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Dave Feschuk: NHL’s tentative concussion lawsuit another blow to the players

Five years ago, a group of former NHL players embarked on a legal battle to hold the league accountable for alleged sins of the past.

They accused the NHL of failing to better prevent brain trauma, or warn players of its risks, all while promoting and profiting from a culture of violence. And while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman insisted the case was “without merit,” in other eyes the ex-players had a plausible argument. Sloughing off brain injuries, returning to play after having one’s “bell rung,” was a time-honoured NHL tradition for decades. And as longtime league executive Colin Campbell infamously acknowledged of the NHL in one of the hundreds of internal emails that became part of the public record in the ensuing courthouse wrangling: “We sell and promote hate.”

But after taking stock of the tentative settlement between the NHL and those ex-players announced Monday, the NHL’s penance for those alleged sins so far amounts to a relative pittance. The offer on the table is $22,000 (U.S.) per player, plus the possibility of $75,000 toward medical treatment for players who test positive on two or more neurological tests. And it comes with strings attached. The NHL would not acknowledge any liability for the players’ claims. Participants would waive their rights to pursue further concussion-related legal action against the NHL. And if all 318 players eligible to participate don’t opt into the deal, the league has the option of terminating it outright.

There were other sweeteners, including the promise of a $2.5-million “Common Good Fund” to go toward the health care of players not involved in the lawsuit. But seen in its whole, the proposed settlement is hardly a reasonable facsimile of the $1 billion-plus deal reached a few years ago in an NFL concussion lawsuit that laid the groundwork for this NHL version. Some observers, mind you, simply seemed happy that a long saga appeared at an end.

“I’m glad for the parties that it’s all over,” said Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players’ Association. “Hopefully people can go on with their lives, and now we can perhaps deal with these issues with the NHL without having to worry about the effect on the litigation.”

Not everyone involved was moving on quietly. While lawyers representing the players characterized the settlement as “good news” in a memo that recommended its acceptance, former NHLer Daniel Carcillo, called it “an insulting attempt at a settlement.” Via Twitter Carcillo urged fellow alumni not to take the deal. Mike Peluso, the former NHL enforcer, told TSN’s Rick Westhead that he plans to forego the settlement in favour of pursuing further legal action.

Chris Nowinski, a spokesperson for Boston University’s CTE Center, said he was “surprised” by the “small amount” of the proposed settlement.

“What this tells you is that it’s athlete beware,” Nowinski said. “The message from professional sports is: You’re on your own. Once you’ve left the team, it doesn’t matter if you’re a legend, once things go south for you, you and your family are on your own.”

What the settlement also told us was this: The real winners are the lawyers. Of the $19 million the NHL has agreed to pay, more than a third of it — some $7 million — is earmarked for legal fees and costs. If that wasn’t infuriating enough, on Monday Carcillo directed a tweet at Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists and points.

“I want (Gretzky’s) thoughts on the concussion lawsuit,” went Carcillo’s post. “I want (Gretzky) to use his platform to help the men who protected him throughout his career. Lack of pressure from former players is a direct result of this insulting attempt at a settlement.”

When the legal battle began a few years ago, there was some pressure applied by the headline-grabbing appeals of former NHLers, many of whom were hardly anonymous. Bob Bourne, who played on four Stanley Cup-winning New York Islanders teams in the 1980s, recounted what he considered the still-lingering degenerative effects of the multiple undiagnosed brain injuries he said he suffered as a player. Gary Leeman, a 51-goal scorer with the Leafs in 1988-89, spoke publicly of headaches and anger issues he associated with the ravages of his long-done career. Bernie Nicholls, who scored 70 goals for the L.A. Kings in 1989-90, told reporters of disturbing memory loss he linked to head injuries suffered in the line of NHL duty.

Perhaps the NFL suit had more support from bigger-named players. Hall of Fame running backs Eric Dickerson and Tony Dorsett were among the plaintiffs, as was Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.

On Monday Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh star whose career has been interrupted by multiple concussions, distanced himself from the fray.

“I haven’t followed it. It’s hard for me to talk about,” Crosby told reporters when asked about the proposed settlement, which does not involve any active players. “My experience is a little different than theirs would have been. Obviously, we know a lot more now than we did before — even a lot more than we did when I had my first (concussion).”

The best Crosby could do was offer a generic endorsement of support for his less fortunate elders in the hockey-playing fraternity.

“Guys need support,” Crosby was quoted as saying. “The Players’ Association and the league, everyone’s got to be involved in part of that. It’s something that as players we know that risk, but I think that that being said, we still have to be there to support each other.”

What, precisely, are the risks? Through years of litigation the league has been embarrassingly loathe to acknowledge the full state of the current science. Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly denied any link between hockey and CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain-wasting disease that’s been found in multiple former players and linked to repetitive brain trauma. Bettman has insisted, rightly, that the science isn’t conclusive, always failing to add that the science also happens to be both convincing and alarming.

It’s possible burying one’s head in the sand was a league strategy. In videotaped depositions that came to light earlier this year, two NHL owners, Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs and L.A.’s Philip Anschutz, both insisted under questioning that they had never heard of CTE. They made those claims in 2015, by which point CTE had been posthumously found in the brains of four former NHLers Reggie Fleming, Rick Martin, Bob Probert and Steve Montador.

Call it clueless, call it shameless — as strategies go, you can argue, when it comes to the league’s business plan, it has also been remarkably harmless. For years the NHL’s overseers sold and promoted violence and hate, no doubt at the expense of employee brain health. During the lawsuit, they traded on appalling ignorance on brain-health-related matters. But as Nowinski pointed out, none of it seemed to hurt the league. If the price of doing all those years of grey-matter-rattling business turns out to be $19 million — potentially paid out in the age of the $650-million expansion fee — the price seems worth it.

Maybe it was no coincidence that Bettman, the commissioner of concussion denial, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night.

