As a journalist, Kevin Marron has written more than 1,200 news stories and features for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, as well as features and columns for magazines as diverse as Report on Business Magazine, Canadian Lawyer, Macleans, Homemaker and New Internationalist. In recent years, he has specialized in business, technology and legal issues, but he also has extensive experience in general news reporting, covering crime, justice, political, social and environmental issues in Southern Ontario.
News reporting: from mobsters to politicians
A freelance reporter with a reputation among editors for getting the full story, finding the most interesting angle and producing clear, accurate copy on deadline, Marron covered the Hamilton-Niagara region for the Globe and Mail from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. He often hit the front page with stories about sensational mafia and murder trials, as well as important environmental, social and political issues of the day.
Here are some examples:
Business journalism: from high tech to high finance
As a business journalist for more than a decade, Kevin Marron has acquired a good understanding of various facets of the technology industry, financial services, health and pharmaceuticals, and the legal profession. He specializes in explaining complex issues and business concepts in a way that is interesting and easily understandable for the general reader. His stories reflect his enthusiasm for the people involved in business, as well his fascination with the social trends that underlie big business developments.
Here are some examples:
Bugged conversations helped put pair in jail 'Everybody's running around with bombs . . .'
Special to The Globe and Mail, 1 March 1983
HAMILTON - Oct. 4, 1980 was a cold day in "Bomb City." On the beach strip a couple stopped to let their dog out for a run. They sat in their car in the shadow of the Burlington Bay Skyway bridge, which gives motorists a view of Hamilton Harbor and the steel mills.
The couple talked about the weather. They were hoping for a snowstorm to cover their stash of dynamite. Their conversation was being bugged by the police.
Oblivious to the fact that their chat was helping to put them behind bars for long prison terms, Douglas Cummings and Elizabeth Wala, also known as Mona Ruff, talked about a bakery that had been blown up. They speculated about "little Tony," Anthony Musitano, who hired Mr. Cummings and Miss Wala and their friend Leslie Lethbridge to set bombs to blow up people's cars, homes and businesses.
Yesterday in County Court, Mr. Cummings was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in a series of bomb blasts between 1976 and 1980 in the Hamilton area, while Miss Wala received a 15-year sentence. Anthony Musitano was sentenced to life, and Mr. Lethbridge received 18 years.
Transcripts of wiretaps introduced in evidence at the trial describe the role of the four in turning Hamilton into "Bomb City."
Mr. Cummings and Miss Wala questioned whether Mr. Musitano was getting anywhere by having these businesses bombed. Miss Wala said it was for extortion but Mr. Cummings called it protection. He said the bombings were a way of telling other Italians to "join the family."
It appeared from Mr. Cummings's conversation that he was impressed by the fact that the police were calling him a "Mafia hit man." Mr. Cummings worked in a steel mill and was proud of his job. He was also proud of the fact that he was a biker, 15 years a member of the Wild Ones motorcycle club and now thinking of joining the Hell's Angels. Nicknamed Fingers because he had lost two fingers in an industrial accident, he boasted that at least once he had left an assailant dead.
Miss Ruff had lived with Mr. Cummings for several years after she left home at 16. She earned money from drug dealing and prostitution. She would hang out regularly at the Bayview Hotel, a grim-looking bar with a colorful reputation. It faces the harbor and the Canadian National Railway tracks in the north end of Hamilton.
The Crown claimed during the trial of Miss Wala, Mr. Cummings, Mr. Lethbridge and Mr. Musitano on a charge of conspiracy to possess explosives in connection with six bombings and one attempted bombing that Mr. Musitano was a representative for an organized crime group that hired the bikers to set bombs for purposes of extortion. During the trial other incidents of arson and bombing in Hamilton were discussed.
When they were not working for the Mafia, the bikers had been busy trying to blow one another up and intimidate the victims of their own crimes.
Miss Wala said, "Everybody's running around with bombs. So like, you know, this is Bomb City, right. That's what it's known for. This place has more bombings than any other city in the whole of Canada for the size of it, I'd say." According to police evidence at the sentencing hearing yesterday, there were more bombings in Ontario from 1978 to 1980 than in any other province. And more than twice as many bombs with timing devices were set in Hamilton than in any other Ontario city.
But in the fall of 1980 it was a bomb that failed to go off that concerned Mr. Cummings and Miss Wala. As they sat watching television in their east-end apartment in the early hours of Sept. 9, the couple worried about whether they would get paid for a botched job, again unaware that they were convicting themselves by their bugged conversation.
"He won't be happy with that bakery. Because remember, we phoned him to get paid the next day," said Miss Wala. Pausing only for Mr. Cummings's monosyllabic replies, she went on to say, "We've been working for the . . . Mafia, . . . everything that's been done is got to do with them . . . . Those gang fights with the Mafia, all those places that have been blown up and all that, all it is just the Mafia dispute, eh, and all they're doing is blowing each other up." The sound of conversations on the police tapes was often drowned out by the television and by the dog, Rocky, who gnawed occasionally at the microphone, which was under a grate.
Miss Wala continued, "The Mafia is out for the business, right. . . . You're all . . . Mafia. Those things only happen in the movies."
Mr. Musitano was evidently not happy that the bomb on Hamilton Mountain did not explode. "That last one didn't go off, right?" he whispered while visiting Mr. Cummings on Sept. 19. "That's . . . bad."
The owner of the Calabria Pasticceria, a bakery in downtown Hamilton, Mr. Musitano had been known to police as an associate of bikers. Assistant Crown attorney Fred Campling described him as a representative of a group that hired the other three defendants. Sergeant Marvin Black of the Hamilton-Wentworth police said Mr. Musitano was "the street man." Sgt. Black is a member of the Hamilton joint forces unit, a police group set up to investigate organized crime. In the taped conversation with Mr. Musitano, Mr. Cummings blamed Danny Powell, a biker nicknamed No Neck, who had been injured in a car bombing, for information leaked to police. Mr. Cummings said Mr. Lethbridge was sending someone down to take care of No Neck.
Mr. Musitano responded, "We helped him . . . . Did he mention our names at all?"
