13 of the week’s best long reads from the Star, Nov. 13 to 19, 2021 – Toronto Star

From car thefts to the continuing Rogers drama, we’ve selected some of the best long reads of the week on thestar.com.

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1. Kevin Donovan’s car was stolen from his driveway in Toronto. It was tracked to a Halifax port, bound for the Middle East

My blue Toyota Highlander SUV was in our driveway in Toronto at 3:01 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30, writes the Star’s chief investigative reporter, Kevin Donovan.

At 3:02 a.m. someone used a high-tech device to unlock the door and start the engine. The thief backed the Toyota out of the driveway and headed up the street, just over a kilometre, past our local high school, and turned right after some train tracks. Most likely the thief had a buddy in a second vehicle who dropped him at our house, then shadowed him up the road.

My Toyota stopped at the side of a small park at 3:05 a.m., according to the internal tracking device. Then all electronic trace of the five-month-old vehicle vanished. Gone with it a brand-new orbital sander, some tie-down straps, golf clubs, two kilograms of bread flour, and a two-pack of Werther’s hard candies.

Roughly 80,000 cars are stolen in Canada each year — 25,000 of those in Ontario, with most of those from the GTA. It’s a growing number due to the pandemic, with supply chain issues reducing the number of new cars for sale or lease.

Police and insurance investigators told me this theft was likely carried out by a web of local and international car-theft rings with connections to the Middle East and terrorism. They told me the Toyota, like most cars stolen by these rings, would never be seen again.

They were wrong. This is one stolen vehicle’s journey.

2. How Rogers came undone: Inside the strangest business battle in Canadian history

The war that split the Rogers family in two began in earnest on Sept. 26, 2021, at a meeting of the Rogers company board, when Martha Rogers, a nonpracticing naturopath with a sideline in scorched-earth tweets, read aloud a resolution that would, once passed, upset the latest and most aggressive schemes of her only brother Edward, a man defined his entire life by the one thing he could never be: his dad.

To say that Edward was shocked by what Martha read that day would be like saying the Rogers family is rich; it’s true, but it lacks something in scale. Edward has largely had his way with Rogers since his father’s death. And yet here was Martha telling him, in front of his family and their father’s oldest friends, that this time it was going to go another way.

Edward’s reaction to the Martha resolution, which eventually roped in lawyers from most of the major law firms in Canada, plus duelling public relations warriors, one former Ontario premier, the sitting mayor of Toronto, and the younger brother of the Second Baron Martonmere, sparked perhaps the messiest, most embarrassing and consequential business battle in recent Canadian history.

3. The battle against airborne COVID has shifted. Why your mask is the last layer of defence

Whether it’s the moviegoer who ditches their mask at the start of the show to eat popcorn and never puts it on again, or the commuter on the subway who sports theirs just below the nose, mask use in Ontario seems to be slipping, literally.

But with COVID-19 cases ticking up again with the cold weather, a reopened economy, and vaccination rates plateauing, Canada’s chief public health officer is urging people to double down on masking as a tool to help stop airborne transmission.

In a series of tweets over the weekend, Dr. Theresa Tam stressed that the virus can linger in the air we breathe, much like second-hand smoke, and a well-fitting mask is vital to protect yourself when spending time in indoor public spaces, particularly in the absence of good ventilation.

There has been a paradigm shift in the thinking behind mask use, to the current emphasis on protecting oneself as opposed to the initial consideration of keeping others safe from what we might be exhaling, said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

4. Margaret Atwood’s feminist paradox: The art and complicated politics of Canada’s most famous author

Margaret Atwood has long believed that the most spellbinding female literary characters display a strong propensity for evil. In a speech at the 1993 Cheltenham Literature Festival, held in England’s Cotswolds, Atwood extolled the female schemers, the pleasure-seeking voluptuaries, the depraved governesses and wicked grannies, the seducers and killers. “Morally spotless” women were insufferable bores, Atwood argued in the speech, which she titled “Spotty-handed Villainesses: Problems of Female Bad Behavior in the Creation of Literature.” Far more compelling were the likes of Lady Macbeth, Goneril and Regan, or Medea, she who poisoned her husband’s lover and murdered her own children. Literature was once full of wicked women, but critical priorities had shifted. In fact, Atwood lamented, readers now tended to judge female characters “as if they were job applicants, or public servants, or prospective roommates, or somebody you’re considering marrying.”

