Movers, shakers and a horse-dragon: Take a look at Ottawa's newsmakers of 2017


This year was one of sesquicentennial celebration. It was also one of success, controversy and outrage. We have assembled our list of Ottawa’s newsmakers of 2017, the people and things that dominated our conversations and our attention from January to December. From good to bad and even ugly, and in no particular order, here our our choices. Let us know yours.

Legal weed


Cannabis Culture on Bank Street was raided by Ottawa police on Dec. 7, 2017 and a bailiff said that the lease was being terminated. Photo by Jean Levac/Ottawa Citizen

In April, the federal Liberal government announced changes to Canada’s marijuana laws, giving all three levels of government just over a year to prepare for legal possession and sales of pot in summer 2018. Provinces have been developing rules on how marijuana will be sold, with Ontario opting for government-run storefronts and online sales. The federal government has even sweetened the, well, pot, agreeing to give provinces 75 per cent of the excise tax slapped on marijuana. Municipalities anticipate they’ll also receive a big chunk of the money to help with local policing and health programs. What authorities have made clear is that they won’t put up with the illegal pot shops that have sprung up in advance of legalization. Ottawa police have raided the shops and arrested dozens of people. Some of the “budtenders” — the frontline clerks who worked at the shops — have pleaded guilty to charges, while others are challenging the charges in trials.

Adam Picard


Adam Picard (centre) exits the Ottawa courthouse with his lawyer Lawrence Greenspon (right) on Nov. 15, 2016. Errol McGihon/Postmedia

Adam Picard’s odyssey through Canada’s legal system was front and centre this past year, and he’s spending the end of 2017 back in custody. Picard has been charged with murder in the 2012 death of 28-year-old Fouad Nayel — again. He had walked away from this same charge, seemingly a free man, in 2016 as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada’s R vs. Jordan ruling. Picard was the second accused person in Canada to have charges wiped out for unreasonable delay as a result of the ruling. In doing so, Picard became, for many, the controversial face of the courts’ struggle to meet new timelines for trials — a struggle that continues to make news as an overcrowded system tries to meet the new litmus test for judicial expediency.

The Ontario Court of Appeal reinstated the murder charge in September of this year and Picard returned to jail to await trial. He planned to appeal the Ontario high court’s ruling to the Supreme Court. Picard’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said, “There’s national importance in getting it right.”

Long Ma


Long Ma, the horse-dragon, sprays spectators on Wellington Street during the La Machine afternoon show on July 30, 2017. (Darren Brown/Postmedia)

If organizers wanted Canada 150 to be a fairy-tale year, they were right to find a dragon.

The capital’s celebratory events were action-packed, unique and mostly accessible, and perhaps nothing hit those notes as well as La Machine’s magical march through the capital, which brought huge crowds into the streets to become part of the spectacle.

Seemingly a sleeper attraction at the beginning of 2017, it ended up being the big talker of the summer. Two gigantic mechanical animals — Long Ma, a dragon-horse, and Kumo, a giant spider — roamed the downtown in the final days of July, happily stunning locals who couldn’t believe the city agreed to close roads in the name of performance art.

But Canada 150 was bigger than even those beasties.

The year of celebrations started the night of Dec. 31, 2016 with the lighting of the Ottawa 2017 cauldron, and what followed felt refreshingly un-Ottawa: Red Bull events that brought a Crashed Ice contest to the Rideau Canal locks beside the Chateau Laurier in March and rallycross races to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in June; the shutdown of an interprovincial bridge for a picnic; a light show in an under-construction downtown LRT station; dinners high above the Rink of Dreams, dangling from a crane; Guns ‘N’ Roses slashing through TD Place stadium; a 1,000-person open-air dinner on Wellington Street in front of the Parliament Buildings; the after-dark sound and light show at Chaudière Falls; and the international celebrations of culture at the Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park. The year was capped by two major sporting events: The Grey Cup game in November featuring a dramatic (and incredibly snowy) end to the CFL season, and on the same field in December, the NHL100 Classic between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens (with the home team winning).

