The National Today

Libyan violence driving sharp increase in Mediterranean migrants

Newsletter: A closer looks at the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

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

A rescuer carries a migrant baby plucked from a boat on the Mediterranean Sea, near the coast of Libya, on Jan. 15. (Hani Amara/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.


  • Rising violence in Libya is contributing to a spike in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe
  • Police confirm deaths of billionaires Barry and Honey Sherman now a double-homicide investigation
  • Six top BBC male hosts have agreed to a pay cut following controversy over how female colleagues are compensated

Fleeing Libya's chaos

An increase in violence in Libya is being felt on Europe's shores, with a sharp rise in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean this new year.

As of the beginning of this week, 4,485 people had made the dangerous sea crossing from North Africa in 2018.

A further 206 have died while trying.

This overcrowded wooden boat carrying about 450 Sub-Saharan refugees and migrants, mostly from Eritrea, was intercepted by aid workers on Jan. 16. They were trying to leave the Libyan coast and reach European soil. (Santi Palacios/Associated Press)
On the southern coast of Italy, one of the primary landing points, there has been a 15 per cent rise in migrants arriving from Libya, compared to last January. It is raising concerns that Europe may soon face a renewed refugee crisis.

Migration attempts dropped substantially in the last six months of 2017, largely because of deals the Italian government struck with various Libyan factions and the re-establishment of the country's Coast Guard.

Overall, 184,170 people reached Europe in 2017, compared to 387,895 in 2016.

The fighting in Libya has never really stopped since the 2011 NATO-backed campaign to oust Moammar Gadhafi, the late dictator. But in recent weeks, the chaos has reached renewed heights.

Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was found hiding in a culvert and killed on Oct. 20, 2011, near Sirte. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)
In mid-January, clashes between two rival militias in Tripoli killed at least nine people and forced the closure of the country's international airport.

And this week in the eastern city of Benghazi, a pair of car bombs set off outside a mosque killed at least 34 people and wounded 90 more.   

Libyans survey the aftermath of the bombing outside a mosque in Benghazi on Wednesday that killed 34 and injured 90. (jAbdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images)
Afterwards, a feared commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) — the force that controls the Eastern half of the country — was captured on video summarily executing 10 prisoners at the site of the blasts. The video shows him pumping bullets into their bodies while a crowd of onlookers chants "the martyrs blood will not go in vain."

The United Nations' Libya Mission has condemned the "brutal" killings, but the alleged perpetrator, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, seems unlikely to be held to account.

The International Criminal Court has been seeking his arrest for similar war crimes since last summer. It's a demand that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the LNA and leading candidate to become Libya's next president, has steadfastly ignored.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a military commander in Benghazi. (Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images)
The lawlessness is spreading. Another disturbing video making the rounds of social media shows a group of Sudanese migrants being tortured by their Libyan captors.

The clips, sent to the men's families, were supposed to extort a ransom. Instead, they resulted in a raid by the Special Deterrence Forces of the UN-backed unity government, in which the eight men were freed and four kidnappers arrested.

Human trafficking has becoming one of Libya's top industries, with upwards of 150,000 people departing its shores for Europe in each of the past three years.

These migrants in a heavily loaded rubber dinghy were rescued by the Libyan coast guard in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya on Jan. 15. (Hani Amara/Reuters)
There are also reports of modern-day slave markets, where the would-be migrants are bought and sold.

This week the UN launched a new appeal, seeking $313 million US from its member nations to cover the "basic needs" of close to 1 million people in Libya in 2018, including food, water and fuel. A little over $30 million has been pledged thus far.

Last year, donors gave $97.5 million, well short of the $150 million campaign goal.

The Shermans were murdered

Toronto Police have confirmed that Barry and Honey Sherman were murdered.

"We have sufficient evidence to declare this as a double homicide investigation," Det.-Sgt. Susan Gomes told a packed press conference at Toronto Police headquarters this afternoon. "And that Honey and Barry Sherman were in fact targeted."

