One Random Bullet, So Many Lives Changed Forever

For many years after the senseless, violent death of Nicholas Battersby in 1994 and the following murder trial, I would receive Christmas cards from his parents Gay and Charles – who lived in England – but had been here during the trial which I’d covered.

Somehow, it was at times hard simply to look at them, their pain so apparent, their bewilderment understandable and their love for their son almost physically tangible.

An electrical engineer, Battersby, just 27, had just left England for a new life and a new job at Bell-Northern Research in Ottawa.

This perfectly normal, seemingly as average as the rest of us, Gay and Charles Battersby hugged and waved their son goodbye as he left to create a life for himself in a different country. And on a simple stroll down Elgin Street  on a Sunday in late March, 1994, with a light rain coming down on the city, their son Nicholas was shot in the back by a single bullet. His life was over, the lives of his parents forever altered and always sadder.

So yes, there was something incredibly jarring – after all of these years – reading that Reubens Henderson, convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Battersby, has just been released from jail.He was 16 at the time of the crazy, senseless murder which rocked this city back in 1994. And he’d been in jail for about 25 years.

As most anyone would, I tried to show the Battersbys some kindness as they struggled to get up everyday to attend the trial. Always in the back of my mind was the wonderment of how they could even manage to put one foot in front of the other to attend the trial, to face another day. And as a new mom of a beautiful one-year-old baby boy, his sweet life was always in my heart.

In fact, it seemed the entire city wanted to help the Battersbys. Many of us somehow felt a sense of responsibility – feeling a collective guilt that this young man who’d come to our country with the promise of something good – was gunned down.

At the time, the death of the the city’s visitor from England was described as the loss of the last vestige of Ottawa’s innocence. (In fairness, the same thing was essentially written a couple of years after that when CJOH sportscaster Brian Smith was gunned down in the station’s parking lot.)

That being said, there was absolutely a sort of collective guilt felt by many of us, that a young man from a different country could come here to our city to start a new life, only to be murdered. It was so horribly random, it was senseless and it was violent, and Ottawans struggled because they hadn’t been able to protect him.

Case in point. On the day of Battersby’s public memorial service, the St. John Evangelist Church was packed with so many people, the overflow crowd ended up out on street. There were more than 2,000 people – some friends, but mostly strangers, wanting to pay their respects to the young man this city couldn’t  keep safe.

Of course, the Battersbys weren’t the only people who saw their lives changed forever that day.

Rubens Henderson was an out-of-control 16-year-old. With drugs and alcohol in his system, he told his friends as they were cruising in a stolen jeep down Elgin, that he was going to shoot at someone walking on the street. With impossible odds, the only bullet he shot hit Battersby in the back and hit his heart. In fact, the randomness of the hit became a pivotal point in the trial, with Justice Dan Chilcott alluding to the faction the charge to the jury that to have intentionally hit Battersby where he did and kill him,  he would have had been an incredibly skilled marksman. Following the charge to the jury, Crown prosecutor Celynne Dorval ran out of the room, clearly emotional with what Chilcott had said and what it might mean to the verdict.

But when the jury came back, finding him guilty of murder, I gave a bit of a silent thanks to the the power of a jury, 12 men and women who judged a situation and did what they believed was right.

But yes, the life of Henderson changed that day too, though appreciate his life story won’t generate much sympathy. Maybe you can find it in your heart to offer some sympathy for Ina Henderson, his adoptive mother. Her son was born in Brazil and placed in an orphanage before she adopted him when he was eight-years-old. I spoke to her several times over that trial, hearing her speak of a broken system, one that she was always fighting to try to find help for her son – knowing he needed intervention  – but unable to get it for him. Seemed simply being out of control wasn’t enough to warrant help. She was incredibly frustrated, and her worst fears came into reality when her son went on an out-of-control joyride. Now about 42 years old, Henderson has been released into the community, free to attempt to live a better life.

Watson Gets Ugly: Take Version 562

The assault on the urban councillors at city hall continued on Friday from Mayor Jim Watson’s chair.

For starters, the downtown gang were shunned from the finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) and almost all of the perks went to councillors outside the core. FEDCO has been described as the cabinet of city council.

