Monday January 08, 2018

January 8, 2018 Episode Transcript

Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2018

The Current Transcript for January 8, 2018

Host: Anna Maria Tremonti


Listen to the full episode


[Music: Theme]


VOICE 1: I grossly underestimated how strong Bell, Telus, and Rogers grip on the political process and the market really is in this country.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: By most standards Anthony Lacavera is a successful Canadian entrepreneur and venture capitalist. But by his standards one of the greatest successes than most lucrative sales in his career is emblematic not of success but of a certain kind of failure. About 10 years ago Anthony Lacavera started WIND Mobile. He had foreign investors and plans to make mobile services here cost competitive at home and global in scale. But he says he was stopped by the political heft of Canada's dominant telecoms. He sold WIND for over a billion dollars and says he learned an expensive and cautionary lesson about how government efforts to protect Canadian business protect neither Canadian consumers nor Canada's business future. Anthony Lacavera is my guest in an hour. Before that…


VOICE 1: 90 percent of them are young people of Iran. And they're protesting against the regime. And they need support. We need Canadian government.

AMT: Even before weekend demonstrations in Vancouver and Toronto to show solidarity with protesters in Iran, the debate over Canada's response to ongoing protests was divided. As the Trudeau government pledges to continue efforts to restart diplomatic relations with Iran, we will hear the arguments for and against that plan. That's in half an hour. But before we get there….


OPRAH WINFREY: For too long women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.

AMT: Oprah Winfrey's resounding affirmation of the #MeToo movement last night. Once women do speak up in Canada, what are the options? And the controversy surrounding Soulpepper Theatre and its founding artistic director Albert Schultz. Does the choice of the women in that case to confront both parties through civil court signal a new path for others who allege incidents of sexual misconduct? I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

Back To Top »

Civil cases for sexual harassment — a new avenue for women seeking justice?

Guests: Simona Jellinek, David Butt, Farrah Khan


VOICE 1: My clients have chosen to bring civil suits to address the wrongs that have happened. They felt that there were a lot of benefits to bringing a civil claim. There are benefits and minuses to all different forms. But for them a civil claim where they have counsel that is acting for them, that is putting forward the narrative in their voice, gives them the control that was taken from them by the years of abuse at Soulpepper.

AMT: Well that is Alexi Wood, the lawyer representing four women who filed statements of claim against the Soulpepper Theatre Company and its former artistic director Albert Schultz in Toronto. At a press conference last week Ms. Wood was asked why those four women who allege years of sexual harassment from Mr. Schultz were pursuing civil suits rather than criminal charges against him. It is a distinction with some very important differences especially when it comes to cases such as these. Simona Jellinek is a Toronto lawyer who represents sexual assault plaintiffs in civil court. She's with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.

SIMONA JELLINEK: Good morning.

AMT: What does Alexi Wood mean when she says civil claims will give her clients control?

SIMONA JELLINEK: Well what she means is that in a civil claim as opposed to a criminal claim, the client is a party to the action which means that they have certain rights that they do not have in criminal court. In criminal court it's essentially a question of the Crown deciding how the case proceeds with little if any deference given to the wishes of the person who was actually hurt. So as part of being a party you have some very, very important tools to actually get to the truth. One of which being the ability to cross-examine the alleged defendant. That is something that it is a choice within the criminal system for the alleged accuser or - rather for the accused - to decide whether or not they want to take the stand. In civil cases, sometimes hers, but mostly his version of events, absolutely gets tested through cross-examination. So you have a much better understanding of the full story not simply one side of the story. That's a big reason as to why the civil system in these kinds of cases is often preferable.

AMT: How often do civil cases actually make it to court?

SIMONA JELLINEK: Well not very many. That's true of civil cases in general. In general I think statistically it's less than two percent of cases that are started actually finish in any kind of trial judgement.

AMT: Is that because they get some kind of a settlement - agreement - that legally negotiated?

SIMONA JELLINEK: Yes. Generally yes. Generally what happens is that at some point during the process the parties do come together and there's a negotiated settlement. That however still means that the credibility issue is in some ways decided already. Because why else would there be any kind of settlement. You'd let a judge decide. So prior to that in many cases the defendant has to go through what's called an examination for discovery. Where you're lawyer - the plaintiff's lawyer - gets to ask the defendant questions about what happened, gets the test credibility on that basis, gets to do all the things that the Crown can't generally do when it comes to accused.

AMT: Now the actresses at Soulpeper are bringing this case to civil court, which I understand you could not do in Ontario until recently. Is that in terms of sexual harassment or harassment?


AMT: It's a little complicated, right?

SIMONA JELLINEK: It's actually more than just a little complicated. It's a lot complicated. In Ontario you could sue for sexual assault which essentially is any kind of unwanted touching for pretty much ever. I mean it's never not been a tort. It's a subset of pure and simple physical assault, if you will. Last year the Wynne government removed every kind of limitation with regards to suing. So prior to that if it happened 20 or 30 years ago you sometimes had a bit of an issue. That limitation is now gone. So what these women are doing is bringing forward something that happened a significant amount of time before. And that's perfectly okay now. It's been perfectly okay realistically for the last 20 some odd years. Loopholes but not too, too many. So coming forward now is something that's pretty normal because most people do not come forward immediately. Most people need a little bit of time if not an awful lot of time to be able to justify or be able to have the courage to come forward.

AMT: Simona Jellinek we have someone else waiting to get into this discussion. David Butt is a Toronto-based criminal lawyer. He defends people accused in sexual assault cases. He also works with those alleging sexual assault. And he's with us in studio as well. Hello.

DAVID BUTT: Good morning Anna Maria.

AMT: Where do you see the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a case such as this in civil court?

DAVID BUTT: I think there are some important advantages as we've already heard. One that I'd like to add to is that very often when you have a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour that constitutes both sexual harassment and sexual assault; you can be more inclusive in what you plead in a civil proceeding because the creating of the toxic environment may not be by itself sexual touching. There may be inappropriate sexualization of conversations. Sex-based exercise, undue exercise of power. Those things are not covered by the criminal code definition of sexual assault. But they may be very much a pattern of predatory behaviour that creates the intolerable situation for the victim or survivor. So that's another advantage that you have in proceeding civilly that you don't have in the criminal court which focuses exclusively on whether or not sexual touching occurred. One significant disadvantage, however, is that the way our court systems are currently structured, delivery of criminal justice is seen as a public good. And for the most part delivery of civil justice is the parties are left to their own devices. So realistically we have a significant economic roadblock to most sexual assault and sexual harassment survivors pursuing civil justice.

AMT: So you're saying it's too expensive?

DAVID BUTT: Yes. What I advocate is that we should be having Crown attorneys. We should have public delivery of sexual assault trials in a civil context so that Crown attorneys can make a decision in a civil case whether they should proceed criminally or civilly. They should have an option.

AMT: Simona Jellinek is shaking her head. What don't you agree with?

SIMONA JELLINEK: I agree with 90 percent of what David just said. But what I actually don't agree with is that civil cases are too expensive. Sometimes they are. But in most situations experienced lawyers with this area - and there are few and far between to be perfectly honest with you - are able to take these cases in a way where there is no upfront payment. It is a situation where I also think that it is through the civil system that you get a change within the institutions that sometimes harbor these perpetrators.

AMT: How so? Because they get sued as well?

