My Top Story of 2018

In a nation with an endless supply of high octane news, political drama, and White House turmoil, there are plenty of stories that stood out for me in 2018  – but I’d like to share one in particular that I often think about:

Back in early November, we were on assignment in the small town of Dawson, Georgia, as part of our mid-term election coverage.  The State’s Governor’s race was getting particularly nasty with racist robocalls  and explosive accusations of voter suppression.

It’s an especially sensitive issue in a state where the painful struggle for civil rights still lingers. As we travelled around, I could sense growing fears among African-Americans—not just in Dawson, but across Georgia—that history was repeating itself.

Tamika Williams was one of more than 50,000 voters who mysteriously vanished from voter rolls.  She told us she had been living in the same home in Dawson for more than 6 years and registered to vote in every election without incident – until this year.

She told us when she went to the advance polls, she was told her name was not on the list and was denied her right to cast a ballot.  She says she was given no explanation and instructed to fill out several forms and then mail it in to get her name restored – a lengthy process that probably wouldn’t be resolved until well after Election Day.

We later met up with Reverend Ezekiel Holly. The civil rights pioneer, now in his late 70s, said he returned to his activist roots to ensure eligible voters in the town could exercise their right he helped fight for back in the 1960s.


He brought us to the local NAACP office, where old newspaper clippings from that turbulent era were posted on the wall.  Stories about racially-motivated church burnings were beside vintage campaign posters warning against equal voting rights. It was a sobering reminder about racial tensions in America.

Down the road, a pastor at a small Baptist Church held a get-out-the-vote rally, reminding the congregation how many of their relatives risked their lives for civil rights and it was their responsibility to uphold that right:

In the final weekend before election day, President Trump held a last minute rally in nearby Macon, GA for Republican Brian Kemp. We had a prime spot for this.

In the end, Kemp won the election; Abrams says she will seek political office once again.

But the most meaningful update for me was from Tamika Williams.  After being turned away from advance polls and feeling discouraged, she sent me this photo with her smiling and with a sticker on her shirt – confirming that she voted on Election Day.

tamika williams

Overdue Update!

I’m feeling guilty for not updating this site in almost 4 years! So much has happened.

Perhaps the most important update is that I moved from the Canadian capital in Ottawa, Ontario, to the chaos in Washington, DC as a foreign corespondent with CTV National News.  I arrived here in 2016 just in time to cover its historic election, and it’s been the most incredible assignment of my career:


Trump Rally in Tampa Florida/Oct 2016

There’s no shortage of opinion/analysis on Trump’s presidency so I won’t bore you with mine.  But one thing I promised myself the night he won is that I would brush up on my NAFTA file ahead of messy trade talks. So let’s focus on that story:


The bromance between President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to start off well, but soured quickly. Trump called Trudeau “weak” and White House advisors didn’t respect Trudeau’s globalist world view.

When Trump escalated threats to scrap NAFTA entirely, it triggered a frantic  scramble behind-the-scenes to salvage talks – which included an intervention directly from the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Here’s a yarn I broke during those tense times:

Behind the scenes: Why Trump changed his mind on NAFTA

We covered almost every NAFTA round including high stakes talks in Mexico City.  Top sources often complained that Americans were getting frustrated by Canadian negotiators who warned of “red lines” on various proposals, but refused to provide counter-proposals.  Canadians, meantime, would spin that Americans were being “unreasonable” and often questioned how a nationalist government could negotiate a free trade deal in good faith

Throughout,  I kept hearing Canada’s refusal to crack open its protected dairy market was a “deal breaker” for Americans more than auto and intellectual property.

When the deal was eventually finalized, I had a chance to ask President Trump that question directly in the Rose Garden.  Watch his response here:

Of course, I have several more stories I’ll share with you eventually  But this one stands out because it connected my Canadian expertise with my American experience.

On Assignment: Havana, Cuba

Castro Photo

Reminders of Cuba’s Revolution Are Everywhere in Havana. But There’s Another Revolution Coming.

Communist Cuba is on the cusp of another revolution – but this one is all about modernizing its economy from its Soviet past.

Downtown Havana

Downtown Havana

This small island nation – just  90 miles from the Florida Keys – has been politically isolated and seemingly frozen in time for more than half a century.

