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Risks of dining al desko: Man charged with attempted murder in latest office-poisoning case

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: why leaving your lunch unattended at work might not be wise; climate change as a federal election issue; changing traffic patterns drive Detroit to make its infrastructure smarter.

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

Cadmium, a toxic heavy metal, has been implicated in a number of recent cases involving the poisoning of food and drink in offices by co-workers. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

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.


  • A spate of lunch poisonings by vengeful co-workers might be enough to convince people to stop eating in the office and head for the food court instead.
  • Special panel looks at the role climate change is likely to play in the upcoming federal election.
  • Changing traffic patterns have driven Detroit to make its infrastructure smarter, and there's a Canadian connection.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

When co-workers go bad

Leaving your lunch unattended at the office may not be the brightest idea.

Police in Berkeley, Calif., have charged a 34-year-old engineer with attempted murder after surveillance video captured him repeatedly adding a substance to a co-worker's water bottle.

A fellow engineer became suspicious after detecting "a strange taste or smell from her water and food" on a number of occasions dating back to October 2017. She had also fallen so ill after eating at the office that she required emergency medical care.

It took almost 18 months, but the woman finally sat down last month and watched the footage from a security camera positioned near her desk, and then called in the police.

Tests of blood samples taken from the woman, as well as two of her family members who had also sipped from her office water bottle, detected elevated levels of cadmium, a heavy metal that is often found in batteries, alloys and protective coatings.

If ingested, even in small quantities, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. More significant exposure leads to kidney, heart, neurological and respiratory problems, and sometimes death.

David Xu has pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated attempted murder and felony poisoning, and will have his next pretrial hearing in early May.

Cadmium is one of the toxic substances that Italian prosecutors detected in the blood of Imane Fadil  after her death from organ failure in hospital early last month. The 33-year-old Moroccan-born model had been a key witness in the "bunga bunga" sex party trial of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Moroccan model Imane Fadil is seen in court in Milan, Italy, on Nov. 13, 2014. The 33-year-old died in hospital in Milan on March 1 this year, and suspicions that she was poisoned are under investigation. (Matteo Bazzi/EPA-EFE)

She had shared suspicions that she had been poisoned after falling gravely ill in January. Authorities in Milan are now trying to determine whether she died from a rare illness or something nefarious.

The metal was also found in the home of a German man who was recently convicted of poisoning at least three fellow factory workers after he was seen spreading a powder on their sandwiches.

The 57-year-old, who has only been identified as Klaus O., was arrested in the spring of 2018 after a co-worker complained that someone had tampered with his lunch, and security camera footage revealed the culprit.

Two other workers at the factory suffered serious kidney damage, and a third remains in a coma after lunch poisonings. And police continue to probe the untimely deaths of 21 other employees dating back to 2000, citing a "strikingly high number of heart attacks and cancers" at the company.

Klaus O. didn't testify at his trial, but a prison psychiatrist suggested that he may have acted out a desire to "experiment" on his co-workers. He has been sentenced to life in jail.

Certain workplaces seem to pose a greater hazard.

Last fall, a 26-year-old Queen's University graduate student pleaded guilty to poisoning a fellow researcher at a chemistry lab by repeatedly adding N-Nitrosodimethylamine — a carcinogen used to give rats cancer — to his work snacks and water bottle.

After noticing strange tastes and smells for almost a month, the victim staged a sting, setting up a video camera and leaving a loaf of bread on his lab bench.

Zijie Wang was sentenced to seven years in jail  for aggravated assault and administering a noxious substance.

Cases where food or drink have been poisoned in the workplace in recent months include the use of everything from toxic metals to acidic skin lotion. (dilyaz/Shutterstock / )

A similar poisoning case involving chemistry students at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania came to light in December.

Police say that a man poisoned his roommate over a period of months by spiking his water, milk and mouthwash with thallium, a toxic metal that is commonly found in insecticides and rat poison. Cadmium was also found in their dorm room.

Sometimes the poisoning efforts are lower tech.

Two employees of a Toronto BMW dealership  were charged with attempted murder last fall after a manager noticed that his water bottle had been tampered with. Police allege that the men added engine coolant to their boss' drink, saying the incident was again caught by security cameras.

Video was also the downfall of a worker at a Maryland spa, who was caught on camera adding an acidic skin-drying lotion to a colleague's water bottle last Halloween.

The co-worker fell violently ill, but survived.

"I guess it didn't work, then," the alleged poisoner reportedly told police.

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Politics of climate change

The National's special climate change panel looks at the role the issue is likely to play in the upcoming federal election, producer Tarannum Kamlani writes.