SIMONA JELLINEK: Because they get sued. Whereas in the criminal system the perpetrator is the one who is on trial and gets to spend time in jail hopefully if they're found guilty.

AMT: What if you lose? Are the court costs sometimes then thrown at the accuser?

SIMONA JELLINEK: It really does depend. There are situations where if there is an actual loss then there is money to be paid. However given what we spoke about earlier that in most of these cases there is a negotiated settlement that is a pretty rare occurrence. Does it happen? Absolutely it does. Does it happen that complainants lose at trial? Absolutely. But in 20 years of doing this kind of work it's not something that happens very often.

AMT: What about David Butt's idea that the Crown should take over this then?

SIMONA JELLINEK: The difficulty that I have with that is frankly one of appropriate resources. The Crown is stretched thin as it is now...

AMT: Now, he's agreeing with.


AMT: He's nodding in agreement on that one.

DAVID BUTT: Absolutely. Crown's are stretched thin. But there are some economies to be realized. When you recognize that for a lot of minor - and I don't mean to denigrate the impact on victims - but shorter and more contained incidents of sexual violence that may not lead to huge damage awards, there is an economic problem there. And if you have a Crown attorney who has received a brief from a sexual sole investigator it's been well investigated and the Crown attorney has good training in prosecuting sexual matters. If it's one of those many cases that frankly will founder inevitably in the criminal justice system we have somebody already briefed on file already ready to go. If they could carry that forward as a civil option of course after extensive consultation with the complainant to see how she wishes to proceed with the case then you could have you know in a class of cases more seamless service delivery to sexual assault survivors.

AMT: You're not convincing Simona.

SIMONA JELLINEK: I'm sorry you're not convincing me.

AMT: I want to ask you just because we have limited time here because this is a debate I think that will continue now that you've raised that kind of thing. The burden of proof is different but what about the ability to go into records of the accuser? What about issues like past sexual records? Those kinds of things. Is it different than in criminal court?

DAVID BUTT: Yes - speaking as a criminal practitioner there are important protections that are legislated by the Canadian Criminal Code that apply uniformly across the country. Whereby if the defence does wish to seek access to complainants therapeutic records there will be a very stringent procedure that requires them to give good reasons why they want access. They're review by a judge and a judge makes a decision typically after extensive vetting.

AMT: Is that the same in civil?

DAVID BUTT: No. And I'll not speak to the civil practice but my understanding is that's very different.

SIMONA JELLINEK: It is very different. Part of the huge difference between civil and criminal is what happens in the end. In civil cases are essentially cases that deal with restitution. That deal with the ability to put the plaintiff where they were but for the incident that was happening. So in that sense you have to bring forward a full and complete understanding of who your client is, which means disclosure of various records and whatnot. It also however means that there are other things that you can bring forward that are not really able to be brought forward by a Crown. For instance you can bring much more outside testimony. You are able to bring in expert assessments with regards to for instance the plaintiff's credibility. Whether or not they're exaggerating. Whether or not it's true. Whether or not - and most importantly where this person has been hurt. So there's an awful lot more than simply giving over the records. And again giving over the records means that the defendants also have to give over the records. So you've got situations where institutions for instance you have to give over their records and do have to give over their failed investigations or no investigations in the complaints of they never looked and in people turning a blind eye and all of that. So yes you have to give all records. However in most of these cases there's a real balance to that. And you also have your own lawyer who is protecting you.

AMT: This is a very high profile civil case. It's getting a lot of attention. Do you expect to see more cases of sexual assault and harassment pursued in civil court?

SIMONA JELLINEK: I personally think that this is a watershed moment because people are realizing that there is another option. There has been another option for decades. But because of the media attention right now people are definitely coming forward more. In many of my cases when people first contact us they think they have to contact us because they want to go to the police and lay criminal charges. There is an explanation as to what all their options are and then the person gets to choose what the best option for them is. So I do think so.

AMT: Okay. We have to leave it there. Thank you both for weighing in on this. That is Simona Jellinek, a lawyer who represents sexual assault plaintiffs in civil court. David Butt is a criminal lawyer. They were both with me in our Toronto studio. My next guest is sitting listening in to both of them. She has guided many women on their search for justice. Farrah Khan is the Sexual Violence Support and Education manager at Ryerson University. She's also co-chair of the Ontario Provincial Roundtable on Violence Against Women. She's in our Toronto studio. Hello.

FARRAH KHAN: Good morning.

AMT: As you listen in what are you thinking as you consider what our last two guests have said?

FARRAH KHAN: I think it's important that survivors have the options available to them and know what is available. And so it's exciting to see this conversation happen and people being explained. You know there is a civil process. There is a criminal process. And there are places that you can decide what justice looks like for you. And that's the number one question we always ask. What is justice look like for you? What do you need to go forward to feel safer, to feel heard?

AMT: Not everyone needs to see someone go to jail do they?

FARRAH KHAN: No they don't.

AMT: And what do you hear from women on that front?

FARRAH KHAN: Oftentimes what I hear from survivors or women - in all genders...

AMT: Yes that's true. Thank you for pointing that out.

FARRAH KHAN: Is that they speak to this idea of what they've been told justice looks like. So oftentimes were sold this bill of goods that, 'justice looks like you know you go to a court room. Police are involved. And you know the goal is for them to go to jail'. But when I actually do work with survivors and have those conversations, too often they go to that place of, 'well actually that's not what justice looks like me'. They actually want to really explore that more. And what comes out of those conversations is sometimes the hope just to face the person who has harmed them and say in a public space, 'this is what you did. This wasn't okay. And name it'. I've in spaces where survivors have been given the option of a settlement or facing the person who has caused them harm in court and what they've said is, 'I want to face them and tell them what they did and show them and name what is not okay'. So I think it's really important to give the right for survivors to have options for what justice is.

AMT: And how easy is it for them to know what those options are? How readily available is that list to the people who are needing it?

FARRAH KHAN: I don't think it has been that readily available. And I don't think the media has done the best job before I think the past seven or eight years to really explore this issue. And we're seeing that, right? We saw that with the Ghomeshi case. Every time there is a high profile case we see this explored. And I think that's what's really important so that people know these are the options available to you. And it's not just civil or criminal. It's also going through professional bodies. It could be going through the Ontario Human Rights Commission...

AMT: Or other provincial human rights conventions or a federal I guess depending on jurisdictions.

FARRAH KHAN: Absolutely. And there's also the criminal injuries compensation board. There's one in Ontario at least that survivors can go through to get some monetary compensation to support them through their healing journey.

AMT: A lot of people lose their jobs.

FARRAH KHAN: Absolutely.

AMT: We don't talk about that much but it's not solely looking for justice on what happened. It's also looking to move forward and try to get a career back.

FARRAH KHAN: Yeah and it's not just a career back. It's sometimes losing your time in your education. It's losing time with family. It's losing - also the amount of money that you have to pay to heal because everybody has access to free counselling. So I think there are some things involved in here. And also not everybody has access to justice the same way. We know that people of colour, Indigenous folks, Black folks speak about the fact that they don't have the same access to justice. And so when we talk about criminal and civil, really who gets to be believed even, is important to discuss.

AMT: And you know we also hear how difficult the experience of going through a criminal trial can be on a survivor. Is it any different in civil court?

