Category Archives: WRITING

Unpublicized earthquake study sparks nuclear safety reassessment


A 2014 study of historical earthquakes in the area surrounding Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, and a change to how NB Power calculates earthquake probabilities, has triggered a reassessment of seismic hazards at the power plant.

Man says impact of ‘brainwashing’ remains 3 years after leaving Plaster Rock church


Greg Comeau left the Family Worship Center church in Plaster Rock three years ago and he says he experienced what he considers “brainwashing” that still impacts his life today.

Medical marijuana payouts to veterans highest in New Brunswick


New Brunswick veterans accounted for more than 42 per cent of medical marijuana reimbursements paid by Veterans Affairs Canada last year, CBC News has learned.

NB Power pays J.D. Irving $12.3M in gypsum deal penalties, fees


A CBC News investigation reveals that provincial utility provider NB Power has paid a J.D. Irving company more than $12.3 million in penalties and contract renegotiation fees since 2009.

Freetown’s Habs fan, sort of.

Ajayi Decker traps the soccer ball under his right foot for a moment, before deciding where to pass it. He’s a natural centre-back; calm and quiet. The other young teens scramble and shout on the damp, gravelly road in Freetown’s hillside neighbourhood of Wilberforce. Ajayi and his friends idolize soccer stars at clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool and Barcelona. But Ajayi isn’t wearing a soccer jersey, he’s wearing a Habs jersey.

Ajayi Decker in his Habs jersey. Soccer in the only game in Freetown, but North American sports shirts are popular.

Ajayi Decker in his Habs jersey. Soccer in the only game in Freetown, but North American sports shirts are popular.

When I ask about it, he smiles. That Sierra Leone smile. Part shyness, part suspicion, mostly joy. He says his aunt bought him the jersey, but he’s not sure from where. He has no idea who the Montreal Canadiens are, either. The humidity in Freetown usually makes it feel like 40 degrees Celsius here, so when I try to explain hockey – ice hockey, I’m not quite sure where to begin.

Ajayi’s Canadiana is nothing unusual in Sierra Leone. I’ve seen a CBC cap for sale in the market town of Makeni, a Winnipeg Humane Society t-shirt in Freetown’s King Jimmy Market, and an elderly man wearing a white Leafs jersey in a remote beach community only accessible by boat.

More than 7,000 km from Wilberforce, a van creeps along a chilly street in the west end of Toronto. It’s going door-to-door, collecting blue plastic sacks, full of donated clothing. Printed on the bags: the logo for “Sick Kids”, and a message stating that more than 40% of the proceeds will go to the Toronto hospital. It’s not a bad day for the collector. There’s a sack outside about one-in-five houses. The value of what’s inside them is for someone else to worry about.

Clothing collection bags at DYN Exports in Vaughan, Ontario

Clothing collection bags at DYN Exports in Vaughan, Ontario

The used clothing industry is no thrifty matter. Canada exported US$182 million-worth of worn clothing in 2011, most of which was imported in the first place. We’re the fifth-largest used clothing exporter in the world, and it’s booming too. The industry has expanded by 60% in just six years.

The clothes are generally collected in three ways. Door-to-door bag donations, clothing bins and surplus goods at charity stores.

In recent years, parts of the industry have sometimes become less than charitable. Reports of misleading, or outdated labelling on bins, and even violence between for-profit collection companies has eroded public confidence in the practice.

Marc Nanthakumar says such incidents are disheartening. He is one of Canada’s biggest exporters of used clothing.

Dushan and Marc Nanthakumar at DYN Exports in Vaughan, Ontario

Dushan and Marc Nanthakumar at DYN Exports in Vaughan, Ontario

It’s giving a bad feeling to the good people who have the good heart to donate stuff,” he says, standing in the middle of his noisy warehouse in Vaughan, Ontario.

We pay our tax and give back to the community. We are giving in writing that we are not charitable. With us everything is in black and white.”

His business may not be a charity, but he knows that sharing his profits with those in need is the very key to his success. “We’ve made donations to North York General Hospital, Georgetown Hospital, Pickering Hospital,” he says.

In 2012, Nanthakumar was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his services to the community and charity work.

An employee sorts clothing at DYN Exports

An employee sorts clothing at DYN Exports

The 60-year-old Sri Lanka-native first moved to Canada in 1983. He worked for years at a car spare parts exporter, but in the early 1990s, a friend suggested that he use that experience to export clothes.

