SUSAN BONNER: Hello I'm Susan Bonner, sitting in for Carol.
JEFF DOUGLAS: Good evening, I'm Jeff Douglas. This is As It Happens
SB: Rolling out the unwelcome mat… again. After his first executive order is blocked, U.S. President Donald Trump issues a revised version of his travel ban. But opponents say it still discriminates against Muslims.
JD: Sudden death, delayed response. Seven months after a mentally ill Somali-Canadian man dies following a confrontation with police. Ontario's police watchdog charges an auto officer with manslaughter.
SB: The questions are loaded and the answers are getting hammered. A journalist discovers Google might not be so accurate after all, after the search engines “smart speaker” gets weird.
JD: Comrades in arms. Canada extends its military support for Ukraine and the Defense Minister says he is confident of U.S. support, despite President Trump's apparent ambivalence.
SB: Edie come Edie go. In fact, it's been decades since Big Edie and Little Edie departed the Hamptons estate known as “Grey Gardens”. And now, the one squalid house is up for sale for $20 million dollars
JD: and… force of rabbit. Candace Frazee and her husband cannot stop adding to their collection of Bunny paraphernalia. And when she tells you about their new museum space, you won't believe their ears. As It Happens the Monday edition, radio not sure of this is a bunny-peculiar or bunny ha-ha.
[Music: Theme]Back To Top »
Part 1: Trump travel ban 2.0, Google Home, The Bunny Museum
Trump travel ban 2.0
Guest: Nicholas Espiritu
JD: The first time around, President Donald Trump's announcement of his so-called “travel ban”, which attempted to stop people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. More than a month and several legal challenges later, the administration has taken another stab at it. And this time it wasn't the President making the announcement here as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
JEEF SESSIONS: As President Trump noted in his address to Congress the majority of people convicted in our courts for terrorism related offenses since 9/11 came here from abroad. We also know that many people seeking to support or commit terrorist acts will try to enter through our refugee program. In fact, today more than 300 people, according to the FBI, who came here as refugees are under an FBI investigation today for potential terrorism related activities. Like every nation, the United States has a right to control who enters our country and to keep out those who would do us harm.
JD: That was U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announcing today's revised executive order on a travel ban from Muslim-majority countries. There have been major revisions. Iraq is no longer on the list. And instead of putting an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, the executive order bans their entry only for the next 120 days. Nicholas Espiritu is an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, which challenged the first ban on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. We reached Mr. Espiritu in Los Angeles.
SB: Mr. Espiritu, analysts are describing this as a watered down travel ban. What changes in this executive order stood out for you?
NICHOLAS ESPIRITU: One of the things that stood out to me is that this administration continues to press forward with an agenda that is unsupported by facts about the need to target certain countries on the supposed basis of protecting the homeland, but has not provided sufficient evidence that there is the need for such a ban.
SB: The ban has been changed — it has been amended. For example, Iraq is no longer on the list. Some people are saying there have been significant changes made. Does any of that make you feel better about this?
NE: It doesn't because just like the initial travel ban, we have copious evidence that the current administration intended to implement a Muslim ban. That hasn't changed. The President's statements about his discriminatory animus during the campaign can't be changed.
SB: You call it a Muslim ban. The administration has pointed out that it has today changed the language, which singled out religious minorities, which left many people to interpret that that the administration in the first ban was trying to make it easier for Christians to get into the country. How can you still argue that this is a Muslim ban given that?
NE: Because this is what the President stated that he intended to do during the campaign. His surrogates confirmed that this was his intent that he would attempt to do through other means such as a country-based ban. And the argument that this discriminates against Muslims didn't turn on the removed language related to religious minorities. It really turned on the President's statements during the campaign and the clear evidence of a disparate impact on Muslims.
SB: It went to intent?
NE: So we have evidence both of intent and affect that in affect and in intent. This ban will disproportionately affect Muslims.
SB: Many of your clients are refugees and they are still banned from traveling to the United States for the next 120 days under this new ban. What is their reaction?
NE: Well, we're still very concerned. As we've stated in our papers in our Maryland case, this is having a tremendous impact on refugee assistance organizations and their clients.They have individuals who still are now stuck in the process, who have had their interviews abroad canceled and haven't been rescheduled. Who are seeing their hopes of being able to come to the United States as refugee recede into the distance and maybe be unfulfilled. The new travel ban does nothing to change the hold on refugee resettlement and does nothing to change the diminution of the cap on refugees that was created by the executive order.
SB: In the new order the countries that are affected by this ban are given 50 days to respond to the United States’s assertion that their screening process is not up to par. What would you say to people who say that's reasonable? Americans have the right to ask questions of the screening process of other countries and to demand changes if necessary?
NE: At least with regards to refugee screening, the refugees screening protocols that were in place prior to the executive order were the most rigorous of any part of federal immigration law. Of course, I wouldn't object to a thorough and thought out analysis of what screening can go into effect. But this circumvents that whole process. It doesn't ask the political branches. It doesn't ask affected community members and it doesn't ask any other constituents what kind of changes are needed or wanted. That process would undoubtedly be different than the one that President has attempted to implement here.
SB: What did you think of the Attorney General saying that there were hundreds of refugees who were in the United States being investigated now as in some kind of unspecified connection to terrorist activity?
NE: I can't make any statement on the Attorney General's claims there. We haven't seen any evidentiary basis for those. We don't know what those investigations look like. We don't know whether any of those individuals are going to potentially face criminal charges. But it just seems like it's more of the same from this administration where after the fact justifications get put in place for their illegal actions.
SB: What happens next?
NE: We believe that a good number of the legal challenges to the previous executive order will remain and we'll see this progress through the courts. And we believe that they will eventually be struck down.