“Even though the NHL said some terrible things about concussions and CTE, it didn’t cost them,” Nowinski said. “They’re not going to lose their fans over this suit, nor the loyalty of their stars.”

So the league wins, and the lawyers win. And those who willingly sacrificed parts of their being in pursuit of wins — as always, their outcomes remain far less certain. Athletes beware, indeed.

Dave Feschuk is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @dfeschuk

Excelsior! Smilin’ Stan Lee has left the planet

Marvel Comics powerhouse Stan Lee is dead at the age of 95, the headlines accurately report.

But you’ll have to forgive generations of Marvel fans if they suspect he’s just hiding out with Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four or another of his superhero creations, plotting a dramatic return.

Lee, who died Monday in an L.A. hospital, wasn’t just the co-inventor of many of the planet’s most popular comic book and movie characters, although he certainly was that: the more than 20 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have grossed more than $6.2 billion (U.S.) worldwide.

He seemed to be as immortal as his Spandex-clad and sermonizing creations, the most famous of which was Spider-Man, introduced in 1962 as a sarcastically self-doubting superhero for an era of Cold War anxiety.

Lee was an indefatigable spark to youthful imaginations, a wizard of dreams who envisioned marvellous characters, worlds and galaxies where good always triumphed over evil — but not without setbacks and the most thrilling of cliff-hangers, including the still-unresolved shocker in this year’s record-setting Avengers: Infinity War.

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Stan Lee, the man behind the legends

Always grinning behind an impressive mustache and tinted aviator eyeglasses, he was Smilin’ Stan Lee to his legions of fans — including Canadian actors Ryan Reynolds and Seth Rogan, among the many celebrities who eulogized him online.

“Smilin’ Stan” enjoyed making cameo appearances in Marvel Comics movies, most recently in the current hit Venom, where he’s credited as “dapper dog walker.”

Lee was also known as Stan “The Man” Lee during Marvel’s print heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, a period fans call the Silver Age of comic books, the Golden Age having been in the 1940s.

He ruled supreme in his various guises as writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics, the public face of a “bullpen” of artists and other creatives, who included such legendary collaborators as Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Romita — and who occasionally grumbled that Lee took a little too much of the credit.

“I just wanted to do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading,” Lee told a writer for Starweek magazine in 1980, explaining his fascination with superheroes and supervillains.

“The kind of comic-book characters that I could personally relate to. They’d have their faults and foibles; they’d be fallible and feisty.”

Smilin’ Stan had a wicked sense of humour. Spider-Man may have suffered from bouts of self-loathing, but he was always eager to verbally spar with J. Jonah Jameson, skinflint editor of New York’s mythical Daily Bugle newspaper, who constantly tried to cheat Spidey’s photographer alter-ego Peter Parker out of a payday while denouncing Spidey as a public enemy.

Lee’s humour sometimes had a caustic commercial edge to it. He mockingly referred to DC Comics, Marvel’s arch-rival, as “Brand Echh” — a play on “Brand X.”

He claimed that DC’s heroes, Superman and Batman among them, were plain vanilla compared to Marvel’s more daring and socially relevant creations, among them Black Panther, which Lee introduced in 1966 as the first major Black superhero in American comics. (Black Panther finally got his own film this year; it’s the box-office champ of 2018.)

Lee wasn’t content to just amuse and fascinate people. He created fantasy figures and worlds, but his real desire was for a better world here on planet Earth.

In the 1960s, he penned a regular column called “Stan’s Soapbox,” part of Marvel’s “Bullpen Bulletins” in its comic books. He’d hold forth on serious issues of the day, among them racism, civil rights and the Vietnam War, signing off with the dramatic flourish “Excelsior!” — Latin for “ever upward,” which would later become the title of his autobiography.

For many young readers at the time, myself among them, Stan’s Soapbox was more accessible and influential than any of the writers or public figures who wrote for or were quoted in regular newspapers and magazines. And we weren’t just readers in Lee’s larger-than-life lexicon; he referred to us as “true believers.”

The opening lines of a 1968 Stan’s Soapbox epistle are as urgent today as they were back then: “Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”

Lee was always a deep thinker, a student of Shakespeare, Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle while growing up in New York City as the son of Romanian immigrants, who named him Stanley Martin Lieber upon his birth on Dec. 28, 1922.

He became fond of Marvel’s Silver Surfer, a philosophizing astral surfer created by Jack Kirby, which Lee initially dismissed as “a nut on some sort of flying surfboard.” Lee soon embraced Silver Surfer as a cool avatar for his most cherished beliefs.

“The choice between good and evil is made by all who live — with every single heartbeat!” the Surfer intoned in a Lee-penned tale from 1968.

Lee rarely missed an opportunity to score good press for his creations. He was delighted in April 1979, when a story made big news in Canada: a new Canadian superhero called Northstar — later to achieve renown as Marvel’s first openly gay superhero — appeared in an edition of the Uncanny X-Men comic book, along with a sinister government figure who looked uncannily like Pierre Trudeau, then Canada’s prime minister.

I broke that story — the hook then was oh-so-serious Trudeau appearing in a comic book — while I was working for another newspaper. When I called Lee’s New York office for comment, I was surprised when he answered his own phone. He happily chatted about Northstar and the Alpha Flight team, which had been co-created by Canada’s John Byrne.

A few weeks later, Lee sent me an advance copy of a Marvel comic book about another real-life person: rocker Alice Cooper. “Interested?” he wrote, in a hand-penned note.

That was Stan Lee, ever the promoter. But more than anything, he dreamed that his high-flying creations could inspire a better and more peaceable world for all of us down here on Earth.

If his tombstone doesn’t have “Excelsior!” prominently chiselled on it, the Incredible Hulk should come and kick it over. Hulk smash!

The wait for weed is getting shorter, Ontario’s finance minister says

The wait for weed is getting shorter, says Finance Minister Vic Fedeli.