Mr. Cummings explained that the police allegations were being relayed to him by Ronald Vanderkooi, a minor accomplice on whose farm explosives were hidden. "He says Doug and Les are working for the Italians in Hamilton and they're . . . terrorists and they are going to get them, right."
Mr. Cummings said, "Your name was mentioned once, that's all." Mr. Musitano replied, "Yeah, once. That's too . . . many, though."
Mr. Lethbridge also described Mr. Cummings as caught in a bad situation.
"These people offered to. . . pay an amount of money . . . to blow up somebody's house. . . . They ask for one thing and then they, well it gets progressively worse."
Sgt. Black replied, "Well that's exactly what they do with the poor victims, exactly."
In conversation with a friend Mr. Cummings said, "That mob's a lot more powerful than what people think . . . like those two guys that we see. . .
"They're working for someone else," the friend interjected. And Mr. Cummings continued, "Yeah, it's the other . . . guys that come. . . ."
As Mr. Cummings and Miss Wala sat in their living room or drove around Hamilton in September, 1980, all their conversations were monitored by police. They warned one another about being careful not to use the phone in case it was bugged. They speculated about who was informing on them, all the time unwittingly informing on themselves. Miss Wala talked about how Hamilton had changed in her life, how she liked to go to the beach strip before the amusement parks closed and the smell of industry started to drive people away.
"A couple of years, this Mafia . . . has been going on. . . . They finally got rid of the . . .bikers. Now they got to worry about the Mafia. Don't get no rest in this city."
Maggie will postpone divorce until Pierre's 'a common man'
Special to The Globe and Mail, 3 May 1982
The Globe and Mail
HAMILTON - Political pundits may need to ponder deeply at the significance, but a new consideration was introduced on the weekend into the speculation about Canada's future leadership.
"I'll never divorce the Prime Minister," Margaret Trudeau said in a lighthearted response to a question during a weekend conference, "I'll wait until he's a common man."
Speaking at Woman's World '82 at the Hamilton Convention Centre, Mrs. Trudeau had been praising the arrangement whereby she and the Prime Minister, though separated, co-operate in sharing custody of their children. "We didn't want our children to be raised in a broken home so we set aside our differences and said, 'What do our children need?' " Mrs. Trudeau said.
She criticized the adversary system of the courts, saying that she and her husband had their first real fight after seeing lawyers. "We were full of hurt, resentment and guilt and feelings of failure. We certainly didn't need two lawyers telling us how to get the other one."
Mrs. Trudeau also criticized the attitudes of teachers who look for problems in children of separated parents. She said children can be happier sharing the lives of two separated parents than in a tense nuclear family situation. Although her children live with their father, Mrs. Trudeau said she has them at her home after school every afternoon and on alternate weekends.
She added that although her problems in leaving her marriage were like those of many other women, they were "exaggerated out of all proportion." She said she had been used as a political tool to hurt her husband and had intimidated many men and consequently been attacked by the male-dominated news media.
"I felt unfulfilled, unhappy, caught in an old-fashioned marriage. I wanted my own life and my own career," she said. "Mr. Trudeau helped me build up my life," she said, and though she is now separated she is "still a part of the family." This life style requires that both parents have "the maturity not to hate that person so bitterly for breaking your dreams that you cannot allow them to co-parent your children," she said.
Five not guilty of conspiracy against India
Special to The Globe and Mail, 15 April 1987
Five men were found not guilty yesterday of plotting terrorist acts against the Government of India after the Crown attorney refused to disclose information from police informers used in an application for a wiretap. Talwinder Singh Parmar , the religious head of a Sikh fundamentalist group, led a procession of joyful, chanting followers out of the Hamilton- Wentworth District Court building after his acquittal on three charges of conspiracy. ''Being a citizen, what I have gone through is hectic for families, friends, congregation and our whole community in Canada, and this should not happen in a democratic society," said Mr. Parmar, 42, of Burnaby, B.C., speaking through an interpreter.
Mr. Parmar and co-accused Tejinder Singh Kaloe , 36, a Hamilton grocer, have been in custody, kept in their cells for 22 hours a day for their own protection, since their arrest 10 months ago.
They and three other men were accused of making plans to explode bombs at the Indian parliament, other public buildings and an oil refinery in India; to derail a train; and to kidnap the children of an Indian member of parliament. Also found not guilty of all charges are: Surmukh Singh Lakhaian , 31, Daljit Singh Deol , 27, and Sadhu Singh Thiara , 44, all of Hamilton.
Their acquittal on all charges in Ontario Supreme Court came as a result of a ruling that Crown attorney Dean Paquette said made it impossible for him to present sufficient evidence to justify the police wiretaps on which the Crown case was based.
Mr. Justice David Watt of the Ontario Supreme Court ruled last week that the Crown must disclose information from confidential police informants that formed the basis for an application to place eight wiretaps on members of the Ontario Sikh community in March, 1986.
Mr. Paquette said the disclosure of this information would ''compromise an on-going investigation into the bombing and killing of two baggage handlers in Narita, Japan, and would seriously jeopardize the safety of an informant and that informant's relatives."
He said the effect of the court's ruling would be to ''suppress the evidence of the accuseds' own words, their own conversations."
But lawyers representing the five men maintain that the evidence against their clients was weak and constituted little more than angry outpourings of rhetoric against the Indian Government, such as might be heard over the telephone of almost any Canadian Sikh subsequent to the Indian police raid on the Sikh holy temple in Amritsar in 1984. The trial had been probing several omissions and misstatements in submissions made by police to the judge who authorized the wiretaps.
Clayton Ruby, one of the three defence lawyers in the case, said police used misrepresentation, lies and deception ''to make perfectly normal activities appear criminal."
David Gibbons, Mr. Parmar's lawyer, said this case was ''a great example of what happens when governments do things in secret."
But Mr. Paquette said police were ''at worst careless, (and) at worst used some stale information, and none of these inaccuracies or omissions went to the heart of the affidavit (on which the wiretap authorization was based.)" He said the undisclosed confidential information was the most significant part of the affidavit, which concerned police suspicions that a crime - possibly the blowing up of an airplane or a building - was going to be committed. ''The missing components were the engine which pulled the train," Mr. Paquette said.