But the objective of the historic new diplomatic talks with the United States is supposed to eventually lift the crippling trade and tourism bans dating back to the Cold War.

This dramatic new new chapter in US-Cuba relations will theoretically begin a new era of prosperity in Cuba, and pump in billions in foreign investment.

We were sent to Cuba’s Capital City, Havana, to report on the first round of talks between US and Cuban officials, as well as capture the mood of its people as this country braces for transformation. Our stories ran all week on CTV National News.

Here’s one of our reports:



The restoration of Cuba’s Capitol Building may be symbolic of what’s happening in this country.  President Raoul Castro hopes to turn Cuba into a modern economy that attracts foreign investors.

And many Cubans are optimistic.

Our Taxi Driver, very optimistic of the future.

Our Taxi Driver, very optimistic of the future.

Our taxi driver, Fabio, used the word “Esperanza” – spanish for ‘hopeful for our future’. He says a new influx of American money – tourists and investors – would elevate living conditions for many, generating much needed jobs.

(Sidebar: because I was so impressed with his car I’m posting more photos here.  Fabio is a mechanic and spent 2+ years to fully restore his family’s 1953 Oldsmobile using recycled materials. Incredibly, its the original engine but much of the bodywork was welded/melted from other scrap metal, and repainted. He did an incredible job. I’m sure you’ll agree.)

IMG_3876 IMG_3878 IMG_3879 IMG_3877


So what will the New Cuba look like?  Many wonder if Havana will become a Caribbean Las Vegas.

Take, for example, Havana’s historic Malecón (waterfront).  In most cities, this would be prime real estate. But here, many these state-owned buildings are dilapidated and vacant.

Could this be the new home of a TGIFriday’s, Senior Frogs, an all-inclusive Holiday Inn?

Havana Malecon at night

Havana Malecon at night

Unlikely. Many experts believe the Castro Administration will move very slowly and model its economic transition after China, not the wild-west capitalism of post-soviet Russia.

Which brings the next question of infrastructure: In many parts of Cuba, wireless/internet service is spotty, if there’s a signal at all.  The Castro government says it wants to modernize its communications infrastructure, but many questions linger if the communist government will outsource the building of its technology network in an era of digital surveillance.

In other words, the State will control every aspect of its real estate, its technology, and urban planning. And there are reminders almost everywhere of this country’s revolutionary roots – largely built on rejection and mistrust of American capitalism.

Celebrating Castro

Celebrating Castro At Hotel Where Cuban Government Approved Western Journalists

Putin Photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Celebrity Wall at Hotel Western Journalists Stayed At

Chretien Castro

Former Canadian PM Jean Chretien with Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Photo on display at hotel where Cuban Govt approved Western Journalists

Butcher shop

Butcher Shop has Giant Photo of Castro behind the counter













Yet, while this country is poised for major change – although most indications suggest it will be cautious, and slow – it seems the most vocal opponents of this new era are from Canadian tourists, worried an American influx will spoil their cheap winter vacations.

Cuba Waterfront


Pouring Havana Club

Downtown Havana

Downtown Havana

Downtown Havana

Exclusive Access on Board Canadian Warship

I’ve covered many interesting stories around the world, but consider this one of my more memorable assignments.

2014-10-20 02.49.20

Reporting somewhere along the Black Sea on board HMCS Toronto

My colleague Jonathan Austin and I were recently embedded on board Canadian warship HMCS Toronto as it patrolled the Black Sea under NATO’s ‘Operation Reassurance’ mission – tasked to promote security and stability in Eastern Europe in the wake of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Spanish Warship sails along side HMCS Toronto

Spanish Warship sails along side HMCS Toronto

It was a first hand look at the mandate and the mission. And in what may be a Canadian first, we transmitted our daily reports via satellite off the back of the flight deck – deep in the middle of the Black Sea.

For 7 days, we lived in crammed quarters and experienced the living and stressful working conditions of the dedicated crew of 200+.

Working to Deadline

Jonathan Editing while I write our story inside our cabins. The Black Sea was very choppy at times, and rocked the vessel back and forth.