Canada Day, of all days, was one blemish. Instead of gushing over the party, officials were left responding to tight security and visitors’ long waits to access Parliament Hill for the performances. And, while it might deserve credit for re-imagining York Street, Inspiration Village in the ByWard Market was a dud. Still, the Ottawa 2017 bureau pulled off a yearlong bash with remarkably few problems.

Hector-Louis Langevin


The Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office seen on Feb. 16, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A surprising addition to 2017’s list of newsmakers was Hector-Louis Langevin. The Quebecer was a vocal federalist at the time of Confederation and a close ally of Sir John A. Macdonald’s. He was also an architect of the residential schools that took Indigenous children from their parents in the name of civilizing them. The schools destroyed families and broke cultural links, and subjected victims to state-supported neglect, violence and sexual abuse.

And so, this year, Langevin’s name came off the building that holds the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office on Wellington Street after pressure from Indigenous leaders culminated in a surprise announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June.

Trudeau announced the name change for the former Langevin Block at a ceremony dedicating the former United States embassy down the block as a centre for Canadian Indigenous people, making two moves meant to be part of amends for generations of mistreatment and injustice.

More difficult issues remain, though, including how history should treat the legacy of Macdonald himself and how practically to improve life on reserves, in the North and for off-reserve Indigenous people.

Tobi Lütke


Tobi Lütke built Ottawa-based Shopify into one of tech’s hottest stocks.

It was a remarkable year for the man behind Ottawa’s high-tech darling. Tobi Lütke became Canada’s latest billionaire and his company expanded beyond its Elgin Street office, taking up additional office space on Laurier Avenue as the popularity of its e-commerce technology continued to grow. Still, there were stiff challenges for the Ottawa powerhouse. Lütke stared down a barrage of criticism over Shopify’s hosting of an online store for extreme right-wing U.S. media company Breitbart News. “Products are a form of speech, and free speech must be fiercely protected, even if we disagree with some of the voices,” Lütke said in a public statement during the height of the controversy. The company’s stock price took a hit after a short seller questioned the company’s business model. But the stock price has been rebounding since the autumn controversy and Shopify has become a household name in the nation’s capital, often finding a place in Mayor Jim Watson’s speeches, which trumpet Ottawa’s private sector in a government city.

Peter Herrndorf


NAC president and CEO Peter Herrndorf sitting in Southam Hall on Feb 17, 2017. Photo by Tony Caldwell

The National Arts Centre in September announced its longtime president and CEO, Peter Herrndorf, will step down in 2018. Herrndorf, who started as the NAC boss in 1999, said leading the arts institution has been “the greatest joy in my life.” Under his leadership, the NAC created a fundraising arm to educate Canadians about performing arts and support artists. He has also been at the helm while the 1960s NAC building has undergone a major renovation, making the Elgin Street facade more lively and inviting. It will “finally allow the NAC to fully embrace the city,” he said. Herrndorf was named Companion of the Order of Canada on Canada Day.

Joshua Boyle


Joshua Boyle, left, gets a police escort after speaking to the media after arriving at the airport in Toronto on Oct. 13, 2017.

Joshua Boyle returned home after five years of captivity to intense media scrutiny and public questioning. Boyle, his wife and their children were freed in October after being held in Afghanistan. The questions piled when they returned to Boyle’s family home in Smiths Falls. What was he doing in Afghanistan? Why did he have children with his wife while in captivity? He sent statements to journalists explaining their story. No stranger to controversy, Boyle had a short marriage with Omar Khadr’s older sister, Zaynab Khadr, before he married American Caitlan Coleman. Boyle and Coleman were abducted by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network while on a backpacking trip in Afghanistan in 2012. Coleman was pregnant when they were abducted. Their three children were born over the five years they were held captive. Boyle said Coleman was raped and a fourth child, an infant daughter, was killed by their captors (the Tailban subsequently released a statement claiming it was a miscarriage).

The Instant Pot


Instant Pot CEO Robert Wang. The kitchen craze started in Ottawa.