But Mr. Ruby said he believes the undisclosed allegations are lies, and the only way his clients could prove this would be if the information had been revealed in court.
He also said Mr. Paquette's assertion that the informant's life would be in danger was a fiction, and would have been libelous if not made in court. ''These accused have never, so far as anyone knows, hurt anyone," Mr. Ruby said. Mr. Paquette said he will recommend that the judge's decision on the disclosure of the information be appealed.
He told the court that the ends of justice would be subverted by such a disclosure, and the requirement ''does not give sufficient recognition to the realities of crime and crime detection."
Mr. Paquette said informants' fears that their lives may be in jeopardy are legitimate in view of the nature of the conspiracy alleged and the fervently held view of the accused that the Indian state of Punjab should be an independent Sikh homeland.
Mr. Paquette told the court that the use of informants is crucial in police investigations of organized crime, terrorist groups, motorcycle gangs and sophisticated drug rings. He said such groups live by a code ''where retribution would be wreaked by associates of those individuals who fall victim to law enforcement agencies as a result of the provision of confidential information by informants."
One of the affidavits, on the basis of which a wiretap on Mr. Parmar was obtained, sought to obtain information on two previous crimes: the bomb found in an airliner in Narita, Japan, and the explosion of an Air- India plane en route to Dublin in June, 1985.
Michael Code, another defence lawyer, said the allegations against the five men resulted from an overreaction by police to solve these crimes. He said police blanketed the Sikh community with wiretaps, and eventually heard things that they interpreted as a conspiracy.
Mr. Code described the case as ''a sad commentary on the abuse of wiretapping power." He said Canadian police were ''innocent dupes of a very carefully orchestrated campaign by the Indian Government to discredit Sikhs in this country."
Burning tire dump is major disaster, waste experts say
Special to The Globe and Mail, 16 February 1990
A fire in millions of tires at a rural storage dump in Southwestern Ontario is a major environmental disaster, waste management experts said yesterday.
"I would rank it as one of the most severe environmental episodes in North America," civil engineer Romeo Palombella said in an interview.
He said toxic dioxins and furans, undetectable in small amounts, will be generated in the extreme heat of the fire and dispersed over a wide area, as will metal traces and carcinogenic hydrocarbons.
"The hazardous components generated through combustion and overall loading on the environment will be on the same level as the PCB fire in Quebec," said Mr. Palombella, a former manager of sewage and waste management systems for the Hamilton-Wentworth Region and now a private consultant.
(An illegal PCB warehouse in St-Basile-le-Grand, Que., burned down in August, 1988, forcing 3,500 residents to flee toxic fumes.)
Joe Kennedy, a chemical engineer who has investigated tire dumps for the New York State legislature, said the fire will emit toxic and carcinogenic fumes.
There will be "oils and acid pouring out like a river," said Mr. Kennedy, owner of a recycling plant in Brampton, Ont. The two experts predicted the tires will burn for months, emitting massive doses of toxic chemicals. They also said water will do nothing to extinguish the blaze, which has raged for four days on a lot near Hagersville, about 35 kilometres southwest of Hamilton. They called the use of water bombers "window dressing."
Mr. Kennedy said he is angry about government inaction to finance recycling schemes. "That tire pile was standing there for years as a potential disaster and the only thing people could do is hire a consultant to do a darn study." David Bruer, an information officer with Pollution Probe, an environmental watchdog group, said massive amounts of toxic chemicals from the fire over a long period will be a significant long-term threat to human health, although the short-term impact may be minimal.
The melting tires have been releasing a thick black smoke containing benzene, toluene and other poisonous substances. Long-term exposure to benzene has been known to cause leukemia and other health problems. Toluene can cause heart and lung problems.
Mr. Bruer and Mr. Kennedy both said they are appalled by what they termed the "short-sighted" response of Ontario Environment Ministry staff who at first said the fire posed no immediate threat to residents because the fumes would be widely dispersed.
About 4,000 residents were advised to move out earlier this week. About 300 remained away from their homes yesterday, Hagersville fire captain Jack Eselment said.
John Steele, an Environment Ministry spokesman, said, "Making ridiculous claims of environmental disasters until all the facts are in isn't helping matters but just frightening people in the area." Some of the runoff is being collected, Mr. Steele said, "and separators are removing the black gunky stuff that is coming off."
Ministry records show there is clay soil in the area which, if it covers the whole site, may keep oil from degraded tires out of the water table, he said.
"We don't know all of the concerns. We are trying to address each of the concerns when they come up," Mr. Steele said. "We definitely have a problem, though. There's no doubt about that."
Mr. Steele said tests on air samples on Wednesday revealed that toluene and benzene were present in concentrations about one-tenth the provincial air quality standards.
No tests were conducted for dioxins because ministry staff chose to concentrate on what they considered to be the more crucial chemicals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, Mr. Steele said.
Responding to questions whether tires at the bottom of the inferno could degrade into as much as 21 million litres of oil, Mr. Steele said, " We don't have any evidence that that will happen."
Deputy fire marshal Roy Philippe said fire fighters are making headway but "not as quickly as anyone would like to." Mr. Bruer of Pollution Probe said evidence from smaller tire fires in the United States indicates that they tend to burn for months and even low-level emissions of toxic chemicals may accumulate to massive proportions.
He said it will be impossible to prevent the millions of litres of oil generated by the fire from entering the water table through the limestone shale of the Niagara Escarpment.
"This is a complete disaster, an oil spill in an area where you simply can't clean it up," he said.
How home computers help doctors save lives; Remote access system lets health care professionals make more accurate off-site diagnoses, Kevin Marron finds
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL, 4 March 2004
Winter driving in the mountains of central British Columbia can be difficult and sometimes dangerous. So the Interior Health Authority that delivers services to a scattered population of 700,000 residents is anxious to cut travel time for physicians, other health care professionals and their patients in a region where both a nurse and a doctor have been killed in traffic accidents in recent years.
It's a situation in which lives may be saved through technology that will let consultants view X-ray images on their home computers in the middle of the night, giving immediate advice to emergency room doctors or family physicians and often avoiding the risk and expense of a three- or four-hour drive.