On Board 1 Deck

View from outside our quarters

We chronicled real-time emergency maneuvers – including exclusive access inside the ship’s Command Centre – which picked up a ‘buzz’ after a pair of Russian fighter jets flew ‘provocatively’ close to the vessel (the night I filed this report, the Black Sea was particularly choppy):

There were also questions about the status/future of the mission after HMCS Toronto reached its maximum patrolling limit in the region under international rules:

Of course, there were military hardware issues that could not be ignored. The only helicopter on the vessel broke down, and HMCS Toronto is showing its age:

Some interesting sidenotes:

Ship Commander Jason Armstrong imposed a strict no-alcohol policy on board the vessel. This was put in place after 3 incidents of “personal misconduct” on board HMCS Whitehorse earlier this year. All crew members we spoke to respected it and understood why this was necessary.

Mission Accomplished

Jonathan poses with HMCS Commander Jason Armstrong after he guided the vessel to dock in Crete.

On shore leave, crew members were limited to maximum limit of 2 drinks per day.

And yes, I felt seasick – despite plenty of gravol. But it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. Many of the seasoned crew wore preventive medical patches behind their ears to prevent sickness.  And for a few days, the Black Sea was very rough.

Political Ottawa Stops To Mourn The Death of Jim Flaherty



Jim Flaherty changed many things – including our money.  Here is he is introducing new polymer banknotes in 2012.

The unexpected passing of the former finance minister united a place known more for partisan division and bickering.

There’s no shortage of columns how MP’s from all political stripes came together to mourn a death in the family (this one is by far the best I’ve read).  The flag above the Peace Tower was lowered.


So with that, I’ll share some of my own thoughts here:

I’ve covered every single budget Jim Flaherty delivered as Federal Finance Minister, including his first one in 2006.  Throughout the years we got to know each other  – we weren’t best pals, but we shared a Queens Park connection and had coffee a few times.  Flaherty was a charming, friendly and genuine man.  He was proud of his Irish roots.  He joked about his links to the “Ferocious O’Flaherty’s” known as notorious pirates who terrorized communities in the 1300’s.

He loved talking politics. He loved dissecting political strategy.  And make no mistake, he could be hyper partisan.  But he was also a pragmatist.

When he pumped billions of taxpayers money into a stimulus program, and drove up the deficit during the great recession of 2008, he admitted it was against his conservative instincts, but he did it because he believed it was the best option to avoid economic calamity.

He also championed programs for those with disabilities.  And it was personal.  One of his sons has a disability.  So every budget had something set aside to help.

But when Flaherty’s health took a dramatic turn last year (I wrote about it back then), the countdown began when he would leave his stressful and demanding portfolio.  And in the months leading up to his resignation from Cabinet, it was clear his passion for the job was fading.  Still, every time I saw him – despite his obvious deteriorating physical condition – he maintained a pleasant and friendly demeanour. Always happy to stop and chat.

All these thoughts raced through my mind as I stood outside his Ottawa condominium tower on this windy afternoon, knowing he had died in his 7th floor apartment earlier that day.

So I began thinking of my fondest memory of Jim Flaherty.  It was at a cocktail party after Budget 2012, the year Flaherty announced he would eliminate the penny to save taxpayers money.  His department gave him a pair of cufflinks with pennies on them to wear when he delivered the budget.  And he did.

That evening, Flaherty gave them to me. For no special reason.  As a rule of principle, I refused them because I don’t accept gifts from politicians … but he insisted.  So I told him I would return the cufflinks when he retired from politics.

Sadly, I never had the chance.



Political 180 by Defence Minister After CTV News Report

A remarkable thing happened last week.

Less than 24 hours after I reported how National Defence sent letters to all 158 families of fallen Afghan soldiers, inviting them to a special commemoration ceremony – but with the caveat they would have to pay their own way to attend –  the Harper government reversed course.

I cannot recall such a quick reversal under this government.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson confirmed before a parliamentary committee the families’ expenses will be covered, although details are still being finalized and will be announced soon.

Nicholson went on to blame his own department for sending a letter that was “premature” and contained “false information.”

The mother of Sgt. George Miok, who was killed in Afghanistan, said if the government does pay for her family to attend the service, “that is really appreciated.”

“We miss him. Every day. Every hour, every minute of the day,” Anna Miok said.

“I don’t want anybody to ever forget my son, because I think he did a big sacrifice for this country.”