FARRAH KHAN: It is always challenging to speak what has happened to you in a public space. And especially to know that you'll be cross examined and asked very intimate questions about your experience. I can't say it - it is different because in the civil case the lawyer that's working with you is your lawyer. In the criminal case the lawyer working with you - the crown - is not your lawyer. And so that is a different piece. That's why it's important that the independent legal advice program - the pilot that's been happening lately in Ontario and is happening in other provinces - is really important that the people going through the criminal system will have access to at least a couple hours with a lawyer to speak about that process.

AMT: Do you think that this is a moment in time where we will see more people - we see a shift in how women pursue justice and all victims pursue justice on this front?

FARRAH KHAN: I think people will be open to more options and hopefully we'll know about more options. So often we hear survivors go, 'I didn't know I could pursue that option. I didn't know I could ask for that'. And I hope that we really recognise that we have to really think about access to justice in these cases. Who gets to access and who isn't being heard still.

AMT: Thanks for coming in.

FARRAH KHAN: Thank you.

AMT: That is Farrah Khan. She is the Sexual Violence Support and Education manager at Ryerson University, and also the co-chair of the Ontario Provincial Roundtable on Violence Against Women. She's with us in our Toronto studio. Let us know what you think as you listen to this conversation. You can tweet us @TheCurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook. Go to our website Stay with us the news is next and then...


[Sound: Protesters yelling]

AMT: The sound of Iranians protesting their own government. Their 10 day long demonstrations have sparked some difficult questions for Ottawa about how to react to and engage with Iran. We will hear that debate in our next half hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. You're listening to The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM, online on, on podcast and on your radio app.

[Music: Bridge]

Back To Top »

In wake of Iran protests, should Canada reopen embassy in Tehran?

Guests: Kaveh Shahrooz, Thomas Juneau, Omar Alghabra

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

AMT: Still to come when he founded the WIND Mobile phone company its slogan was true mobile freedom. But Anthony Lacavera says he found Canada's business environment to be less than wide open. Now he's got a message for the country: "We need to up our game in business and entrepreneurship or be left behind." He joins me in half an hour. But first how to answer the voices on the streets of Iran.


VOICE 1: The freedoms that are enshrined in the United Nations Charter are under attack in Iran. Dozens have already been killed. Hundreds have been arrested. We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom.

AMT: U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, has been unequivocal. Her government stands with the protesters in Iran. Whether that helps the protesters is an open question. But there is no doubt that the U.S. government has much more to say about the political crisis in Iran than the Canadian government. The largest anti-government protests since 2009 began on December 28th. They spread to dozens of cities across the country. The Iranian government's response has been brutal. At least 21 protesters have been killed. According to rights groups more than 1000 people have been detained. It is a situation in which Maryam Malekpour is keeping a close eye on. Her brother, Saeed Malekpour, is a Canadian permanent resident. He came here to study. When he returned to Iran in 2008 to visit his ailing father, she says he was kidnapped off the street by Iranian authorities. He has been in an Iranian prison ever since.


MARYAM MALEKPOUR: Saeed is serving a life sentence for crimes that he did not commit. Not even the unjust courts have been able to prove anything against him. All his basic human rights have been violated. He has been physically and psychologically tortured. Saeed was in solitary confinement for five years - three or four years ago - and he has been transferred to general ward. Now he can contact me for five minutes. We cannot say much over the phone. He always says 'I'm good'. But it's been like 10 years he has been held in prison so I'm not sure if he has any mental issues or not. I don't want to think about this stuff. Yeah, I'm just hoping that I see him free one day soon.

AMT: Maryam Malekpour at her home in Vancouver. In 2012 Canada's former Conservative government cut ties with Iran and closed down its embassy in Tehran. But the Liberals made an election pledge to restore relations and since forming a government they have been working to do just that. Officials with Global Affairs have been in discussions with their Iranian counterparts and that has given Maryam Malekpour some hope for her brother's future.


MARYAM MALEKPOUR: I think the Canadian government is now Saeed's only hope. His life in their hands actually. I know that there are some negotiations between Iranian authorities and Canadian government for reopening the relationship between Iran and Canada. I'm hoping that they bring Saeed's case up whenever they have the discussion because I believe that Saeed is a hostage right now.

AMT: A senior government official with Iran's foreign ministry has told Iranian state media that an Iranian delegation will travel to Canada for more talks in early 2018. So discussions between the two countries appear to be moving ahead. In the wake of the protesters' deaths in Iran, a spokesperson for Canada's foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland has called the violence 'deeply troubling' but also has confirmed Canada will "continue to engage with Iran on terms that we set." My next guest says the government of Canada should reconsider the foreign policy decision especially in light of Iran's crackdown on protesters. Kaveh Shahrooz is a Toronto-based lawyer, human rights activist, and former Senior Policy Adviser to Global Affairs Canada. In 2014, he ran for the Federal Liberal Party nomination in the riding of Richmond Hill, Ontario. Kaveh Shahrooz is in our Toronto studio. Hello.

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: Hi, it's good to be with you.

AMT: So first of all what do you think of the Canadian government's response so far to these protests in Iran?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: I think it's been tepid. I think the statement that came from the minister came very late. And it didn't really touch on the substance of the protests. It spoke about the fact that people should have the right to protest - absolutely I'm glad she said that. But it didn't actually side with the protesters and echo the grievances that they've been shouting about in the streets and getting killed for in the streets.

AMT: Justin Trudeau, our Prime Minister, was asked about the wisdom of reengaging with Iran in March of 2016. Listen to what he said.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU: When you disagree with someone, when someone represents a threat to global security or regional security, you need to be engaging with them. You need to have opportunities to put pressure, to tell them where they're going wrong, to tell them how to start going right.

AMT: Do you accept the prime minister's argument there?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: I have no problem with Canada speaking to the Iranians. It's a matter of what we want to be speaking to them about. I think we should be pushing the Iranians very, very hard on the issue of human rights. And unfortunately I don't get the impression that we've been doing that. You know with respect to these protests that have happened recently, you know the prime minister has been silent. He hasn't actually spoken up about human rights or Canadian values or anything of that sort. You know the Iranian regime - this is not just a matter of the protests that have happened in the last few weeks. This is a theocracy - a democratic dictatorship - that's been in place for 40 years and a government that has a lot of blood on its hands. And you know it's Canada's duty I think - its obligation - to speak out forcefully for the protection of human rights in that country.

AMT: So do you not want them to pursue diplomatic relations at another level or do you want them to pursue them differently? What do you say?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: I think a couple of things. I want them to be pursuing it differently. I want them to be pushing the Iranian government very, very hard on human rights as I just mentioned. And I also just want - Canadian foreign policy with respect to Iran to be thought of a little bit differently. I think our prime minister and our foreign affairs minister continue - and our foreign affairs establishment -they continue to think about Iran in terms of a battle between hard liners and reformers and so on and the desire for Canada to engage perhaps with the reformist wing of the Islamic Republic. And I think one of the things we've seen with the protests taking place in the streets is that the Iranian people are no longer interested in this divide. The Iranian people are out there screaming that they don't want an Islamic Republic. They don't want a theocracy. They want a free democratic state that respects the rights of women, of religious minorities, and so on. And that's the side that Canada ought to be on. We ought to be on the side of the people that are pushing for these values that are so dear to us.

