Westjet drops 737 Max 8 from winter holiday schedule due to uncertainty over planes clearance to fly | CBC News


Forty one aircraft, three Canadian airlines and almost six months out of service. The grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 is affecting Canadian flights from coast to coast, and for Westjet passengers it’s now clear that impact will continue through the busy end-of-year holiday season.

Transport Canada has not yet given the jets permission to fly, but even if it does so before the end of the year, CBC News has learned Westjet will not be including the Max 8 jets in its holiday-season schedule, one of the peak travel times of the year.

Air Canada and Sunwing had already announced they won’t be flying their Max 8s until next year.

It’s possible the Boeing jets may be recertified to fly before the end of 2019 — Transport Canada isn’t saying when that might happen. But Brian Znotins, Westjet’s vice-president in charge of scheduling at the company’s headquarters in Calgary, says his airline made the decision because it needed to give passengers some certainty in making holiday bookings.

If the Max 8 is allowed to fly in December, at most Znotins says the airline might consider an occasional flight to ease demand.

“It’s a little harder to unmix the cake at that point, but we would look at peak days, the Friday before Christmas [for example] where we can still sell seats and we’ll put the airplane back in.”

No-fly decision

Until now, very little has been heard from Canadian airlines about the ongoing impact of the Max 8’s problems. But Westjet agreed to talk to CBC’s The National about the effects of the grounding on the airline’s operations.

The issue with the Max 8  began with two disasters: A total of 346 people killed in crashes involving Indonesia’s Lion Air in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines in March of this year.

A Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8, parked on the tarmac of Soekarno Hatta International airport near Jakarta, Indonesia. All Max 8 jets, about 350 in service around the world, have been grounded since March this year. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters)

Investigators were troubled by the similarity between the crashes. Pilots on both planes appeared to be struggling to maintain control of their aircraft when they went down.

Boeing has acknowledged the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), designed to activate automatically to help keep a plane stable, seemed to be a factor in each crash. It appears erroneous air speed data triggered MCAS, which tried to push the nose of the jet down to increase speed while the pilots fought to counteract it.

In the days after the first crash on Oct. 29, 2018, some U.S. pilots complained Boeing hadn’t revealed that MCAS was embedded in the Max 8’s software. Speaking publicly for the first time on this issue, Westjet’s vice-president of flight operations, Scott Wilson, told CBC News that Westjet shared that concern.

“Our job as pilots is to know and understand the aircraft so that we can apply that knowledge in a normal and not normal situation,” he says. Not being told about MCAS, “created a bit of a trust deficit. There’s no doubt about it.”

Wilson adds that he made that erosion of trust clear to Boeing. “Absolutely. And they are well aware they’ve got to basically rebuild that gap.”

After the Lion Air disaster, he says the three Canadian airlines that fly the Max 8 worked with Boeing and Transport Canada to review pilot training and procedures, what Wilson called “a made-in-Canada solution.” He adds that the airlines were confident its pilots could fly the jet safely as a result.

But then on March 10 came the second catastrophic crash, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Within hours, Wilson says Transport Canada was again in contact with Air Canada, Sunwing and Westjet, sharing information about the tragedy and assessing the safety of the jets.

An emergency crew works at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 crash near Bishoftu, south of Addis Ababa, on March 11. All 157 people aboard the aircraft were killed. (Mulugeta Ayene/Associated Press)

“Obviously we’d never move an aircraft ever without a 100-per-cent assurance of its safety … and the information that we had at the time led us to believe that at that moment, that there was no increased risk to operating the aircraft,” Wilson says.

But governments around the world began taking action. The day after the Ethiopian crash, China banned the Max 8 from its airspace, and the next day the European aviation authority did the same. Three days after the crash, Canada and then the United States followed suit. 

At the time, Canada’s Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said there was new satellite data on the Ethiopian crash, “suggesting a possible although unproven similarity in the flight profile of the Lion Air aircraft.” 

Wilson explains that the data appeared to show that MCAS played a role in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters. It wasn’t conclusive, but it was enough to ban the Max from carrying passengers in Canadian airspace.

All Boeing 737 Max 8s — about 350 planes flown by more than 50 airlines around the world — have been grounded ever since, as the manufacturer works to fix the problem and prove to aviation officials that the aircraft is safe.