Canadian billionaire couple Barry and Honey Sherman were found dead in their home in Toronto on Dec. 15. (United Jewish Appeal/Canadian Press)
The admission brings an end to six weeks of official silence over the investigation, and dispels the original hypothesis floated by police — that the billionaire couple died in a murder-suicide.

A real estate agent discovered the lifeless bodies of the childhood sweethearts in their north Toronto mansion on Dec. 15.

Barry, 75, and Honey, 70, were found on a pool deck, hanging by belts attached to a nearby railing. An autopsy later revealed the cause of death for both to be "ligature neck compression," meaning strangulation.

Police tape cordons off the Sherman home in north Toronto on Dec. 18, 2017. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
At the time, police deemed the deaths "suspicious," but said they had found no signs of forced entry at the home and were not looking for any suspects.

The original murder-suicide theory, reported by several media outlets in the following days, was hotly disputed by the couple's family and friends, who described them as loving and entirely devoted to each other.

The Shermans' four children hired a well-known Toronto lawyer, Brian Greenspan, to oversee a parallel private investigation into their parents' deaths. No expense was spared in assembling a team of experts, including a forensic pathologist, toxicologists and several former homicide detectives.

The Sherman's home was for sale at the time of the couple's death. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC)
Last weekend, their conclusion — that the Shermans were murdered, possibly by contract killers — was widely leaked to the media.  

A source told CBC News that the private investigators uncovered evidence that the Shermans' wrists had been bound together, although no ropes or other materials were discovered at the scene.

The family's team concluded that the Shermans were killed on Dec. 13, two days before they were discovered, based on the clothes Honey was wearing. They also disclosed that she had cuts on her lip and nose, suggesting she might have struggled with her killers.

People left flowers outside the Sherman home after the couple's death was made public Dec. 15. The Shermans were known for supporting a number of charities. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC)
Toronto police today confirmed that they believe the Shermans did indeed die two days before they were discovered. But Det.-Sgt. Gomes refused to go into any other details of the case, or discuss the family's other findings.

Much work remains to be done. Gomes referenced surveillance tapes from surrounding homes, outstanding warrants for such things as Barry Sherman's office computer, and the vast number of people that police still need to interview.

"We have an extensive list of people we are looking forward to speaking to," the homicide squad veteran said.

The couple's family hired a team of private investigators to parallel the police investigation. (United Jewish Appeal/Canadian Press)
Although police have yet to indicate what they believe to be the motive for the murders, public and media speculation has centred on money. Barry Sherman was the founder of pharmaceutical giant Apotex, the maker of more than 300 generic drugs. He was one of the country's richest persons, with a fortune estimated at $4.77 billion.

But his wealth had generated conflict, including a long history of litigation with Apotex's competitors, and legal action from family members who alleged they had been unfairly cut out of the company.  

All indications are that it will be a lengthy, complex and thorough investigation.

"Facts guide our focus. Conjecture and speculation have no place," Det.-Sgt. Gomes said.

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Equal pay cuts for equal work

Six of the BBC's top male hosts have agreed to cut their salaries following a headline-making controversy over how their female colleagues are compensated.

Earlier this month, Carrie Gracieresigned as the broadcaster's China editor in public protest, after she learned that two men who were doing equivalent jobs were receiving almost double her salary.

The headquarters of the publicly funded BBC in London. The public broadcaster has been under scrutiny for its gender pay gap. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)
When Gracie first brought her concerns to management, she was offered a £45,000 ($78,000 CDN) raise that would have seen her earning £180,000 ($314,000) a year — still less than the two male international editors.

She turned down the offer and went public, accusing the network of pay discrimination.

"I didn't want more money – do you understand – I wanted equality," she later explained to the BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

BBC's China editor Carrie Gracie resigned her position in Beijing in January in protest over what she called a failure to sufficiently address a gap in compensation between men and women at the public broadcaster. (Dominic Lipinski/Associated Press)
The Conservative government forced the public broadcaster to start disclosing the salaries of its top earners last year as a condition of the renewed Royal Charter. The BBC objected, saying it would help competitors poach talent and drive up compensation.