“There is a vindictiveness that comes along with all this,” Menard said of Watson’s efforts to shut them out. “The environment at city hall is very tough right now. It’s absolutely getting worse. It was bad at the start, but yes, it’s getting worse.”

At today’s committee meeting, held to choose new committee members, Menard was attempting to ask a question of the mayor about how he could justify cutting out huge swaths of the city but Watson was having none of it, cutting off the councillor from continuing by dismissing his comments. It also appeared he actually cut Menard’s mike off, but that was unclear.

Menard also believes that city manager Steve Kanellakos needs to do a better job in ensuring he brings items of concern from all councillors, not just the things he believes will pass easily.

The truth is, the councillors representing the downtown core have been successful in getting several important issues of concern that are important to them and their downtown residents through council – despite being shut out of key positions. And interestingly enough, when a motion, like Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney’s item on homelessness appears to be garnering support – Watson inserts himself into the process so he can get some of the credit. Nice work if you can get it.

The changes to some of the committees were prompted by the leave of absence being taken by Cumberland Coun. Steve Blais, which created a bit of a ripple effect. Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents a downtown ward, had hoped to sit on FEDCO, but lost to Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower, serving his first term on council. It was a really good day for Gower, who is now also the vice-chair of planning, and beat out Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper. 

And Innes Coun. Laura Dudas, who recently called to have social media regulated at city hall, is now the vice-chair of FEDCO. Quite the promotion. Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff was recommended and approved as the chair of the library board. Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury was voted down as a member of the board of the Shaw Centre, a facility that’s in his ward, with the spot going to Osgoode Coun. George Darouze. Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King got a spot on the built-heritage subcommittee, making the only downtown councillor to get his choice.

Council must approve the new appointments at its meeting next Wednesday. And under some criticism, Watson pointed out that every councillor can weigh in and vote on decisions during council meetings.
“The simple answer is that all decisions we make at this committee level go to all of council, and every region of council is represented [there],” said the mayor.

Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh is essentially part of the downtown core club, and she’s not happy with what’s going on at city hall, she isn’t interested in publicly blaming Watson for everything bad at city hall.

“We want intensification. We don’t want sprawl,” Kavanagh said, explaining the differences between urban core councillors and the rest of council.
But she’s not interested in commenting negatively on how Watson runs a meeting. And she won’t cast aspersions on how or why Watson shuts out the urban core.

“I don’t think of this as being a pork barrel, I really hope it’s not that low,” she said.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand. Why does Watson feel he has to shut out the voices of his city council? It just doesn’t make sense. What is he afraid of? And what happened to the guy that worked on consensus?

Chiarelli on Life, Death and Public Shaming

In a wide-ranging interview, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli spoke exclusively with On the City, From the Burbs about family, his heart surgery and how he feels being shunned by his council colleagues.

Still recovering from an infection which developed after his sudden, life-saving heart surgery, Chiarelli has a hospital bed set up in his home, where he is on an antibiotic drip, while another tube continues to “suck away a lot of the infection.”

“They’re saying I’m making progress on the infection, and have a nurse visit everyday. It’s looking good so far,” he said on Monday night, just moments after his lawyers released a letter calling out what they believe to be a “patent and palatable bias” against Chiarelli. The lawyers are also calling on the city to end their own investigations and let a judicial process handle the situation.

Chiarelli still struggles with his council colleagues rejecting a doctor’s note calling for approved sick leave, the first time that has ever happened at Ottawa council.

“I thought it was not wise politically, and it was not wise administratively. Nobody wants to see council vote down medical leave. I was shocked by it. I just know that when you’re voting on these things, you always vote in favour of someone’s medical leave. It indicates a real bias in the whole process. A councillor’s responsibility as a member of council is to remain impartial,” he said of the investigation into several allegations of sexual impropriety.

Is there anyone out there who can dispute that Watson and his council have exhibited extreme bias against Chiarelli with regard to the allegations by former staffers about the College councillor?

Please believe me. This for me has nothing to do with the many allegations against Chiarelli –  including some made by women I know, trust and respect – it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the many allegations.
But just because you don’t like the nature of the allegations, and I don’t, and just because you believe them to be true, and I do, it just doesn’t mean Chiarelli doesn’t deserve due process.