Scott Wilson, Westjet’s vice-president of flight operations, in front of a grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 in the airline’s Calgary hangar. He says issues around software in the jet have created ‘a trust deficit’ between pilots and Boeing. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

Challenging logistics

For Westjet, the grounding has left 13 jets parked at airports from Vancouver to Toronto, about 10 per cent of the airline’s seats. That has created an ongoing challenge for the airline’s schedulers and maintenance team.

The person in charge of maintenance, John Kelly, says his airline’s Max 8s are essentially ready to fly — their fluids are checked every 48 hours, and once a week each jet is powered up, taxis and then is parked again.

Westjet’s vice-president of technical operations, John Kelly, takes CBC’s Ian Hanomansing into the wheel well of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 to explain how the airline is keeping the aircraft flight-ready while they’re grounded. 0:40

Standing in the gleaming Westjet hanger in Calgary, Kelly explained that the biggest challenge in this grounding hasn’t been the maintenance involved in keeping the Max 8s on standby, but the need to get more hours from the rest of the airline’s fleet.

“We pulled some planes out of heavy maintenance to help fly the schedule. We’re doing a lot more work on the other airplanes to keep them healthy and keep them flying.”

Among the work that’s been deferred is the job of putting new seats in Premium class of the airline’s older 737s, for example.

Mechanics do maintenance work on a Boeing 737 Max 8 in Westjet’s hangar in Calgary. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

Making planes available is just the first part of the puzzle. Then comes reworking the flight schedule.

If you want a sense of the complexity of running an airline, walk through its operations centre. For Westjet it’s a room about the size of a gymnasium, filled with people tracking planes, watching the weather and calculating flight plans. When CBC News visited the centre, one of the scheduling issues the team was dealing with was fog in Prince George that had led to a two hour delay, which in turn affected that plane’s upcoming Vancouver-Victoria-Vancouver trip.

Weather problems are a fact of life for airlines. The impact of removing 13 jets for an indefinite period is infinitely more complicated.

That’s been the responsibility of Brian Znotins. With the uncertainty over when the jets will be returned to service, he has revised the airline’s flight schedule five times.

He compares the process to building a house. “You take away 7 per cent of the bricks and you still want to build that house and you have to get pretty creative.”

Brian Znotins oversees long-term scheduling for Westjet. He says uncertainty around when the 737 Max 8 will be able to return to passenger service has required the airline to revamp its schedules a number of times in recent weeks. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

In a July 29 interview, WestJet chief executive Ed Sims told CBC News that the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 is having a “substantial negative impact” on the airline. He declined to give specifics on the financial hit, but said the grounding has forced WestJet to increase spending on fuel and cut routes.

One summer route — Halifax to Paris — was cancelled for the season, for example. A direct flight from Vancouver to Regina has also been suspended. Some daytime flights have been moved to overnight. But with its older 737s flying more often, Znotins says Westjet has been able to maintain 98 per cent of what would have been its schedule with the Max 8s in the air.

It’s a similar story at Air Canada. The bigger airline had a fleet of 24 Max 8s, and was expecting 12 more by the end of June. Asked about the impact of the grounding on its operations, Air Canada directed CBC to its most recent quarterly report, which states the airline has managed to cover “97 per cent of our planned flying” without those aircraft. 

Aviation analyst Rick Ericksen says he’s impressed with how Canadian airlines are coping and how all three have handled the grounding. But he says that aside from the lost revenue, the airlines have very little excess aircraft capacity left at the moment to deal with any other problems that may arise.

Awaiting clearance

The question remains: when will the Max 8 be cleared to fly again?

All Transport Canada will say is that it “will not lift the current flight restriction … until it is fully satisfied that all concerns have been addressed by the manufacturer and U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, and adequate flight crew procedures and training are in place.”

Air Canada has announced it won’t fly the Max 8 any sooner than Jan. 8, 2020.

For Sunwing, it’s May. 

Westjet may be the best positioned of the three Canadian airlines to get the Max 8s up quickly once the flight restriction is lifted. Its Max pilots have been active, flying the airline’s older-model 737s. Kelly, in charge of maintenance, says after a software update the Max 8s should be ready to fly.