But when the figures were released for the first time this past July, it became clear that the network had other reasons to be concerned:

  • Only one woman — Claudia Winkleman, the host of Strictly Come Dancing — cracked the top 10.
  • Just five others made the list of top 20 earners.
  • There were only 10 members of visible minorities among the network's 96 highest-paid staffers.

Today's announcement, which says presenters Huw Edwards, Nicky Campbell, John Humphrys, Jon Sopel, Nick Robinson and Jeremy Vine will all take undisclosed salary cuts, should help blunt some of the criticism.

Claudia Winkleman was the only woman to make the list of the BBC's top 10 earners that was released in 2017. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)
"I support my female colleagues who rightly say they should be paid the same when they do the same job," Jeremy Vine, who earned between £700,000 and £749,999 ($1.2 to $1.2 million CDN) last year as host of Radio 2's noon hour show, told reporters. "It's just a no-brainer for me to accept [a reduction]."

The BBC has launched three investigations into pay equity since last summer's disclosures.

A report released in October pegged the BBC's gender pay gap at 9.3 per cent, about half of the U.K.'s 18.1 per cent average. But a formal audit, overseen by a judge, found that there was no evidence of "any systemic gender discrimination" at the network.

Jeremy Vine is one of six top male BBC broadcast presenters who will take an undisclosed salary cut. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)
Still, Tony Hall, the BBC's director-general, has pledged to eliminate the gap by 2020, saying the corporation should be an "exemplar" of fairness.

Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC, does not disclose the names or gender of its top earners, but does summarize the compensation for its on-air talent by job title and salary band.

Figures released last winter by Ottawa showed that women in Canada made 87 cents for every dollar earned by male workers in 2015.  

The question for the BBC now is whether this cut will be enough to put out the gender pay fire.

BBC director-general Tony Hall has pledged to erase the broadcaster's gender pay gap by 2020. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)
At the very least, the broadcaster has become sensitized to the issue. Two weeks, ago the official BBC Twitter account posted a message for women.

"Back at work and feeling undervalued? Not being paid what you're worth? Why not start the year by asking for a pay rise? Here are some tips on how to negotiate one," it read.

The tweet, which included a link to a Woman's Hour feature on the subject, was quickly deleted.

Quote of the moment

"It's like getting gangrene on your toe and watching it eat your body. There's not much you can do to stop it. If a piece of plastic happens to entangle on a coral it has a pretty bad chance of survival."

- Joleah Lamb, a marine ecologist at Cornell University, on her new study documenting how plastic is killing the world's reefs. Divers found 11.1 billion pieces of plastic during visits to 159 reefs in the Pacific.

Rangers with Australia's Queenlsand Parks and Wildlife Service inspect a section of the Great Barrier Reef. (REUTERS)

What The National is reading

  • RCMP handed $550,000 penalty for failing to protect Moncton officers (CBC)
  • Trump booed at Davos after attacking 'nasty, mean, fake' press (Independent)
  • Senior UN figures under investigation for sexual harassment (Guardian)
  • U.S. Embassy worker claims 'diplomatic immunity' in dispute with Ottawa landlord (CBC)
  • Leaving EU will cost U.K. £40 billion in growth: Mark Carney (The Times)
  • Hundreds of world chefs attend Paul Bocuse's funeral, all dressed in kitchen whites (International Business Times)
  • Nutella 'riots' spread across French supermarkets (BBC)

Today in history

Jan. 26, 1972: Inuit craft parkas for Canada's winter Olympians

Canadian Olympians have never been better dressed than the 96 who shipped out to Sapporo, Japan, in the winter of 1972. Each was provided with a unique cherry red parka, trimmed with white wolf fur and decorated with bright blue appliqués, all hand-stitched by Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit) artisans. Figure skater Karen Magnussen wore hers to practice, and won Canada's only medal of the Games — a silver.

The Canadian Olympic team departs for Sapporo, Japan clad in coats made by residents of Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit). 1:29

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.