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Tainted water, Canadian ISIS prisoners, money laundering: Global News investigates 2019

The secrets of Canada’s tap water, explained
Would it surprise you to know drinking water in some Canadian cities contains unsafe levels of lead? A year-long investigation that has involved over 100 university students and journalists found some disturbing answers.

From a groundbreaking investigation into the safety of drinking water to Canadians held in ISIS detainee camps in Syria to exposing Canada’s money laundering problem, Global News took an in-depth look at a wide range of issues in 2019 that sparked public conversation and led to government action.

Tainted water

In November, Global News, along with universities and 10 media organizations, began publishing a series of stories that revealed hundreds of thousands of Canadians could be consuming tap water laced with high levels of lead leaching from aging infrastructure and plumbing.

READ MORE: Quebec to review how it tests drinking water following investigative report

Reporters collected test results that measured exposure to lead in 11 cities across Canada and found out of 12,000 tests since 2014, 33 per cent exceeded the national safety guideline of five parts per billion. The reporting also found the drinking in schools and daycares in several cities were exposed to dangerous lead levels.

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News outlets around the world picked up on the Tainted Water investigation and led to changes among municipal and provincial governments.

Return to Syria

Canadian woman detained in Syria says she accepts she could face prosecution
Canadian woman detained in Syria says she accepts she could face prosecution

Amid the fall of the so-called Islamic State, Global News returned to Syria this year to continue its reporting on the issue of Canadian foreign fighters.

At the Al-Hawl camp, which houses more than 70,000 women and children captured during the final battles with ISIS, Global spoke with several Canadians who are asking for the government to bring them home to be tried under Canada’s justice system.

READ MORE: Kurdish forces struggle to contain world’s unwanted ISIS prisoners in Syria

Canada has so far not repatriated any of the roughly 40 Canadians held at ISIS detainee camps, according to Kurdish authorities.

Canada’s broken recycling industry

In a months-long investigation for a multi-part series, Global News spoke with dozens of communities, companies and industry leaders across the country about the mounting challenges faced by Canada’s recycling industry.

READ MORE: Is Canada’s recycling industry broken?

The result is dire: with few exceptions, more recycling is being sent to landfills, fewer items are being accepted in the blue bin and the financial toll of running these programs has become a burden for some municipalities.

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Reporters also explored how to fix the country’s recycling system by focusing on a system in B.C. that relies on private companies to carry out the province’s residential recycling program.

Following the money, again

On the heels of Global’s months-long investigation into Fentanyl trafficking in 2018, reporters continued to dig into the intersection of drugs and money laundering in B.C., which looked at a then-Liberal MP whose work at a law firm has been linked to financial transactions with an alleged Chinese organized crime figure.

In the series B.C. Casino Diaries, former casino employees who worked for Great Canadian Gaming in Richmond, B.C., revealed how organized crime first infiltrated the gaming industry.

READ MORE: Whistleblower warned B.C. casino in 2000 of alleged ‘co-operation with organized crime’

Global also revealed how Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido’s law firm helped facilitate a secretive B.C. real estate deal — known as a “bare trust” deal — that helped an alleged Chinese “drug boss” hide his ownership stake in a $7.8 million condo development.

And in a national look at the problem of money laundering, Global revealed how the provinces largely fail to prosecute these complex crimes with just 321 guilty verdicts in money-laundering cases over a 16-year period.

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Following media reports on the money laundering, B.C. announced it would launch a public inquiry that has distorted the province’s real estate market and fuelled the opioid crisis.

Justice denied

Global News compiled a database to track the number of criminal cases thrown out in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s R. v. Jordan decision in 2016, which set trial deadlines of 18 months for provincial court trials and 30 months in superior court.

We found nearly 800 criminal cases — ranging from manslaughter to drug trafficking and even murder — have been stayed because a judge found the defendant’s constitutional right to a timely trial had been violated.

READ MORE: Almost half of Edmonton criminal cases ultimately withdrawn

Global Edmonton followed the story with a look at charges being tossed in Alberta over a lack of prosecutors. Data obtained by Global News from Alberta Justice shows that all charges in 47 per cent of cases were withdrawn in the last fiscal year, and that number has been steadily rising since the 2015-2016 fiscal year

Immigration Refugee Board conduct

In 2019, Global reporters continued their in-depth coverage of Canada’s immigration system, exposing the ways in which Canada’s refugee determination system is failing some of the most vulnerable claimants.