SB: What's the impact in the meantime?
NE: Organizations like the ones we represent, who have over 700 people stuck in the process of applying for refugee status are not able to get those individuals cases moving forward. And not get those people out of danger and not able to get those people reunited with their families. One of our clients has an individual that they're representing who's overseas and was kind of midway through the process of applying for refugee status. They were well on their way to it. The individual is a transgendered individual, who fled her home country and is now currently in another third country that is also quite hostile to transgendered individuals. The ability to get this individual to the United States so that she could be safe and not persecuted for her gender identity is being delayed.
SB: Mr. Espiritu, thank you for your time today.
NE: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
JD: Nicholas Espiritu is an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. We reached him in Los Angeles.
Guest: Adrianne Jeffries
JD: Google home claims answer all your questions even if they're silly. Similar to Apple's Siri, or Amazon Echo, Google’s smart device just sits there on your coffee table or your kitchen counter, waiting to assist you. But some users are discovering that the device's responses can be extremely unhelpful because they include fake news and some very bizarre conspiracy theories. Here's an example of a question posed by a Twitter user over the weekend.
SPEAKER: Is Obama planning a coup?
GOOGLE HOME: According to details exposed in Western Center for Journalism’s exclusive video. Not only could Obama be in bed with the communist Chinese, but Obama may in fact be planning a communist coup d’etat at the end of his term in 2016.
JD: OK that is Google Home, answering a question about a possible Obama-led coup. Well also attempting and failing to say the phrase “coup d’etat”. Adrianne Jeffries wrote about Google Home’s search function for The Outline, where she works as senior editor. We reached her in New York City.
SB: Ms. Jeffries, as we just heard there Google thinks former US President Barack Obama is quote, “in bed with the communist Chinese”. How is it that Google came to that conclusion?
ADRIANNE JEFFRIES: Right, so that answer is Google's voice assistant reading the direct answer that pops up on a search for that question, “is Obama planning a coup?” In recent years, Google has been moving toward trying to just give people an answer when they ask a question rather than being like a research tool and showing them a list of places where they could find the answer. People really like searching that way it's often very helpful, especially when you're on your phone or you're doing something hands-free. But unfortunately, one of the ways Google has been able to provide a lot of answers this way is because it's doing it algorithmically and sourcing them from third party webpages and sometimes those web pages are a crazy conspiracy theory website.
SB: As we heard. It's not the only question that we have an example of. Can you provide us with some other examples of where you've found Google to go wrong in this way?
AJ: Sure. So a history professor, who was teaching a modern US history survey course and he's talking about how the KKK had a resurgence in the 1920s. And one of the students asks when was President Warren Harding a member of the KKK? And the professor is like I don't think so; I've never heard that before. But another student in the class Googled it and popped up an answer that said actually Warren Harding was a member of the KKK and so were four other U.S. presidents, which is totally false. And the professor was taken aback and he was like well you know this is an answer that appears to be coming from Google and it looks like Google is endorsing this answer. You know it's at the very top of the search results in a little box. So he went home and did some research on it confirmed that none of those presidents were in the KKK with the arguable exception that Harry Truman had gone to meeting. And it was a learning experience for his students to find out that Google, which is this very trusted source of information was coming up with a totally bogus answer.
SB: And have you found more examples?
AJ: Yeah, like if you search for “smell of iodine” the Google featured snippet is a quote from somebody who used to run a meth lab. If you search for “who is the king of the United States?” Google believes that is Barack Obama. There were also some other examples that Google got a lot of heat for, so much that it actually manually intervened and changed the answers. So there was one that The Guardian wrote about where if you typed in “are women evil?” the top responses like women are prostitutes, who are incapable of loving men. And Google changed that pretty quickly.
SB: Can you help me with the mechanics of this? How is this happening? What is going on that is leading to this?
AJ: So Google sources these direct answers in a couple of ways. Some of them come from a curated database of sources that include places like Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. And that's called “Google's Knowledge Graph”. And that's like things like the date of Easter or their currency conversions. There's a bunch of stuff that is really reliable answers that come from Google Knowledge Graph.
AJ: Fact-based answers yes. And then, so that Google can generate a lot more of these answers. Google has started sourcing them from the websites that appear at the top search results.
SB: Oh, well that's interesting because even conspiracy theories can attract a lot of clicks. So if it's just popularity and not fact driving this?
AJ: Yeah, it's not just popularity. Google looks at a number of things to figure out what is a useful website? Useful enough to be the top 10-top 20 results when someone searches for something. So they're really not trying to put a bunch of bad websites in there, but they do manage to get in and you can optimize your website to get one of these featured snippets.
SB: So how is Google responding to this right now? How's it resolving these issues?
AJ: For the most part Google is kind of trying to let its algorithms do their thing. And it's self-correcting and I noticed this because I had been looking into this issue for a while taking screenshots and keeping track of queries that came up with weird answers. And there was one that pulls up the conspiracy theory website. But five days later, when I tried to find it again it had redirected to something reputable.
SB: but maybe not everyone is checking as often as you? AJ: Right, yeah of course, so I think Google is thinking there's the ability to give feedback on specific answers you can just select like this answer wasn’t helpful, the answer was wrong and send comments. Also Google is looking at algorithmic clues like you know whether people like stayed on the page? What they did after they got the answer? To try to figure out which answers are really good. And that's the fastest way for Google to improve these results and deploy them out to mass audience is to just have them be live and getting feedback in the real world. The problem with this is that they are spreading misinformation, even if it's temporary. It still looks like Google, which people trust more than the traditional media more than social media and their friends. It still looks like Google is saying this is the one true answer.
SB: What do you think Google's responsibility is on an issue like this?