Move over bread makers, juicers and slow cookers. Families across North America have been clearing their kitchen counters this year, and especially this holiday season, to make room for an Instant Pot. The hottest kitchen appliance on the market has roots in Ottawa, and although it has been around for about seven years, it gained steam in 2017 as the must-have cooking product. Developed by ex-Nortel workers, the Instant Pot speeds up cooking times, combining the convenience of a slow cooker with the power of a pressure cooker. The top-end models will even make moist cakes. The future is now.

Rachel Homan


Skip Rachel Homan of Ottawa, Ont. pumps her fists as second Joanne Courtney, third Emma Miskew and lead Lisa Weagle celebrate defeating Team Carey in the women’s final at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Trials in Ottawa on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017.

Ottawa’s own Rachel Homan won the Roar of the Rings in her hometown in December, punching her ticket to South Korea as the skip of Canada’s Olympic women’s curling team. Homan, with teammates Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney and Lisa Weagle, capped off an impressive year at the Canadian Tire Centre, after also winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont., and the world women’s curling championship in Beijing.

The Senators


Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators congratulates Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins after the Penguins won Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 25, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators took fans on a roller-coaster ride in 2017. After losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Pittsburgh Penguins (the eventual Stanley Cup champions), the Sens skated into the 2017-18 season with high expectations. But before they hit the ice, the club was dealt a blow by the death of former general manager Bryan Murray, who had colon cancer. A month before that, franchise great Daniel Alfredsson resigned from his adviser job with the team. By Christmas, the club had traded fan favourite Kyle Turris to Nashville, Chris Neil had retired and the team had plummeted in the standings. Meanwhile, the Sens-fronted RendezVous LeBreton Group was still negotiating with the National Capital Commission to build an arena and mixed-use development on LeBreton Flats. The two sides keep talking and fans are left to wonder about the patience of team owner Eugene Melnyk, who on the eve of the NHL100 Classic at Lansdowne Park mused about moving the team. He was especially frustrated by low attendance for games at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata. Add to the drama the future of captain Erik Karlsson, who has made it clear he’ll seek top dollar in his next contract. Karlsson is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season.

Georges Karam


Georges Karam, in his room at the Garry J Armstrong home in Ottawa Monday July 3, 2017. (Darren Brown/Postmedia)

Eighty-nine-year-old Georges Karam, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, was hit 11 times in the face last March by a personal support worker at the city-run Gerry J. Armstrong long-term care home. It was all caught on video, sparking international outrage and putting nursing-home care in Ottawa under the microscope.

The stories that have since emerged, and which have been extensively reported by this paper, led to calls to repair a system that NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has said is in “absolute crisis.” The province has since said it will spend $115 million over the next three years to create thousands of new beds and increase staffing levels.

Eventually, the worker who struck Karam, Jie Xiao, pleaded guilty in a criminal court and received a 90-day jail sentence. The judge allowed Xiao to serve the jail sentence between work shifts, angering Karam’s family. Karam’s grandson, Daniel Nassrallah, who first saw the assault on video surveillance and contacted the police, called the intermittent sentence “disgusting.”

Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam


From left, Nathalie Warmerdam, Carol Culleton and Anastasia Kuzyk.

Carol Culleton, 66, Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, and Nathalie Warmerdam, 48, died in Renfrew County at the hands of Basil Borutski, who will spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes of Sept. 22, 2015. Borutski was romantically linked to Kuzyk and Warmerdam and, according to the Crown, “wanted more from his relationship with Carol than Carol was prepared to give.” In 2017, a jury sitting in Ottawa convicted Borutski on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder. The sentencing happened in a Pembroke courtroom, where a judge put Borutski away for life with no chance for parole for 70 years. The case is closed, but questions linger about the supports given to women in abusive relationships and how the legal system deals with and monitors the abusers. Each woman’s death is being investigated by the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario through its Domestic Violence Death Review Committee.

Drew Dobson


Drew Dobson, founder of S.O.S. Vanier, in November listening to final submissions to the planning committee on the Salvation Army’s plan for a shelter in Vanier.