The Mioks already had to pay $4,000 out of their own pockets to attend their 28-year-old son’s repatriation ceremony.

The existence of these letters – and the political 180 that followed – is another sting to the Conservative brand, which long proclaimed itself as the party that supports the troops and takes care of the military.

However, the continued crisis of suicides by Afghan veterans suffering PTSD, along with the slow hiring of promised mental health care workers, has raised questions if the government is properly caring for its soldiers in the aftermath of war.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair blamed the government of mixed messaging during question period last Thursday.

“Now the minister is trying to shift the blame, claiming that he’s not responsible for the note sent out by his own office,” Mulcair said. “Enough with the excuses. These families have already paid a greater price than most of us can even imagine. Will the minister of defence minister take responsibility for this latest insult and guarantee that the expenses of the families of fallen soldiers will be taken care of completely by the government?”

Nicholson’s parliamentary secretary, James Bezan, repeated the government’s talking points, that the letter was “premature, incorrect and contained false information” because the event’s details have yet to be finalized.

But many high level sources tell me last month, the Prime Minister’s Office, National Defence and Veterans’ Affairs began contacting charities in the private sector to come up with a fundraising plan to cover some of the families’ travel costs. It suggests the government knew all along that the military had no intention of picking up the tab for families of fallen soldiers.

Here is the military letter sent to families



Crisis in the Canadian Forces


It’s been heartbreaking to report on the tragic suicides of 7 Canadian soldiers in as many weeks.  Many of them were young with new families, like  28 year old Cpl. Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez, a reservist belonging to The Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment based in Kingston, Ont., who was discovered in his apartment last week. 


The body of Cpl. Martinez, who served in Afghanistan in 2010, was found in his apartment in Kingston, Ontario (CTV News Photo)

The military told me Martinez had no medical history of mental illness, or PTSD. But health experts say the symptoms of mental illness can take years to fester, and the smallest thing can trigger thoughts and feelings that lead to tragedy.


Cpl. Leona MacEchern drove into an oncoming semitrailer after leaving a note to her family. (CTV Photo)

For Cpl. Leona MacEchern, it seemed the stress of dealing with her treatment resulted in a horrific “final desperate act”.  Her husband tells me she purposely drove into into an oncoming semi-truck on Christmas Day.

He says his wife – a 20 year veteran of the service – had been battling Veterans Affairs over benefits stemming from dental work going back decades.  You can read his full statement here.

Ever since I first reported on the rash of suicides in the military in November, I’ve been flooded with emails and calls from veterans and/or soldiers who’ve been dealing with the aftermath of war. But this email stands out:

“After reading your report about suicide and mental health in the military, the article about Corporal Leona MacEachern, and her family’s statement, I am hoping that you can pass along my deepest sympathies to the MacEachern family. I wish I could have known her so that I could give her a hug, tell her that I know what she is going through because I have also been through that hell, and tell her that it does get better.

A year ago about this time of year, I was commuting an hour each way on the highway.  I would drive to work and think about crossing over in to the path of a semi.  The only thing that stopped me was wondering if it would be a ‘successful suicide’ or not.

I am the mother of four children and married to a Canadian soldier. Like Corporal MacEachern, I also thought that ending my life would help my family.  They would receive a large life insurance payment and not have to put up with me anymore.

I sought help through my work’s Employee Assistance Program, but the counsellors they put me in touch with were not helpful at all.  One counsellor said that she thought I had ADD.  I told her that even if that was the case, I did not want to live anymore, so what did it matter?

I remember walking my son in his stroller, thankful that it was raining so that no one would see my cry, knowing that I was not going to make it.  I did not know why I was so sad. I was angry and frustrated with myself for feeling this way and the help I sought through EAP and the Community for Mental Health was not helping. Finally I called two psychologists.  One called me back.  The other didn’t.  He said that he had many patients and there was a waiting list but he could see me in a few months.

I took a deep breath and said that I wouldn’t last that long.

Fortunately for me he agreed to see me that Friday.  It was three days.  I agreed to wait three days.  The days were unbearable, just like every other day, but I made it.  That was June 15th, 2013. I have been seeing him on a weekly basis ever since and working on the issues that eventually led me to a deep and dark pit of despair. My recovery from my major depressive episode has been a long and painful process, but I am feeling much better and expect to return to work soon.