AJ: You know Google has been making moves to take responsibility for its part in the spread of fake news in other ways. They stopped allowing certain publishers to advertise on their platform, which was a big source of revenue for fake news sites. So they do care about information being correct. They also have a reputation and it's a very good reputation. And if they continue to have these spectacularly bad answers that are like so way off or they go viral, then they start to destroy their reputation. And I think that if the company were being smart about it, it would pull back a lot of those feature snippets. Go for it a lot more slowly so that they don't have all this rampant misinformation while they're still trying to develop the product.
SB: Well thank you very much for your time.
AJ: Definitely. Thank you.
JD: Adrianne Jeffries is senior editor for The Outline. We reached her in New York City. And we have posted more about Google Home on our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.
The Bunny Museum
Guest: Candace Frazee
JD: The collection began with a single plush bunny toy. Since then, the rabbits have multiplied, and multiplied, and multiplied — to become a collection of more than 30,000 items. and for years, this gigantic warren of rabbit paraphernalia has been displayed at The Bunny Museum in Pasadena, California. Now, the museum is being moved. The grand reopening is later this month. We reached co-founder Candace Frazee in Pasadena.
SB: Candace Frazee, why have you and your husband decided to move your bunny museum?
CANDACE FRAZEE: We’re out of room. We've run out of room for many years, and we've always had this goal in mind to move to a place ten times bigger.
SB: Ten times bigger?
CF: Ten times bigger. Twenty-two foot high ceilings, so we have lots of space now to hang all our paintings.
SB: Tell me about some of the stuff that you have in your bunny collection?
CF: We do have a Canadian section. We have a little bunny about an inch high that's dressed up as a Mountie. We have categories, so there's “Pretenders”. There's all these things dressed up as bunnies like gorillas and children and dolls. All dressed up as bunnies, so we call them the “Pretenders”.
SB: What are these, stuffed? Are they stuffed toys? Are they little statues? Describe them for us.
CF: Yeah, they're either porcelain figurines or made of wood or made of plush toys. So there's all different varieties of materials here.
SB: And you mentioned the Mountie bunny. You were born in Canada? You have a Canadian connection?
CF: Well yes, every time I go back to Canada, I look around for bunnies. I have a box with Laura Secord the chocolate bunny that was inside, I saved the box. It has bunnies on the outside and says Laura Secord, and only Canadians are going to get that.
SB: What is it about bunnies and you?
CF: Bunnies are cute. When I was dating my husband I called him “Honey Bunny” and he liked that. He likes to say that if I called him my “Little Froggy” you know you kiss a bunch of he kicked a bunch of frogs, you get a prince. So if I called him my “Big Gorilla” this would be The Gorilla Museum or The Frog Museum, so it just happened to be The Bunny Museum.
SB: So it all started with a nickname?
CF: It did. It's a term of endearment and I often ask people what they call each other when couples come? And they'll tell me and I say oh well, you could have the you could have The Teacup Museum. you could have the other kind of museum, you know? You're hearing my cat, I have a cat here.
SB I was going to say that didn't sound like a bunny. You have a cat as well. Do you have any live bunnies?
CF: Yes, we have six. We've had 22 over the years.
SB: Tell me about the new ideas that you have for your new museum?
CF: Well, one thing that we're going to be having is the “Chamber of Hop-ors”. We've always collected these things, but we've never had them on display. You know a chamber of horrors of abuse of the real bunny. So we have real photographs, unfortunately, of bunnies being experimented on and you know in the ‘50s and ‘60s they had key chains with the lucky rabbit's foot.
SB: Yes, I remember.
CF: And to think that people would put that in their pocket. Some people didn't realize it was a real bunny. It’s like if you put up a dog paw in your in your pocket for your key chain. I mean gross! So where we're showing all the abuse of bunnies throughout history in the “Chamber of Hop-ors”, so you have to be 13-year-old and up to get in there.
SB: Do you think that this might surprise some of your visitors, who think they're going to cute fun little bunny museum and then encountering a chamber of as you call it “Hop-ors”?
CF: No, it won't shock people because in our original location, we had the tribal mass up along the ceiling and they’re very very dramatic and very interesting all the different cultures that we have a tribal Bunny. No, it wouldn't because actually little kids, all they really care about as a real bunny and the cats. So if you're coming to study the bunny, you want to know the history of the bunny and how it affects different cultures.
SB: People come to you who are interested in studying bunnies?
CF: Oh my goodness yes. And we have a lot of school groups that come and we educate about the real bunny. Plus we educate about how museums start.
SB: I understand that yours began on Valentine's Day decades ago. Tell me about it?
CF: The collection started Valentine’s Day. We opened up on Easter 19 years ago. And Easter 19 years ago was March 20th. So that's why we're opening our new “Grand Hopping” — not a grand opening — is happening March 20th.
SB: you said your collection started on Valentine's Day. How was that? What started it?
CF: When we were dating, my husband gave me the first plush Bunny. And I loved that he loved that I called my “Honey Bunny”. And then on the first Easter, I gave him a white porcelain Bunny. And then all the holidays, we started giving each other gifts. And then a joke is Steve couldn't wait for the holidays. And I'd say to him wait, wait, wait. He's like I can't wait, open this! So he made it every day, so every day we give each other a bunny as a love token.
CF: Every day. So if you do the math 365 times two, times twenty-four years, it does not equal 33,000. So the joke is I say one a day, but it's more like 10 or 12.You know you give someone a set of four mugs. They're all match or a set of dinnerware or a salt and pepper shaker might be a boy and a girl, we count that as one. But you know or a book or it's like on our birthday or Christmas, we give each other lots. You know 25 or 30 gifts.
SB: What could you tell me about bunnies that I might not know? What would surprise me?
CF: Bunnies eat their poop.