But vice-president of flight operations Scott Wilson concedes there is another challenge the airlines will face: attracting passengers who may be reluctant to fly on a plane that’s suffered two recent crashes.

Bianca Andreescu battles back to earn berth in U.S. Open semifinals | CBC Sports


When the heat was on, Bianca Andreescu found a way to raise her tennis game at the U.S. Open on a sweltering Wednesday night in New York City.

It was a hot and humid — stifling really — evening inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Andreescu couldn’t stop sweating. She wiped her face. She wiped down her arms and legs. She tried to stay focused.

But the early going of her quarter-final match against Belgium’s Elise Mertens was proving to be nearly impossible for Andreescu to make a shot.

Down one set and frustrated throughout much of the night, the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., seeded 15th, was nonetheless able to compose herself under the bright lights, battling back against the No. 25 seed Mertens to win a gruelling three-set match, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. The match lasted two hours and one minute.

Andreescu is now the second Canadian to ever advance to the U.S. Open semifinals — after Carling Bassett in 1984 — and the fourth woman in history to reach the semifinals in her Open debut. Andreescu will play the No. 13-ranked Swiss tennis player Belinda Bencic in Thursday night’s semifinal.

WATCH | Andreescu battles, advances to U.S. Open semifinals:

Canadian Bianca Andreescu battled back after a first set loss to beat Elise Mertens 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. 1:44

Andreescu has won 12 consecutive three-set matches and is 17-3 this year when the matches go the distance.

“This is honestly so crazy. A year ago I was in the qualifying round suffering from a back injury. I’m speechless,” she said in her post-match on-court interview.

“I need someone to pinch me right now. Is this real life? Is this real life?”

Needed to refocus

The New York crowd roared as Andreescu stood at centre court after her victory, amazed by what she had accomplished. It wasn’t easy though.

Andreescu was feeling the pressure early in the match. Mertens was taking the game to the young Canadian, painting the lines with perfect form and forcing Andreescu into difficult situations on the court.

Andreescu had 14 unforced errors in the first set as Mertens cruised to an easy 6-2 win. Mertens had dropped just 16 games coming into the match, the fewest among the remaining players at the U.S. Open.

The game start had been delayed by 20 minutes due to the men’s quarter-final. That meant the crowd had to exit the stadium and re-enter before the Andreescu-Mertens match. They took their time.

Andreescu celebrates a point during her quarter-final victory over Mertens. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The fans also seemed disinterested at first, talking loudly and creating a distracting murmur. The players pushed on as people continued to talk loudly in the stands.

Andreescu needed to refocus for the second set if she wanted to stay alive at the U.S. Open.

Asked what she was thinking after dropping the first set, Andreescu didn’t mince her words in the post-match interview.

“Get your [expletive] together,” Andreescu said frankly. Cue the comeback.

Power and prowess

The turning point came in the second set at 2-2. Andreescu found herself down 0-30 in her service game and needed a spark. That’s when she lunged at a brilliant cross-court shot by Mertens and played a perfect volley.

That point changed the game. From there, Andreescu won the next 12 of 13 points.

From that point, she showed the power and prowess many had been accustomed to seeing from the young tennis phenom.

Merten digs to return a shot to Andreescu. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Re-energized, Andreescu started ripping forehand winners, bouncing around the court and pumping her fist after winners.

“Come on!” she yelled. “Let’s go.”

Andreescu forced a third and deciding set with a decisive 6-2 second-set win.

The two would trade games early in the third before Andreescu broke Mertens at 4-4. Andreescu served out the match in front of a capacity Arthur Ashe crowd.

“I’ve been working a lot on my fitness and mental strength,” Andreescu said. “It’s all the hard work I’ve put in.”

Andreescu serves to Mertens during their quarter-final match. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Andreescu finished last season ranked 178th in the world. But with a record of 43-4 and two WTA wins already this year, she’ll be in the top 10 rankings as the last major of the year comes to a close.

Prior to Wednesday night’s match, Andreescu said it was a “dream come true” to be walking onto the Arthur Ashe Stadium court in prime time to be playing a quarter-final match-up.

But it’s clear the teenage tennis star isn’t content with a semifinal appearance. She wants this dream-like season to include two more wins at the U.S. Open. 

