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Drugs, torture and a 'murder house': El Chapo trial begins today

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: trial of alleged Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman begins; Glybera, the big Canadian medical breakthrough you likely never heard about; a new perspective on the bombing of Canadian Pacific Flight 21.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Authorities escort Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, centre, from a plane to a caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport in N.Y. on Jan. 19, 2017, when he was transferred to the U.S. from Mexico to face charges. (U.S. law enforcement via Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The trial of alleged Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, once counted amongst the world's richest men, begins today in New York.
  • Glybera is a Canadian innovation that became the most expensive drug in the world — to the chagrin of one of its key developers.
  • CBC News and a team of experts are trying to shed new light on the unsolved 1965 bombing of Canadian Pacific Flight 21 that killed all 52 aboard.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

EL Chapo

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was once counted amongst the world's richest men, with vast estates, fancy cars, planes, boats and even his own fleet of submarines.

But for the past two years, his world has shrunk down to the four walls of his windowless solitary confinement cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan.

Since his 2016 arrest and early 2017 extradition, Guzman, the 61-year-old alleged kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, has spent 23 hours a day locked in his room. The lights are always on, there's no television, and the only reading material is the voluminous evidence from his trial. Conditions so austere, his lawyers complained he was losing his sanity.

Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán is escorted by marines as he is presented to the press on Feb. 22, 2014, in Mexico City after his capture. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

The good news for Guzman is that as of today he has been granted a change of scenery.

The bad news is that his new accommodations — in the bowels of the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn — are even more isolated.

American officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to secure a prized prisoner who famously escaped from two Mexican jails, the last time via a sophisticated 1.6-kilometre-long tunnel. For his pre-trial appearances, they escorted him to and from court in a convoy of armoured vehicles, with helicopters buzzing overhead and SWAT team snipers positioned on overlooking rooftops.

But such measures, which also necessitated the closure of the Brooklyn Bridge twice a day, have been deemed too costly and disruptive for a trial that might last four months or more.

So as opening arguments began this morning, El Chapo is now being held a few floors below the Brooklyn courtroom Monday through Friday, with plans to move him back to his Manhattan superjail for weekends.

A motorcade believed to be transporting Guzman crosses the Brooklyn Bridge before arriving the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse on Oct. 30. His transfers are conducted under secrecy and heavy security. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Guzman faces 17 charges involving money laundering, conspiracy to commit murder, and the alleged importation of more than 200 tonnes of illegal drugs — including cocaine, heroin, cannabis and methamphetamine — to the United States. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

For the most part, however, it will be his savage reputation that is on trial.

Prosecutors intend to introduce hundreds of thousands of pages of written material and more than 100,000 audio recordings as evidence, and will sketch his rise from impoverished elementary school dropout to one of Mexico's most feared and powerful men.

In one filing in April, U.S. attorneys indicated that they will introduce YouTube videos that allegedly show El Chapo and his henchmen torturing "bound and helpless" rivals.

Another prosecution document mentions the end of two members of the competing Los Zetas cartel, whom he supposedly had beaten, executed and burned, right after he finished lunch.

One witness is scheduled to testify about a "murder house" in the ultra-violent Texas border city of Juárez, where Sinaloa hitmen are said to have covered the walls in plastic sheeting and installed a special floor drain to deal with the blood.

Over the summer, prosecutors filed a list of Guzman's supposed victims between the beginning of 1989 and the fall of September 2014. It identified 28 individuals and some very broad categories, including "informants," "members of law enforcement," and soldiers of rival cartels.

Eduardo Balarezo, El Chapo's lead lawyer, noted the government's intention to introduce evidence that his client "conspired to murder somewhere between 20 and an infinite number of people over a 25-year period."

Guzman's defence attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, speaks to the media outside U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Oct. 30. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

But the presiding judge has ruled that there is cause for concern for those involved in the trial.

The 12 jurors — picked from a pool of 1,000 — are being escorted to and from court by armed U.S. Marshals, and pains are being taken to ensure they remain anonymous. (One prospective juror was excused because his work as a Michael Jackson impersonator made him too easy to track down.)

The list of witnesses who will testify against Guzman is also cloaked in secrecy. All their names are blacked out in filings, and there are reports that many are being held in secure locations or have been given new identities under protection programs.

Guzman's lawyers have said that they intend to attack the credibility of those witnesses, many of whom are themselves convicted cartel members who have received reduced sentences in exchange for cooperation, or are paid informants.

The stakes are high.

This will be the largest drug case in U.S. history, and Guzman faces life behind bars as well as the forfeiture of up to $14 billion US in assets.

Emma Coronel, Guzman's wife, arrives for his trial in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

Judge Brian Cogan is already proving testy, blasting prosecutors for their evidentiary overkill, and refusing to let Guzman hug his wife as the proceedings opened this morning, citing security concerns.

And at least one controversial argument in the case remains up in the air. In late September, the U.S. attorneys asked Cogan to stop the defence from introducing some comments from President Donald Trump, after his own lawyer became a cooperating witness in the Russia investigation.

"Flipping," the President told Fox News, "almost ought to be illegal."

Cogan has yet to deliver his ruling.