SB: OK. I didn’t know that, you got me.
CF: So it's called cecos, so they excrete their food and it looks like grapes, very soft, moist grapes. They eat it. And then when it comes out again, it's hard it's called fecal. So they do ceco and fecal.
SB: We might have some people having dinner, so I'm going to stop you there. But thank you for sharing and good luck with your move.
CF: Thank you, have a hoppy day.
SB: Thank you very much. Bye bye.
JD: Yummy. Candace Frazee is the co-founder of The Bunny Museum. We reached her in Pasadena, California. And if you would like to see some photographs of the collection visit our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.Back To Top »
Part 2: Abdi charges, Grey Gardens sale
Guest: Lawrence Greenspon
JD: When he died last summer, Abdirahman Abdi was 37-years-old. Mr. Abdi lost vital signs during a confrontation with Ottawa police and was pronounced dead in hospital the next day. His death sparked protests across the country. And now, the Ontario Special Investigations Unit, the provincial police watchdog in Ontario, is charging one of the officers involved with manslaughter and assault. Lawrence Greenspon is the lawyer working with Mr. Abdi’s family. We reached Mr. Greenspan in Ottawa.
SB: Mr. Greenspon, why are these charges being laid now?
LAWRENCE GREENSPON: Well, we had a meeting this morning with the SIU and two Crown Attorneys from Toronto. At which time, we were advised that the SIU investigation had been completed. The matter had gone to the SIU director and the decision had been made to lay three charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon against Officer Montsion. And the family was certainly pleased that the SIU investigation is finally over. And now, they have to wait for the criminal justice process to take place and they understand that that's going to be you know another further period of time.
SB: Why did the Special Investigations Unit, the SIU, come up with these particular charges: manslaughter, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon?
LG: We were not in any way involved in the decision as to which charges were going to be laid. That's not something the family was involved in at all and it's really something you'd have to talk to them about.
SB: How common is it to see these kinds of serious charges laid against a police officer?
LG: It's not, it's not very common at all. I think since the SIU was formed in 1990, so over the last 27 years, I'm aware of the Sammy Yatim case in Toronto and not very many others. There may have been others I'm just not aware of them. But it's not a very common occurrence to see police officers charged with this these kinds of serious charges.
SB: Why just this one officer, Daniel Montsion?
LG: Again that's something you know you'd have to speak to SIU or to the Crown as to why the decision was made to only prosecute Officer Montsion. Certainly it must be that he is the main actor in the in the events that unfolded back on July 24th. But I couldn't speculate as to why him as opposed to you know or in addition to other officers?
SB: Well, can you tell us what happened back on that day in July? How Mr. Abdi ended up in this confrontation with police?
LG: From what we understand, he was at a coffee shop. There was an incident there that resulted in the police being called. He ran from the coffee shop, back towards his apartment building and then ended up in an encounter with the police there. Ultimately paramedics were called to the scene. I believe that he died at the scene and was revived and only to die the next day at hospital.
SB: And a lot of this was some of this — some of this at least was captured on cell phone video. And the public has certainly seen some of this. It created a lot of public outcry. What kind of an effect do you think this has on public trust in the police in Ottawa?
LG: Well, anytime there is a serious charge like this laid against the police it's an indication that there is or there was a problem. And it just highlights a situation that became very much a tragedy. And so the Ottawa community at large, Somalian community in specifically, the black community a little bit more broadly within Ottawa have all been rightfully so very concerned about how this investigation was going to be done. How long it was taking and what would be the results of the investigation. And we have with today's announcement of these charges an indication that the SIU investigation resulted in very serious charges. And you know there are concerns that the community had are reflected in the seriousness of the charges.
SB: How important do you think those videos were in in this investigation and will be in in charge is going forward?
LG: I have to think that you know the video of the incident and just after the incident is going to be you know a very critical piece of evidence. And so I can't really comment on the contents of it, but as you say, I mean many videos have already gone very public. And I'm sure that all those videos were considered during the course of the SIU investigation.
SB: And will that Special Investigations Unit make the report make the investigation public?
LG: That would be their decision. I'd be surprised if they did. You know when we have criminal investigations now of anybody, but a police officer. We certainly don't ask or expect that the report of the investigation be made public when the person has been charged criminally. I'd be very surprised if they if they were going to release the SIU report at this point. Now we know with Officer Montsion having been charged.
SB: What about Mr. Abdi's family? How are how are they doing?
LG: They are an incredible group of people, they're a very proud, close-knit family. It's incredibly difficult to lose a son or brother, but it's even more difficult when the public light is shining on the incident surrounding the death. They have been very appreciative of the support that they've gotten. Not just from their family and friends, but from the their own community as well as the community at large in Ottawa. People from all different backgrounds have been supportive of their family and I know that they really appreciate that. So it's been a tough time for them very difficult and challenging time for them to this point. That's unfortunately going to continue through the criminal justice process. But I know they're there being patient and they're being strong and very admirable group of people.
SB: Are they satisfied with the charges?
LG: I don't think it's really a matter of satisfaction you know one way or the other. I think that they appreciate the fact that the charges that have been laid are serious and you know they now are ready to wait out the criminal justice process.
SB: Mr. Greenspon, thank you very much.
LG: You're very welcome.
JD: Lawrence Greenspon is a lawyer. He has been retained by Abdurahman Abdi’s family. We reached him in Ottawa. Today, manslaughter and assault charges were laid against an Ottawa police officer in relation to Mr. Abdi's death.
Swimming pigs update
KIM ARANHA: It points towards perhaps the pigs ingesting something they shouldn't have.