So, he and a business partner decided to buy used clothes, in bulk, and send them in containers to Ghana. When the ships would arrive in Africa, he would fly there on a Friday, unload the container, pay the duty, sell his clothes to wholesalers, transfer the money home, and be back in Canada for work on Monday morning.

An exhausting effort for a net profit of around $3,000 a job. Eventually, Nanthakumar decided to tell his partner he wanted to go out on his own. But he learned a valuable lesson about the industry when he followed their last shipment to Africa. When he opened the container, he found only rags. He’d been duped by his partner.

The DYN warehouse in Vaughan, Ontario.

The DYN warehouse in Vaughan, Ontario.

When I opened it in Ghana, everyone started screaming at me.” He laughs now, but you can tell it shook him at the time. “I gave all the money back. At least my life was safe. I lost almost $20,000. Whatever I had earned was gone. Plus I didn’t have a buyer anymore.”

His wife Judy told him not to give up. Soon, they were spending evenings in their garage, sorting clothes, bought from the Salvation Army at 4¢/lb.. The couple invested in a baby monitor, to keep an ear on their toddler Dushan, while they prepared the shipments. To make ends meet, Nanthakumar also took a job delivering morning newspapers.

The clothing business quickly grew, but Nanthakumar says the Salvation Army soon raised their selling price. At that point he decided to make use of his paper delivery service by dropping-off clothing bags with the newspapers, and getting a licence to pick-up door-to-door.

Barely a cubic inch goes to waste in the shipping containers.

Barely a cubic inch goes to waste in the shipping containers.

Suddenly he was getting the clothing for free, but says he would voluntarily donate to local hospitals, wherever he made collections. It was a recipe that worked.

Today, his company, DYN Exports, ships to 28 countries, mostly in Africa. It still collects door-to-door, but also from designated clothing bins, and buys from the U.S. branches of The Salvation Army and Goodwill. The Salvation Army in Canada no longer sells its unsold clothing for export. Goodwill says it tries to sell all donated clothes within Canada, but a portion of its donated clothing does end up being sold to clothing recyclers.

One of the big partnerships for DYN is with Sick Kids. The company collects under the hospital’s name, and passes-on 41% of the sales. For Sick Kids, it’s pretty much money for nothing. For Nanthakumar, it’s a respected charity brand that fills those blue sacks. Nanthakumar says other hospitals in the Toronto area now want in on the action, and similar deals are on the way. DYN also collects on behalf of the Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team (OVERT).

DYN Exports ships to 28 countries, mostly in Africa.

DYN Exports ships to 28 countries, mostly in Africa.

Up until 2013, DYN employed over 200 people, and Nanthakumar believes it was then one of the biggest business of its type in the world. A setback came in the form a of leaky roof that destroyed his old warehouse and much of the clothing inside.

His workforce is now just 50, and he’s slowly rebuilding the business at a newer facility. He says the whole episode cost him over $2-million, but previous successes meant he could swallow the loss.

That healthy balance sheet is down to more than just old t-shirts and jeans. Even though DYN specifies it only wants used clothing, pretty much anything you can imagine ends up on the curb, or in the bins. Bikes, plates, mats, pillows, broken toys, single shoes, clothes hangers, and tonnes upon tonnes of torn, or damaged clothing.

Collection bags are for clothing only, but Nanthakumar says he he can find a market for everything that people put into the bags.

Collection bags are for clothing only, but Nanthakumar says he he can find a market for everything that people put into the bags.

But everything can be sold, or recycled,” says Nanthakumar. “No garbage ends up in landfill. We find 70-to-80% is useable [as clothing]. Then, wool and synthetic materials go to India to take the yarn out, to make carpets and table mats. The rags, we cut them and ship them to a company in Brooklyn, for use in the automotive industry. Toys, we can ship to Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq. We have never a problem, selling this stuff.”

He says he takes pride in making sure as little as possible gets thrown away. In fact, he says when he ships a container full of low-standard clothing, pillows and blankets to places like Pakistan, he only gets paid around $4,000. Much less than it costs him to prepare and send it.