Ontario’s Cannabis Store has caught up with a backlog of orders to be delivered by Canada Post after the online shop was swamped following the legalization of recreational cannabis last month, prompting hundreds of complaints to the provincial ombudsman’s office.

“We’re back to the schedule today of one to three days,” Fedeli said Monday.

“You open a brand-new business from scratch, there are going to be bumps along the road,” the finance minister added as he came under fire for refusing to release the name of the private company running the cannabis warehouse and whether the contract was put to public tender.

Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh said taxpayers and irate customers are entitled to know the details.

“We’ve seen so many issues in a short few weeks … we’ve had mislabelling of products, people not receiving shipments on time, misinformation on the website.”

Read more:

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Fedeli suggested the warehouse deal was signed by the previous Liberal government, leaving Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives little choice.

“This was started long before the election so we’ll have more answers on that in the near future,” he told reporters, evading the question on the nature of the contract.

The location of the warehouse is being kept secret for security reasons.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said he does not know details of any contract with a warehouse operator signed by former premier Kathleen Wynne’s government.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Fedeli should not be shielding the warehouse operator.

“I’m calling on the government to be open and honest with the people of Ontario about this private company that’s failing to deliver and meet expectations.”

Fedeli moved to calm cannabis users concerned they could face shortages again, noting the Ontario Cannabis Store was deluged with 100,000 orders when it opened, more than the orders placed in all other provinces combined.

“I’ve been assured by the Ontario Cannabis Store that we have plenty of supply.”

The government-owned online store is the only legal source of recreational cannabis in Ontario until private stores can open under licence starting April 1. Applications from prospective retailers will be accepted next month.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

Doug Ford accused of trying to sweep Tory sex scandal ‘under the rug’

Premier Doug Ford is facing a growing chorus claiming he tried to sweep a sex scandal “under the rug” as MPPs returned to the legislature for the first time since the bombshell departures of a cabinet minister and two senior staffers.

The Greens and Liberals joined the New Democrats in charging Ford tried to trick Ontarians over the real reason for the sudden departure of economic development minister Jim Wilson 10 days ago.

“It’s obviously political,” Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Monday. “They were trying to mislead people as to why the minister resigned. That’s unacceptable. The premier failed on that account.”

Wilson, a Progressive Conservative MPP since 1990 and a former minister under Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, left Ford’s cabinet and caucus abruptly Nov. 2. A brief statement from the premier’s office said he was seeking addiction treatment.

It later emerged that Wilson was asked to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct involving a male staffer the night before on a business trip to Sarnia. He has entered an alcohol rehab centre.

The premier insisted the full reason Wilson’s exit was not mentioned was to “protect” his accuser’s privacy.

Read more:

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“This is the best cabinet and the best caucus this province has seen — ever,” Ford boasted Monday, exactly a week after he shuffled his cabinet to replace Wilson and to demote Michael Tibollo from the community safety and correctional services portfolio to the Tourism Ministry amid concerns about legal travails before he entered politics.

“I’m 10,000 per cent ... times confident with all our ministers and with our team,” Ford added.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the premier made matters worse for his four-month-old government by not telling the truth about Wilson’s exit.

“As a result, we’re still talking about it today.”

Deputy NDP leader Sara Singh urged Ford to acknowledge an error.

“Will the premier admit this attempt to sweep this serious incident under the rug was a mistake, and going forward, will he commit to taking immediate and also transparent action when dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct?” she asked.

The same day Wilson departed, one of Ford’s key aides, executive director of issues and legislative affairs Andrew Kimber, also left without explanation. As the Star first reported last Thursday, Kimber is alleged to have sexted at least five female PC staffers, including pictures of him in a thong.

There was no official statement from the premier’s office about Kimber. Both he and Wilson are the subjects of an independent investigation.

Sources told the Star another senior staffer — John Sinclair, executive director of the Tory caucus bureau — left after being blamed by Ford for not acting sooner to flag inappropriate texts by Kimber. There has been no official explanation from the government and Sinclair has not commented.

Kimber issued an apology last week and pledged to “seek the help I need going forward.” Wilson has not replied to repeated requests for comment.

Fraser said the government needs to give its staff and MPPs proper training on acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

Government House Leader Todd Smith, who replaced Wilson in the economic development portfolio, said that “it’s unfortunate these things occurred” and would not indicate whether there’s a path back into the party for Wilson if, for example, he is cleared in the investigation.

“We’ll cross those bridges when we get there.”

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

A Mi’kmaw nurse and why his ‘familiar face’ is very much needed in Nova Scotia health care

HALIFAX—Growing up in Eskasoni, Tanas Sylliboy never once imagined he’d pursue a career in health care or become a mentor for Mi’kmaw youth wanting to follow in his footsteps.

But in 2015, he and his high school classmate Terrence “TC” Bernard graduated from Cape Breton University as registered nurses. Sylliboy believes the duo were the first Mi’kmaw men to become registered nurses in the Atlantic provinces.

Sylliboy is now taking his education one step further. He’s at Dalhousie University studying to become the first male Mi’kmaw nurse practitioner in Nova Scotia.

“I didn’t really decide to go into nursing until Grade 12 and it had to do with a science fair project that I did on the diet of First Nation people,” he recalled.

“It was a qualitative/quantitative study examining the diet of high school students, just the fact we’ve gone from eating off the land, from something more traditional, to a more modern diet.”

While presenting his project at a fair in Toronto, he remembers being approached by someone asking if he’d ever considered nursing or health research. He was told, “I think that your people would benefit if you would consider a career like that.”

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Sylliboy was inspired that someone saw that kind of potential in him and ended up applying to Cape Breton University’s nursing program.

He recalls the exact moment when nursing became his passion.

“I didn’t fall in love with the program until going into my second year. The first year was more so sciences, and the second year we got to actually be in hospital,” he said. “After I had my own first patient, I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”

Sylliboy’s first job was in the North Sydney Hospital’s emergency department. Within a few months, he moved to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital emergency department, where he stayed for almost three years before making the decision to return school this September.

