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Nobel Prize in Literature in peril as Swedish Academy rocked by sex, financial scandals

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

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

Kazuo Ishiguro, left, receives the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden during the award ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10, 2017. Sara Danius, seen at the podium, has stepped down as Secretary of the organization overseeing the prize in the wake of recent scandals. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Nobel Prize in Literature may be postponed or cancelled altogether this year as the committee overseeing it is rocked by sexual and financial misconduct scandals
  • Britain, Canada strike deal on what to do with artifacts, ships from doomed Franklin expedition
  • Donald Trump is scheduled to make his first trip to U.K. as president of the U.S. on Friday, July 13
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

The Nobel Prize for chaos

The Swedish Academy, the organization that doles out the Nobel Prize in Literature, appears to be coming apart at the seams following allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.

The economic crime unit of the Swedish police today said it has launched an investigation into the body, for unspecified financial misdoings.

Last week, the academy confirmed media reports that some of its members had been leaking the names of winners — something people place bets on — in advance of the official prize announcement.

Sara Danius stepped down as the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary on April 12. (Jonas Ekstromer/AFP/Getty Images)
There is already a separate police probe into sexual assault and harassment allegations against the husband of a prominent academy member, the poet Katarina Frostenson. Eighteen women have come forward to accuse French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault of unwanted advances and predatory behaviour.

Arnault runs a Stockholm literary club with close ties to the academy, and several of the incidents are alleged to have occurred in apartments owned by the Nobel overseeing body.

The allegations have sparked #MeToo soul-searching in Sweden and angry demonstrations outside the organization's Stockholm headquarters.

People gather at Stortorget square in Stockholm on April 19 to support Sara Danius, while the Swedish Academy holds its weekly meeting at the Old Stock Exchange building, seen in the background. (Fredrik Persson/AFP/Getty Images)
Five of the Swedish Academy's members have resigned in protest over its response to the scandal. Frostenson has also stepped down amidst the furor.

The six vacancies — coupled with seven already retired or "inactive" members — means that the usual 18-member committee is down to just five people, well below the 12 required to vote in new members under its rules. As such, there are growing indications that the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature might be postponed or cancelled altogether.

A meeting in Stockholm yesterday failed to reach a consensus, but a decision will come soon.

"After our next Thursday meeting there will most probably be a statement on whether we will award a prize this year or reserve it for next year, in which case two prizes for literature will be announced in October 2019," Per Wästberg, a poet and novelist who heads the selection panel, told the Guardian newspaper.

Swedish author Katarina Frostenson has stepped down from the Swedish Academy amidst a scandal involving her husband. (Olafur Steinar Gestsson/AFP/Getty Images)
The prize was established in 1901, but there have been seven years — notably during the First and Second World Wars — in which it hasn't been awarded. And the literature award has been postponed by a year on six other occasions as the committee grappled with its choices.

The academy's out-of-the-box choice for 2016 — Bob Dylan — proved to be something of a disaster. It was weeks  before he even acknowledged the honour, which also comes with eight million Swedish krona ($1.18 million Cdn) in prize money. The singer finally accepted his award at a private ceremony, instead of the usual public one, last April.

Owning our history

They are the relics of a monumental failure.

The remains of a boot, a button from a Royal Marine's uniform, and a rusted belt buckle speak of the 129 lost men. A cannon, ship's bell and dinner plate, their two doomed vessels.

It took more than 150 years to find the final resting places of HMS Erebus and Terror, the sailing ships that brought Sir John Franklin's expedition to the High Arctic and then went no farther, trapped in ice and then abandoned.

The ship's bell from the Franklin Expedition shipwreck of HMS Erebus sits in pure water after being recovered in 2014. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
Canadian teams found them — first the Erebus in September 2014, and then the Terror two years later.

But the ships were still technically the property of Britain's Royal Navy.

Yesterday, the two governments announced a deal to transfer ownership of the wrecks to Canada and a local Inuit Heritage Trust. The quid pro quo being the 65 artifacts already recovered from the Erebus by Parks Canada divers, which will remain in British hands.

A sea floor scan shows the Franklin Expedition's ship HMS Erebus. (Parks Canada/Canadian Press)
The National Maritime Museum in London already has dozens of Franklin objects in its permanent collection — sunglasses, soup tins, discarded gloves and a Bible. They were recovered from places like Beechey Island, where the remnants of the crew camped as they tried to trek south towards civilization. 

An advisory committee has been struck to figure out what to do with what remains below the waters off King William Island.

There has been talk of a local museum. Last year, a cruise company was given permission to visit the Erebus wreck and let the passengers snorkel, but the weather didn't co-operate. And this year's cruisers won't have the same opportunity. 