AMT: I want to add someone to this discussion. Thomas Juneau is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. He's a former Department of National Defense analyst. Thomas Juneau is joining us from Ottawa. Hello.

THOMAS JUNEAU: Good morning.

AMT: Do you want to see the Canadian government continue to pursue the plan to open diplomatic relations with Iran?

THOMAS JUNEAU: Yes, I do. And in my view the events of the last two weeks in Iran fundamentally don't change in any way the calculus that it's in our interest to try to re-establish diplomatic relations. It was last month, it was two years ago, and that hasn't changed. The current government, they understand perfectly well who this regime. It's not news to them that this is a dictatorship. It's not news to them that this is not a democracy that will suppress violently as we saw peaceful protesters, as we've seen in the last couple weeks. It's not nice to see these things going on as they have been since late December. But at the same time the fundamental calculus that we should have diplomatic relations with Iran doesn't change. There is nothing, nothing new has emerged in the last two weeks that changed that interest that we have.

AMT: At the same time Thomas Juneau isn't this a good moment for Canada to take a tougher stand to actually tie those ongoing negotiations to some kind of action on the ground that speaks to the rights of those Iranian protesters and the 1,000 that we believe have been put into jail now?

THOMAS JUNEAU: I think there are multiple ways to answer that. The first thing I think to say is that, you know in Canada right now we're debating a lot the level of appropriateness of the government to these events of the last two weeks. This is completely a domestic political debate. The Iranian government is barely noticing. And of course its foreign ministry spokesman may single out some countries that have been criticizing Iran or not. But ultimately whatever Canada says - and at this point we're only saying something we're not doing anything - whatever we say is really a domestic political debate that doesn't have much bearing on what actually goes on in Iran. For our foreign ministry to be more or less tepid in taking the side of the people in the streets or not, I think is not irrelevant, but really marginal to the actual debate of - should we try to re-establish relations or not? At a bigger picture a level of what Canada actually does - I mean Canada for years before 2012, before we closed the embassy, and since 2012 we have been putting human rights as one of our priorities in our efforts to deal with the Iranian regime with or without an actual embassy on the ground. Over the years you know we've talked to Iran about the nuclear program, about regional security, about consular cases, about trade, and about human rights. Human rights are one of the priorities but it is not and should not be the only one. A good example of how we have actually used human rights to pressure the Iranian regime as we have continued since 2012, is every year Canada sponsors a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly condemning human rights in Iran and that has continued. And we got that resolution passed in the fall of 2017, as we had - I forget - but for 10 or 12 years straight. So it's not like this government or the British one for that matter hasn't been doing anything.

AMT: Okay, okay. Let's get Kaveh Shahrooz's response to that.

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: So I just want to pick up on something that your guest said which is that this is strictly a domestic matter and it simply doesn't matter what our foreign minister says. First of all I think that diminishes the role of Canada on the global stage. I think it matters a great deal what Canada says. But secondly I think there is a really important reason why the prime minister and foreign affairs minister should speak up now when these protests are happening. The only world leader at the moment that has actually spoken up forcefully has been Donald Trump, which I would say, is regrettable. It's unfortunate. And the effect this has had is that it allows the Iranian government to paint the protesters in the streets as you know CIA stooges that are just doing America's bidding. And I think it's a very dangerous position for the protesters to be in. What they need is for a broad coalition of governments around the world to speak up, condemn the violence, and also amplify the voices of the protesters in the streets and allow them to air their grievances.

AMT: And you've seen the reaction to Trump. So you're saying that reaction action wouldn't exist if other countries, including Canada spoke up?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: I think it just makes it harder for the Iranian government to claim that the protesters are merely doing America's work. I mean if it really is an international outpouring of support for the protesters, the protests would no longer merely be associated with Donald Trump.

AMT: What do you say to those who say that this was a calculation by Mr. Rouhani to be more transparent, to force the clerics to be more transparent that backfired. That it is an actual protest that began fomented inside the Iranian political back-and-forth.

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: So I don't think the theory was that [unintelligible], other hardliners that are opposed to Rouhani may have initially..

AMT: That he wanted transparency ran on transparency, never gave it to them. And so that's why they're angry. They're angry about economics and transparency.

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: So I think the Iranian people started this protest as one about economic mismanagement and the plundering of national treasury. But it's very quickly grown into an anti-dictatorial protest. I mean all you need to do is listen...

AMT: They're kind of related, aren't they?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: Very closely related actually. You know economic mismanagement - poor governance leads economic mismanagement. And so people are out there just chanting for freedom and democracy. They believe that that will lead to better economic performance for the country.

AMT: Thomas Juneau what does Canada stand to gain by opening an embassy in Tehran? Or reopening.

THOMAS JUNEAU: I think we stand to gain a number of things. The first point to say is that we don't stand to gain that much. Canada is not a major player in the Middle East and Iran is not a major interest for Canada. So I do want to be clear that I'm not at all claiming that having an embassy is a huge interest for Canada and this country would gain a lot by having one. I think we stand to gain a bit at the trade level. Even a lot of sanctions remained after the nuclear deal of 2015, Iran is a country of 85 million people. It's a middle-income country. Relatively rich in natural resources. There are trade opportunities for Canada - not huge ones but real ones. And without an embassy on the ground we are really behind especially European but also Asian countries who are trying very cautiously to reintegrate the Iranian market.

AMT: Okay, so Kaveh Shahrooz, what about the economic side of this - the trade side - you have a problem with that?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: Back in 2013 I worked with a number of other activists to get Canada's parliament to recognize massacres that happen in Iran as crimes against humanity. The very same people that committed those crimes against humanity are still in power in Iran today. So yes trade is important, but at what cost? Whose hand are we willing to shake in order to get trade deals. Unfortunately we would be doing business with people that Canada has recognized as having committed crimes against humanity. I think that's very dangerous.

AMT: And what about the clip we heard earlier of Maryam Malekpour about her brother Saeed and the efforts to try to get him out of there? Are they not helped with more diplomatic relations with Iran?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: I think it's important for Canada to continue talking to the Iranians. But I will note that even when Canada's had diplomatic relations with Iran we haven't been able to necessarily help our citizens. And I refer back to the 2003 case of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, that was detained, raped, and killed in Iran. And despite us having perfectly good diplomatic relations and an embassy, we weren't able to do much for her.

AMT: So how likely is it that we will see Canada and Iran have a normal diplomatic relationship before the next federal election Kaveh Shahrooz?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: My sense is that this government is really committed to it. I think perhaps your next guest can speak to that. But it's regrettable because in order to achieve that they're pulling their punches and not speaking out as forcefully as they should.

AMT: Thomas Juneau he calls that "regrettable," do you agree?

THOMAS JUNEAU: I think that as much as it is in Canada's interest to have an embassy in Iran, I actually don't think it's going to happen. And that's the unfortunate part because as you very briefly mentioned at the beginning of this clip - in 2012 the conservatives not only shut down embassies in Ottawa and Tehran, but they also passed a law that resulted in Iran being listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Of the many implications of that law, one of the consequences of that is that, Canadian courts can sezie Iranian assets in Canada. Under those conditions Iran has actually been quite clear that it is not interested in having an embassy here. So right now, as you said, Canadian delegations at least twice as far as we know have gone to Iran. There is apparently an Iranian delegation coming to Canada to continue these discussions. But on the basis of very little public knowledge that we have of those discussions, they're more or less stalled in the sense that...