The benefits are obvious to Dr. David Stewart, a urologist and chief of the department of surgery at the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. He says the health authority's Microsoft Windows Server 2003-based remote access system lets him examine X-ray images over the Internet, while talking on the phone with a local physician, who could be hundreds of kilometres away, but can view the same image simultaneously. In many cases, Dr. Stewart says he can see from the X-ray that surgery is not needed, thus saving the patient an ambulance trip and a hospital stay, while generating huge savings for the health authority.
The system also allows him to shave some time off his long working day by viewing patients' lab results and charts on his home computer in the mornings before doing his rounds at the hospital. "It gives me more time at home with my family," he says.
Dr. Stewart is one of a growing number of Canadians now taking advantage of technologies and practices that make it easy for people to access their workplace technology while they are at home or on the road. They are often described as teleworkers - a term that includes telecommuters, who spend part of their working week at home, and mobile workers, who access their organization's technology and data from satellite offices, clients' sites, hotel rooms, Internet cafés or anywhere they can log on to a network.
Technologies that make this possible, such as broadband access, wireless networking, voice over Internet, more powerful portable computing and better security systems, have recently become cheaper, easier to use and so ubiquitous that more than half of the 109 million households in the United States have a digital home office, according to a recent report by the Boston-based research firm Yankee Group.
In Canada, there are no current statistics on the number of teleworkers, but Bob Fortier, president of the Canadian Telework Association estimates there are at least 1.5 million, and believes this number will grow to two million in the next few years. He says it's difficult to know the numbers because probably as many as half of the employees who work from home do so informally, with the agreement of their immediate bosses, but without official sanction or support from their organizations.
A survey of senior executives worldwide, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit for AT&T Corp., found that the percentage of companies where no one works from home on a regular basis is expected to drop to 20 per cent next year from 46 per cent last year. The survey notes that the ability to work remotely over networks has become a necessity in today's business environment as "the expectation that everyone will be in the same office is fast being eroded by actual business practices."
And dramatic savings can be achieved by moving out of traditional offices into virtual offices, organized around networks rather than buildings, according to an AT&T study of its own telework programs that were expected to generate $150-million in increased productivity and reduced overhead during the past fiscal year. Unfortunately, telework causes headaches for many IT managers, because it is being done informally without appropriate policies and technology support, Mr. Fortier says.
In fact, the very sophistication of today's home technology, with its wireless networks and always-on broadband connections can exaggerate the potential problems, as IT managers now have to worry about virus and hacker attacks through home networks, or constant demands for support from people whose office software has been disabled by an upgrade to their kids' video game, says Jeff Crews, vice-president of infrastructure management and marketing at Toronto-based technology service provider Allstream Corp.
So is the physician's balm the bane of existence for Roy Southby, chief information office at B.C.'s Interior Health Authority? Not at all, he says. On the contrary, he maintains that his life is a lot easier as a result of the technology that provides remote access to data and applications for more than 1,200 doctors and numerous other health care professionals.
Mr. Southby says the system avoids most of the key problems telework can create - problems arising from poor security and the difficulty of providing technical support and management for a wide variety of mobile and home-based tools and applications.
Security risks and management hassles are minimized, he says, because all the information and software accessed by remote users is retained in a central location on IBM servers that can accommodate up to 200 users logging on simultaneously. So long as they have a digital security certificate to prove that they are who they say they are, users can log on to the servers over the Internet, no matter what kind of browser or computer they have.
Instead of downloading data from the server, they view it and manipulate it remotely, so that when they save their work, it is saved on the server, not their home computer. This has two key advantages, according to Mr. Southby. Not only does it avoid the risk of someone else seeing confidential information left on a home computer, but also it takes advantage of situations where bandwidth is limited by minimizing the amount of data that has to travel over networks. "It's amazing how quickly it can handle X-rays," he says.
Furthermore, he says, it means that technology managers only need to maintain and upgrade the software on the server, rather than having to send a continual stream of software fixes and security upgrades to thousands of pieces of remote equipment.
Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. has taken a similar approach, using technology from Citrix Systems Inc., to provide remote access to centralized data and applications for pilots, flight attendants, ground crews and other employees, who could be in any one of 40 airports and other locations across the country, away at conferences or working from home. Steve Stretch, the airline's manager of application services, says his life used to be far more complicated because there were 10 different remote access technologies in use at one time. This has now been reduced to three, he says, explaining that the Citrix system works for most purposes, but he still needs other access methods for call centre applications and some highly specialized aviation-related software.
"It has been dramatically simplified, primarily because a lot of the costs have been driven out of remote access. In the past you would have to maintain a big bank of telephone lines and auto-dialers and different technologies just to get people connected to the organization," he says.
Financial pitfalls for common-law couples; Many may not realize the complications their legal state of limbo can create
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL, 18 February 2004
When Jennifer Casey and Mike Fleming moved in together, last year, the economics of their common-law relationship seemed simple. They paid all their household expenses through a joint account, with each contributing an equal share. But as soon as they started to think ahead to future investments, tax planning and major purchases, they realized that figuring out how to handle family finances can be far more complicated and confusing for common-law couples than for those who have chosen to walk down the aisle.
"It's a little overwhelming," says Ms. Casey, a Toronto public relations consultant. Ms. Casey says she recently searched government Web sites looking for answers to her questions about the legal status of common-law couples and "couldn't find anything."
Mr. Fleming, a film company executive, says their finances are still relatively easy to organize now, as they are renting an apartment.
But buying a house together would be so complicated that he would rather wait until they decide to get legally married. They have good reason to be confused about their legal status and what it means for their family finances, according to lawyer Christine Van Cauwenberghe, director of tax and estate planning for the Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc. "When you're married, your rights and responsibilities are clear but if you are living common-law, it is a little bit more of a grey area," she says.
She notes that such couples are treated the same as married couples under the Income Tax Act, but while some provinces, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, give them the same property rights as married couples, others, including Ontario, do not.
With more than 1.2 million Canadian couples living common-law, by Statistics Canada's latest count, the numbers sure to grow with the recognition of same-sex couples, and a majority of people under 30 choosing to live common-law before getting married, there are many Canadians either confused about or blissfully unaware of the financial pitfalls that their legal state of limbo can create, according to Ms. Van Cauwenberghe and other experts. So what do the experts advise?