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READ MORE: Refugee judge asks woman why her husband wouldn’t ‘just kill’ her

This included claims that refugee judges at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) do not always adhere to the guidelines in cases involving allegations of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Reporting also revealed problems with the board’s process for hiring new judges, including the re-appointment of a former adjudicator who publicly declared that nearly all refugee claimants are liars.

For the good of the force

In January, Global began publishing an ongoing series of stories exploring the RCMP’s “culture of dysfunction” and the way in which the famous force’s indelible image has shielded it from scandal.

READ MORE: Meet the Mounties who allege the RCMP used their disabilities to force them out

The initial four-part series combed through decades worth of public documents to estimate the cost of the force’s failure to reform at $220 million and counting, revisited the case of the first female Mountie to win a sexual harassment lawsuit against the force, and probed the probable impacts of the City of Surrey’s decision to ditch the Mounties.

Those stories paved the way for additional deep dives exploring racism in the ranks, the force’s alleged campaign to get rid of Mounties with disabilities and its second $100 million sexual harassment settlement.

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Broken series

Beginning in November, Global launched Broken, a series reflecting on how we must provide better, more consistent and nuanced coverage of any woman, trans or non-binary person who has experienced violence, abuse or harassment.

READ MORE: Shelters on the front lines help women flee violence — but they’re also in crisis

Reporters tackled a multitude of complicated societal issues that aren’t often explored at length. They probed everything from the rehabilitation of domestic abusers to women of colour’s unique experience of violence and the 30-year lag time for a mainstream conversation about feminism after the Ecole Polytechnique massacre.

These stories are just the beginning, having sparked many people to reach out with their own stories of harassment, abuse and injustice, which reporters are now beginning to investigate.

Inside Ontario’s rocky first year of legal weed 

Ontario has taken perhaps the clumsiest approach of any province to cannabis legalization; unfortunately, with 40 per cent of Canada’s population, that has an outsized effect on the national cannabis economy. The province still has only one store for more than half a million people and has Canada’s second-lowest per capita cannabis sales.

READ MORE: Ontario spent at least $10 million on cannabis stores that never opened

Through the use of freedom of information requests, Global exposed the province’s secret pot warehouse, discovering that the OCS was selling cannabis buyers’ postal code data despite its privacy policy, reporting on how much taxpayers spent to not open the public-sector cannabis stores that were originally planned — over $10 million — and explaining the bizarre outcomes of the province’s decision to assign store licenses by lottery. (One winning property was entered over 173 times.)

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‘Under the Influence’

In a four-part series, reporters looked at the pharmaceutical industry’s influence on Canada’s health-care system — swaying doctors’ opinions, funding medical schools and, ultimately, affecting the type of drugs we are prescribed.

READ MORE: Big pharma paid $151M to doctors, hospitals in 2017-18, but we don’t know who got paid or why

Global News spent months talking to doctors, opioid experts, pharma reps and Canadians whose lives were forever changed by prescription drugs. Reporters obtained and analyzed documents showing millions of dollars poured into health-care industries by Big Pharma.

Read Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4

Questionable conduct in Ontario real-estate 

Ajax property entrepreneur Tarekh Rana haunted by Bangladesh fugitive crime boss doppelganger
Ajax property entrepreneur Tarekh Rana haunted by Bangladesh fugitive crime boss doppelganger

An investigation between Global News and Bangladesh’s The Daily Star newspaper has found striking similarities between a Durham developer and an international fugitive accused of leading a criminal organization behind a series of extortions and murders.

READ MORE: Tarekh Rana is an acclaimed Ajax businessman. Is he also a fugitive crime boss?

The investigation also revealed his business appears to be in disarray and revealed how Rana aligned himself with city council in Ajax, even making a sitting councillor a director of his company.

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In April, Global revealed that a company, 1PLUS12, is currently facing two lawsuits totaling $6.4 million that allege fraud or misrepresentation and is linked to an alleged $17-million mortgage fraud involving high-end real estate across Toronto.

One of their consultants, who recently changed his name, is also behind a B.C. company, that according to claims in court documents, lost investors and creditors almost $19 million.

