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Accused in Toronto van attack faces mounting lawsuits from victims with traumatic injuries

Accused in Toronto van attack faces mounting lawsuits from victims with traumatic injuries

Traumatic brain injuries, spinal fractures and internal bleeding are among the litany of ailments described in a mounting number of lawsuits against a man accused of killing 10 people and injuring 16 others in a van attack in Toronto last year.

Lawyers involved in the suits against Alek Minassian believe the cases, which the court is working to pull together in one large proceeding, will take years to come to a resolution.

On April 23, 2018, police allege Minassian drove a white Ryder rental van south along Yonge Street in the city’s north end, hopped the curb and deliberately mowed people down.

While Minassian’s criminal case slowly makes its way through the system — his trial on 10 first-degree murder charges and 16 attempted murder charges has been scheduled for February 2020 — the 26-year-old already faces four civil suits, with more expected.

The lawsuits, from the families of one person who died and three who were injured, are seeking millions of dollars from Minassian and Ryder Truck Rental Canada, alleging the devastating injuries and deaths on that day were due to an intentional act by Minassian and negligence on his and the rental company’s part.

The unproven civil suits will be fought in the trenches of insurance law.

“This is going to drag on for a long, long time,” said Gus Triantafillopoulos, who represents the family of Anne Marie D’Amico, a young woman who died that day and whose family filed a $1-million suit in January against Minassian and Ryder.

Triantafillopoulos said if the family receives any money through the civil proceedings, it will all be donated to the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation, which supports women who are victims of violence.

On April 23, 2018, police allege Alek Minassian drove a white Ryder rental van south along Yonge Street in Toronto’s north end, hopped the curb and deliberately mowed people down. Ten people were killed and 16 others were injured. (LinkedIn)

The first suit related to Minassian was filed in November 2018 by Amir Kiumarsi, a chemistry instructor at Ryerson University who is seeking $6 million in damages.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury and several skull fractures, spinal fractures, traumatic internal injuries including a displaced kidney, and numerous other injuries throughout his entire body, the claim says.

“These injuries have been accompanied by severe physical pain, suffering and a loss of enjoyment of life,” the claim alleges, noting that his future holds “numerous surgical and medical assessments, treatments and procedures.”

Since Kiumarsi filed his suit, the court is in the process of getting all the cases on one track, documents show.

Another suit was filed in mid-January by Amaresh Tesfamariam and her family, who are seeking $14 million. Tesfamariam has a complete spinal cord injury, multiple spinal fractures, rib fractures and a traumatic brain injury.

She cannot move her body below her neck, cannot breathe without a machine, suffers a total loss of independence and a “profound and permanent loss of her cognitive ability,” according to the claim.

Tesfamariam also has short-term memory loss, depression, anxiety, a “drastic personality change,” cannot communicate properly with others, and cannot return to her work as a nurse, the claim alleges.

Latest suit filed last week

The latest suit, filed last week by Catherine Riddell and her family, alleges the “sustained serious and permanent” injuries the woman suffered are the result of negligence on the part of Minassian and the rental company.

Riddell lost consciousness, suffered a brain injury, hurt her head, neck, shoulders, arms, back, legs and arms. She fractured her spine, ribs, pelvis, scapula, and suffered internal injuries including a collapsed lung, the $3.55-million suit alleges.

She lives with headaches, memory loss, difficulty finding words, dizziness, back and neck pain, loss of mobility, nausea, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and depression, her claim alleges, noting that she now faces a life of therapy, rehabilitation and medical treatment.

“Her enjoyment of life has been permanently lessened, and she has been forced to forgo numerous activities in which she formerly participated,” the claim reads.

Minassian does not yet have legal representation in the civil matters and has not responded to the claims, according to the documents. His criminal lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawyers for Ryder, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, detailed the expected complexities in the litigation in an affadavit filed with the court.

It notes that notice has been given for 12 claims and more are expected. There will be numerous parties in the case, from families of the dead to the injured and the various defendants. There will be examinations for all plaintiffs, and testimony is expected from numerous medical experts.

“It would be safe to assume this matter will require a lengthy trial,” said the affidavit.

Kiumarsi’s lawyer, Darcy Merkur, said there will be a slew of arguments brought forward.

“One interesting question is this: Is every different person hurt considered a separate accident?” Merkur said. “It’s a legal question, but also a philosophical one.”

The answer to that question will be important for potential payments, he said.