Hurricane Dorian creeps up U.S. coast, prompts fears of near-record storm surge | CBC News


Hurricane Dorian, back to a Category 3 storm, began raking the Southeast U.S. seaboard early Thursday, left tens of thousands without power as it threatened to inundate low-lying coasts from Georgia to Virginia with a life-threatening storm surge after its deadly mauling of the Bahamas.

As of early Thursday in South Carolina, over 16,800 in Charleston County and over 6,800 in Beaufort County were without power, according to Dominion Energy. Berkeley Electric Cooperative reported another 4,900 in Charleston County.

“We will experience hurricane-force winds, in at least gusts,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said at a news conference on Wednesday. Even if the hurricane doesn’t end up hitting the state directly, he said, “there’s still going to be wind and water and if you’re in the coastal area, that water can be treacherous.”

Dorian appeared likely to get dangerously near Charleston, S.C., which is vulnerably located on a peninsula. A flood chart posted by the U.S. National Weather Service projected a combined high tide and storm surge around Charleston Harbour of 3.1 metres; the record, four metres, was set by Hugo in 1989.

Power lines and trees have been reported down with the eye 128 kilometres southeast of Charleston Harbor as of 5 a.m. Thursday, CBS News reported. The network said road closures are in place due to flooding in downtown Charleston, and thousands of people in the city are without power.

Dorian had crashed into the Bahamas as the country’s strongest hurricane on record, leaving widespread devastation and at least 20 people dead. But it weakened substantially in the days since, dropping from a Category 5 to a Category 2 storm before increasing again late Wednesday. Dorian could maintain this intensity for about nine hours or so before gradual weakening through Saturday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Stores and restaurants were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal in Charleston’s historic downtown, and about 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast. More than 1,500 people were in 28 shelters statewide.

Hurricane Dorian threatens to swamp low-lying regions from Georgia to southeastern Virginia on its trek northward. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Georgia’s coastal islands were also at risk, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday, adding “We are very worried, especially about the barrier islands getting cut off.”

In North Carolina, where authorities said an 85-year-old man died after falling from a ladder while getting ready for Dorian, Gov. Roy Cooper warned of the threat of storm surge and flash flooding from heavy rains. The Outer Banks barrier islands were particularly exposed.

Duke Energy said Dorian could cause more than 700,000 power outages in easternmost parts of North Carolina and South Carolina, and Georgia Power said about 2,800 homes and businesses were already without electricity.

The Navy ordered ships at its huge base in Norfolk, Va., to head to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, were being moved inland. The commander of the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic issued an emergency evacuation order for military personnel and their dependents in five North Carolina counties.

‘We are ready to go,’ FEMA official says

Though weakened, Dorian remained a force to be reckoned with, its swirling circle of winds and rain wrapped around a large, gaping eye visible on photos taken from space. At 2 a.m. EDT Thursday the distinct eye of the hurricane churned about 168 kilometres south of Charleston, moving north at 11 km/h off the coast with dangerously high winds of 185 km/h.

A hurricane warning covered about 800 kilometres of coastline, and authorities warned about 3 million residents to get away before the water and wind rose.

The acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor, said 4,000 federal responders; 6,000 National Guard members; and 40,000 utility workers were on standby.

“We are ready to go,” Gaynor said. “We’ll follow Dorian up the coast until it is not a threat.”

In Florida, initially projected to take a direct hit from Dorian, there was widespread relief and gratitude Wednesday after the storm passed the state from a relatively safe distance offshore.

“We’re lucky today,” said Ryan Haggett, kitchen manager at the Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill, at Flagler Beach. Haggett and others removed storm shutters from restaurant windows, preparing to serve dinner Wednesday night.

With the threat to Florida easing and the danger shifting northward, Orlando, Florida’s international airport reopened, as did Walt Disney World and Universal. Dorian forced Disney Cruise Line to cancel one trip and delay the return of another ship to Port Canaveral, Florida.

One resident in the state died while preparing for the storm Monday evening, when Dorian’s path was still projected to threaten Florida. Joseph Walden, 56, was sitting on a tree limb and using a chainsaw to trim other limbs in the Orlando suburb of Ocoee when one of the cut limbs broke free and knocked him to the ground, police said. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Led by the tech sector, Canadians are working around the world while staying home: Don Pittis | CBC News


When Allie Turow’s partner got transferred from Saskatchewan’s 15 Wing Moose Jaw to a job flying giant Hercules transport aircraft at CFB Trenton on the shores of Lake Ontario, she faced a modern dilemma.