We are doing it, because we feel sometimes you have to lose, but it’s going to right place. Somewhere, someone can use it. We even ship single shoes. You think, ‘who has a use for a single shoe?’ In Pakistan they use it, because in certain areas they are so hard to find. My labour is costing me more than $10,000, but at least someone is using it.”

Workers at DYN Exports create the clothing bails.

Workers at DYN Exports create the clothing bails.

At the other end of the scale, vintage clothes are what really pays. His most lucrative international market is, of all places, South Korea. A 40-foot container of Macklemore’s gold will go for up to $80,000.

Buyers also drive up from Toronto thrift stores to sift through his mini mountains of clothes. He knows the buyers make huge mark-ups, but he says he doesn’t have the time or the knowledge to spot a pair of 1971 Levi 501s. He says that’s exactly what slipped through his fingers around 10 years ago. The store owner bought a pair of jeans at DYN for $10, and sold them on for $5,000.

But Africa remains the main market for the used clothing export business in Canada. At exporters like DYN, clothing is sorted into labelled bails before it leaves: “Men’s white long-sleeve shirts”, “children’s shorts”, “women’s short-sleeve blouses”, “baseball caps”, “flip-flops”. They’re then packed into containers, floor-to-roof, not an inch to spare.

A tanker ship moored off Freetown, Sierra Leone.

A bulk carrier ship moored off Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The shipments take six-to-eight weeks to make their way from Vaughan to places like Mombasa, Dakar and Douala. When the bails are unloaded from the shipping container, it’s not long before they make their way to the market. Wholesalers sell bails to buyers. The buyers unwrap the contents and sell to market traders, piece-by-piece.

The African appetite for clothes from North America and Europe is down to two factors: quality and fashion.

In Canada, some may complain about the prevalence of low-quality clothing made in Asia, but relatively speaking, we get the good stuff, and because it lasts, that’s what we eventually donate. In Africa, new, imported clothing generally comes from China, and is of a lower quality.

Clothing bails await buyers at a Freetown wholesaler.

Clothing bails await buyers at a Freetown wholesaler.

Alim Bangura sells men’s t-shirts from a stall in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He, and everyone in the market, refers to the new Chinese-made clothing as “Guinea-Guinea”, named after the neighbouring country through which the clothes are imported.

Used clothes will last,” he says. “Guinea-Guinea will take about one month before you can not wear it. It will not last.”

Bangura, who buys shirts for about $2 a-piece, sells them on for double that. He says the second reason people want Canadian used clothes is to stand out from the crowd.

Normally the bails come with designs you will never see twice. Never see it again,” he laughs. “But with Guinea-Guinea, you see it everywhere. You can not swagger with it!”

This t-shirt will sell for around $3 in a Freetown market

This t-shirt will sell for around $3 in a Freetown market

At a neighbouring market stall, another trader butts in. Alpha Sesay says the most popular clothes of all are from Britain.

We think British people are more stylish than Canadians,” says the men’s t-shirt seller. “The difference is not that vast. People just prefer to put on British clothes for one reason or another.”

Union Jack stickers adorn hundreds of taxis and mini-buses in the capital of this former colony. Just about everyone follows English Premier League soccer. Add to that the fact that the British Army helped end the hellish 11-year civil conflict in 2002, and the Sierra Leonean respect for British fashion is more than understandable.

The CBC logo suggests this batch of caps in Makeni, Sierra Leone came from Canada.

The CBC logo suggests this batch of caps in Makeni, Sierra Leone came from Canada.

Marc Nanthakumar is not too worried about competition from those stylish Brits.

In the long run, I think I can create thousands of jobs. Maybe not just in Canada. But in third world countries,” he says. “If I had capacity I could make 10-times more business in a year.”

DYN’s new president quietly nods in agreement. The student of electrical engineering should know. Dushan has been a witness to this rags-to-riches story for every one of his 22 years.

Ajayi Decker in his Habs jersey.

Ajayi Decker in his Habs jersey.

And, up on that hillside road, overlooking the Atlantic, Ajayi is happy to stick with Canada and the Canadiens too. When I push him for an answer on why he wears the heavy, polyester jersey so often, I see that smile break out again.

I think I just like the colours.”