AMT: Unless, unless Canada somehow gets around that, right? As part of the negotiations.

THOMAS JUNEAU: You can only imagine that diplomats on both sides are trying to find a creative solution. But Canada has been quite clear publicly at least that it is not going to delist Iran. And Iran has been quite clear that there will not be an embassy as long they're are listed. So there probably are some kind of middle compromises, interests sections, representation at a lower level than ambassadors and so on, you know diplomats will try to find some kind of compromise. But I'm not optimistic that before the 2019 - before the next elections - we actually will have a resolution to these discussions and embassies in each other's capitals simply because the conservatives have, you know, from their point of view did a very good job of tying the hands of future governments in making the reopening of diplomatic relations very, very difficult.

AMT: Okay. Kaveh Shahrooz do you take any comfort in that view?

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: Well I mean what I would like to see would be the restoration of consular services. I mean I think the absence of consular services have done a lot of harm. And you know there are a lot of Iranian-Canadians for example that can't get...

AMT: No, they have to Turkey or Dubai to get these...

KAVEH SHAHROOZ: Absolutely. It makes life hard for them that way. And I think restoring that - and that's really by and large up to the Iranian government. I mean the Iranian government can set up an interest section in Toronto or Ottawa - wherever they like. But on this point I agree with your guest. I don't think we necessarily need full diplomatic relations.

AMT: Okay. We have to leave it there gentlemen. Thank you for weighing in on this. I have been speaking with Kaveh Shahrooz, a Toronto-based lawyer, human rights activist, and former Senior Policy Advisor to Global Affairs Canada. He's in our Toronto studio. Thomas Juneau is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and a former Department of National Defense analyst. He joined us from Ottawa. What's happening in Iran is a concern for many Iranian-Canadians. Over the weekend rallies were held in Vancouver and Toronto in support of the anti-government demonstrators. Some members of the community say the Canadian government could be doing a lot more to voice its support for the Iranians in the streets. Omar Alghabra is the Liberal member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre. He's also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. And he is in our Toronto studio. Hello.

OMAR ALGHABRA: Good morning.

AMT: You heard our discussion just now and the argument raised that the response is just not strong enough. How do you respond to the need for Canadians who say, Canada needs to be a lot stronger on what's happening there right now in Iran?

OMAR ALGHABRA: Let me first start off by saying that Canada is deeply, deeply troubled by the oppression that protesters have been facing in Iran. We were one of the first countries that actually issued a statement on December 30th condemning the violence that protesters have faced on the streets of Iran - speaking up for their basic fundamental rights to peacefully assemble and express their political opinions. So Canada was one of the first countries around the world to express that opinion. We followed up with another statement on January 3rd by Minister Freeland. So we stand in solidarity with people who want to walk in the streets, to express their political opinions peacefully. And we call on Iran to adhere to its international human rights obligations.

AMT: And when are the Iranian officials scheduled to show up here for these negotiations in early 2018? Are they here already? Are they coming?

OMAR ALGHABRA: I don't have the specific dates. But I know the ongoing discussions is taking place to find a way on our own terms restore diplomatic relationships for Iran because our job is to defend Canadian interest. The purpose for reengaging with Iran is mainly to advance Canadians interest and speak up for human rights. So the best way to advance those issues seriously and effectively is by engaging and sitting at the table and advocating for those rights.

AMT: On Friday the U.S. called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the latest unrest. The American ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said the Iranian regime is on notice. What do you think of Washington's response?

OMAR ALGHABRA: Well I could tell you that we all know our government has been speaking up about the autocratic nature of the Iranian regime. We have been expressing our concerns about their human rights record. As your previous guest mentioned, Canada has been sponsoring - leading the world in sponsoring a United Nations resolutions. Last November we passed it again that expresses deep concerns about human rights records in Iran and we will continue to take that leadership position.

AMT: Are you looking for a full diplomatic relations now with Iran? Or are you looking for consular services first? What's the plan?

OMAR ALGHABRA: Well I mean I can't get in details about the ongoing discussions.

AMT: Why not?

OMAR ALGHABRA: Because there's a state to state confidentiality. But I can restate the main purpose for this discussions, is to raise consular issues. We spoke with Maryam, who've I have met few times. We have Canadians interest in Iran to advocate for. We just had last year recall the case of professor Hoodfar who was in Iran. So it is in Canadians interest to have diplomatic relationship. To have an ability to engage with the Iranian authorities. And it's also in the interest of Iranian people that we have a Canadian voice on the ground.

AMT: It would also be in the interest of Iranian-Canadians not to keep getting picked up by Iranian authorities. What can your government do to get them to stop arresting everybody like this? And I say everybody, but I mean - like the cases there's always somebody from Canada in the news getting picked up by the Iranian authorities and held for reasons that don't make any sense.

OMAR ALGHABRA: So we always encourage our citizens to monitor our travel advisories that are tailored to specific..

AMT: You know they get picked up on charges that are specious. They get picked up on trumped up issues. So what can Canada do about that?

OMAR ALGHABRA: We will continue to speak up directly with Iranians about our citizens who get caught in troubling situations.

AMT: Will be part of the negotiations with these officials coming back to Ottawa?

OMAR ALGHABRA: I can assure you that not only consular cases are core elements of the discussions with the Iranians, but also human rights and human rights records of the Iranian authority are core elements of these discussions.

AMT: And so what can Canadians expect to see in the year ahead with regard to Canada's stand on what's going on in Iran?

OMAR ALGHABRA: Our position continues to be clear. We have been speaking up for human rights. We have expressing concerns about human rights records of the Iranian regime. The autocratic nature of the Iranian regime. So that we will remain consistent. But we think it is much more effective to be at the table. We think it's much more - to give you an example the Iran nuclear deal that was signed a couple of years ago by the international community, did not sign itself. It happened when people sat around the table and engaged in sometimes very difficult, but helpful conversations. And today we think that that deal has led to a positive outcome.

AMT: What do you say to our last two guests who point out that Iran is still listed as a state sponsor of terrorism? So you can't really have the kind of opening of embassies and back and forth that you want to have. How are you going to get around that?

OMAR ALGHABRA: We have no plans to delisting Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. And that's what I mean by saying we're having these conversations with the Iranian government on our own terms. So we're making sure that issues of Canadians, Canadian interests, human rights, are at the forefront of these conversations.

AMT: And when do we get more clarity from your minister then - the minister responsible?

OMAR ALGHABRA: Clarity on?

AMT: Well just on what those negotiations are and what the implications are?

OMAR ALGHABRA: As you can imagine these negotiations are not straightforward. They're not easy. They're complicated.

AMT: That's why I'm asking for clarity. When do you think we'll get it?

OMAR ALGHABRA: It's very hard for us to know where we are going - how quickly we're going to be moving on these issues as we are engaging the Iranians on these matters. But I could tell you that it is essential for us to continue to raise Canadians interest and human rights.

AMT: Thank you for coming.


AMT: Omar Alghabra is the Liberal member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre. He's also the Parliamentary Secretary to Chrystia Freeland, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He joined us in our Toronto studio. Stay with us, when we return we are talking to Anthony Lacavera of about entrepreneurship in Canada and what needs to change in this country to keep business moving forward. This is The Current.