“Spotty-handed Villainesses” has a particular resonance in this moment. It reminds us that Atwood has never been terribly interested in writing female role models, let alone in becoming one herself. She has never been a great representative of the Feminist Trailblazer, unassailably good in the tradition of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Eleanor Roosevelt or Michelle Obama. She has never been a patron saint for all the progressive things.

Still, people expect Margaret Atwood to set a good example. She does not always oblige. Atwood recently incited a storm online by sharing a Rosie DiManno column headlined “Why can’t we say ‘woman’ anymore?” Critics accused her of providing a dog whistle for transphobic propaganda. She was compared to Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling. Hundreds chimed in on Twitter, mostly to scold Atwood or express their disappointment. “Be better!” they told the 82-year-old.

5. Canada is refusing more study permits. Is new AI technology to blame?

Soheil Moghadam applied twice for a study permit for a postgraduate program in Canada, only to be refused with an explanation that read like a templated answer.

The immigration officer was “not satisfied that you will leave Canada at the end of your stay,” he was told.

After a third failed attempt, Moghadam, who already has a master’s degree in electronics engineering from Iran, challenged the refusal in court and the case was settled. He’s now studying energy management at the New York Institute of Technology in Vancouver.

His Canadian lawyer, Zeynab Ziaie, said that in the past couple of years, she has noticed a growing number of study permit refusals like Moghadam’s. The internal notes made by officers reveal only generic analyses based on cookie-cutter language and often have nothing to do with the particular evidence presented by the applicant.

6. This uniquely Canadian conspiracy theory group was on the edges of obscurity. Then vaccine mandates came down

It’s a rainy Sunday and inside a small church on the east side of Vancouver, talk has turned to mutiny.

About 20 unmasked people have trickled into the church’s wooden pews for a meeting, eating potluck soup, holding long hugs by way of greeting and chatting about their own version of current affairs.

The cloudy weather has left the space dark inside, with only intermittent bursts of sunshine coming in through colourful stained-glass windows. Artwork of Jesus, dreamcatchers, and circles of hands cover every spare patch of wall.

Topics among those gathered range from the certain — that COVID-19 was planned by the global elite; to the speculative — the fate of microchipped individuals lucky enough to survive their COVID-19 vaccine.

One woman breaks away from her private conversation, looking down to make a comment to no one in particular.

“We must sound just crazy,” she says. “To someone who doesn’t know about this stuff yet.”

7. Uber warns of higher prices and longer wait times following Toronto’s decision to freeze new licences

Toronto users of Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services could be waiting longer and paying more through the holiday season and beyond.

In the biggest shakeup of the taxi-alternative industry since city council legalized and regulated it in 2016, the companies face the prospect of a steadily diminishing supply of drivers who use their own vehicles to transport app-tapping customers.

The number of active drivers had already dropped dramatically, with a modest bounceback during the pandemic pushing the current number of ride-hail drivers to only about half of 2019 levels.

The latest development — a city council-ordered freeze on licences for new drivers — could have big impacts on the companies and their local customers even as loosened pandemic restrictions have people rediscovering the need to mingle and work outside their homes.

“It is deeply concerning that hundreds of thousands of Torontonians may have reduced access to a safe and reliable ride home during the holidays, especially during a time when TTC services are reduced,” Uber said in a statement.

8. Air Canada is not the Quebecois airline its critics take it to be — if the CEO’s French isn’t good enough, it might be time to move

How odd that any group of people in this country is subjected to linguistic intolerance and there is no outrage, writes columnist David Olive.

The governments of Canada and of Quebec have excoriated Michael Rousseau, the CEO of Air Canada, for a Montreal speech he gave on Nov. 3 almost entirely in English.

For that faux pas, Rousseau has been accused by some of Canada’s highest-ranking politicians in Ottawa and Quebec City of an “unacceptable,” contemptuous regard for Quebec’s French-language majority.

The CEO of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., also headquartered in Montreal, got the message. On Thursday, Ian Edwards cancelled a largely English-language speech he planned to give soon at the Canadian Club of Montreal.

Don’t be surprised if similar slanders are directed at the CEOs of CGI Inc., Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., and Laurentian Bank of Canada.