The route of Sir John Franklin's final expedition, 1845-47. (Canadian Press)
There are plenty of items still to be recovered and displayed — if that is what the federal government and Inuit leaders ultimately chose to do.

Franklin set sail with three years worth of supplies in 1845. That included 8,000 tins of preserved meat, 16,700 kilograms of liquor, 2,900 books, and 4,200 kg of lemon juice (to stave off scurvy).

The overflowing holds meant space was tight. The ordinary seamen were limited to a small chest for their personal items, which doubled as a stool.

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London calling

The 13th of July is a fairly auspicious day in English history. 

The forces of Henry II captured William the Lion, King of Scots, at Alnwick on that date in 1174, leading to the Treaty of Falaise that brought Scotland under English control for the next 15 years.

In 1643, Royalist troops defeated Sir William Waller and the Roundheads at the Battle of Roundway Down, the greatest cavalry victory of the English civil war.

It's also the day that poet William Wordsworth visited the ruins of Tintern Abbey in 1798, and the day — 230 years earlier — that Alexander Nowell, dean of St. Paul's London, perfected a way to bottle beer.

As it stands, July 13, 2018, might become a date to remember as well. Not simply because it's an unlucky Friday, but because that's the day the Donald Trump is scheduled to make his first trip to the United Kingdom as president of the United States.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on April 24. Trump will visit the U.K. and meet with Prime Minister Theresa May on July 13. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump has been talking about visiting Britain for more than a year. A planned stop to open the new American Embassy in London last February was scrubbed amid fears of mass protests.

And a full state visit — complete with a golden carriage ride down the Royal Mall and a banquet at Buckingham Place — has either been indefinitely postponed or delayed, depending on who you ask, for the same reason.

Details about this new, one-day "working visit" are still sketchy. Trump will pop in on his way home from a NATO summit in Brussels, and there will be talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, and perhaps tea with the Queen.

Indications are that he may steer well clear of London.

But such a strategy is unlikely to dampen the enthusiasm of anti-Trump demonstrators.

Within hours of yesterday's announcement, 100,000 people had already signed up on Facebook for a London "Stop Trump" event. And women's groups, human rights activists and opposition politicians are promising that a "carnival of resistance" will greet the American president.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has enjoyed a long-running feud with Trump, appears to relish the idea of a boisterous welcome.

Not everyone will be upset with the visit. A coalition of six conservative groups has sent an open letter to Trump urging him to travel to the north, or Scotland, and speak directly to "ordinary British people" in order to discover the "true level of support that exists for you and the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K."

If the American president does decide to try his luck in London, July 13 offers some unique cultural opportunities for a visitor.

Trump will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May during his visit, but may steer clear of London and its mayor, Sadiq Khan, who has fought an ongoing battle on social media with the U.S. president. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The Design Museum has an exhibit on the political power of graphics, Hope to Nope: 2008-18, which features an "All Seeing Trump Misfortune-Telling Machine."

It's a little early for Trump: The Musical, which resumes its run in September. But there's a good chance that Building the Wall, a well-received dystopian thriller by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, will still be going at the Park Theatre.

And maybe the current show by American artist Eric Fischl — at a gallery just around the corner from Buckingham Palace — will get held over. The president shows up in a painting of a father and his little girl in the form of a familiar-looking, red-nosed clown poster on a bedroom wall.

Protesters rally at Parliament Square in London on Feb. 20, 2017, against a proposed state visit by U.S. president Donald Trump. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Or if Trump just wants to get away from it all, two Canadians — Alanis Morissette and Michael Bublé — have big shows in London that night.

There's also some classic American fare down by the Thames under the big top once known as the Millennium Dome. The Muppets Take London bills itself as the "most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, muppetational," full-length live show ever.

It's not easy being green. But surely, it's much harder to be Donald Trump these days.

Quote of the moment

"When we met each other, we realized — we cannot be separated. We are one nation and that's how I felt. We are living next door to each other, there's no reason we should fight each other."

- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, following his historic summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two sides signed a pledge to work towards the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in South Korea on Friday. (Korea Summit Press Pool via AP)

What The National is reading

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  • Families flee after movie theatre accidentally plays horror trailer at Peter Rabbit (Gizmodo)
  • Abba announces first new song in 35 years, makes grandmas happy (Guardian)

Today in history

April 27, 1999: Montreal scientists clone goats

Clint, Arnold and Danny were only the start. Canada's first cloned kids were part of a much bigger vision — farms full of genetically engineered goats producing spider-silk-like proteins in their milk. Nexia Biotechnologies, the company behind it all, envisioned all sorts of uses from the super-strong fibre they called "BioSteel." They succeeded in making more "spider goats," but not in finding a market for their product. The company went bankrupt in 2009.

Montreal scientists clone goats

24 years ago
Duration 1:41
Clint, Arnold and Danny are identical kids.

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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.