“I loved it there. One of the primary reasons why I wanted to be in the ER was because I wanted to be that familiar face in our emergency departments so First Nation people or people from my communities back home wouldn’t be scared of discrimination or racism that they may have experienced in the past. ... We know previous experiences can curtail our present choices,” he explained.

“Making this decision to go back to school was really hard for me because I kind of laid my roots in an area and I feel like if someone came to ER they’d be like, ‘Where’s Tanas? Where’s that familiar face?’ I shouldn’t really think like that because I think that I made a positive change in my department too at the same time.”

One of the contributions he believes he was able to make was gently educating people about the reality of the Indigenous experience and the intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools.

“I came into contact with people who work in the hospital that never heard of residential school, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a huge learning curve,’” he said.

“I thought, this is not embarrassing for the person, but this is embarrassing for the education system, embarrassing for our society, and we need to do something about it. … I’ve always made it my mission to say, ‘Don’t be afraid to ask me questions,’ because if you don’t ask them you’re not going to learn.”

Because the Cape Breton Regional Hospital is close to several Mi’kmaw communities, Sylliboy said he was able to speak his language daily with Mi’kmaw patients entering the emergency department.

“I had people who might not necessarily speak English or have English as their first language. … How are you supposed to promote health when you aren’t even conveying a message?” he said. “So for me it was about being able to be that bridge and mediator.”

Now that he’s in Halifax pursuing his nurse practitioner studies, Sylliboy has picked up some casual nursing shifts at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. He said while he continues to love his work and enjoys the city, being removed from his community and culture can be challenging.

“Because I spent my whole life surrounded by my family, I spent my whole life being able to speak my language on a daily basis, coming here it’s very isolating because the last time I was able to speak Mi’kmaw was probably six days ago when I called my mom,” he said.

“I feel that there’s something missing to the point that I feel disconnected from myself and I feel like that affects me on a personal and professional level because there’s a void that for some reason I can’t fill other than being home. But I can’t think like that because if I think like that I’ll leave and that’s not what I want because once again I do have pressures on me.”

Sylliboy believes more Indigenous healthcare professionals — from doctors to nurses to physiotherapists — are needed across the board and are key to beginning to address some of the health inequities that exist for Indigenous people.

Based on his own experiences as a practising nurse, he’s especially pushing for more Indigenous healthcare professionals in emergency departments and critical care.

“These are vulnerable places. You’re going to feel isolated, you’re going to feel alone. But having that familiar face, you feel less alone, you feel that there’s someone there that understands you,” he said.

That understanding also includes the ability to look at healthcare issues from both a western and an Indigenous lens. Sylliboy said that “two-eyed seeing” approach has proven invaluable.

“If you look at things in a western perspective you’re going to look at your patient and say, ‘These are their vital signs, they’re presenting with this, their CT scan shows this, or their ultrasound shows this,’” he said.

“When you go from the Indigenous perspective you also want to look at the whole picture. How are the dynamics in the family? You want to think about bringing in the nursing perspective to that, you want to think about the social determinants of health.”

Sylliboy said those range from education — can the patient read and adequately understand English — to family dynamics and even whether they have access to clean drinking water.

“For example, Chapel Island in Cape Breton hasn’t had access to clean drinking water in six years and no one is having that conversation in a political standpoint or a health government standpoint,” he said.

“Why is no one considering that? When you think about ailments, when you think about our hierarchy of need, our first need is water. Without water you can’t have life.”

Using the Indigenous lens also results in thinking about past trauma and trauma-informed care.

“This person might not necessarily have experienced residential school firsthand but intergenerational trauma also can exist. Have their aunts and uncles, have their parents gone to residential school? Because we know that residential schools’ effects still ripple beyond generations,” he said.

“We have been seeing it first-hand. We’ve been seeing it with our loss of language, our loss of culture. … We need to kind of focus on honing in on our differences and actually emphasizing with them to say this is what makes us different, this is what makes us special.”

Despite his passion and drive to push for a robust future contingent of Mi’kmaw and Indigenous healthcare providers, Sylliboy said it does get overwhelming being one of so few.

“I kind of have the mentality that I’m going to fix the world, and even my friends say, ‘Tanas, that’s a lot of burden on one person, you need to take some of that off your shoulders and you need to be OK with making one little change, not to fix the whole problem,’ ” he said.


For more stories in this series from StarMetro, click here.

Sylliboy said he’s been humbled on several occasions to be told by Indigenous youth that he inspired them to choose a nursing career. But he encourages them to take inspiration from their own drive and abilities.

“I’m just a stepping stone to build this bridge between Indigenous people and healthcare, and hopefully eventually more and more people are going to be more stepping stones and eventually we’re going to fill this gap and get somewhere to a healthier population so we can continue to be resilient for generations to come,” he said.

“Hopefully, being in this position I get to inspire more people into seeing the reality that we can be nurses, we can be doctors, we can be lawyers, teachers, whatever we want. … Being one of the first Mi’kmaw male registered nurses or the first nurse practitioner, to me it’s just a title. The meaningful thing about it is I’m opening doors that were previously closed. I’m decreasing barriers for there to be a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth and so forth.”

In this Indigenous in Halifax series, StarMetro will explore stories on a variety of Indigenous issues and people for the week of Nov. 12-16, including topics like health care, education, politics and young entrepreneurs. Please share your feedback, or any ideas for future stories, on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #IndigenousHFX. You can also send an email to our editor at philip.croucher@metronews.ca.

Yvette d’Entremont is a Halifax-based reporter focusing on health and environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ydentremont

Hacker’s threat: Pay $857 in Bitcoin or your ‘secret life’ goes public

A nameless, faceless hacker is extorting you. Pay $857 in Bitcoin or videos and screenshots from your “dark secret life” — plus the browsing history on your phone, tablet and computer — will be shared with family, friends and the world.