9. A video caught a car scouting his Toyota. Then his neighbour’s Honda was stolen

Jay Franco is music to the ears at nursing and retirement homes across Canada. For 20 years he has been performing the songs residents grew up with — like “It’s a long way to Tipperary” on Remembrance Day. His Toyota with the licence plate “1MANBAND” is his roadie.

“My musical instruments, speakers, everything I need to put smiles on the faces of people at the homes, that car gets me to my job,” says Franco.

His Toyota RAV4 was almost stolen in what would have been just another statistic in a record year for auto thefts in Toronto and the GTA. What Franco found out, and what he’s doing now, is a cautionary tale. His buddy was not so lucky.

10. First fires, now floods: Why B.C. is caught in a horrific dance between climate extremes

As a month’s worth of rain poured down over 48 hours, the rushing Coldwater River was one of many that breached its muddy banks Monday and filled up the streets of surrounding communities in southern British Columbia as though they were part of a stoppered bathtub.

There were RVs collapsed and half submerged by the water. There were school playgrounds, turned to pools.

In Merritt, B.C., as she worked to help drag stuck cars and trucks, Carly Isaac sent photographs to the Star with a comment.

“Global warming.”

She and the town’s roughly 7,000 residents would later receive the order to flee to either Kamloops or Kelowna, each over an hour away.

Months earlier, this same town had been evacuated because of threats from wildfires.

11. ‘I knew what they were doing wasn’t right.’ Kitchener man’s standoff at restaurant a matter of principle

Sitting in the living room of his Kitchener apartment — mother on one side, girlfriend on the other — Justin Leckie is remarkably circumspect for a guy who has experienced the most vicious public takedown of any disabled person in recent memory.

Last Wednesday, the 32-year-old Kitchener resident, who has Asperger’s — a form of autism — along with obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder and is subject to bouts of depression and panic attacks, stopped in for wings at Milton’s Grill & Bar on King Street, where he showed his vaccination status and was waved in by door staff with his service dog, Epi.

And then, confronted by two men described on social media as the owners, things went horribly wrong.

The men, who Leckie says appeared “primed to beat someone up” and were “just looking for a fight” aggressively demanded to see certification papers for his dog, despite the fact Leckie had eaten at Milton’s a half dozen times before without incident and an official tag was visible on the dog’s vest.

When Leckie refused to comply because the men failed to identify themselves (“I don’t show just anybody my papers”) it sparked a confrontation that quickly spiralled out of control and was documented in a gruelling video that shows the beleaguered Milton’s patron being sworn at, grabbed, pushed and dragged by his feet across the floor as horrified onlookers shout “Leave him alone!” and “Don’t touch him!”

12. Vaccinations in Ontario’s 12-year-olds still lag, suggesting a bumpy road ahead to get shots into even younger arms

There have been big gains recently in the percentage of Ontario 12-year-olds fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but this cohort still lags behind older age groups and remains far below the provincial average.

Children born in 2009 have double-dose rates of 68 per cent — the lowest among all Ontario youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 — despite a significant increase in vaccinations in that age group since mid-August, according to new Ministry of Health data provided to the Star.

This most recent snapshot comes at a time when public health units are preparing to expand vaccine coverage to even younger kids, suggesting that getting jabs into little arms may be an uphill battle.

13. ‘My hope was taken away’: For some, like Katie Dudtschak, pandemic delays in gender affirmation surgeries made the pain even worse

Katie Dudtschak was not comfortable being a boy from the time she was five years old.

She remembers spending hours rummaging through her mother’s jewelry box and clothes drawers, putting on her sister’s bra and panties and wearing them under her clothes to play outside — preferring skipping with the girls to soccer with the boys.

“I didn’t have the words for it,” she says, “but my brain was born feminine in a masculine body.”

When COVID-19 shut down surgeries in Ontario, in March 2020, Dudtschak, executive vice-president, regional banking, personal and commercial banking at Royal Bank of Canada, was shattered. Her long-awaited transition surgery was cancelled, with no definite date for when it would take place. “I had already been to the point where I wanted to take my life,” she says. “The delay was dangerous because … my hope was taken away.”

Dudtschak had waited 50 years to affirm her gender. Now, she’d have to wait one more.