Green Generation

A four-part series on renewable energy in the province of New Brunswick



Rob Ford’s mysterious popularity – why Canada’s most scandalous citizen is the new Bill Clinton


Toronto Mayor Rob Ford poses for photos at a Toronto mall in 2012

Rob Ford poses for photos at a Toronto mall in 2012

ON THE FACE of it, Rob Ford is to Canadian politics what Paul Gascoigne was to soccer in the ‘90s. Heavy-set, spiky blonde hair, red-faced, an emotional addict with a dysfunctional personal life. But just like Gazza, Rob Ford is man whom some can’t help but love.

Ford’s popularity is a mystery to the world, to the rest of Canada, and to most Torontonians. And even though his infamy is reflected in one ‘90s icon, his popularity is actually explained by another.

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How my country became a beer ad


Chris Bolin/National Post file photo

When I was growing up in Ireland in the ’80s, St. Patrick’s Day meant two things: a day off school and a break from Lenten abstinence.

Back then, most Irish kids were expected to give up chocolate, or potato chips, or even all types of candy for Lent. It was always a struggle for a sweet tooth like me, but on Paddy’s Day (never, ever say “Patty’s Day” to an Irish-born person), all could be forgiven. Chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was like a halftime break in the slog of Lent.

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McKinstry on a mission (Irish Examiner)


Johnny McKinstry will split his time between the Sierra Leone national team and the Craig Bellamy Academy

Johnny McKinstry will split his time between the Sierra Leone national team and the Craig Bellamy Academy.

Johnny McKinstry was 15 when he crashed a motorbike and broke his collarbone. It was perhaps a sign – as if he needed it – that he would not follow in the footsteps of his father Billy. McKinstry Racing has been competing around Europe since before Johnny was born. Billy has been racing since the 1960s. The McKinstrys are a motorcycle family, but Johnny is an international football manager and that accident was just 12 years ago.

This weekend, Billy will be hoping for at least a podium at the Isle of Man TT. One of his riders, Ivan Linton, has qualified in second place for the Lightweight TT race on Friday. One day later, and 3,000 miles to the south, Johnny will be hoping to secure three points against Tunisia, keeping Sierra Leone in the hunt for a place at the 2014 World Cup.

“If I’m honest, this is where I wanted to go with my career,” says McKinstry. “Did I believe at some stage I would get the opportunity to coach a national team and go to a World Cup? It was always the ambition.”

The African sun has covered his face in Irish freckles since he first arrived over three years ago. He could pass for younger than his 27 years. The Lisburn man is now one of the youngest ever senior international football managers. André Villas-Boas may have been 21 when he coached the British Virgin Islands, but Sierra Leone is no speck on the football landscape. The country is similar in size and population to Ireland. Sierra Leoneans don’t talk about the weather, they talk about football – particularly the English Premier League. From August to May, the games pack-out football cinemas in towns and villages across the country.

However, the country’s obsession with the game has not been reflected with success for the national team. The Leone Stars, as they are nicknamed, have only played in two Africa Cups of Nations, and if McKinstry succeeds, he will be taking them to their very first World Cup.

His path to this job began around the time of his motorbike accident. He did some work experience with the Irish Football Association. McKinstry knew he didn’t have the skills of the other youngsters, but he also knew he loved football, and realised he could work on the other side of the orange cones. Pretty soon he was earning his first coaching badges.

“It was something I took to very naturally. By doing one or two things, in terms of tweaking performance and providing advice to players, I could see the impact it was having. From that stage onwards I always saw this as a career.”

Not everyone was so sure. “I remember meeting with career guidance counsellors at school and them asking what I wanted to be. My answer was always that I wanted to coach football for a living,” says McKinstry. “Now, I’ll not lie to you, the response was ‘Oh, well, you don’t just chose to be a football coach,’ and my answer was ‘why not?’ If you can chose to be a top lawyer or a top doctor then there’s no reason why you couldn’t end at the top of this industry.”

Looking back, he can understand the scepticism of his teachers. Just a decade ago, examples of successful career managers like Villas-Boas, José Mourinho and Rafael Benítez didn’t exist. Today, such ambition feels a little less unusual.

McKinstry worked on the coaching staff at Newcastle United and the New York Red Bulls, before taking a job as Academy Manager at the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone. “I was very comfortable and happy in New York, and my phrase at the time, in coming to West Africa, was ‘sometimes you’ve got to role the dice and hope it doesn’t come up snake-eyes.’ My mother didn’t like me for that saying at all. But my family have been very supportive and they are the reason I’ve been able to take such risks and achieve what I’ve been able to achieve.”