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Kenney, Callaway campaigns collaborated to attack Brian Jean during UCP leadership race, leaked documents show

Kenney, Callaway campaigns collaborated to attack Brian Jean during UCP leadership race, leaked documents show

The leadership campaign of Jason Kenney collaborated with fellow candidate Jeff Callaway’s campaign during the party’s 2017 United Conservative Party leadership race, leaked internal UCP documents obtained by CBC News show.

The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.

The documents also show Matt Wolf, a senior Kenney campaign staffer and his current deputy chief of staff, communicated regularly with Callaway’s communications manager Cameron Davies, and also on occasion, with Callaway’s campaign manager, Randy Kerr.

A document prepared by Davies for the office of Alberta’s election commissioner, with whom he is cooperating, alleges the Kenney campaign made a concerted effort to recruit a “stalking horse” candidate for the specific purpose of attacking Jean, the former Wildrose leader.  

The documents include several emails between Wolf, Davies, Kerr, and sometimes Callaway. The emails reveal Wolf and the Kenney campaign were providing not just communications support, but also planned, regular strategic political direction throughout Callaway’s campaign.

In a telephone interview Saturday, Davies confirmed to CBC News the campaigns had even decided in advance when Callaway would quit the race.

“Callaway’s withdrawal was something that wasn’t necessarily negotiable,” Davies said. “It was something that had been decided in a meeting in mid-July, between Callaway and the Jason Kenney leadership team.”

Senior Kenney campaign staffer Matt Wolf provided Callaway’s campaign with a suggested speech for Callaway to give when he dropped out of the race and endorsed Kenney. (CBC)

In an Aug. 13, 2017, email entitled “Week 1 & 2 Comms Draft,” Davies wrote to Wolf: “Please review, thoughts appreciated.”

“The themes I’m pushing for are: Seeds of Doubt (Aug. 14-26); Consistency (Aug. 23 – Sept. 6); Trust (Sept. 1 – Sept. 13),” Davies continued.

“Jeff drops (although depending when debates are, you may have other ideas?),” Davies’s email to Wolf continues. Davies confirmed to CBC News that was a reference to Callaway’s planned withdrawal from the race.

The email adds that “by this time we hope Jean has attacked Jeff, lost his cool in a debate or two, gone off script to the media so we can release a series of ‘Screamin’ Jean’ SoundCloud files in which he is screaming at the [executive committee].”

Davies’s final suggested weekly theme was “Temperament (Sept. 15 – Oct??)”

Wolf also provided Callaway’s campaign with a suggested speech for Callaway to give when he abruptly quit the race weeks before the vote and endorsed Kenney, the documents show.

Following Kenney’s landslide win, it was alleged Kenney’s campaign ran Callaway as a so-called “kamikaze” candidate to attack and undermine Jean, Kenney’s main political rival.

Both Callaway and Kenney have denied their campaigns collaborated.

On Friday, CBC News revealed RCMP were investigating allegations of irregular political contributions to Callaway’s campaign.

The police investigation is “not about our campaign; it is about someone else’s leadership campaign from 18 months ago,” Kenney said Friday at an unrelated news conference, adding later that “all I can tell you is that the campaign that I ran was in full compliance with all of the financial and legal requirements.”

UCP says inter-campaign communications normal

An emailed statement from UCP executive director Janice Harrington simply repeated the claim made previously by Kenney that there was communication between his campaign and the Callaway campaign and this was “perfectly normal in a preferential ballot election and was within the rules of the 2017 UCP Leadership Election.”

Harrington also included a statement from another leadership contender, Doug Schweitzer, a lawyer, who said he and his campaign team “kept lines of communications open with all other registered, and prospective candidates in the UCP leadership race.

“Ongoing dialogue across all campaigns is normal throughout leadership races within the same party, especially those with ranked ballots,” Schweitzer’s statement said.

The statement from Harrington doesn’t address the fact that Alberta’s election commissioner is now conducting an investigation of the connection between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns.

Callaway, Kerr, and Jean did not respond to interview requests.

Davies told CBC News he is cooperating with investigators from the office of Alberta’s election commissioner. He met with them on Friday and gave them a written statement. He had previously been fined $15,000 by the commissioner for obstructing his investigation into the Callaway donations. Through his lawyer, Davies has said he will appeal the fine.

Davies told CBC News he has not been contacted by the RCMP but if he is, he is prepared to “fully comply with whatever requests the RCMP have.”

Callaway campaign manager claims collaboration from beginning

Davies confirmed the authenticity of a “timeline of events” he prepared for the election commissioner’s investigators that was part of the cache of documents supplied to CBC News.

The document details a concerted effort by the Kenney campaign to first recruit, and then direct, a “dark horse” candidate for the express purpose of attacking Jean.