As I’ve suggested, people found with a smoking gun beside a dead body get due process in the form of a trial. Our country is not supposed to convict someone without a fair trial. 

Yet Watson and others thought it was absolutely fine to call for his resignation? Why? 

“The doctor was of the opinion I had to do whatever I could to avoid stress. He believed I had a major problem. And he was right, everyone else was wrong,” he said.

As any follower of city hall knows, there’s no love lost between Chiarelli and Watson. In fact, the relationship is downright acrimonious. Chiarelli never misses a beat to poke fun at Watson; the mayor does everything he can to exclude Chiarelli from the process.

During a budget presentation when the numbers appeared a bit sketchy, Chiarelli called the budget a “Christmas Miracle” and the media ate it up, with everyone tweeting about the description and used it in their stories. Watson looked like his head might explode.

“Look, I’ve just never seen anything like this, never seen someone on council be treated this way and council just followed him. But you know, there will be somebody else after me,” Chiarelli said.

That’s a certainty. When Watson stops beating up on Chiarelli, he’ll find someone else, little doubt there.

And the fact that Osgoode Coun. Georges Darouze was found guilty of bullying a female resident by the Integrity Commissioner – and no one said a bad word publicly – isn’t lost on Chiarelli.

He said the letter was sent on his lawyers’ advice “to give council the chance to correct itself, proceed through the court system.”

While he has not heard from anyone on council, he said his community has been supportive, calling to offer their help or dropping off food. That somehow helps as he knows he’s been followed by an investigator hired by the city.

Since his ordeal began, he’s lost more than 100 pounds. He has nothing but praise for the Ottawa Heart Institute, singing their praises consistently throughout the interview. “I’m feeling very tired all the time, my chest is sore all the time. The surgeons said that’s because they sawed me in half. But it’s a slow progress,” he said. 

Everyday, he has to walk for 16 minutes, no small task at this point. “I can and must walk for 16 minutes a day at this point, 16 minutes in a row. Believe it or not, it’s tiring. I remember right after the surgery, nurses took me for a walk, one at each shoulder, after about five minutes I fell asleep, but they just continued to carry me. There was this 85 -year-old guy who lapped me, he made fun of me! Another guy walked passed me and slapped me on the butt!

At today’s city council meeting, council accepted an interim report from Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau.

And for some reason, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard felt it necessary to point out a number of places Chiarelli has been seen publicly. And what exactly is his point? A double standard for sure, and somehow surprising since Menard himself spends much of his own time on council on the outside looking in. And should we now expect to hear a similar listing of public places Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, on sick leave for cancer treatment, has been seen publicly? 

Of course, none of this has been easy, with his long-time colleagues turning their backs on him, siding with Watson, refusing to sit at council alongside him, instead standing during when he was at council; knowing he was being followed when he was fighting off death.

Through it all, Chiarelli’s family has stood by him. His wife Lida often stayed with him at the hospital, sleeping in a little cot by his his bed.
And his three daughters –  Natalia, 28, Carla, 25, and Veronica, 23,  have also been there for him, and Chiarelli says they’re doing well, despite the allegations against their father.

“It’s been pretty hard for them, oh yeah. They’ve grown up in politics. But nobody, none of them could believe any of this, and everything they’ve been put through. But there’s a certain amount of self preservation going on,” he said. His chatter is dotted with fatherly pride, pointing out his daughters accomplishments and successes. He is even able to manage a bit of a chuckle recounting that Carla’s longtime boyfriend Matt Mariani had to go to the hospital to get the approval to marry his middle child.

But he believes, through all of this, he’s being persecuted because Watson doesn’t like him.

“I remember when (former city councillor Jody) Mitic’s sick leave was  getting approval. Some didn’t want to give it, but I think they all knew they could be next. At the time, (their reticence was because of his drug dependency which  as an illegal act,) they thought they were somehow supporting that, but still council approved it.”

Former Osgoode councillor Doug Thompson has pitched in with his office work, dropping by now and then to do what he can. And Chiarelli himself has been signing what needs to be taken care of.