Glybera is a Canadian innovation that became the most expensive drug in the world — to the chagrin of one of its key developers, writes health reporter Kelly Crowe.

It's one of the greatest Canadian medical breakthroughs that you've likely never heard about.

Glybera — the world's first drug approved to treat a genetic disease — is a made-in-Canada discovery that made history.

But when it went on the market at a price of $1 million, it was immediately labelled the most expensive drug in the world. It was only sold once.

Last October its licence expired and it quietly disappeared from the market.

Dr. Michael Hayden at the University of British Columbia made the pivotal discoveries behind Glybera, but had nothing to do with the commercialization. He was shocked when he heard the price.

Dr. Michael Hayden looks over the results of genetic testing for Huntington's disease in this 2008 photo. He was not involved in the commercialization of Glybera, and says helping to develop a drug that the producer priced out of the reach of people it could help is 'not something I was particularly proud of.' (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"To be quite frank, this was not something I was particularly proud of — that the pricing of this made it out of the reach," said Hayden. "The whole motivation for doing this was to have this available for patients." 

Even though the drug — developed to treat a rare genetic disorder called lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD) that can cause pancreatitis and severe abdominal pain — changed the lives of many of the people who received it, Glybera is no longer available anywhere in the world.

This innovative Canadian discovery has quietly faded to become a footnote in medical history. It's the bittersweet story of a made-in-Canada health breakthrough derailed by the harsh realities of the pharmaceutical marketplace.

  • WATCH: Kelly Crowe's story about Glybera tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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Bomb On Board

CBC News and a team of experts are trying to shed new light on the unsolved 1965 bombing of Canadian Pacific Flight 21 that killed all 52 aboard, writes Ian Hanomansing.

This has been one of the most interesting projects I've ever worked on, and it started in an unusual way: an internet search by my wife.

I was in Humboldt, Sask., covering the terrible hockey team bus crash, and she was back in Vancouver, curious about other bus crashes in Canada with major losses of life. She ended up finding a list of tragedies with an entry that caught her attention: "Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 21 ... crashed ... British Columbia ... when a bomb blew its tail section away ... July 8th 1965."

An investigator surveys the crash site of Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 21, which was downed by a bomb over the wilderness of the B.C. interior on July 8, 1965, while en route to Whitehorse from Vancouver. All 52 people on board were killed. (Transport Canada)

How had we never heard of it?

Curious, I started tracking down people connected to the crash.

Every person I reached was generous with their time, and eloquent as they told their stories. A woman whose father was killed in the crash sent me hundreds of pages of documents, which I read between editions of The National.

The details were riveting. Police determined someone on board had planted a bomb in the rear lavatory. They identified four suspects — all of whom had reasons to make investigators curious — but never solved the case.

Ian Hanomansing examines some of the wreckage of Canadian Pacific Flight 21, which can still be found at the crash site in the B.C. interior more than 50 years after it was downed by a bomb. (Tiffany Foxcroft/CBC)

So we've decided to see how we could move it forward. We made access-to-information requests and gathered more documents. We talked to family members, including relatives of those suspects who have never spoken publicly. We visited the site of the crash, where pieces of the plane still lie scattered through the forest.

In a joint project with CBC Podcasts, we've brought in modern-day experts to review the case, including an air-crash investigator, a criminologist using state-of-the-art profiling software, and an explosives expert.

This is the biggest unsolved mass murder on Canadian soil. It deserves one more shot at trying to figure out who's responsible.

Quote of the moment

"There's really nothing wrong with the comic book format. If Michelangelo and Shakespeare were alive today and decided to do a comic strip together, who's to say that it wouldn't be the most worthwhile, valid, viable form of literature that you could find."

- Legendary Marvel Comics super-hero creator Stan Lee, who passed away yesterday at the age of 95, in a 1974 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Comic book creator Stan Lee poses beside art featuring Spider-Man at the Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition at the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2006. Lee passed away Monday at the age of 95. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • U.K. cabinet to meet after Britain, Europe reach draft Brexit deal (CBC)
  • Israel-Gaza border sees heaviest fighting since 2014 (CBC)
  • 'Appalling' Khashoggi audio shocked Saudi intelligence, Erdogan says (Guardian)
  • As California's autumn rains vanish amid global warming, fires worsen (LA Times)
  • Amazon chooses NYC and Washington suburb for second HQ (NY Times)
  • China reverses tiger, rhino decision after outcry (Al Jazeera)
  • Pilots report UFOs off the Irish coast (BBC)
  • Self-driving vehicles will be brothels on wheels: study (Fox News)
  • Cheese is cheese, EU court rules (Politico EU)

Today in history

Nov. 13, 1987: Margaret Atwood launches the CanLit Foodbook

Canada's monotone literary queen reads aloud detailed instructions on how to prepare a grapefruit. The book was a "meditation on the subject of food in literature," with the $16.95 proceeds going to the writers' group PEN. Poet Dennis Lee contributed a recipe for the Better Batter Fritter. But Farley Mowat's Creamed Mice surely wins the day.

The CanLit Foodbook launches with Margaret Atwood and Dennis Lee

35 years ago
Duration 1:42
Canadian authors including Margaret Atwood and Dennis Lee launch a different sort of book.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.