Back To Top »

Canada can't settle for bronze in business, says WIND Mobile founder

Guest: Anthony Lacavera

AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.


JIM PRENTICE: Today marks a new milestone for the industry. Our goals are lower prices, better service, and more choice for Canadian consumers and business.

AMT: Flashback to 2007. That was then Federal Industry Minister the late Jim Prentice announcing the auction of the wireless spectrum for the cellphone industry. It was a plan with a big promise to lower prices and grow competition - hasn't quite turned out that way. Although prices have dropped for some types of cellphone plans, overall Canadian cellphone bills are still among the most expensive in the world. At the time of the wireless auction Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris invested in the upstart company WIND Mobile, hoping to shake up the Canadian market. After a few years however he left in frustration, saying that investing in Canada had been a bad idea. Here he is talking on the CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange in 2011.


NAGUIB SAWIRIS: There is no real political will here to introduce competition into this closed market. These powers they're trying to pressure - the politicians - against the consumers, which we are trying to help and not because we are good guys because we want to make money. We want to come here and earn with hard work. But we are encountering nightmares.

AMT: Anthony Lacavera is the founder of WIND Mobile and the one who persuaded Naguib Sawiris to invest in Canada. He says the lessons he learned from the telecom industry show bigger problems in the Canadian business world, with its failure to dream big and shake things up. And he says these problems could undermine the equal society Canadians hold so dear. In addition to WIND, Anthony Lacavera is the founder and chair of Globalive, a global investment firm, and the author of, How We Can Win: And What Happens to Us and Our Country If We Don't. He joins me in our Toronto studio. Hello and welcome.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Anna Maria thank you for having me.

AMT: When you hear those clips what do you think?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Well you know it was a really interesting time in my life because I had already built my business over the previous 10 years and was coming into the wireless opportunity really with you know eyes wide open in terms of the challenges that the big companies such as, Bell Telus, and Rogers would really present. But I really felt like we were at a place where there was really strong political will for fundamental change. That there was a recognition in Ottawa that we really needed to have that change because as you were saying prices were among the highest in the world at the time. And customer satisfaction levels - all of us as Canadians - our customer service experience with the big wireless carriers were so bad generally that everybody wanted more competition. I grossly underestimated how strong Bell, Telus, and Rogers grip on the political process and the market really is in this country.

AMT: So what did you initially want to achieve by bringing WIND Mobile into the Canadian cellphone market with an international partner?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Yeah I mean I think I recognized pretty quickly because they couldn't raise any capital here for it every time I knocked on the door to a Canadian investor for the wireless project which ultimately became WIND Mobile. I would get these people happy like, 'are you crazy? You're never going to be able to shake up the market grip that those big players have'. And in any way, you know, a lot of those investors, institutional investors, already had a big share position in Bell, Telus, and Rogers. They didn't really want me to in some respects. So it was a really difficult thing to raise money in Canada. So I went abroad. And Naguib Sawiris was a believer that we could really bring change to the Canadian market. And look, WIND while it was operating was very successful. We brought prices down 21 percent in all 28 English speaking markets that we operated in. And it wasn't just that we were offering a better price and good value for money and a better customer service experience. We forced Bell, Telus, and Rogers to do the same. So somewhere in the neighbourhood of 14 or 15 million Canadians had a better wireless experience from 2009 to 2015.

AMT: And you sold it for $1.6 billion.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: We sold it for $1.6 billion. But Anna Maria I would have never sold that company. My investors were kicked out of Canada and this was part of the inspiration for me to write this book. I was in the process of really fundamentally making the Canadian telecommunications industry competitive. So important that all of our big industries are competitive globally so that our economy can be competitive globally. It's just a straight line. If we're not domestically competitive, how can we ever compete in the global marketplace?

AMT: So you see that $1.6 billion sale as a failure?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Of course people can be like, 'well you made all this money. You must be pretty happy with yourself?' Sure. Of course every entrepreneur sets out to build a profitable business. Everybody wants to ultimately create wealth for investors and shareholders and themselves. But that wasn't the primary reason why I started this company. It wasn't the primary reason why I started Globalive in 1998. I brought first competition to the initially back in '98 to the calling card industry in Canada. You remember those days where you have to pay 50 cents a minute. I brought those prices down. And then I brought prices down for internet access. I brought prices down for local phone access and I was really in the process of bringing wireless prices down significantly. As soon as the oligopoly got a hold of WIND Mobile prices went back up and that's all we've seen over the last 24 months. Now the experiences are back to where they were in 2007.

AMT: I'm going to ask you about the language - oligopoly.


AMT: Why do you call it that?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Oligopoly's is by definition is a market that's controlled by a small two, three, four players. In this case it's three players: Bell, Telus, and Rogers. And what they do when they control a market - and it's true in Canada by the way in banking. It's true in telecommunications. We have five big banks that control the market. In telecom we have three big players. In energy we have a handful of players that control the market. What happens is there is no real incentive for them to innovate. There's no real incentive to innovate because amongst them they control the market and they control pricing in the market. I'm not suggesting that they cooperate on pricing. They don't. But there's really no incentive embedded to really innovate new products and services because why would you do that when you are you know everything's great the way things are. So there's this huge inertia in our big critical industry. Huge inertia against innovation. Against investing in research and development to push those big companies for it and make them more globally competitive.

AMT: In fact you say one of the consequences of this is the big players never have to bring their A game. They don't have to because they're winning anyway.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: They're winning so big domestically. Why do they have - and they don't have to worry - they're protected by regulations that make it very difficult for foreign investors to come in. The experience that my investors had from abroad. I had investors as I alluded to that in the clip that you play with Naguib and then after that VimpelCom who were Amsterdam-based, both of those big foreign, strategic investors that could have made such a huge long-term impact on our telecommunications industry and make it more competitive in partnership with myself were kicked out.

AMT: They were supposed to be able to work with you. You make the point that Ottawa didn't enforce the law.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Well this is just it that as I entered it I felt like there was a tremendous amount of political will. There wasn't in the end of the day. There was short-term political will. But there wasn't really this long-term, strong entrenched perspective that we should have competition. And it was an inspiration for the book as it's true in every industry in Canada.

AMT: Okay. And I think we should just spell out what that meant. You were supposed to have access to cellphone towers to be able to put what you needed up on them and things like that and you couldn't get that stuff.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I was in sort of in a place where I wanted to build a truly independent choice in telecommunications - in wireless services for Canadians. And so that necessitated as building a wireless network. So we built some 1,500-plus cell towers, cell sites across Canada and operated our own network. We were not like Kodoo, you see, or Fido or Virign.

AMT: Which are all part of the big ones.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: All owned by the big ones and all operated on their own networks. We were truly totally independent. That allowed us to offer a better value for money. We weren't encumbered by the big legacy infrastructure of the big oligopoly. So we were able to pass through a lot of savings to consumers.

AMT: So how did it go wrong?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: As I say the business was going great. We were - prices were down 21 percent in all 28 English speaking markets that we were operating WIND in. Canadians loved the brand WIND. Generally people were adopting it in droves. And even if you hadn't bought WIND you were getting a better deal from Bell, Telus, or Rogers.

AMT: Right. But then the big - the oligopoly said those are foreigners in Canada. They appeal to the patriotism.