“You are not my only victim,” the hacker writes. “I usually lock devices and ask for a ransom. But I was struck by the sites of intimate content that you very often visit.”

Several near identical versions of this “phishing” email have been sent out to hundreds of thousands of people in North America over the last few months.

Known by cybersecurity experts as “spray-and-pray” attacks, they are ultimately empty (just don’t click on any attached links) but surprisingly successful threats, say security consultants and police. On Monday, Peel police released a warning to the public about these and other scams.

To make your heart race faster, this wannabe extortionist — he or she identifies as a “programmer” — includes what can be a shocking bit of detail: A password you have used in the past and may still be using. The hacker also claims to have “uploaded malicious code” to your operating system and has “a complete history of visits” you have made to various internet sites.

Oh, and one other chilling element: the threat you just received appears to have come from your own email address.

Attacks like this are on the rise as hackers, stymied by increasingly stronger corporate security, are turning more and more to individuals, who are viewed as much easier marks.

“At our core, human beings are not very complicated. We are motivated by hunger, fear, greed, money and sex,” said Eldon Sprickerhoff, founder of Cambridge-based cybersecurity company eSentire.

“These people throw as many baited hooks out as they can and a steady, though small, percentage of people pay.”

A recent research report by Microsoft said these so-called “phishing” attacks now dominate the cybersecurity landscape. That’s because corporate security is improving, making it harder to crack into a company’s system. Microsoft estimates that 53 per cent of cyber attacks today are “phishing” expeditions, in which a hacker is trying to fool a person or company into paying money or providing credentials or banking information.

Cyber experts say there is no firm number on how many phishing attacks occur in Canada or the United States in a given year, although a conservative estimate suggests hundreds of thousands are received by individuals and companies.

There are two types of phishing: the so-called “spray and pray,” and the targeted type referred to as “spear phishing.” In the latter, a hacker masquerades as a company’s president or chief financial officer and emails a junior accounting executive at the same firm, directing them to transfer, for example, $50,000 to a company as part of a “special project.”

“The person might say we are doing a deal and it will not be announced until next week,” explained Brian Bourne, co-founder of Black Arts Illuminated, an organization that brings information technology security specialists in Canada together to share findings and discuss strategies to defeat hackers. “The person in accounting, who is three levels down, would think, well, it is my boss’s boss, so I had better do it.”

It is actually very simple to make an email appear as if it is came from a known and trusted source. That’s because few safeguards were built in when the simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) that everyone sending regular emails now uses was set up in the 1970s — and it would take a co-ordinated world wide effort to do so now.

Here’s the anatomy of a recent spray-and-pray attack, and how the anonymous e-mailers most likely obtained the passwords of their targets. After receiving a few of these emails, I took an interest.

There are an estimated 5 billion email accounts in the world today, each with a password chosen by the account holder. From time to time, widely used applications with poor security have been hacked and emails and passwords suddenly became vulnerable. One of the biggest known breaches ever was of the networking site LinkedIn in 2012. The email credentials of 167 million people were stolen and now trade on the dark web, a part of the World Wide Web only accessible using special software. Alongside the hacked LinkedIn accounts are the stolen credentials from many others, including MySpace, which was hit by a hack that exposed 360 million user accounts in 2013, and Ashley Madison, which suffered a breach of 30 million emails and passwords

(Those email addresses and passwords remain out there on the dark web. You can check if your information is among them at Have I Been Pwned, a free service maintained by Australian web security expert Troy Hunt.)

In their response to the public back then, LinkedIn and other sites boosted security protocols, and instituted a mandatory reset of compromised accounts. The problem is, according to security experts, many people reuse the same password for other sites.

Enter our hacker, who had an old password of mine.

When I received the hacker’s email, I recalled the particular password he boasted he had “cracked” was one I had used once, many years ago, to join LinkedIn. Others who received the same email have similar recollections. Security experts warn that you should take care to use only one password per site, change it frequently and do not make it obvious — don’t use your dog’s name, for example.

“Hello!” was the introduction line on the hacker’s email, which popped into my inbox on a Monday evening in October. Seemed like a friendly enough fellow.

“I’m a hacker who cracked your email and device a few months ago. You entered a password on one of the sites you visited, and I intercepted it. Of course you will change it, or already changed it. But it doesn’t matter, my malware updated it every time.”

The address the hacker had sent his email from appeared to be my own email address. Except it was not, it just looked that way. This is called “spoofing.”

My hacker was interested in only a modest payment of $857. He provided helpful instructions on how to use Google to learn how to make a payment to a Bitcoin “wallet” he provided.

“I give you 48 hours to make a payment. If this does not happen, all your contacts will get crazy shots from your dark, secret life,” the hacker wrote.

The hacker made a series of claims, all bogus as it turned out. One was that he had uploaded “malicious code to your Operation System” — untrue, our security techs at the Star say.

Experts in cybersecurity say that although people do pay this ransom, these hackers actually do not have access to your account, the camera on your phone or your browsing history (although clicking on links in the email could upload malware to your device).

What is most likely to have happened is that my hacker purchased a portion of the LinkedIn data from the dark web — perhaps for as little as $2,000, experts say — and then went “phishing.”

The best advice cyber experts have is to use unique passwords, never re-use them, and change them often. The data is still out there, hundreds of millions of emails and passwords being traded on the dark web.

“Every time any website gets knocked over, whether it is a car forum or LinkedIn or Uber or Ashley Madison or insert breach of the day, those credentials get posted on the dark web and are scraped by unsavoury individuals,” said Bourne. “At that point, it is pretty much public domain, your user name and what password you used.”

As to how many people bite on a phishing attack and pay, there is no reliable data, since people who pay do not generally come forward. Few arrests are ever made. The RCMP did lay charges this year against Jordan Evan Bloom, 27, of Thornhill, who they say operated a database of 3 billion email credentials and sold them on the dark web. Police alleged that he earned $247,000 selling the passwords. The case remains before the court.