Callaway was not their first choice.

The timeline states that “around early July 2017, a meeting with (then UCP MLA) Derek Fildebrandt was held to inquire if he would be a suitable candidate to run as a dark horse candidate.”

In December 2018, StarMetro quoted Fildebrandt as saying he sat down with Kenney in the summer of 2017 and the two discussed the possibility of Fildebrandt running “a stalking horse campaign to undermine Mr. Jean.” Fildebrandt told the newspaper he decided he did not want to do that.

But Davies’s timeline says it was determined after several meetings that Fildebrandt was not “suitable” for the role, a conclusion shared by the “Kenney team.”

Callaway’s campaign communications manager, Cameron Davies, told CBC News that both campaigns had decided in advance when Callaway would quit the race. (Supplied by Cameron Davies)

The timeline states that after the Fildebrandt meetings, another meeting was held at Callaway’s home attended by Kenney, Callaway, Kenney’s current UCP campaign manager John Weissenberger, UCP candidate Happy Mann, and several others.

Davies told CBC News he was also at the meeting

“In this meeting, a discussion occurred around running Jeff Callaway to do what had been originally planned for Derek Fildebrandt,” the timeline says.

“It was decided that our teams would work together to ensure proper narratives and messaging coincided at various stages of the campaigns. I have attached emails detailing various communiques with instruction for various talking points and communications from the Kenney team.”

Davies’s timeline says he is “not aware of any funding arrangements that may or may not have been made directly between Jeff Callaway and Jason Kenney.”

It claims Callaway’s campaign provided debate tickets to Jason Kenney team members and supporters at three debates.

“In each debate, campaigns were allotted a certain number of tickets,” the timeline states. “Requests were made by Jason’s team for the Callaway team to provide tickets to lists of people who were either members of Jason’s team or key supporters they wanted in the audience at each debate.”

Davies’s timeline recounts a meeting at Callaway’s house after he dropped out of the race. It says Kenney and 10 other “key members” of Kenney’s team were present.

“Jason was appreciative of the work the Callaway campaign did, and gave a short thank you to Jeff and the team for their support and efforts,” the document states.

Political messaging, speeches provided   

The emails from Wolf to Callaway’s campaign include advertisement graphics and research specifically designed to help the candidate undermine Jean.

They also support Davies’s statement to the election commissioner that political messaging was coordinated at various stages of Callaway’s campaign.

An email from Wolf to Davies, dated Sept. 6, 2017 — one month before Callaway quit the leadership race — entitled “spit-balling copy” provides a speech for Callaway to give, specifically attacking Jean.

“If there is one thing that drives me crazy, it’s self-styled ‘conservatives’ that use the language of the left to attack conservatives,” Wolf’s messaging for Callaway states.

It further suggests Callaway say, “as Wildrose president at the time,” he was “extremely disappointed” by comments Jean made to a Calgary newspaper before the referendum that created the United Conservative Party.

“Jean says he would cut taxes only when the government has the room to do so,” Wolf’s messaging later continues, quoting the newspaper.

“Hold on. Last time I checked, government is supposed to work for us,” Wolf’s speech says. “Maybe government should live within its mean, rather than taking more and more money out of our pockets.” It continues with several further attacks on Jean.

Kenney campaign staffer provided Callaway with suggested drop-out speech

Callaway dropped out of the UCP leadership race on Oct. 4, 2017 and threw his support behind Kenney.

Early that morning, emails show Wolf sent Callaway and his campaign managers a suggested script for Callaway’s speech announcing the news.

“I don’t think you need a script to read, but below is the rough outline of what I’d suggest,” Wolf wrote. “Tweak as you see fit.”

His suggested speech for Callaway begins: “I guess it’s obvious by my being here that my leadership campaign will not be going forward.”

A few paragraphs in, Wolf’s suggested speech includes a dig at Jean.

The documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway’s with messaging that specifically attacked former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (above). (CBC)

“There is obviously one candidate in this race that I know very well: I served as Wildrose president during Brian Jean’s period as leader.

“I see many recognizable faces here today that also served under Brian’s leadership, but are noticeably supporting someone else today,” the speech says.

Wolf’s speech suggests Callaway then segue into comments about how he got to know the other candidates better during the race and admires Kenney’s leadership and experience.

“We need a leader that is consistent in his conservative convictions, a leader that doesn’t wildly change his positions depending on which way the wind is blowing.

“We need a leader with the fortitude to withstand the onslaught from the NDP and its special-interest friends,” the speech continues.

“I’m confident that leader is Jason Kenney.”

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