I would like to help other people, like Corporal Leona MacEachern, that are struggling.”

The Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program has a confidential 24/7 toll-free telephone advisory and referral service for all military personnel and their families: 1-800-268-7708.

Meanwhile, in India …

Apparently Twitter went into a meltdown when @mvnair212 recently posted this alarming photo and caption:

Meanwhile, in India ...

Sounds crazy, right?  Besides, 15,000+ retweets *must* mean it’s true.

But the folks at Buzzfeed did a Google reverse image search and discovered “either this particular snake is on a human-eating rampage from South Africa to India, or it’s a hoax.”

So while the story behind this photo may have been debunked, the big question remains: What the hell did that snake eat anyway?

Best of the Worst Canada Tribute Videos

It’s only fitting to share this on Canada Day weekend.

Fellow Canuck (and NY1 Host) Pat Kiernan noticed a hilarious twitter “war” between actors Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman on the best (worst?) Canada tribute video, and posted it on his blog.

Moments after I posted it on twitter, I was alerted to another amazing tribute video.

All 3 are below.  Which one do you like best?

From Seth Rogen. “Vancouver”:

From Sarah Silverman. “In Canada”:

From colleague Sheila Scott. “Experience Regina”:

Know of another tribute video?  Let me know.

And Happy Canada Day!

An Afghan Veteran and his Struggle for Health Benefits

Few stories have generated as much feedback as my recent series on Corporal Glen Kirkland, the 29 year old Afghan war veteran and his very public struggle for health benefits.

Arrival at Ramp Ceremony, 2007. (CP Photo)

Kirkland barely surived an ambush by Taliban snipers back in 2007.  Three of his colleagues died in the attack.  To this day, he suffers from PTSD along with a long list of other injuries:

“I’ve lost a part of sight in my right eye, I’ve lost 75% of my hearing, and I’m still picking out metal in my face when I shave in the morning” he told me in an interview.

Kirkland is upset that injured veterans who serve less than 10 years won’t qualify for a military pension. He fears he won’t be able to pay his extensive medical bills or psychological therapy when he is discharged.

So last week, Kirkland accepted an invitation to appear before the House Defence Committee studying the impact of injured veterans.

Yet hours before his appearance, he said his commanding officers called him, and threatened him if he spoke out against the military.

“In a very threatning way,” he described their tone.  “In the past, I’ve been threatened with a dishonourable discahrge, and i felt the same threatning presence from them”.

Glen Kirkland given parliamentary immunity for speaking out against the military (CTV News)

The committee took his claims very seriously.  And in another rare step, committee members gave him parliamentary immunity for his testimony against the military.

Kirkland then gave one of the most compelling speeches I’ve ever witnessed.  It clearly shook members who listened intently.  (you can watch his full testimony here).

The day after we aired his story, Defence Minister Peter MacKay made an unprescidented pledge in the House of Commons:

“[Cpl. Kirkland] will receive every and all benefits to which he is entitled. I will go further to his and his family. that he will suffer no ramifications from his testimony … in addition to that he will continue to serve as long as he decides to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces as long as he wishes”, said Mackay.

What happened next was just as extraordinary.

The following day, Kirkland flew home to his base at CFB Shilo, just outside of Brandon, Manitoba.

In his mailbox was his discharge notice from the military.  He said he was “shocked … speechless” it happened. He said calls to his direct commanders were not returned, and he was getting no answers from the military.  For someone dealing with PTSD, he said the added anxiety wasn’t helpful.

When we aired that story, I’m told defence officials were floored.  An official told me privately there was a “colossal breakdown in the chain of command”.  MacKay and his staff went in full damage control and eventually reversed the decision.

MacKay called the vice-chief of defence staff and ordered him to tear up the discharge notice.

MacKay then ordered the Chief of Military Personnel, Gerry Blais, to call Kirkland personally and smooth things over.

The military reversal lets Kirkland serve until 2015.  He will have reached his 10 year mark and will be eligible for a pension. (Here’s an explainer on Canadian military pensions & benefits)

So Kirkland’s issue may have been resolved.  But he adds he won’t stop his latest battle to get all sick and injured veterans a full pension …. regardless how long they’ve served.