JD: That was the voice of Kim Aranha, the president of the Bahamas Humane Society. We spoke with her last Tuesday, after at least seven of the island's famous swimming pigs were found dead. The pigs have become a tourist draw for their unusual aquatic behavior. And immediately after some were found dead, people blamed the tourists. Speculating that they had accidentally killed the pigs by giving them rum. Well, it does seem that tourists may well be to blame, but not because of booze. The Humane Society examined the bodies and found the dead pigs stomachs contained a significant amount of sand. And the theory is that people have been throwing bits of food onto the beach for the pigs and that the pigs consumed the lethal dose of sand along with that food. The Bahamian government says that it will be posting a guard on the beach to protect the pigs and may well set up boundaries so tourists can see them, but not feed them.
Grey Gardens sale
Guest: Jerry Torre
JD: Big and Little Edie are long gone. So is their giant mound of cat food tins, but Jerry Torre still cannot believe that Grey Gardens is being sold for 20 million U.S. dollars. Grey Gardens, the Hamptons mansion that gave its name to the landmark 1970s documentary, is up for sale. Now when the doc was made, the house was the home to the aging debutante Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, and her eccentric mother “Big Edie”. They were the heiresses and relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and they had withdrawn from society to live in exquisite squalor. The Gray Gardens mansion is now up for sale, but not before Jerry Torre could give it one last visit. If you have seen the film you will remember Jerry as the Beale's teenage groundskeeper. We reached Jerry Tory in Queens, New York.
SB: Mr. Torre, what was it like for you to go back to Grey Gardens?
JERRY TORRE: After the 45 years since, going back there was a tribute to my friendship with Mrs. Beale and Edie that I can return to that very special mansion and share those emotions with people. And it was overwhelming actually.
SB: What made it so special and overwhelming?
JT: Well, what made it special? Can I tell you the beginning of why I found it so interesting and special?
JT: Well, it was one afternoon on a summer day, it was perfect out. And that afternoon, I finished my chores and rode my bicycle down one strip of property. And there were these hedges, but they were 30 feet tall, which drew me closer to them to make sure I wasn't seeing something that wasn't there was. I would have been pretty noticeable. There was no one peak of the boy’s bedroom that could only be seen from the road. The rest of the mansion was encompassed with overgrowth from years of no gardener.
SB: Did you know there were people living there at the time?
JT: At the time, at the afternoon, I did not. It was then that I got on my bicycle. I rode back to the mansion and sure enough, there was a light on the porch. And I remember saying this to myself someone lives here. And I was dumbstruck by that. And I studied it a little bit, the moon was overhead, a racoon had run across the pivot on the roof. And then another one and there was a car in the driveway. A ’37, I believe Cadillac. That car had been driven into the driveway long many years ago, before I arrived, like 30. The door, it was still ajar. It still had the keys the ignition. And with the vines growth over it, you couldn’t shut the door if you wanted to.
SB: tell us about meeting Big and Little Edie — the people inside this captivating property?
JT: About maybe a month later, I decided to trespass. And there was a little bit of a pathway that lead past the car to the front porch. I cleared the dirty diamond-shaped window and could not believe what I saw. There were cobwebs straight from the ceiling, from the mirror, all over the room in the dining room and all over the library. And I knocked on the window after peering through that window. And Edie quickly descended from the second floor. I`ll remember this until day I die, she walked, I saw white shoes traveling underneath the banister. The cobwebs literally looked like curtains, but there were cobwebs. She walked down the stairs and through a tunnel of cobwebs that led to the front door. Opened the wood door then opened the screen door. And of course, the smell of the mansion, it was quite overpowering.
SB: How did it smell?
JT: Oh Jesus, it's smelt like wild animals. It's smelt like fur and frankly, it was rotten wood smelling. It was pungent, to say the least. And she opened the door and literally looks at me she says Mother, the Marble Faun is here.
SB: The Marble Faun?
JT: Which I later found out by learning from Mrs. Beale, It was a character in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. The Marble Faun was a statue carved by a famous character in that book, who was a stone carver, which I am now.
JT: I know. And I said to Edie, I didn’t even know her name. I said I don’t know who that is, but I work down the road at Mr. Getties property. And if you need any help of with property, I'm here, I've no charge. I'm glad to help you. And she said to come back in the morning so we can meet mother, who, of course is Mrs. Beale. So it began there with Edie. The next day, I met Mrs. Beale, God bless her, she was dynamite, very bright, very cultured. She was reclining on a chaise lounge. I`m dusting cobwebs of my hair and racoons are looking at me from the torn up ceiling. Feral cats are racing away from me and ripping and tearing around. I just couldn't believe the scene in that room and the whole mansion was time had stopped.
SB: What were you thinking about this scene and these women? Some people might have been tempted to just turn around and leave?
JT: I wasn't. I was really fascinated with well, being invited. I found out through Charlotte, the head housekeeper, and Mr. Getties, that no one had been a mansion since 1937 or ‘38. And the fact that I was invited in it was really a milestone of an event.
SB: You know so many people have described these women as eccentric. How would you describe their lives?
JT: Devoted. Mrs. Beale and Edie were devoted to each other. Edie much more than you realize maybe. And Mrs. Beale was certainly an eccentric. It's fine to be eccentric as long as you’re not harming anyone or yourself. But she was eccentric because of her love of music and theater and at the time, I suppose the family was so conservative and ostracized, for lack of a better word. At a wedding for her sons, she arrived two hours late. She was wearing a costume that we'd seen on the stage of an opera. And I think that was the last straw for Mr. Beale and that's why the car was driven into the driveway and that's where it stayed after that wedding reception of her son. And that where it was when I found it. 1937-38 to 1973, it stayed there until the renovations began.
SB: But one day you were there when their relative Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis came to offer help?