First and foremost, talk to an adviser who understands the tax, estate and family-law provisions that apply to common-law couples in the province where you live, Ms. Van Cauwenberghe suggests. "You need to understand that the law is changing at a breakneck pace and it's a checkerboard across the country," she suggests.
"Common-law couples have to understand what the rules are in their specific province or territory, and get advice from an adviser who is well-versed in this area, because the issues are very unique and people who dabble may not be aware of how you are treated differently in income tax and estate legislation," she says. Family law in Ontario, for example, sets clear rules for the division of property, assets and support payments after a marriage break-up.
However, these rules do not automatically apply to common-law couples, according to Mary Jane Binks, a partner in the Ottawa office of the law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.
When a common-law marriage breaks up, either party can sue for spousal support or a share of the property but, with no set rules, it is "a free-for-all," Ms. Binks says, "and, if one were to look at it crassly, it's a lawyer's dream because everything is open to dispute."
For couples who have children together, common-law status doesn't have any impact on issues such as custody or child support in the event of a break-up.Couples can avoid future complications by signing a cohabitation agreement, Ms. Binks suggests.
This would involve each partner completely disclosing all of his or her assets and liabilities, then coming to an agreement about what financial arrangements and division of property would be reasonable and appropriate if they ended up going their separate ways, Ms. Binks says.
But most common-law couples do not have such a contract, she adds. Certified financial planner Frank Wiginton, a senior personal banking officer at Bank of Nova Scotia, says he always advises clients who are in a common-law relationship to draw up a cohabitation agreement.
"A lot of people think it's a really good idea because it will avoid fights down the road but never follow through," he says. Talking about these issues and getting lawyers involved seems too stressful for many couples, he says. Another key step is for each partner to make a will, advises David Matchett, vice-president of the financial planning services group at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.
Since estate laws in some provinces, including Ontario, do not recognize common-law marriages, the surviving spouse of a common-law couple could end up with nothing, if their property happens to be in the name of the partner who dies first, he notes.
"You could die and all the money go to your siblings or parents, instead of your spouse," he says. You may not have this problem if you own all your assets jointly in both names, but the simple solution, he adds, "is to spend a few hundred dollars and go to see an estate lawyer to get a will."
Mr. Matchett also suggests checking the terms of corporate benefits packages and pension plans to make sure that common-law spouses are included and will be eligible for survivor benefits. He says a growing number of companies are now adding common-law spouses to their employee benefit plans, but some still do not.
Certified financial planner Ian Adams, a senior adviser with Toronto-based Olympian Financial Inc., who is himself in a long-term, common-law relationship, says he always reminds clients to fill out forms stipulating who their beneficiaries will be for life insurance policies, joint accounts, registered retirement savings plans and other investments. Everyone should do this, he says, but it is particularly important for those in common-law relationships who do not have a will.
The one area where the status of common-law couples is respected consistently throughout the country is in federal income taxes rules and regulations.
When you fill out your tax forms, you must file as a couple if you have been living together in a common-law relationship for 12 months or if you have children together and have been living together for any length of time, Ms. Van Cauwenberghe notes.
Mr. Matchett says common-law couples should remember that they are entitled to the same tax benefits that legally married couples enjoy.
These may not amount to a lot of money, but are nevertheless worth taking advantage of, Mr. Matchett suggests. For example, a couple can combine charitable donations so that the person with the higher income and, therefore, the higher tax bracket can claim the tax credit.
With respect to medical expenses, a couple can take the opposite approach, putting all their expenses on the lower-income person's tax return, thus minimizing the amount that is deductible, Mr. Matchett advises. Common-law couples need to rely more on formal agreements, wills and contracts than most married couples. And this is ironic, given the fact that many of them think they are taking a more informal path, Ms. Binks observes. "People say to me, time and time again - and sometimes through a veil of tears - 'You know, Mary Jane, the reason we didn't formally get married was that we wanted to keep it simple.'
"And yet, nothing has the potential for becoming more complicated than a situation of resolving entitlement upon the break-up of a cohabitation that has been lengthy or where there's a real imbalance of the assets and liabilities."
Bored to tears - even to death - at work; Job boredom affects many high-flying executives and entrepreneurs when they are most successful. The consequences can be disastrous, Kevin Marron writes
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL, 26 May 2004
By the age of 34, Cameron Herold felt he had reached the pinnacle of success. But an encounter in an elevator made him realize that his career wasn't making him as happy as he had thought.
"When one of the other VPs slapped me on the shoulder and said, 'How are you doing?' I turned to say, 'I'm fine,' and collapsed on the floor sobbing," he recalls.
That was in 1999, shortly after he had achieved a major career goal in steering Ubarter.com, his small, Seattle-based e-commerce company through a successful merger with Seattle-based Network Commerce Inc., then a rising star in the booming dot-com firmament.
He had assumed a key role in the larger company and was earning a good salary, but his job had changed and he was now responsible for trimming budgets and cutting back on staff.
It was not until his collapse in the elevator that he realized he was not happy with what he was doing. He was, in effect, bored to tears with his job.
It's a problem that affects many high-flying executives and entrepreneurs just when it seems they are at their most successful, according to business psychologist Averil Leimon, director of the British career coaching firm White Water Strategies.
She says research among her firm's clients and human resource directors at large companies suggests there is "a recurring theme of people who you would define as successful getting to a point where they are demotivated and unproductive. When you scratch the surface of this, you find that they're bored."
The consequences can be disastrous, according to another British expert on workplace issues.
Martyn Dyer-Smith, a psychologist at Northumbria University, says people can become "literally bored to death" as boredom has the same impact on the body as stress.
Highly skilled people may be particularly vulnerable to boredom, once they have perfected their skills and are, therefore, able to perform their jobs with little attention or effort, he says. "The carrot of a good salary makes someone persevere in a job, but if there is little intrinsic stimulation in the work itself, their health may suffer."
This often happens when an executive has completed a big project, says Gerry Smith, vice-president of organizational health at Warren Shepell Consultants Corp.
He cites the example of a senior manager responsible for moving his company offices to a new location.