Chiarelli has been working with his doctors trying to figure out a modified work from home schedule.

“One of the main things I’ve learned from this is that stress has way more impact than you might realize. well, doctors say two to six months, so, what I’ve been trying to get them agree, a modified work form home schedule, main thing I’ve learned on this, stress has way more impact on you, so they want me to stay away from that.

He still has every intention of fighting the accusations made against him. “I can’t really comment on individual allegations, at this point,  all of this,” he said.

But despite everything, he has every plan to come back to council and hopes it will be a matter of a few short months. And yes, he says he will run again.

“I was told I had a two to five percent chance of dying. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, what would happen if I didn’t make it. It’s not what you want for your children to hear about as they’re growing up. For sure.  But again, they’ve grown up with this life and they know it can get nasty.”

Mayor Jim Turns His Back on Urban Residents

Okay Jim, enough.

It’s time to remember that you – as you often have pointed out yourself – received a mandate from the entire City of Ottawa.

And when you diss your urban city councillors, also duly elected, you’re also dissing those urban constituents. You’re absolutely ignoring them and their concerns. 

You’re a smart guy. You must get that. But you don’t seem to care.

So yes, enough. You’ve proved you’re powerful enough to squish your opposition like bugs. It’s not a good look for you. And it’s not good for the city, for the residents – and frankly – it makes you look like an insecure doofus. Quit the petty power play politics. You’re better than that. At least, you used to be. Stop pitting parts of the city against each other, stop with the Old Boys Club mentality and treat this city like you care about all of it.

If you don’t pay attention to the day-to-day minutia of all that is city hall, a quick recap:

With a leave of absence by Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, taken to concentrate on wining the provincial riding for Orleans under the Liberal banner, a replacement for the chair of the transportation committee had to be found. And who is the vice-chair of the committee? None other than Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who often cycles to work, pays acute attention to transit – he knows his stuff. But apparently, being from the urban core meant he didn’t have a chance to become chair. He wasn’t Watson’s pick, and Watson’s band of merry councillors are always there to support the mayor. Watson’s pick was Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney.

And there you have it. In a near unanimous vote (only Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh voted again Tierney) the east-end councillor won the day. In truth, Tierney can do the job. But he got it over Leiper because he’s part of the Watson team, and awarding club members is how Watson keeps them in line. Leiper is outside looking in from the downtown core.

“I think we’re missing an opportunity to really signal to our transit, cycling and pedestrian constituencies that we mean what we say when we want to make a big shift in how people get around. And, there was an opportunity to put a downtown voice on (committee). Better policy-making happens when there’s a variety of voices at the table, even dissenting voices. The risk of being surrounded solely by supporters is of being blinkered. Debate can only lead to better outcomes,” Leiper responded to On the City, From the Burbs.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard is also one of those that’s been on the losing end of Watson’s games. Small wonder he sometimes lashes out on Twitter against the mayor. Unfortunately, that only seems to trigger the mayor further.

“It has been a Hallmark of the Watson regime to maintain absolute control over the past decade, but what is becoming very apparent is that he is losing his grip on council. We saw it with the ridiculous motion to remove the word “emergency” from the homelessness and affordable housing motion. We saw it on a motion to look into participatory budgeting. We are seeing it regularly with the LRT problems being highlighted daily. And his response to these things is to try and get more control over committees, even if it means excluding entire regions of the city. In my estimation, this mayor isn’t going to be around council too much longer,” Menard responded to this blog.

There’s still an infinitely small glimmer of hope that Watson could do the right thing. The decision to appoint Tierney still has to be approved by council and also provides an opportunity for further nominations from the floor. (And I feel I have to reiterate, Tierney has proven his ability chair big files.) This city needs both urban, suburban and urban reps taking leadership roles at the city. We’re not getting that.

“Nominating a colleague to chair a committee should not be a power play or a popularity contest. Residents deserve better. At the very least we need to have that discussion in a public forum about who is best to lead that conversation. The public is demanding openness and transparency not backroom decisions,” Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney wrote to On the City, From the Burbs.

Sadly, it’s doubtful much will change unless Watson himself does.