JT: Yeah, and she walked right towards the house. I was the only person there. And I remember her gesture. She took of the glasses — really round lenses. She looked around and then she looked at me and extended her hand. She said you're Jerry. I said yes. And then Edie opened the window on the boy’s room and she's screaming not to let her in the house. I am so stressed out. I look like a dirt bomb and I'm wearing a sweatshirt that’s filthy really. And I didn't look like I should be with this woman, who happened to be the President’s wife. And she said Oh, my aunt and my cousin, they like you, they trust you. It's amazing you're even a guest here. And I agreed, but I was really star-struck and uptight. Edie opened the main door, which in fact, I was glad to get a break from the introduction because I was a nervous wreck.
SB: Let me ask you this. Grey Gardens this is now up for sale for $20 million dollars U.S. — beautifully renovated. What kind of person or people would you like to see living in what was once Big and Little Edie’s home?
JT: I would be the person that lived there if I had that kind of money, which I don’t. But the person I’d like to see live there bought the house as an artist or a person that loves music and/or the paintings. I'd like to see someone who understood the history of the mansion and respect it for the people who loved it — like myself.
SB: Well thank you for sharing your vision of it with us. It's been good to talk to you.
JT: You're very welcome. Thank you.
SB: Bye bye.
JT: Bye now.
JD: Jerry Torre is a sculptor. But as a teenager, he worked as the gardener for Edith Bouvier Beale, made famous in the 1970s documentary “Grey Gardens”. We reached him in Queens, New York. And you can find more on this story on our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.Back To Top »
Part 3: Sajjan Ukraine, Mosul latest
Guest: Harjit Sajjan
JD: In Ottawa today, the Minister of National Defense announced a two year extension to Canada's training mission in Ukraine. But things have changed since Operation UNIFIER began back in 2014. The United States now has a President who has questioned whether or not Russia is actually really done anything wrong in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. And then there's Christia Freeland. Canada's new Foreign Minister. She is on the Russian sanctions list because of comments she has made about Ukraine. Harjit Sajin is Canada's Minister of National Defense. We reached him in Ottawa.
SB: Minister, what message is your government sending to Russia with today's announcement?
HARJIT SAJJAN: Well, the message that we have has always been very clear is that we have unwavering support for Ukraine. That there aggressive action in Crimea and in Ukraine is unacceptable. Not just to Canada, but to the rest of the world. And Canada will be there alongside our other partners like the U.S. the U.K. in supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces from a military training mission, but also on a wider government support as well.
SB: you say that Russia's actions are not acceptable to Canada. What have the Russians told the Canadian government in the run up to today's decision?
HS: Well, I mean we didn’t consult Russia in terms of our decision in support of Ukraine. Our support for Ukraine has been there for a very long time. Canada was the first one to recognize Ukraine as a nation. And the actions that Russia has conducted in Crimea is a result of the actions that we had had to take in support of a sovereign nation. And it's just really a sad state that the Ukrainian people have to suffer in this way.
SB: Now you mentioned Canada working with its allies, but Operation UNIFIER has been led by the United States. President Trump however has suggested that he might be a lot less supportive of Ukraine in its relations with Russia. So what are the Americans telling you now?
HS: No, on the contrary it hasn't been the case at all. I've spoken to Secretary Mattis about Ukraine and he has unwavering support. Minister Freeland has also spoken to her counterpart. And we've had no indication whatsoever from the Americans about their unwavering support Operation UNIFIER. I just had a meeting in NATO, on the margins of NATO, with the some of the coalition partners who are working in Ukraine. And for us, its business as normal to making sure that we provide the right support in a coordinated fashion for the Ukrainian Armed Forces helping police capacity building and also provide a much wider government support as well.
SB: President Trump has said that he quote, “doesn't really know who is responsible for the recent clashes between the Ukraine government and Russia- backed separatists”. Does that sound like full support to you?
HS: I speak with my counterpart and I can only give you the conversations I've had with with my counterparts…
SB: So what the Secretary of Defense tells you is maybe not quite what the American President is saying publicly?
HS: I speak with my counterpart, who speaks for the U.S. Armed Forces. I've had a meeting with the other defense ministers from the U.K. as well. Our support will always be there and we're working very closely with our allies and as with the U.S. We have not any indication of their support; in fact, it has been quite the opposite, which is to be fully behind you.
SB: How worried are the Ukrainians seem about the new U.S. administration?
HS: Obviously there were questions during the campaign. But there has been very strong feedback by the U.S. Vice-president Pence also was security conference. And as I stated, I spoke with Secretary Mattis about this and our planning that we have been doing in the past is continuing just as normal.
SB: So this is an extension of the mission with the same mandate. Nothing changes, it's just going to extend into March 2019?
HS: Well, right now this is just this is the military portion of it. We’re doing a lot more work in the Ukraine in terms of police capacity building. There was a free trade agreement that was also signed and I am working towards a defense cooperation agreement with the Ukraine as well. But the military mission has been going well at the tactical level training. It has evolved a little bit in terms the needs of what the Ukrainian Armed Forces required in terms of specialized training, medical training and explosive disposal ordnance. And that has gone well. We will always look at any future needs and how it evolves. But there's much greater work also happening at the higher levels. We have our Canadian representative alongside the U.K. and the U.S. Jill Sinclair is our representative working with the Minister of Defense in Ukraine and looking at how we can bring the military reforms and work from the top down. So we can make those systems even better so that the tactical level of training even has a bigger impact.
SB: I want to ask you about weapons supply. Is that something that that that Canada is looking at? I know that there have been some critics of this mission who have said Canada might be better placed if we were providing some of the weapons that Ukrainian Forces need as they take on the Russians?
HS: A lot of the training and how we plan our missions is actually done with the Ukrainian military leadership. But also done with our partners — coalition partners — who are in the training mission and this is what we have determined that that's what's needed.