He was "absolutely brilliant, totally on the ball" in orchestrating the major move but became very unproductive once it was done. "He was suffering from boredom. There was no challenge left in the job, no stimulation day to day." Ms. Leimon says organizations see a drop of productivity and risk losing key employees when boredom makes executives "just go off the boil."
Ms. Leimon says it is often because the nature of their work has changed and "they're no longer using the strengths that give them most joy."
This is what Mr. Herold came to realize. "It wasn't as much fun, as we weren't able to control the direction any more. I asked myself, 'Is this what I really want to do every day?' " he says.
The answer was no. So he quit his job and moved back to his home town of Vancouver, where he subsequently found a job that he loves: managing operations and franchises for the junk removal service 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
One role Mr. Herold performs in his present job is to offer career coaching to other employees.
"Most companies have employees on a career path that suits the company. We try to work with employees to find a career path that suits them," he says. "We're really working on things we like, making sure that the vision is what we want it to be."
This is exactly the kind of situation you should look for, if you're bored with your job, Ms. Leimon says. Many people make quite random decisions when they reach this point, she says, often moving horizontally to another company or switching careers altogether. But these decisions don't necessarily make them any happier, she adds, because they haven't addressed the real cause of their boredom.
Instead, assess your own situation, she suggests. Look at your strengths and measure them against what you are doing and consider what makes for a pleasant life for you and what you enjoy. Then renegotiate with your company to see if you can find a way to redefine your job and make it exciting again.
This may require rethinking your career goals and expectations, since the established path along which people normally advance through an organization may be taking you away from your true strengths and interests, Ms. Leimon says, noting that successful people sometimes find themselves promoted to a level where they feel trapped by their day-to-day administrative responsibilities.
One of her clients, for example, is a highly successful financial director of a company that is expanding rapidly and constantly acquiring new businesses. He is incredibly busy with high-level administrative work, "but what really excites him is lower-order stuff. He adores being able to design processes," she says.
"You may have to rethink the belief that 'I'm only worthwhile if I've got this title or I'm paid more than other people' and become satisfied with being an expert at a certain level," she suggests.
"If you are motivated by status, even giving the job a fancy new name could do it."
Some people get bored almost as a consequence of having achieved their career goals, according to career management expert and Globe and Mail columnist Barbara Moses, author of The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life. People whom she describes as "personal developers" - those for whom workplace goals involve being challenged, learning and developing their craft - may find they run out of challenges by the time they reach the pinnacle of their career. "They've been there, done that and now their options are limited," Dr. Moses says.
Some people may move on to do the same thing for another company, but they find it hard to do something completely new, she says, because in today's workplace "people are rewarded for what they've already done, not what they're capable of doing."
Others get bored because they begin to question whether their work is meaningful and feel that they may have compromised some of their fundamental values, says Ms. Moses.
"They ask themselves, do they want to have written on their gravestones that they were responsible for earning $20-million in profit for the E-Z Acme Laundry Co.?"
One way of responding to this is to look outside of the workplace to find a sense of fulfillment and engagement, whether by learning a foreign language or running a marathon, Ms. Moses suggests.
Mr. Herold has taken such advice to heart. One of the key advantages of his current job is that he can make time for a daily run by the ocean.
Ms. Leimon advises employees to talk to their boss about finding a way to make their work more meaningful - by doing charity or pro bono work, for example, and thus making a positive contribution to the organization's public relations efforts.
But it is also important to be realistic in assessing whether your career is meeting your personal goals, Ms. Leimon adds.
Some people have fantasies or long-standing regrets about some other career option they might have pursued and these come to the surface when they feel bored with their job.
While this could be the time to quit and follow your dream, it may also be necessary to "face up to the fact that I would have been a really awful ballet dancer," she says.
Battling job boredom
What can you do when you're bored with your job? Here are some experts' tips:
Figure out what you do best and love doing most, then try to renegotiate your job description to match your skills and strengths, suggests business psychologist Averil Leimon.
Try to reconnect with what made you happy with your job in the past, what inspired you and made you feel that the work was worthwhile, advises author and columnist Barbara Moses.
Look outside your job for challenge or fulfillment in sports, education or charitable work, both experts suggest. Find relief from the tedium through workplace humour and pranks - the preferred solution of more than half of all Canadian workers, according to an Ipsos-Reid survey conducted three years ago.
Get some executive coaching to help you figure out what situations bring out the best in you and focus your work accordingly, urges consultant Gerry Smith.
Take more holidays, suggests federal MP Lorne Nystrom, who cited lost productivity because of boredom and fatigue as a reason for increasing paid vacations under the Canada Labour Code, in a House of Commons speech two years ago.
But make sure you don't get bored while on holiday, warns psychologist Martyn Dyer-Smith "People who are normally busy can become ill when they don't have enough to do. For people with a low boredom threshold, a holiday can even make them more prone to disease."
Tech test operates by remote control. A vineyard is the testing ground for a wirelessly linked network of sensors that has huge potential for e-business
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL, 21 May 2003
On arid slopes overlooking British Columbia's Lake Okanagan, vineyard owner Don King is coaxing 30,000 plants to grow grapes of exactly the right colour, size and sweetness to produce great ice wine and other fine vintages. He does this with the help of judicious watering, a knowledge of the age-old art of viniculture, handed down over generations -- and electronic sensing devices linked together in a wireless network.
The sensors that monitor the many different microclimates on the rolling terrain help Mr. King determine exactly when and where to apply moisture to irrigate the plants and protect them against frost, thus helping him conserve water, a scarce commodity in this northern desert, and practice what he calls "precision farming."
Co-owner of King Family Farms, which has been in his family for four generations, Mr. King hopes the network of sensors "will allow me to be more in tune with what is going on out there."
For Richard Beckwith, a research psychologist with Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp., the vineyard near Penticton, B.C., is a test bed for a technology that "can have a substantial, profound impact on lots of industries in lots of areas around the world."
Intel has created a new operating system called TinyOS and database software TinyDB that are designed for networks of thousands of tiny computerized sensing devices, called "motes," and scattered in all kinds of settings, from homes and hospitals to factories and farmers' fields.