Canada is warming at double the rate of the rest of the world.

That's just one of the findings in a new study commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada that was released Tuesday.

It's not the first dire report on the state of climate change in Canada. But it was released the same week as a new federal carbon tax went into effect in provinces that did not come up with their own carbon tax programs; Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Those four provinces have fiercely opposed the federal Liberals' campaign promise to put a price on carbon. Depending on the result of Alberta's provincial election, they may be joined by a fifth.

But while people at the pumps in those provinces were unhappy this week about having to pay more for their gas, studies have shown that most Canadians do want to transition to a low-carbon economy.

Students hold a protest against climate change on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 15. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Most people now believe that climate change is real, and that it is caused by human activity. And given that we are in a federal election year, it begs the question: is climate change going to be an important issue for voters?

So how ready are Canadians to make serious decisions about dealing with climate change?

To help answer that question, we've invited three experts to The National's studio for a special panel on climate change. Blair Feltmate is the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Change Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, Catherine Abreu is the executive director of Climate Change Action Canada, and Mark Cameron is executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity and was policy director in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

Andrew Chang will be your host tonight. Hope you'll join us!

- Tarannum Kamlani

Smarter cities

Changing traffic patterns are driving cities to make their infrastructure smarter, writes Matthew Braga.

For decades, cars ruled the streets of Detroit. Pedestrians, bikes … and those scooters that are suddenly popping up in cities all across the U.S.? They were of little concern to the engineers who choreographed the carefully timed patterns of Motor City's electromechanical traffic lights back in 1987.

That's the year Sunny Jacobs started with the city's department of public works.

Sunny Jacobs, Detroit’s head transportation engineer, says half of the city’s traffic lights have now been connected to the internet so they can be controlled remotely. (CBC)

The technology was very different then. He remembers how everything was planned on paper, and the city's traffic signals functioned like glorified egg timers.

"There's a dial inside of the cabinet that will go round and then activate the signals," Jacobs said — from green to yellow to red, again, and again, and again.

After years of neglect, Detroit was eager for an upgrade.

Rather than build a so-called smart city from the ground up, however, Detroit has tried to make the infrastructure that already exists smarter.

AI-controlled cameras mounted throughout Detroit, designed by Waterloo, Ont.-based Miovision, are a key part of the city's high-tech traffic control system. (CBC)

Jacobs is now Detroit's head transportation engineer, and he says half of the city's 800 traffic signals have been connected to the internet so they can be remotely monitored and controlled.

And there's a Canadian connection. Wireless technology and AI-powered cameras from Waterloo, Ont.-based Miovision have played a central part in the high-tech transformation of they city's streets.

Cars have also been dethroned, and an increasing number of intersections have been re-configured to accommodate multiple modes of transportation — with dedicated signals for cyclists along some corridors, and pedestrian countdowns at every corner.

We'll have more about the changes in Detroit and show you the smart city in action on Sunday's The National.

- Matthew Braga

  • WATCH: The National's story about Detroit's smart-city traffic upgrades, Sunday night on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

Conquering your fears.

Quote of the moment

"What I think we're seeing is something that is happening in many liberal democracies, which is the effort is not so much to secure a particular outcome in an election, the effort is to make our societies more polarized, and to make us, as citizens of democracies, more cynical about the very idea that democracy exists and that it can work."

Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on the "very likely" prospect of foreign meddling in the upcoming federal election.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

What The National is reading

  • Interruptions, accusations dominate Alberta election debate (CBC)
  • Additional software problem found in Boeing 737 Max, officials say (Washington Post)
  • Jeff Bezos: World's richest man agrees to $35 billion US divorce (BBC)
  • Ecuador denies Wikileaks claim that it plans to expel Julian Assange (CBC)
  • Algerian protesters return to streets as spy boss reported sacked (Reuters)
  • National emergency declared as fires rage in South Korea (Asia Times)
  • He bought the fencing coach's house, then his son got into Harvard (Boston Globe)
  • 'Sugar daddy' website owner charged with debauchery in Belgium (Guardian)
  • Poo traces found in majority of hash sold on Madrid streets (The Local Spain)

Today in history

April 5, 1966: Opinions on the noose

This cross-country roundup of opinions on capital punishment mostly found Canadians who were against executions, saying it was barbaric and outdated. Then there was the guy in Vancouver who thought the blooming tulip trees might look better with rapists hanging from them. The same night this went to air, the House of Commons held a free vote on the matter. MPs voted 143 to 112 against abolition, and the punishment remained on the books until 1976.

Canadians comment on capital punishment. 2:41

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About the Author

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.