SB: So no weapons sales?
HS: No, right now our coalition partners are not providing weapons. But this means making sure that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are trained to be able to do the work on the ground. We are moving ahead with a defense cooperation agreement with Ukraine and this will assist the Ukrainian Armed Forces to be even self-sufficient.
SB: Well Minister, thank you for your time today.
HS: OK. Thank you. Bye.
SB: Bye bye.
JD: Harjit Sajjan is Canada's Minister of National Defense. We reached him in Ottawa. And standing alongside Minister Sajjan at this afternoon's announcement was Canada’s Foreign Minister, Christia Freeland. As I mentioned earlier, she has been targeted by Russia for sanctions. But this afternoon, The Globe and Mail's Bob Fife wanted to know whether she had been targeted for something else as well? Here's his question.
BOB FIFE: The Russians don’t like you. They’ve banned you from the country. Recently, there has been a series of articles about you and your maternal grandparents making accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator in pro-Russian websites. I’d like to get your view on do you see this as a disinformation campaign by the Russians to try to smear you and discredit you? Which they have to have a tendency to have done.
CRISTIA FREELAND: Well, let me star, Rob, by saying that I don't think that's all Russians dilike me. I have many close good Russian friends and I very much enjoyed living and working in Moscow as a foreign correspondent. I speak Russian and I'm a big admirer and fan of the Russian language and culture. I think that it is also public knowledge that there have been efforts. As U.S. intelligence forces have said by Russia to destabilize the U.S. political system. I think Canadians and indeed other Western countries should be prepared for similar efforts to be directed at us. I am confident in our country's democracy and I am confident that we can stand up to and see through those efforts.
JD: For the record that was Chrystia Freeland minister of foreign affairs speaking earlier today in Ottawa.
Dateline: soccer fights
JD: Dateline Moscow, Russia.
[Music: Dateline theme]
JD: You don't have to be in it to appreciate that politics is a rough-and-tumble game. You got to pick your fights. I suspect this is especially true in a country like Russia. And a Igor Lebedev has certainly picked his. Mr. Lebedev is the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the LDPR, his far-right leanings reflect values that are not particularly liberal nor democratic. And his latest “cause celebre” provides an insightful and an inciting example. Think of it as Fight Club. Except that unlike the fictitious film version in which not talking about it is the club's first rule. Mr. Lebedev hopes that his real-life venture will attract worldwide attention. It is called “Draka”, meaning fight in Russia. And, in a word, it is exactly that. Sanctioned fighting between fans of opposing soccer teams held in an arena outside the stadium before the actual match. Mr. Lebedev has outlined the idea on the LDP website as follows and I quote, “Our fans are fundamentally different from most foreign supporters. They are not hooligans. They are expert supporters. Yes they sometimes fight, but only with other supporters. They don't touch civilians and this compares favorably to the football hooligans from England. Fans eager to fight can and should be given work and we can turn the fans battle into a sport. Combat sports took a fight one on one and turned it into a sport. So why not do the same with popular Russian football fights? Create rules to carry out the competition. Then the di-hard fans aggression can be used peacefully and set an example for all other countries. Fans meet at the stadium, each side has 20 unarmed people and we’ll have rules on our website.” Unquote. Mr. Lebedev clearly hopes he can turn talk into action, but when push comes to shove, he will leave the fighting to the people.
[Music: Stringed ensemble]
From Our Archives: Bonnie Burnard obit
JD: She created characters so genuine that, when you close one of her books, you felt like you were saying goodbye to friends. And unsurprisingly, she herself was the genuine article. Today, those who knew her say she was feisty, she was compassionate, she was strong-minded. Canadian author Bonnie Burnard died on Saturday in a hospital in London, Ontario. She was 72-years-old. Ms. Burnard was perhaps best known for her novel “A Good House”, which follows an Ontario family who lived through the post-Second World War boom. And that novel won her a Giller Prize in 1999. Her other honors included a Marion Engle Award and two stints as a Giller Prize juror. And she was just as adept at short fiction as she was at the long form. Her debut collection, “Women of Influence”, won her the Commonwealth Best First Book Award in 1989. And in July of 2010, Bonnie Barnard spoke with Sheila Rodgers on CBC's “The Next Chapter” about her second novel, “Suddenly”, which came 10 years after “A Good House”.
SHEILA RODGERS: Bonnie, I love the title, “Suddenly”, though the arrival of your second novel wasn't sudden at all. I gather your publisher is calling it “Finally”?
BONNIE BURNARD: Could be.
SR: Can we talk about the title and why you decided to call it “Suddenly”?
BB: Sure. Titles often come right away and quite perfectly or they don't. And then it becomes a more complicated process to find the title. But when I was writing the section where Jack, Sandra's husband, is working on her obituary and instead of the common phrases that are used in ordinary obituaries, he discounted those. He wrote those down and then scratched them out. And then the word he was left with was suddenly and it just seemed right. I thought that's the title.
SR: And this is, as you mentioned, this is about a woman named Sandra, who's in her middle-ages and is in the last stages of breast cancer and it's metastasized. What led you to write this story — this particular story for Sandra?
BB: Well, when I was writing “A Good House” I had some experience myself with breast cancer. I was lucky and I mean I've had no regrets. But I was in that moment and in that time where I did have to have this thought: what if? What if this is it? And then thinking about friendship among women, starting with friendship among girls and the requirements of friendship. When we're girls, when we're kids, we sort of help each other sort out the world and it can be pretty rough. It's not all sweetness and light, but girls are together sorting out the world. And then and into adolescence and the discovery of boys or men and how we help each other sort that out. And then we send each other off into the world of men, you know? And that's the romantic era of a woman's life. It is pretty consuming if you're lucky. But then after a time marriage can settle down and it has nothing to do with dullness. It just it settles into what it needs to be. And often the friendship among women will resume. So this brought me to late middle-age and what will be the requirements of friendship? And the question with Sandra, with her situation is how are they going to handle it? And that's what I was interested in.