Local investigations:

Nova Scotia

Construction industry safety

During the summer, Global News used unmarked vehicles to film several Halifax-area construction sites, capturing on tape what appeared to be a wide variety of health and safety concerns. Four independent sources with expertise in construction safety reviewed that footage and alleged it contained life-threatening risk to workers, as labourers toiled on balconies and rooftops with no fall protection, among other risks.

READ MORE: Sources identify ‘huge risk’ on Nova Scotia construction sites

When the Nova Scotia Department of Labour received a copy of the tape, it inspected more than 20 construction sites in the region, many of which were featured in Global News’ investigation. Three sites were issued warnings for not operating safely.

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CODE ZERO

In December, Global took an in-depth look at the rise in temporary emergency room closures as Nova Scotia deals with a shortage of doctors and nurses. Most are unscheduled and can come with as little as half a day’s notice.

Between 2014 and the first three months of 2018, just under half of the emergency rooms in the province — 18 of 37 — were forced to temporarily close, often as a result of a lack of doctors or nurses.

And the number of temporary closures is increasing dramatically, according to data collected from reports prepared by the Nova Scotia government.

Ontario

Abuse at Children’s Aid group homes

Drugs, theft, alcohol and inappropriate relationships alleged at Children’s Aid group home
Drugs, theft, alcohol and inappropriate relationships alleged at Children’s Aid group home

In January, of this year, Global Kingston reported a story about a woman charged with sexual assaults of two minors and her employment at a Children’s Aid Society in Belleville at the time of the offences.

That story snowballed into an investigation that took six months and expanded into Prince Edward County.

READ MORE: Teen ‘sexual cult’ in Ontario foster home known to Children’s Aid Society, victim says

Three pieces came from that investigation, one about a Children’s Aid group home that might have led to the death of a young man, another about a foster home in Prince Edward County named by the children who lived there as a ‘sexual cult’ and a third about a victim who came forward about her abuse as a child in a foster home, only to be ignored.

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Soldiers aid commission

The Ontario Soldiers’ Aid Commission, the province’s emergency grant program for veterans, turns away veterans of recent conflicts while returning most of its budget unspent every year to the government, documents released under access-to-information laws show.

READ MORE: Ontario’s veterans’ fund turns younger vets away, returns money to government unspent

The provincial law it works under was last updated in 1970 and doesn’t let it give money to veterans of any conflict more recent than Korea. So while veterans of more recent wars often ask the volunteer board for help, they must be turned away. (The documents show that this happens, but the government won’t tell us how often.)

Lethbridge 

Blood Tribe opioid crisis

Amid Canada’s opioid crisis which has killed more than 14,000, Global Lethbridge took a deeper look at the effect the deadly painkiller were having in a southern Alberta community and

The Blood Tribe is the largest reserve in Canada, but carfentanil – a drug 100 times more potent than fentanyl – is killing people in record numbers and the community has made repeated, desperate calls for help that have gone unanswered.

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Manitoba

Questionable spending at Sagkeeng FN
Questionable spending at Sagkeeng FN

Sagkeeng First Nation health care centre investigation

Global Winnipeg revealed in June that Employees at a Manitoba health centre received more than a million dollars in questionable payouts – including thousands in cash advances and extensive entertainment costs – over the course of 18 months.

READ MORE: Internal audit finds $1.3 million in questionable spending at Sagkeeng First Nation health centre

An internal audit, which reporters obtained exclusively, found that

Between Apr. 1, 2016 through Oct. 31, 2017, employees at the Fort Alexander Health Centre received more than $1.3 million above their salaries. The audit also revealed instances of $1,000 cash advances, extensive travel entertainment costs (including escape rooms, movie theatres and toy stores), and tens of thousands of dollars in “finders fees” for writing grant proposals.

Edmonton 

Calcium chloride in water

Through Freedom of Information requests, Global News uncovered documents regarding Edmonton’s calcium chloride program that were previously undisclosed to city councillors.​ The documents revealed that the anti-icing agent was more detrimental to concrete and asphalt than sodium chloride and was classified as a hazardous waste after a test from the water utility.

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READ MORE: Test reveals calcium chloride exceeds Edmonton bylaws; councillors not briefed

The stories prompted hours of debate as councillors discussed the new information and the future of the anti-icing program. Ultimately, the city paused the program for one year to assess other snow-clearing options.