Tag Archives: One Thousand and One Nights

An underground tunnel to the trial of the century

IMG_0053After a long adjournment in the trial of suspended Sen. Mike Duffy, as I sit here girding myself for Part II of that endless spectacle, I can’t help but reflect on how, one sunny Toronto morning back in March, I climbed down a ladder into the earth, ducked into a tunnel below York University, then emerged weeks later to find myself in the murky surroundings of Ottawa’s Elgin St. courthouse, hearing the strange details of the inner workings of the Senate of Canada.

That ladder in Toronto led to a weird place, like something from the One Thousand and One Nights, or the bandit’s lair in The Count of Monte Cristo. Really, I haven’t been the same since. You can find the story I wrote for Maclean’s magazine about the Toronto tunneler Elton McDonald here—I was thrilled to see Longform.org pick it up—and you can find the amazing Emma Teitel’s “Talk of the Town”-style update on Elton, also in Maclean’s, here.

My serialized coverage of the Duffy trial is available in all its eye-splitting totality here (just scroll down to the bottom to locate Day 1, when I had the chance to point out how Duffy “makes you think of a young king’s least-favourite eunuch“).

I’ll be adding to the Duffy chronicle with a nightly web dispatch throughout June. And Toronto-based illustrator Kagan McLeod and I will continue our weekly Duffy cartoon—find those strips here, including the above action portrait of Duffy training elephants in the art of memorializing “victims of communism.”

The first few weeks of the trial in May landed me on the CBC a couple of times—on The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti one morning, and on The 180 with Jim Brown, where I performed a version of my story about a particularly tedious day in Courtroom 33, which makes me sound like I’m on LSD.

Meanwhile, as I was covered Duffy, an investigative piece I’d worked on for six months, about the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School instructor Bruce Monk and his alleged habit of taking nude photographs of underage female students, came out in Maclean’s. That piece was based on the accounts of four women who attended the school in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and who told me Monk had photographed them alone in various states of undress. A couple of days after the article hit newsstands, Monk lost his job. The piece also led a number of other RWBS alumni to step forward and tell similar stories. Luc Rinaldi, an assistant editor at Maclean’s, wrote this chilling follow based on those new accounts.


Just a few days before the blast

When the quotidian explodes

When I was in Beijing earlier this month I became fascinated by the tourists flowing in and out of Tiananmen Gate, or capturing snapshots of each other with Mao’s portrait in the background, a great ideological Grand Canyon, the vacationer’s proof of purchase.

I wrote about it, but I did not mention how I’d crossed the Jinshui Bridge, above the ancient moat, and entered the Forbidden City myself. On the way, I captured this image of the crowd, a jumble of looks and expressions out of Ezra Pound’s faces in the Paris metro.

Yesterday, very near to where I snapped the shutter, a Jeep jumped the curb and crashed into the gate here, plowing through people, injuring dozens and killing five. Three of the dead were in the vehicle, which was almost certainly aimed into the crowds before it exploded into flame, a suicide attack.

The Chinese aren’t saying much, but foreign news reports, quoting anonymous sources close to the investigation, suggest that the incident may be linked to a separatist movement in Xinjiang, a province in China’s deep west. This Reuters story is particularly good.

The Economist, meanwhile, mentions a string of odd goings on that took place around the Forbidden City in the days prior to the blast. Reads a piece posted to the magazine’s site yesterday:

Just an hour before the crash, reports surfaced that a group of … seven or eight people caused a scene by linking arms and jumping fully clothed into a lake near the Forbidden City, the imperial palace that lies behind Tiananmen. Photos show the group huddled together, standing in the water.

It was also reported that on Friday October 25th a worker at the Forbidden City stabbed to death two of his co-workers, inside the palace’s cafeteria. Official media say the murders were the culmination of a dispute between employees.

The day I went, before I went across the bridge and through the gate, a friend of mine had told me that there is something sexual about visiting the Forbidden City: it is a series of revelations, one layer of intimacy wrapped in another, and at the centre you are in a private realm, an interloper, a voyeur.

Shortly after I’d passed through one of the many interior gates inside the palace, I stumbled across a group of people done up in finery and regalia. They were older, with sunned, wizened faces, and they wore dark turbans or towering headdresses, flowing robes encrusted with jewelry, floral cummerbunds and sneakers. I’ve included a shot of them here (if anyone can tell me how to get WordPress to publish this image as large as the one above, I’d be grateful).


I felt like I’d encountered characters from the One Thousand and One Nights. They did not appear to speak Mandarin, judging from the puzzled expressions on their faces when people approached them to take pictures. I assumed they were members of a minority ethnic group from a far-flung region of China, but they were so arresting a group that I also wondered if they were an official part of the pageant of the Forbidden City, like the green-tinted soldiers who march through the place—paid to wander the courtyards with their flashing teeth and high cheekbones.

But soon they were surrounded by tourists, a mob of vacationers clamoring for snapshots, and the members of the group began to turn their backs on the courtyard and huddle together, their smiles grown wooden.