places," he said.


The United Nations mission played a critical role in organizing elections in the country this year, and its agencies such as UNICEF run health, education and other programs.

In last week’s attack, Taliban suicide bombers hiding explosive vests under police uniforms entered a guest-house used by UN staff, killing five foreigners and prompting a security review by many of the international agencies in the country.

A second round of the presidential election, which was to be held on November 7, was cancelled after President Hamid Karzai’s only opponent withdrew, citing insufficient safeguards against fraud.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah’s decision not to stand meant Karzai was declared the winner, even though more than a quarter of his votes from the August 20 first round were thrown out after a fraud investigation.

The tainted election has hurt Karzai’s standing among Western nations with troops fighting in Afghanistan, making Obama’s decision about whether to send more troops even more difficult.

Western nations have pressured Karzai to revamp his cabinet, removing cronies and distancing himself from warlords to gain some credibility.

"We can’t afford any longer, a situation where warlords and power-brokers play their own games. We have to have a political landscape that draws the country in the same direction which is the direction of significant reform," Eide said.

"I believe we are now at a critical juncture in the relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. The debate over the last few weeks has demonstrated that there are more question marks and more doubt with regard to the strength of the international commitment to Afghanistan."

The chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said on Wednesday Karzai’s legitimacy among Afghans was "at best in question right now and, at worst, doesn’t exist."


McGill, Simon Fraser grab top spots in Maclean’s university rankings

For the fifth-year running, McGill University has nabbed the top spot in this year’s Maclean’s magazine university rankings.

The Montreal school took the No. 1 spot in the medical doctoral category of the rankings, released Thursday, and the University of Toronto ranked second, its same rank as last year.

Queen’s University, however, fell from second place in 2008, when it tied with Toronto, to third place.

Institutions in the medical doctoral category have medical schools and a variety of PhD programs, and generally receive higher research grants than other schools.

The University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta maintained their 2008 rankings of fourth and fifth.

Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., was ranked first in the comprehensive category for the second year in a row. The University of Victoria was ranked second.

Schools placed in the comprehensive category by Maclean’s offer professional degrees and a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs, and conduct a significant amount of research.

Waterloo retained its same rank at third, as did Guelph, at fourth.

The fifth spot went to Memorial University.

In the primarily undergraduate category, East Coasts schools dominated the rankings, with Mount Allison University in New Brunswick placing first and Acadia in Nova Scotia placing second. The University of Northern British Columbia placed third.

St. Francis Xavier and Wilfrid Laurier tied for fourth. Bishop’s University ranked 11th and made a major jump up from its 17th place finish last year.

A full list of the annual rankings are listed in a special issue of the magazine available Thursday.


Statement from Robert Decker, lone survivor of the March helicopter crash

Statement from Robert Decker, 28, the lone survivor of a helicopter crash that claimed 17 lives off Newfoundland in March 2009:

"I don’t think anyone will ever know why I survived the disaster and the others did not. There probably is no reason – just luck. What I do know is that I came incredibly close to losing my life also. There are several things that might have made some difference to my survival. I don’t know whether they would have made a difference to anyone else or not. First thing, I guess, is I was relatively young, healthy and fit at the time of the crash. The other is that maybe the fact that I braced myself against the seat in front of me reduced the force against my chest when the helicopter hit the water, and that might have left me with a little more air in my lungs.

"Also, when I regained consciousness in the submerged helicopter cabin, I know that I stayed calm and I didn’t panic. I was able to concentrate on getting out of the helicopter and to the surface as quickly as possible. Many people know that I do sailing in small boats, mostly on Conception Bay since I was quite young and I’ve taught sailing at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club. Many times I’ve been thrown into the cold sea water from an overturned boat. I think that that experience meant that when the helicopter suddenly filled with icy water, I could react instinctively without having to consciously plan what I had to do. It was like a reflex to take a breath and to hold it and to stay calm until I could get to the surface.

As good as (our) training is, a couple of days of controlled immersions in a pool every few years is not enough to allow anyone to develop the instinctive reactions that they need to have a chance to survive a helicopter crash like Cougar 491. Other things were just luck. I was seated next to a window. The heliopter sank with the port side down. I was on the starboard side so that the open window next to me was above me when I released my seatbelt and the bouyancy of my suit probably helped carry me through it. Every second counted. Small things like that made a very big difference . . .

"I don’t know what else I can say to you only just to tell my story as I’ve done here today. It could just as easily have been someone else who survived – and I did not.

"I’ve already privately thanked the Cougar crew who came to my rescue on March 12 but I want to publicly thank them again here today.

"I hope that this inquiry does make offshore travel in light helicopters safer. I will not be flying offshore anymore, but others continue to do it every day and they deserve to be able to do it safely. Training to escape from a crashed helicopter is important. Having the survival suits is important and having search and rescue capacity nearby is important. But all those things are what’s needed after there has been a crash into the ocean. If we really want to make offshore helicopter travel safe, what we have to do is make sure that every helicopter doesn’t crash. The best way to keep every offshore worker safe is to keep every helicopter in the air where it belongs. Safety starts with the helicopter and I think everything else is secondary."