And proof that Canada is a bilingual country came this past weekend: the same email from a hacker — but in French.

Text of the first hacker email:


I’m a hacker who cracked your email and device a few months ago.

You entered a password on one of the sites you visited, and I intercepted it.

This is your password on moment of hack: (removed)

Of course you can will change it, or already changed it.

But it doesn’t matter, my malware updated it every time.

Do not try to contact me or find me, it is impossible, since I sent you an email from your account.

Through your email, I uploaded malicious code to your Operation System.

I saved all of your contacts with friends, colleagues, relatives and a complete history of visits to the internet resources.

Also I installed a Trojan on your device and long tome spying for you.

You are not my only victim, I usually lock computers and ask for a ransom.

But I was struck by the sites of intimate content that you often visit.

I am in shock of your fantasies! I’ve never seen anything like this!

So, when you had fun on piquant sites (you know what I mean!)

I made screenshot with using my program from your camera of yours device.

After that, I combined them to the content of the currently viewed site.

There will be laughter when I send these photos to your contacts!

BUT I’m sure you don’t want it.

Therefore, I expect payment from you for my silence.

I think $857 is an acceptable price for it!

Pay with Bitcoin.

My BTC wallet: (removed)

If you do not know how to do this — enter into Google “how to transfer money to a bitcoin wallet”. It is not difficult.

After receiving the specified amount, all your data will be immediately destroyed automatically. My virus will also remove itself from your operating system.

My Trojan have auto alert, after this email is read, I will be know it!

I give you 2 days (48 hours) to make a payment.

If this does not happen — all your contacts will get crazy shots from your dark secret life!

And so that you do not obstruct, your device will be blocked (also after 48 hours)

Do not be silly!

Police or friends won’t help you for sure ...

p.s. I can give you advice for the future. Do not enter your passwords on unsafe sites.

I hope for your prudence.


Kevin Donovan is the Toronto Star’s Chief Investigative Reporter. He can be reached at 416-312-3503 or kdonovan@thestar.ca. Follow him at @_kevindonovan

Susan Delacourt: As politicians and social media take a beating, Trudeau praises traditional journalism

The year is not quite over, but 2018 may well come to be known as the year of buyers’ remorse when it comes to politicians and social media.

Justin Trudeau came to power three years ago as arguably the most digitally savvy prime minister Canada has ever seen.

But in Paris on Monday, it was impossible to ignore a big disconnect in Trudeau’s remarks about politics and the media — full-throated praise for the role of traditional journalism and conspicuously faint praise for how politics is unravelling in the social-media domain.

“One of the institutions that is most under stress right now is a free, independent, free-thinking independent rigorous, robust, respected media,” Trudeau said at the Paris Peace Forum. “If a democracy is to function, you need to have an educated populace and you need to have an informed populace ready to make judicious decisions about who to grant power to, and when to take it away.”

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When the prime minister talked about social media, however, he spoke about how easy it was to use the platforms to “make you angry or make you divided or make you hate your neighbour.” The prime minister did allow that social media was handy for governments to send out quick bulletins of condolence and such, but he also said that political conversations on social media can quickly become a race to the bottom.

“If it ends up in a screaming match between one side versus the other side, whoever is better at nasty is going to win,” he said. That observation is, unfortunately, all too correct.

In fact, when you think about it, 2018 has been a particularly destructive year all around for politics and social media. There’s the ongoing spectacle of Donald Trump’s Twitter rants — Trudeau didn’t mention the president by name during his Paris remarks but the indirect reference to Trump’s social-media habits seemed to be a clear subtext.

Meanwhile, back here in Canada, the Tony Clement saga last week hasn’t done anything to inspire confidence in politics and Instagram, though we should probably assume that most politicians are not using the platform as the former Conservative cabinet minister admitted to using it — as a medium to pursue women whose photos caught his notice.

This in turn led to Clement, a member of Parliament’s national-security committee, becoming a target of an extortion attempt by what he assumed to be a foreign actor.

Clement was long known as one of the early adopters of social media in the Canadian political world. Now he’s known as one of the more creepy digital denizens. That could be the story of 2018 overall for social media and politics — once fun and edgy and cool, now, as often as not, a little bit disturbing, and maybe even dangerous. And it’s not just the ongoing concern over potential Russian hacking worldwide, but also some home-grown, self-inflicted digital damage too.

Let’s not forget that 2018 is the year that brought us the explosive story of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and the revelations — from a Canadian, no less — about how raw data from millions of social-media users ended up in the hands of political operatives working for the Trump campaign.

The Cambridge Analytica controversy triggered a wave of agitation about political parties and their use of data on social media — but not enough, it should be noted, for Canadian political parties to include any data-privacy provisions in the latest election-reform legislation currently before the Senate.

The only conclusion there is that Canadian political parties are still in the fun/cool/edgy phase of digital-media adoption and aren’t yet ready to embrace the idea — which seems to be everywhere these days — that politics and social media can be also creepy, even potentially destructive to the greater good.

Trudeau is not a particularly nostalgic politician, but a glance at his remarks from Paris on Monday would seem to indicate that he’s learning an appreciation of traditional media the longer he’s in power, especially the more he sees of what’s happening on social media.

What the prime minister intends to do with that observation — how he intends to turn verbal support for traditional journalism into any kind of action — is another story for another day. But Trudeau does seem to be noticing, as many of us are, that 2018 hasn’t really inspired any confidence in how politics mixes with social media.

Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: sdelacourt@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt

Edward Keenan: Lessons of King St. streetcar should be applied to bus routes

A year ago this week, I rode to work along King St. and declared that it felt like a “streetcar miracle.” That was the first weekday morning of the transit priority pilot project, restricting car traffic on the street to get the streetcars moving more quickly and reliably.