The Salvation Army’s proposal to move its emergency shelter and health services from the ByWard Market to Vanier caused a firestorm that stretched from Montreal Road into the chambers of city hall on Laurier Avenue. At the centre of the fight was an unexpected roadblock to the Salvation Army’s plans: Businessman Drew Dobson and his grassroots community group S.O.S. Vanier. Dobson and crew rallied residents and businesses against the Salvation Army and city planners who recommended allowing the necessary zoning and official plan amendments for 333 Montreal Rd. A three-day planning committee meeting in November saw 145 people make their cases to councillors. Opponents couldn’t convince the majority of council that the project would forever ghettoize Vanier. After council’s 16-7 vote in favour of the Salvation Army’s plan, S.O.S. Vanier vowed to appeal the decision at the Ontario Municipal Board. This battle isn’t over yet.

The professors


Picket lines at Algonquin College during the five-week strike that was ended when the province passed back-to-work legislation.

The five-week strike by full-time professors and other staff at Ontario colleges left thousands of tuition-paying Ottawa students out of class, not knowing if they would return to finish their fall semesters. The province legislated striking staff back to work, and Algonquin College and La Cité college extended their fall semesters into 2018. Algonquin approved tuition refunds for 2,063 students who dropped out, while La Cité gave refunds to 341 students. Four instructors in La Cité’s respiratory therapy were suspended because they said they couldn’t fit the rest of the teaching material into the rest of the semester. An arbitrator set a new contract on Dec. 20, giving faculty a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years.



Kira Mandrik, a nurse at the interim supervised injection service at the Ottawa Public Health clinic on Clarence Street, sorts through medical supplies. Photo by Jean Levac

The nation’s opioid crisis reached the capital in force in 2017. Ottawa started the year with no supervised injection sites and ended the year with four locations approved to run the harm-reduction service. The crisis prompted the federal and Ontario governments to speed up the review process for supervised injection site applications. The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre was the first site to receive federal approval, but it let Ottawa Public Health use its clearance to open a temporary injection site on Clarence Street while the Sandy Hill health facility built its supervised injection room. Ottawa Inner City Health received permission to open an injection service in a trailer at the Shepherds of Good Hope. The Somerset West Community Health Centre received the fourth federal approval in Ottawa. Overdose Prevention Ottawa, a collective of volunteer health advocates, operated an unsanctioned supervised injection service out of a tent in Raphael Brunet Park between late August and early November in response to the opioid crisis. City hall wasn’t quite sure what to do about the tent, so officials simply waited until it was too cold for volunteers to continue. The feds are allowing the province to approve temporary injection sites, raising the possibility of Ottawa seeing more government-allowed injection locations in 2018.

Flood volunteers and flood victims


Tania Latulipe helps out with sandbagging at Rue Saint-Louis and Rue Moreau in Gatineau as flooding continues throughout the region in areas along the local rivers.

Historic spring floods forced families to abandon their homes on both sides of the Ottawa River. Residents came together to fill sandbags and rescue people from their flooded houses as municipalities in the Ottawa-Gatineau region activated their emergency response teams. Roads were washed out and basements filled with water. When the water receded, people returned to their homes to take stock of their possessions. Many homeowners learned their insurance policies didn’t include overland flood protection, but government disaster relief programs were available to provide financial assistance. At Christmas, some people who lost their homes were still living with family and friends. Many others were receiving help from the Red Cross.



Public servants protest over problems with the Phoenix pay system outside the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in Ottawa on October 12, 2017.

The Phoenix pay system became a bona fide federal embarrassment in 2017. Stories piled up of public servants being severely underpaid by the government’s payroll system, forcing them to request emergency salary advances or lean heavily on borrowed money. Other workers opened their bank accounts to find wildly high pay deposits. The feds don’t have a backup plan for this expensive cock-up. The federal auditor general said in November that it will cost at least $540 million and several years to stabilize Phoenix. There’s no foreseeable end to the mess.

— with files from David Reevely