After settling into nearby Belleville, Ont., the 25-year-old university graduate had to go out and find a new job.

“I was looking at the job market in Belleville and there wasn’t what I wanted,” she said. 

She wasn’t yet thinking that she would become part of a global wave of employees whose physical location is unconnected to the place they work.

When Canadian jobs numbers come out tomorrow, they will include thousands of people like Turow, who live and work in one city or country, but whose employer is based far away.

Tech leads the way

Led by the tech industry and served by high-speed internet and digital tools, location of employment has begun to fade in importance as employees interact in a virtual space instead. 

Thanks to upstart firms like co-working office space group WeWork and remote communication software provider Slack, the trend is becoming increasingly apparent.

The person on the computer at the next café table to you may be working for a company in New York.

The exact size of the phenomenon is hard to track; Statistics Canada doesn’t currently collect data on how many Canadians work remotely.

The person at the next café table may be working for a company far away. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Working from home is by no means new. For authors, artists and freelance journalists, it has often been the rule rather than the exception. Even before the computer age, some people with special skills found ways of using the telephone, fax and Fedex to do their job from a home office.

But more and more, jobs on employment aggregators require familiarity with project management software, such as Basecamp or Slack — created to allow remote teams working on software projects to share ideas on virtual whiteboards or to collaborate in chat rooms categorized by project or shared task.

The technique is ideal for teams building software, where steps must be created and physically documented by individual engineers working alone during periods of intense concentration before being vetted and tested by a larger group. Even in companies where everyone gets a desk, software engineers usually keep in touch through a system like Slack.

The practice has become so widespread that GitLab, a tech company that provides software-sharing repositories for NASA, IBM and many others, boasts it is 100 per cent remote

‘Remote Manifesto’

GitLab has created what it calls the “Remote Manifesto,” which, among other things, calls for no central location for the company, flexible working hours for everyone, “asynchronous communication” and compensation measured by results rather than hours worked.

“The future of work is remote,” declares Carol Teskey, a member of the company’s “people team” in a video posted to the company’s website.

Turow’s employer, Page Zero Media, does have a physical office in Toronto. But company founder Andrew Goodman points out that he has clients around the world, so why can’t the same be true of his employees. His second and third in command live in Vancouver and St. Louis, Mo., part of a team of 16 people, mostly scattered across Canada.

From the beginning, Goodman says he was “tolerant” of remote workers. But then his partner got a tenure track job at the University of New Brunswick, so he went remote himself.

“It worked out very nicely,” recalled Goodman, whose company specializes in helping advertisers get the best results in the complex world of online ad placement. “We sold our house in Toronto. We got a cheaper and nicer house in Fredericton.”

In pricey cities like Vancouver and San Francisco, relatively high salaries can disappear in expensive rents or mortgages. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Now he spends one week a month in Toronto, where he keeps a flat, working out of the company’s newly acquired office space.

“The rest of the time I’m pretty much at my home office, with the big screen, talking on the phone, collaborating with both staff and clients — and everyone’s getting more and more used to that,” said Goodman.

Clearly not every job and every person is suited to remote working. Loneliness can be a factor for some; will power to get up and get to work is essential. But for those who can make it work, there are advantages for both employees and employers.

One advantage for Goodman, he says, is getting top quality staff without paying the six-figure salaries often needed to compete for workers in a high-cost city.

Financially better off

For Turow, who says she has spoken frankly with Toronto friends in similar jobs who are not paid as well, her comfortable, modern house would be unaffordable in Canada’s largest city.

“I already end up financially better off,” she said. And trips twice a month into the city for “office days” gives her a chance to catch up with friends.

But just as Goodman looked outside Toronto for talent, U.S. tech giants are discovering the advantages of remote workers in Canada. Some American media reports have pointed to cities like San Francisco as examples of places that are becoming less attractive to work, when sky-high salaries are swallowed up by the price of housing.