AMT: Of the wallet and that's what happened right?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: It's a critical national industry that's going to be now controlled by foreign investors. What's missing in that whole narrative that the big three created is that there's a huge growth opportunity for those companies, Bell, Telus, and Rogers globally. Why are they so focused on just dominating this little pond of Canada?

AMT: Why?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: They're protected by regulation. So I am a strong advocate that we as Canadians need to demand of our policymakers and politicians that competition be a thread that's woven through all policies they create.

AMT: Deregulation then.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Well, regulations that facilitate and encourage competition.

AMT: Okay. Now Canada's economy is growing more than any other G7 country according to the OECD. So somebody might say, what's wrong with the way we do things?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Well things are great today. Canada is doing great today. We have strong democratic institutions. We have a great education system, universal healthcare system - it's the envy of the world. We have a diverse pluralistic population and there's so many amazing things that we all love about Canada. How we can win - my book is about how do we make sure that stays? How do we keep our way of life and make it sustainable for the long-term?

AMT: So you're arguing the very thing that we do to create all of those social safety nets in the things we used for value over the next 25 to 50 years will start to turn in on us if we don't change?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: The long-term picture - the macro trends. When you look at our GDP growth and you look at the trends in GDP growth, and when you look at the job creation statistics over a long period of time, when you look at where our industries fit globally and what's competitive and what's not competitive, I mean we're small country. We need to trade with the world. In order to trade successfully with the world we have to be competitive with the world. So these are the big things that we need to focus on for the long-term. So yes things are great today. We all love the strength of Canada today. We need to make sure that's solidified for the long-term.

AMT: The Canadian government talks a lot about innovation and invests a lot of money in innovation. How well is that working in your view?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I think that it's not working at all. I think that they are doing what they - we tend to do in Canada which is we don't like to pick winners. So what we're doing with all of these innovation dollars which on a global scale are not big innovation dollars are talking about a total of about a billion dollars in investing in Artificial Intelligence where we have real strength today in other areas like that. Those are relatively small dollars but worse than that they're spread out across hundreds of firms. And so instead of really - that's Canadian way right? We want egalitarianism if you will. We want to make sure there is no company left behind. We want to make sure everyone has a fair shot. It's a value in our society that I think we all cherish.

AMT: But you see it doesn't work and you actually point to what the Canadian Olympic Committee did with Own The Podium.


AMT: So explain what that means.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: This blows me away. You know we are very competitive when it comes to sport. When we get out and play hockey we expect to win. We expect to win. It doesn't matter we're playing the United States. This "10 times our size" and all this "much bigger, much more resources." We expect to win and we're disappointed if we don't win. I don't understand why we don't bring that same mentality to our business culture.

AMT: And so Own The Podium did that by actually focusing on the athletes who were already winners as opposed to looking at everybody and saying, 'okay you are get the same training'. And you want the Canadian government with its innovation money to take the winners ahead of time.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: We need to double down aggressively on winners. That's what we've got to do. Again it may offend our Canadian mindset of spreading money around making sure that everyone has a fair shot. The world doesn't think that way and we're in the world economy. So we have to react to the rapid growth of China. The rapid growth of the United States in innovation, the rapid growth of Western Europe, and Germany, in the U.K. We're competing with those countries, so we can beat them all. I really believe we can beat them all with the Canadian way of doing things. But we have to go after the number one spot the same way we do when we play sport. The same way we went to Own The Podium. And we did it on the podium. When we set our mind to it we did Own The Podium.

AMT: At the same time there is a view that anybody can be an entrepreneur.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I believe that.

AMT: Okay. How does it work that some succeed and some don't. What's the magic?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: So I don't think that there is any one formula to build successful businesses or create wealth for yourself. I think that there are infinite paths. Some folks are not cut out to be entrepreneurs because they don't have those core characteristics but I see that transcend all successful founders everywhere in the world that I've travelled to look at investing in businesses.

AMT: What are they?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: It is those clichés that we always hear about in businesses. It's perseverance. You never give up. It's about staying focused and being consistent. Showing up every day at the same time and just working and focusing and being consistent. It's about understanding where your limitations and where your strengths are. If you have strengths in marketing you know maybe you're not as strong in accounting. You need to make sure you've got great resources in accounting. So it's about that building that team. Those are the characteristics that transcend every successful founder I've met and I've met hundreds from dozens of countries.

AMT: I want to talk about the mindset in the business community. We asked Canadian entrepreneur, Sameer Dhar. What he's observed. He is the CEO of Sensassure and founder of Geomeer, an anti-poverty charity in Alberta. Listen to him.


SAMEER DHAR: You're lucky if you just build a revenue generating business. If you make it $50 million or $100 million you're seen as a star. But if you go down to the valley that would not be real success in some ways. People are constantly trying to get to that unicorn valuation. They're trying to do great industry, world changing things. They want to be the best in the world versus here in Canada I think we're okay with being the best in Canada.

AMT: Anthony Lacavera are Canadian entrepreneurs setting their sights too low?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Setting the sights far too low. We don't think that way when we play hockey. We go for gold. We go for world domination. Our business culture has to do the same thing.

AMT: You say "ambition" is a dirty word in this country.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I don't understand it. It's sort of like just be happy with being the third or fourth place. That's good enough. It's good enough. We're doing good enough. That's not going to cut it in the digital economy. In the next 10, 20, 30 years Artificial intelligence is going to transform every industry. We need to be ready to embrace that change and become leaders globally in it and have global winners. Anna Maria we've proven we can do it with companies like RIM. We dominated a market - the handset market. Okay the ending wasn't great. But we dominated that market. Look at the wealth creation and the intellectual capital, if you will, that's been created in the Waterloo region. Hundreds of start-ups now coming out of Kitchener-Waterloo. Big global firms like, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, all locating in Kitchener-Waterloo saying, 'wow, what a centre of excellence'.

AMT: So that's a legacy that actually goes beyond a smartphone?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: We can create so much wealth for this country from the Kitchener-Waterloo region as a result.

AMT: So you talk about ambition. Where does yours come from?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: My whole life I've sort of felt like I wanted to pave my own way and create my own path. This may sound crazy actually but I've always felt like starting my own business and building my own clients and generating my own profits would give me more job security - significant more job security - than if I went and worked at a big company. As that was just kind of my mindset from an early age. I was an engineer by education from the University of Toronto and I wasn't particularly an awesome student. But I was a decent student. And so I got some job offers you know. But not the best job offers. But I got some to go work at Microsoft for example or at Nortel. Nortel was the big place to go for engineers at the time. You know I just felt like, 'but then I'm handing my future over to someone else and I don't feel comfortable with that'.

AMT: So where did that come from? That you don't have to be the little guy or the medium guy. That you could maybe do that on your own. Take me through that process.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I grew up in a small town in Welland, Ontario. I didn't start with any real particular advantages. I mean we were a comfortable middle-class family. But traditional Italian family. My parents continued to be among my best friends. They always have said to me you know, 'don't necessarily listen to the hype of your peers or what everyone else is doing. Think about what's going to be great for you'. I think that was the best lesson they ever taught me. And so everything - to this day I think about so what's going to be great for the path that I want to make for myself. What's the right decision for the path I want to create for myself. I think they instilled in me from literally when I was maybe five-years-old.

AMT: Critical-thinking.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I think it was hugely influential in shaping my path. I thank them every day for it.