McKinstry’s older brother Darren has flown to Freetown for Saturday’s match against Tunisia. He will also accompany Johnny to Cape Verde for his second match a few days later.

Just two months ago, Johnny’s only concern was an energetic bunch of teenagers. The Craig Bellamy Foundation, set up by the Cardiff City striker, is Sierra Leone’s only football academy. Every year it recruits 16 youngsters, who reside at a campus near the capital Freetown. The foundation’s aim is not just to produce professional footballers, but leaders of the future. The boys receive an education following a U.K. curriculum. Scholarships are hugely prized in one of the world’s poorest countries – still largely recovering from the 1991-2002 civil war.

McKinstry has signed a three-game contract with the Ministry of Sport and the SLFA. He will delegate his coaching activities at the academy when dealing with the Leone Stars in June and September. The national team will need to win all three remaining group matches and hope Tunisia slip up again, just to get to the final round of African playoffs.

“I have been at every home international [since arriving in Sierra Leone], and have followed the away games on TV. My knowledge of the players has been quite extensive over that period,” says McKinstry. “I interact very well with everybody. I think it’s part of being from Ireland, we always get along with everyone we run into. It’s very easy for people to come to Africa and separate themselves from the local community, but I think you miss out so much when you do that.”

The previous coach, Lars-Olof Mattsson didn’t live in Sierra Leone. He flew in from Sweden just for games. “Having lived here for three-and-a-half years I have become very embedded in Sierra Leone society and almost feel like an honourary Sierra Leonean. I have gotten to know the country very well. So to have an impact on something the country is so passionate about is something I am very privileged and honoured to do.”

When Mattsson resigned in March he blamed poor organisation and communication issues with the SLFA and the Ministry of Sport. McKinstry says he hasn’t faced such problems, so far. Another major hurdle for the Northern Irishman is the absence of a domestic league. The Sierra Leone Premier League was due to start in March, but because of a lack of funds, it has yet to begin. Consequently, McKinstry has picked his squad from players who are based abroad, mainly in Europe.

Apart from knowing the local football scene, he says the greatest advantage to having lived here is knowing how things work. “The speed at which things get done is probably the biggest challenge. Working in the U.K., Ireland and New York, you just pick up the phone and something gets done in five minutes. Here, that’s not the case. You have to have a lot of patience. That’s not to say you accept tardiness, or accept a lack of effort, but it’s understanding the restraints we are working within.”

It can be difficult for anyone who hasn’t been to Sierra Leone to understand those constraints. Many people here have two or three mobile phone numbers, because no network is reliable. The postal system is limited. Internet speeds are a fraction of those in the developed world. Most roads are not paved. Without a generator, electricity is intermittent, at best. The average Sierra Leonean lives on less than $2 a day, and is not expected to live past their 50th birthday.

Despite the challenges, McKinstry believes his players are good enough to give Sierra Leoneans something to be proud about on Saturday, and that his work, before and after his appointment, has helped to load the dice in favour of the green, white and blue.

“My ambition is, come the day that I step aside from this role, that the bar will have been raised, not just in terms of performance, but in terms of how everyone performs on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “Growing up, my father spent so many hours in the garage, working on the bikes, making sure they were tuned-up. You could see his commitment to excellence. Definitely that’s rubbed off on me in the amount of time and the amount of energy that I commit to football.”

A story on every corner


My first full-time gig as a reporter was a wonderful summer in a small city in eastern Canada. Fredericton is the capital of New Brunswick. It’s home to the provincial legislative assembly and two universities. The problem for news-gatherers is that those three institutions are effectively in hibernation for the summer months. Between May and September, there isn’t much in the way of sensational news in Fredericton. I remember a day where the cameraman and I drove around looking for news. After a few hours of searching, we did a story about a small rise in the number of visitors to a provincial park.

Kambia is close the the Guinean border

Kambia is close the the Guinean border

Developed countries like Canada can be referred to as “developed”, because not much happens. Citizens are safe, healthy, secure and, for the most part, have their human rights respected. Here in Sierra Leone that is not the case. Before I came here, a former JHR trainer told me that “there is a story on every corner.” I think of that phrase almost every day.

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