I rode the 504 route again on Monday, the anniversary of the pilot, and found it still felt like a miracle, albeit a much more crowded one. The stats back up that impression: ridership on the route is up 11 per cent to a subway-like 80,000 boardings per day (or more), travel times from Bathurst to Jarvis are running a full minute faster, and reliability of the streetcars is up over 80 per cent. Cycling in the corridor is also way up, there are more pedestrians on the street, and even car travel times are down.

Despite some high-profile whining by some restaurateurs, I have heard from other restaurant owners supporting the project, and data collected by the city tracking sales in the area through the Moneris payment processing system show business is up.

All this with only a $1.5 million investment from the city, and an implementation time measured in weeks rather than decades.

The debate to have now is not about whether to make it permanent. That’s a no-brainer — a proposition supported by both of the major mayoral candidates in the recent election and, according to a DART Insight poll commissioned by the Toronto Sun and released last month, by 64 per cent of Torontonians.

The big thing to get on with is applying the lessons of its success elsewhere. Not on other streetcar routes (or not only on them), but on bus routes.

Read more:

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I think the experience of other cities, on a model similar to the King streetcar, provides the prospect of quick wins for riders on the bus, especially in the north, east and west of the city, where transit service is currently the most difficult to rely on.

Cities including New York City, London, Bogota and Singapore have helped revolutionize their own public transit by providing bus priority lanes, often coupled with express bus service. In some places, this involves full-on bus rapid transit systems that have track-like lanes constructed in the middle of the road, protected by concrete barriers and stopping at full-on bus stations. In other places it’s simpler, with signs and paint indicating certain lanes are reserved for buses, either all the time or during certain hours of the day (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on some London routes, for example). In some places, only buses are allowed in these lanes; in others, motorcycles, cabs, bikes or high-occupancy carpooling vehicles are also allowed. There are even places where buses get traffic signal priority.

What the differing models have in common is the realization that in many areas, especially suburban ones, buses are the main form of mass transportation right now, and that we can make bus service faster and more reliable without the decades of construction and expense involved in building a subway or LRT line.

And it works. In the Bronx, the first “select bus service” line on Fordham Rd. sped up travel times by 20 per cent and increased ridership by 10 per cent almost as soon as it began travelling on dedicated lanes. A decade after Bogota introduced a rapid bus transit network, the system was carrying 1.7 million passengers and travel times were sped up by almost a third. In London, advances in bus priority and service levels (combined with the introduction of a congestion charge in the central city) saw bus usage surge 60 per cent between 2000 and 2013.

The TTC has recently been expanding its express bus network and enhancing bus service across the city. It seems natural to consider taking some of the busiest of these routes and experimenting with bus priority schemes. Finch and Sheppard already get talked about, naturally, as candidates for busways of some kind. The Markham Rd. bus in the east and Islington or Jane in the west seem like heavily travelled possibilities. The Don Mills bus — a ridership monster already — could be a candidate.

The TTC faces some restrictions on how effectively it can ramp up service during rush hour for both buses and streetcars due to a lack of vehicles. But it can work on getting the priority right and ramp up service to meet demand over time, while it improving the rider experience relatively quickly through speed and reliability.

The King St. project is a success. Now it’s time to share the miracle around the whole city.

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire

Gay Bowmanville woman speaking out after Oshawa church strips her membership for living in ‘disobedience to the Scriptures’

A Bowmanville woman has been thrust into the role of gay rights advocate after she came out to her Oshawa church and was kicked out of the membership.

“It’s clear that something needs to change,” said Kimberley Mills. “I feel that God designed me the way I am and He’s going to love me the way I am.”

Mills had been a member of the Calvary Baptist Church for almost four years before the church earlier this month sent a letter telling her she would be removed from membership because she was living in “disobedience to the Scriptures.”

She says the response she’s received since she went public on Facebook about her experience and the hurt she feels has been overwhelming.

“People who are also believers, who don’t feel this is God’s love,” Mills said. “Pastors are reaching out to me. People are saying ‘God loves you just the way you are.’”

Mills, who was raised in Durham, first attended a service at Calvary Baptist Church after moving back to the area. She became a member and got actively involved as a youth leader.

“I just loved the people, and going there. It’s such a big church. There’s lots of opportunities to meet new people. I loved the kids, not just as a youth leader,” said Mills.

Mills said she started to be concerned about coming out at the church when a sermon took a strong stand against homosexuality. She felt like she wasn’t able to be true to herself while at church.

In her Bible study group, Mills told a few women who were close to her age that she had been together with her partner, Meghan Fowler, for four years now.

“Coming out was kind of a process … It was not accepted,” said Mills. “It never felt right being judged for being gay. It didn’t feel right.”

After disclosing her relationship, Mills said she had several conversations with church leaders and members. They wanted her to repent her sexual orientation, to be “restored” to the Bible’s teaching.

“And they told you, you needed to change,” said Fowler. “I started questioning, how she could spend so much time devoted to a place that can’t accept all of her?”

Then, in early November, she received a registered letter telling her she was being removed from the membership of the Cavalry Baptist Church because of her relationship.

“It is a very serious matter to remove a member for discipline as you will note in the 1 Corinthians 5:5 text, and our hearts are broken over it,” said the letter signed by Dr. Tim Wagner, deacon chair.

Representatives from the church released a followup statement to say that everyone is welcome to attend Sunday services, regardless of whether they are members. However, the church does have the option to remove someone from membership — a “voluntary association of like-minded individuals.”

“We love and care for everyone since we are all made in the Image of God,” said the Calvary Baptist Church statement. “Those who choose to become members of Calvary Baptist Church share our theological and doctrinal beliefs and agree to live in accordance with those beliefs. When an individual ceases to hold those beliefs or live in accordance with them, as has recently happened, that individual may be removed from membership but always remains welcome to attend our services and other programs.”