The motes, combined with miniature computers and radio transmitters, send signals to one another as they collect and communicate pieces of data, such as readings of temperature, light intensity or vibration, and beam these fragments of data back to a host computer, which converts them into meaningful information.
It is a concept that has generated excitement in universities and research laboratories around the world, as it is a technology that promises to extend the capabilities of computing and e-business further than ever before into the physical world.
Intel's vision is that the motes will get smaller and cheaper, as the technology evolves, so that they can be sewn into clothing, hidden in homes, attached to crops, put into all kinds of machines and industrial settings and even scattered by armies on battlefields as so-called "smart dust."
The wireless vineyard is an important step toward realizing this vision, according to Mr. Beckwith, because it is the most extensive sensor network to be deployed outside the research lab in a real-world situation.
Not only is it an opportunity to test the technology in the field but, more importantly, it provides a setting in which the business case and practical applications for wireless networks can be investigated and demonstrated.
Mr. King says the experiment allows him to benefit from technology that costs thousands of dollars today and it has opened his eyes to the potential benefits the wireless sensor networks could bring to his business when the motes go into production later this decade and cost only a few dollars each.
"To produce really good grapes, you need a healthy plant and you need to lightly stress them. You give them a little bit of water, then you stress them to slow down their growth to get more sugar in the berries.
"You want them smaller with better colour and more flavour. But if you go too far in stressing them, the wine can get bitter," he explains, noting that the sensors could potentially monitor every environmental factor that contributes to stress in each plant and help determine exactly the right time to harvest the grapes.
There are now 17 motes -- palm-sized devices contained in a casing the size of a large flashlight -- attached to fence posts in the vineyards, but their number will soon be increased to 70, with a further 70 to be added midway through the growing season.
"It's bigger than anyone has ever tried, in terms of an active network collecting data to be used by practitioners," says Mr. Beckwith.
He says the devices will be smaller and the technology will have changed significantly by the time it is ready for full commercial use. But seeing how they can be used now is important because, "if we want to know what to build in five years, we should know now what their functions will be."
The idea of combining computers, sensors and wireless together for remote monitoring applications is by no means new and is widely practiced in certain industries today, often achieving huge savings and productivity benefits, says Eric Johnson, wireless executive for global services at Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada Ltd.
The promise of the new technology is that it will lead to more widespread use of what is now a relatively high-cost, niche application, says Mr. Johnson.
"We're going to see a leap forward in the remote monitoring space. It will reach critical mass as the volume of demand for chips goes up and the costs go down."
The new sensor networks send their wireless signals in a completely different way from existing remote-monitoring applications, according to Lakshman Krishnamurthy, a senior staff engineer at Intel.
Today's wireless monitoring devices connect directly to a base station via satellite, radio or cell phone network, and they need a fairly strong battery or other power source to transmit their signal.
In a wireless sensor network, on the other hand, the motes all conserve their battery power by sending signals a short distance to nearby motes, which in turn pass it on to the next mote, so that the signal finds its way back to the host computer in a series of hops, Mr. Krishnamurthy says.
A further advantage of this kind of network is that the signal can find its way around obstructions and interference, Mr. Krishnamurthy adds.
"Because of the way wireless is, you cannot always expect to be within range of a gateway, so having this ad hoc deployment of the devices is important. You do not have time to do a site survey and spend time putting sensors in the right places and you can't always put the sensors where the wireless propagation is the best."
Mr. Krishnamurthy says Intel researchers are currently experimenting with ways of combining the short hop transmission method with more powerful wireless networking technologies in order to construct sensor networks on a larger scale. He says this technology is being tried out at an Intel fabrication plant, where sensors are being used to detect faults in machinery by monitoring vibrations. It is also being tested at a theme park, where sensors can be used to keep track of visitors and monitor exhibits.
The first commercial deployment of the technology will likely come next year or the year after, Mr. Krishnamurthy says, but, he adds, "very optimistically, it will be 2006 or 2007 when we see this taking off."
Criminalizing the careless employer
By Kevin Marron
Canadian Lawyer, July 2005
When a construction worker died in April of last year in the collapse of a trench around a garage at a home north of Toronto, it was a tragedy for all involved. But it would be hard at first glance to see the connection between this dreadful accident and the 1992 Westray mine disaster in which 26 men were killed by an underground explosion.
Nevertheless, 68-year-old Domenico Fantini, the supervisor at the site where the driver of a mini-excavator was buried alive, became the first and, so far, only person ever to be charged with a criminal offence under the so-called Westray Bill. This is a set of amendments to the criminal code, conceived in the aftermath of the mine disaster and finally enacted last year, that impose a new legal duty on organizations and individuals to maintain a safe workplace.
The new legislation came out of the recommendations of an extensive inquiry into the mine disaster which highlighted the difficulty of holding corporate executives and directors responsible for unsafe working conditions. The law now allows authorities to conduct criminal prosecutions, in addition to any provincial occupational health and safety charges that may be laid, against anyone with responsibility for directing the work of others and senior officers in an organization who fail to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm arising from work.
As Jason Beeho of Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP puts it, the new law "casts a long shadow." It is, he says, "a big club that authorities can hold over employers' heads to say, 'This is what we can do to you in the worst case scenario.'" This move to criminalize the careless employer or supervisor has profound and potentially disturbing implications for all involved in occupational health and safety, according to many lawyers practicing in this field. It raises the spectre of parallel prosecutions where the charter rights of people accused of criminal offences may be undermined by their obligation to cooperate with occupational health and safety investigations. It also leaves people wondering where responsibly in a large organization begins and ends.
And the use of the new provisions in the prosecution of a an independent construction supervisor on a small job site raises several questions about how the law will be applied - especially in the light of the fact that the one charge of criminal negligence causing death originally laid against Fantini was dropped when the supervisor pleaded guilty on March 3 to three charges under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act and paid a $50,000 fine.
"Chilling" is how Fantini's lawyer Michael De Rubeis describes the legislation that caught his client in its net. "It can really apply to anybody in a supervisory capacity," he says. "It's a frightening situation wondering when is the next time there is an accident and they're going to exercise their discretion and use the criminal code."
The criminal code amendments that flowed out of the Westray disaster were, according to Beeho, "intended to capture the worst of the worst - the cases where provincial legislation is not sufficient."