JD: That was author Bonnie Burnard speaking with Sheila Rodgers in 2010 on CBC's “The Next Chapter”. Bonnie Burnard, who won a Giller Award for her novel “A Good House”, died on Saturday. She was 72-years-old.
Guest: Ben Kesling
JD: The battle for Mosul has intensified over the last few days. The fighting has caused 50,000 people to flee the city in the past two weeks alone. Mosul remains the last stronghold for ISIS in Iraq. According to some reports, that may come to an end soon. Ben Kesling is a correspondent with The Wall Street Journal. He spent the day in Mosul. We however reached him in Erbil.
SB: Ben Kesling, what did you see today in Mosul?
BEN KESLING: Today, the Iraqi Armed Forces continued their ground assault into western Mosul. The east side of the city as has already been retaken by Iraqi Forces. And there was a little bit of rain a couple of days ago the forces slowed down a little bit to regroup. But over the past two days, the sun has been out and they have resumed their offensive against the Islamic State. The one thing that was really striking about today as the Iraqi Forces boar into towards the center of the western part of the city, they are sort of opening a release valve for civilians to flow out of the city. And what's really striking right now is the thousands of people who are coming out, first by paved roads in the city that are covered with shells and the occasional dead Islamic State fighter on the side of the road. And then as they move further out of the city, they transition to dirt roads to push back to aid stations. There's women walking with newborns, elderly women and elderly men being pushed in wheelbarrows. Today, I saw a man with a horrible limp dispatch his son to go catch a ownerless donkey that was sitting on the side of the road. The donkey perked up when the son came over to catch it ran away. Leaving the man dejected realizing he was going to have to walk a few more kilometers to get to the aid station.
SB: Where are all these people expected to go?
BK: Well, there are camps set up that have been built over time beyond the city throughout northern Iraq. But speaking with a representative from UNHCR, the refugee agency, today said if this mass exodus continues they don't know if there's going to be capacity to handle them all. So currently from the Mosul operation, which began in October, there are about 200,000 displaced persons from that city. They estimate there's about 700-750,000 people still in the city.
SB: We know that there are some people who have been caught or trapped by ISIS as they try to flee. What do you know? What have you learned about what happens to them?
BK: Well, I was speaking a couple of days ago with the patriarch of a family, a 76-year-old man, who was a shepherd and a cowherd on the outskirts of the city. He told me that Islamic State rounded up his family and forced them into the city for use as human shields. Islamic State is perfecting a technique of bringing many families together in one spot, putting them on the ground level the house and then they’ll occupy the upper levels themselves with rocket propelled grenades or rifles. And in this way try to stymie coalition air forces from attacking houses. This shepherd that I spoke with, he was forced to live in a house in downtown western Mosul, not from the outskirts. That's where is originally from. He's got a number of members of his family in the house. Islamic State planted a booby trap out in front of the house and forced the family to live there with the booby trap in place. So the booby trap would be there when Iraqi Forces eventually pushed to that spot because the Islamic State knows that they're in a losing proposition that they are on the back foot now and they're going to keep losing territory. This poor family stuck in this house. The old man's wife went out to milk the cow one day, tripped the detonator by accident and was killed. The rest of his family as they gathered the next day to prepare for the burial, what they thought was an Islamic State mortar landed on the family while they were having breakfast. Killed four more of them and I met up with this man the other day. Just as he had finished burying four members of his family, there was a fifth grade that stood open waiting to be filled because after this mortar hit the family — as they were collecting the bodies. A firefight broke out between Islamic State and Iraqi forces on their street. And he couldn't collect his son's body to bring back with him to do the burial. So there was an open grave. I went back today to go try to catch up with the family and the grave still stood open and the family had disappeared. They'd gone off to an IDP camp, that son's body was never found and never dealt with. That the sort of thing that civilians, who were being rounded up as human shields have to deal with.
SB: And Ben Kesling, that certainly shines a different light on all of this talk about an impending victory in Mosul?
BK: Well, about two weeks ago, the top American general here in Iraq said he expected to see Mosul wrapped up within six months...
SB: Six months?
BK: Six months, yes. And now, the Iraqi Forces are pushing slowly into, they started pushing pretty quickly, but they are pushing across relatively open ground. They took the Mosul International Airport, so they swept in pretty quickly to that. But now that Iraqi Forces are hitting neighborhoods they're starting to slow. They're hitting multiple car bombs, house bombs, suicide bombers, snipers and all the horrible warfare that you get in an urban situation. And this is in starting to push into these neighborhoods that are dense. What they still have not reckoned with is what's known as “The Old City”, which is a warren of buildings, twisting roads that are hard to navigate and oftentimes you can't even get a Humvee or armored vehicle in there. That's expected to be a place where they're really going to bog down where Islamic State is probably stocking a number of civilians to use as human shields simply as tools of warfare. And which they’ve had time to build warrens underneath. The Islamic State is well-known for building a tunnel network to be able to facilitate movement in an urban area and also as places where they can hide, have their clinics, keep their ammunition. And they're also now in Mosul forcing residents to punch holes in their walls, so that they have an above ground network that they can run around and avoid surveillance from coalition air and to try to outsmart Iraqi ground forces as they move in.
SB: Well, you've painted quite a picture of the war for us. Thank you for your time today.
BK: Thank you.
JD: Wall Street Journal correspondent Ben Kesling spent the day in Mosul, Iraq. We reached him in Erbil.
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.