Mills said she if she did return to the Calvary Baptist Church after coming out, she would be treated differently and couldn’t be involved in the church community the way she was before.

She doesn’t intend to return to the church, but she plans to continue speaking about her experience. She wants to use her story to support other gay people who are scared of being excluded from their faith groups.

“The voice right now is for other people, really at the end of the day it’s all about love,” said Mills. “I was afraid and (Fowler) was afraid to come to the church. With some of the sermons I would share, she would feel we couldn’t be there as a couple.”

Oshawa community advocate Mac Moreau has launched a letter-writing campaign asking the Canada Revenue Agency to review the charitable status of Calvary Baptist Church. As a registered charity, churches receive significant tax breaks from the provincial and federal government — with the requirement that churches devote all of their resources to charity.

“The church has allowed its resources to be used for activities that promote hate and intolerance,” said Moreau. “If you are going to promote hate and intolerance, you shouldn’t receive benefits from the Canadian government that all Canadians contribute to.”

Moreau said the letter — and potentially ensuing CRA assessment — isn’t meant to close the Calvary Baptist Church. The aim is to support other gay parishioners who are feeling pushed out of their churches, and to hopefully serve as a warning to all churches that preach intolerance.

“This isn’t meant to destroy a church family,” said Moreau, who attended the Calvary Baptist Church as a child and said he later left over concerns about the messages of obedience and intolerance. “This is simply to say in this day-and-age, when you’re receiving benefits from the public purse, this is not acceptable.”

Jennifer O’Meara is a reporter for Metroland Media Group’s Durham Region Division. She can be reached atjomeara@durhamregion.com

Vinay Menon: Bribe her, distract her, trip her if you have to, but don’t let Hillary Clinton run for president again

If the so-called Hollywood resistance truly wants to dethrone Donald Trump in 2020, it should now lavish Hillary Clinton with lucrative development deals, publishing contracts, TV shows, film roles, standup gigs — anything that will keep her safely away from another presidential run.

Give her a late-night talk show. Give her Netflix specials. Give her a movie-of-the-week, every week, until the next U.S. election is over. Give her a pop-cultural platform with the WWE or Marvel or Hallmark: “Rowdy Rodham To Headline Washington Smackdown.” “Hillary Clinton is ... Captain America’s Mom.” “Special Edition HRC Condolence Cards, Perfect For Anyone Who Botched A Sure Thing.”

Do whatever it takes to distract her from public office.

You ever read something where, immediately afterwards, you feel compelled to call a scientist at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, just to make sure you haven’t tumbled through a crack in the space-time continuum? You ever contemplate a prospect so frozen in a hellish loop it makes you feel like you’re in Groundhog Day, only instead of Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, all you see is Bill and Hillary Clinton cackling from a porch swing in Chappaqua, vowing to regain power?

You ever think: No, just no?

That’s how I felt after reading an op-ed in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal.


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Written by Mark Penn, a senior adviser to the Clintons from 1995 to 2008, and Andrew Stein, a former Democratic Manhattan borough president, the headline sounded like a threat: “Hillary Will Run Again.”

That’s like saying, “The Hurricane Is Returning” or “Ebola Cure Didn’t Work.”

It carries the staccato promise of disaster squared.

Opening WSJ paragraph: “Get ready for Hillary Clinton 4.0. More than 30 years in the making, this new version of Mrs. Clinton, when she runs for president in 2020, will come full circle — back to the universal-health-care-promoting progressive firebrand of 1994. True to her name, Mrs. Clinton will fight this out until the last dog dies. She won’t let a little thing like two stunning defeats stand in the way of her claim to the White House.”

Hillary Clinton 4.0? Hillary Clinton 3.0 is where this buggy product should’ve been discontinued. Any upgrade two years from now won’t change the operating system — it will only crash the Democratic Party with a virus of hubris and entitlement.

No offence, but losing an election to Donald Trump is like getting beat by a grand piano at a swim meet. All Clinton had to do was float and freestyle. Move her limbs. Make a splash. Instead, she got tangled up in her pantsuit and banged her head on the diving board and now she wants back in the water again?

Would you give matches to someone who burned down your house twice?

Look, I’m not a Hillary Hater. I’m Hillary Neutral. I actually feel sorry for her. As Dave Chappelle once observed of the 2016 election, “Somehow, she just missed the dunk.” That must sting. And it’s possible the hurt will never fade.

But if we’re going to be honest and embrace Hillary Realism, it’s clear she doesn’t deserve a third presidential run anymore than Lou Dobbs should lead the UN.

She had two chances and blew them both, in spite of odds stacked in her favour.

That’s more than enough, especially if you’re on her political side.

Say what you will about Trump, but at least he connected with his voters in a visceral way. To look at the faces at any Trump rally, even two years after he won, is to behold a sea of loyalists who’d gladly give him their life savings and internal organs. Given the deficit and health care, they just might. But that’s the thing: when Trump talks, his fans don’t hear the lies or incompetence; they hear a prophet.

If Trump instructed his voters to stop drinking water, 60 million Americans would succumb to dehydration before Thanksgiving. In Trump they trust.

By sharp contrast, when Clinton talked, her fans looked like they were being forced to eat Brussels sprouts while watching an airline safety video. Her appeal was largely about who she was not — namely, Donald Trump. Even the historic, glass-ceiling promise of the first female U.S. president got mired in the quicksand of blah.

This is why Hollywood needs to do whatever it can to nix Hillary Clinton 4.0.

Railing against Trump week after week is pointless if, in 2020, he’s up against someone with an even worse approval rating today, someone he already beat when he had zero political experience. No wonder Kellyanne Conway reacted on Sunday to news of a possible Clinton 2020 run with: “Dear God, please yes.”

Clinton may believe she has a “claim” to the White House. But Hollywood should realize her only realistic claim is another swing and miss.

At this point, all Clinton is sure to do is give Trump a second term.

Vinay Menon is the Star’s pop culture columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @vinaymenon

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