Yet they were being used in the Fantini case to prosecute "a little man doing a little job for a friend," says De Rubeis. "This was not a large corporation but an individual helping someone he had known for years doing him a little favour and finding himself in this nightmare."
According to De Rubeis, Fantini was a man with an impeccable record who was on the verge of retirement and had never before been involved in a workplace safety incident. He was working on a small $2,000 to $3000 job fixing a leaking basement and made the mistake of leaving the scene for a few minutes to pick up some building materials. "The trench collapsed and he found himself facing criminal negligence causing death and the trauma of being photographed, fingerprinted and going to criminal court. It was devastating to him and his family."
De Rubeis doesn't dispute that his client was at fault in the accident and this is reflected in the three occupational health and safety offences that he pleaded guilty to: failing to ensure that a worker did not enter an excavation that was not properly shored or sloped; failing to ensure that a worker was wearing protective head gear; and failing to ensure the worker was wearing protective footwear.
But the defence lawyer was able to get the criminal charges withdrawn by arguing that it was not in the Crown's interests to use the new criminal code amendments for the first time to prosecute this defendant on this set of facts. Since it was the first prosecution under the new legislation, he maintained that it was likely that any judgement would be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. "It was not fair for this man to be the one who had to fund the testing of this legislation. They should wait till they get a corporation with deep pockets that has got a bad history of safety violations," he says.
Nevertheless, the fact Fantini was charged in the first place, as well as the subsequent plea bargain, raises some "very murky" issues, according to Norman Keith of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP. Keith questions whether police and crown attorneys have been properly trained and instructed on how to deal with the legislation. He notes that the intent of the legislation was to hold senior company officers responsible in situations such as the Westray disaster. But, he says, police officers, inexpert in investigating occupational health and safety issues, are more naturally inclined to look towards the person most obviously and most directly responsible - the most closely connected supervisor.
A further concern for Keith is the relationship between the police and provincial health and safety investigators in making the decision to lay charges, as well as in the subsequent prosecution of criminal and regulatory charges. "I think the regulator will put pressure on police to lay charges, partly for the rather oblique motive of pressuring the accused to plead guilty to a regulatory offence, then strike a deal to have the criminal offence withdrawn. Faced with two lengthy trials, in one of which he could face life imprisonment, the accused will be more open to pleading guilty and paying a fine," he says.
What worries labour and employment lawyers most about the new provisions is the threat that clients' rights to a fair trial will be compromised during the course of the investigation. This is because the rights accorded to an accused person in a criminal prosecution do not apply to provincial occupational health and safety regulations. Unlike police, provincial labour ministry officials investigating a workplace accident can enter a premises and have access to documents without a warrant. Furthermore, company officials are obliged to cooperate with occupational health and safety investigations and answer investigators questions, whereas a suspect in a criminal investigation has the right to remain silent.
As Beeho points out, "This ups the ante, if you will, in terms of employers now having to be mindful of the fact that they've got to be sufficiently careful in what they say and the information they provide to investigators without compromising their obligation to cooperate. They have to think forward to the next step, when the information could end up in the hands of the police."
That is exactly what happened in the Fantini case, according to De Rubeis. The Ministry of Labour gathered information and then York Regional Police got a search warrant to get the information from the Ministry. If the case had come before a criminal court, the defence lawyer says, it would have raised "an interesting Charter issue," as he could have argued that "they were trying to circumvent the Charter by getting a search warrant."
"You get the impression that it was a joint prosecution," De Rubeis adds. Keith says his strategy when faced with this kind of dual prosecution would be to deal with the two investigations separately and make it clear that information provided to the Ministry of Labour investigators is for no other purpose than to comply with obligations under occupational health and safety legislation. He says his firm is now helping clients by providing a checklist of their rights and obligations in both arenas.
Even though the possibility of a criminal prosecution is a scary one, corporate clients should not be unduly alarmed because their responsibilities for safeguarding workplace health and safety have not changed substantially, according to Beeho. Those who have done a good job in complying with provincial health and safety regulations should have nothing to fear from the new legislation. Those who haven't paid due attention to these matters, however, may be more prompted to take more notice, he adds, since criminal cases tend to get far more exposure in the media and the defendants may end up with a criminal record.
One major change is in the number of people who may be held responsible in the event of a workplace accident. The legislation introduces a concept that Beeho describes as "organizational liability," whereby executives may be held responsible for the failures of the organization as a whole. "The big push is that employers ...have got to be able to demonstrate that throughout the organization there are policies in place, checks and balances in place, accountabilities for following up on those policies," he says. "It can't be that fingers are pointed in every direction and everybody throws their hands up and says, 'It's fallen through the cracks.'"
Richard Charney of Ogilvy Renault notes that the liabilities are also more broadly defined under the criminal code amendments, so that companies and supervisors may be responsible, not only for their own employees, but also for independent contractors working on site. He notes that the legislation also refers to "organizations" rather than "corporations", thus making unions and other organizations also open to prosecution for workplace safety breaches. Charney says the legislation will likely have more impact on the advice side of his law practice, than on the advocacy side. In fact, he and other labour and employment lawyers don't anticipate spending much time in court defending clients on criminal charges. They point to the fact that there has been only one prosecution so far and that resulted in the charge being withdrawn. They also point out that it is going to be very difficult to prosecute a case, given all the Charter arguments that will arise. They predict that police and Crown attorneys are going to look carefully before they leap again into these untested waters, while occupational health and safety inspectors will continue to use the provincial legislation in which they have experience and expertise.
In fact, Keith goes so far as say, "It appears to be almost lame duck legislation." Nevertheless, the risk of a criminal negligence charge for occupational health and safety violations is now on the table and the authorities have shown at least once that they are prepared to use their new powers. It is therefore seen as something that no one can afford to ignore.
"I don't think you're going to see a lot of action, but clients do have to worry about it because, if somebody does something really irresponsible they're going to get charged and its going to put a lot of weight on any negotiation for a plea bargain, and because a conviction under the criminal code carries a much more serious aura," says Charney. "If there is a one in one hundred chance of being charged, the odds are still there. You still have to watch what you're doing and be real careful with respect to workers for whom you have responsibility."