AMT: So that's a quintessential Canadian story. When it comes to business some people think Canada needs to adopt a more American approach. But you're not saying that?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: No. I think we can take all of our strengths, everything that we love about our culture today, where we care about people. We have open learning cultures in companies. We have decency, where we treat people well. We're a friendly place where we're we invest in people and we build long-term relationships in communities. I'm so proud of the communities that I've built including companies that I don't even own anymore like WIND. But they're great communities of people. Those are strengths that you don't see in New York City or in Silicon Valley. You don't see that in Hong Kong. And you don't see that in London. We have some amazing strengths that we just need to export to the world the world needs more Canada. We just need to get out and go to win. Build global winners and export those great strengths. That said though, you know when you look at what's successful today in Canada and you look at the entrepreneurs that are successful - I profile a lot of those stories in my book - there's great stories like Sameer Dhar.

AMT: There are some great success stories like Sameer Dhar who we heard. Yes.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Some somebody who we heard you say Mugabe Alex Berardi and Molly Shoichet, Joelle Faulkner - you know doing it with Area One Farms. Just so many great stories.

AMT: Well you make the point that you can innovate with technology and algorithms. Or you can innovate with construction.


AMT: Or agriculture like - you actually make the point that we should be thinking innovation from kindergarten. And innovation can be little. It doesn't have to be, 'I'm going to create Google tomorrow'. It can be, 'I'm going to create something and maybe it becomes Google tomorrow'.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Exactly. We need to have every Canadian thinking about how can I make this country a better place? How can I improve something? Whatever I'm passionate about and if it is agriculture - in the case of Joelle Faulkner and Area One Farms, she's innovating a whole new business model for succession planning and farming and helping farmers grow their farms and helping strengthen. Already the Canadian agriculture industry is among the leaders in the world. She's helping to solidify that leadership position for Canada long- term. She's innovating. But it's not sort of the hype of a high-tech start-up.

AMT: Her company actually has land under cultivation where farmers can develop...

ANTHONY LACAVERA: To get financing to expand their farms and build bigger and bigger farms. She's got a fund and she's helping farmers build the great succession plans and then helping them bring technologies to their farms. You think about the future of growing crops and the importance of food and food security long-term to the Canadian economy. Now we need to ensure our agriculture industry is among the best in the world and to do that we need to take advantage of all the new technologies coming in to at the source, at the field level, improve the crop yield. Lower the amount water needed. Improve the health of crops. Improve the organic nature of them. [00:21:28][36.0]

AMT: But she noticed that one farmer - one farm business - can't do it alone. So this is like they can be part of something and then they can actually hive off and pay out when they're able to.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Exactly. It gives them a great new growth path. But that's just - I'm raising the example because it's not a high-tech, sort of sexy start-up.

AMT: That's right. It's crops.


AMT: It's dirt.


AMT: It’s seeds and dirt.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: But so important.

AMT: Can we have both the social safety net Canadians are so proud of and a booming ambitious climate business?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: No question about it. In fact that social set - as long as we just continue to hold on to what we love about this country including that social safety net, including their education system, including their health care system. Those things need to be fed though. Those are expensive things to have. Canadians walk around saying, 'oh healthcare is free. You know I get free healthcare. It's great about Canada'. And I always correct people, 'you're not getting health care for free'. It is not free.

AMT: We pay for it with our taxes.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: You are paying for it huge. It's a system that needs to be fed. It's a very expensive system. And of course we want it to be there in 25 years and 50 years for our children and our grandchildren. In order for that to happen our business community has to win so that there are tax revenues to fund it.

AMT: Is innovation just a young person's game?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: No absolutely not. Everyone - Canadians from five-years-old to 95-years-old should be thinking about how do we make whatever we do in whatever passion about, how do we make it better? That's innovation to me. It can be incremental. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. You don't have to make the next Google. You don't have to make the next Amazon. But think about where you are today and how can you make it better. If you have a small business with five or 10 people working with you, how do you make it 15 or 20? How do you expand your markets? How do you export to the United States? How do you export to China?

AMT: You say you grew up in an Italian-Canadian family. A lot of the successful Canadian business people you speak to in your book are immigrants or children of immigrants. Why is that?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I think they come from a place where ambition is not a dirty word. Where profit is not a dirty word. Whether you have to make your own way because there isn't a great education system, health care system, and social safety net. I mean Canadian kids grow up with complacency. With entitlement. Because it is such a great place to grow up. First generation Canadians often come from places that are not like that. They are not friendly places to grow up - ruthlessly competitive. In China kids grow up - it's ruthlessly competitive. And honestly long-term that's who our kids are going to be competing with for jobs. In the knowledge economy jobs aren't in one country. Jobs are global and our kids need to be ready to compete with kids that are taught that if you don't win that means you lost.

AMT: So what are your business dreams and aspirations now?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I'm going to build my next business and Globalive. I've focused on Artificial Intelligence and the blockchain. And so I am just getting that rolling. And what I'm going to be doing is looking at legacy businesses that can be transformed using machine intelligence and blockchain technology. And so I'm thinking of helping industries like energy, like agriculture, like financial services, and bringing new technology to existing great businesses and helping them accelerate their growth and very importantly scale here in Canada and export globally.

AMT: So you want a headquarter in Canada?

ANTHONY LACAVERA: I will absolutely, permanently be headquartered in Canada. And I'm going scale that business and export everything we do globally.

AMT: Best of luck and I won't just say luck because you're obviously going to work hard. And we'll have you back.

ANTHONY LACAVERA: Thank you Anna Maria. Thank you.

AMT: Anthony Lacavera, founder of WIND Mobile. Also the founder and chair of Globalive, a global investment firm and the author of How We Can Win: And What Happens to Us and Our Country If We Don't. He's in our Toronto studio. Now we did ask for responses from Rogers, Bell, and Telus. We have a lot of statements to quote from. The Current's Karin Marley produced this segment and she's with me now. Hi Karin.

KARIN MARLEY: Hello Anna Maria. So Rogers sent us a statement that reads in part: "We support competition. It is vital to our customers and our economy. Last year alone three million Canadians switched wireless service providers. So the fight to win hearts and minds of Canadians is constant in this competitive market. Equally important to competition is investing in Canada's wireless infrastructure. Over the last 30 years our industry has invested nearly $45 billion to ensure Canadians enjoy some of the best networks in the world despite our small population and significant landmass."

AMT: We did not hear back from Telus or Bell. But the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association did send a response. Karin…

KARIN MARLEY: They did indeed. And it reads in part: "Canadians have many choices for wireless service with more than three dozen wireless service providers registered in Canada, ranging from regional carriers to national carriers to resellers, with many offering service plans under different brands. It's a dynamic marketplace.

AMT: We also asked for a response from the Office of the Federal Minister of Innovation Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains. Karin Marley...

KARIN MARLEY: We did get another statement. The office said that the government's message to the telecommunications industry has been clear and that it wants to see more competition. The office also said that the government's innovation policies are working. "Since October 2015 over 600,000 jobs have been created. Forbes recently ranked Canada as one of the top five countries in the world to do business."

AMT: Okay. Thank you, Karin Marley. Karin Marley is a producer at The Current and she produced that interview with Anthony Lacavera. That is our program for today. Stay with Radio One for Q. Tom Power has a panel discussion about last night's Golden Globe Awards. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thank you for listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

Back To Top »

CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.