A similar consideration prompted Steph Simpson to ask her Vancouver employer, Lorax Environmental Services, if she could work remotely from Calgary instead.

“My husband wasn’t loving his job at the time,” she said. And unlike Vancouver, Calgary was a place they felt they could afford to raise kids.

The company approved the plan and nine years later, Simpson is still with the same employer, saying the scheme has worked well.

The main advantages and disadvantages? For her, they are one and the same.

“I’m home for my kids and I’m able to flex around by husband, who’s a shift worker,” said Simpson. “But that’s also a disadvantage because I’m the one who’s always flexing.”

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat, Porter hit with $45K in fines for violating new passenger protections | CBC News


WestJet, Air Canada, Air Transat and Porter Airlines have been hit with fines totalling $45,000 for failing to properly display notices about passenger rights at various Canadian airports.

The fines are the first monetary penalties the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has doled out to airlines for violating the new federal Air Passenger Protection Regulations, the first phase of which took effect on July 15.  

According to the regulations, airlines operating flights to or from a Canadian airport must display a notice at check-in, self-service kiosks and boarding gates, informing passengers that if they’re denied boarding, or their luggage is lost or damaged, they may be entitled to compensation.

Inconvenienced travellers can receive up to $2,400 for being denied boarding and up to $2,100 for luggage mishaps.

The CTA issued its fines on Aug. 27. WestJet received the biggest penalty: $17,500 for seven infractions where the airline failed to post the passenger rights notice at airports in Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton and Quebec City.

WestJet faces the biggest penalty: $17,500 for seven infractions. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Air Canada was hit with a $12,500 fine for five infractions at the same airports.

Air Transat and Porter both face $7,500 in fines for three infractions each at two different Canadian airports. 

The CTA charged each airline $2,500 per infraction — much less than the $25,000 maximum under the regulations. 

‘How hard is it?’

Consumer advocate John Lawford said the fines seem low, but the CTA did the right thing by taking action. 

“How hard is it to put a notice up that says, ‘You have rights under the new airline passenger regulations?'” said Lawford, who is executive director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“Telling people they have rights is the first step before people can vindicate their rights.”

Lawford said he’s not surprised by the spate of violations because some airlines have made it clear they oppose the new regulations. 

“I imagine CTA has other evidence that they’re not following the regulations as well and this is a shot across the bow,” he said of the fines.

John Lawford, executive director of Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says he’s not surprised by the airlines’ violations of the passenger protection rules. (CBC)

Before the rules took effect, Lawford suggested that some airlines might try to defy them while a legal battle to quash the regulations is before the court. 

In June, 17 applicants — including Air Canada, Porter Airlines and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — argued in a Federal Court of Appeal filing that the Air Passenger Protection Regulations are “invalid” because they violate international agreements. 

WestJet and Air Transat aren’t named in the filing, but they are both IATA members.

The CTA and Canada’s attorney general claim the legal challenge is “ill-founded” and are trying to get it dismissed. 

Airlines respond

Despite the court challenge, each of Canada’s major airlines told CBC News in July that they will comply with the new air passenger regulations.

Although they currently face fines for violations, WestJet, Air Canada, Air Transat and Porter each stressed to CBC on Wednesday that they are making every effort to abide by the rules.

“WestJet continues to work with the Canadian Transportation Agency on implementation of the regulations,” WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart said in an email.

Air Canada pointed out that complying with all the intricacies of the new rules isn’t as simple as it may seem. The CTA is rolling them out in two phases, and the first phase, now in effect, covers a number of passenger issues including luggage, denied boarding, tarmac delays and communicating flight changes. 

“We had to review and adjust more than 400 individual items and procedures across our entire system in order to comply with the requirements,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email. 

“With new rules of such complexity, there are always questions of interpretation, so we are reviewing the CTA’s decision.”

Air Transat also said it’s reviewing its “alleged” violations. “Upon completion of this evaluation, Air Transat will put in place all necessary corrective actions if needed,” spokesperson Odette Trottier said in an email.

Porter called the violations “minor communication issues” and said that it immediately corrected the problem.

The CTA declined to comment on the fines except to say in an email that “the penalties speak for themselves.”

The first case

This isn’t the first time an airline has faced CTA scrutiny since the regulations took effect. Last month, the agency announced that it had launched an inquiry after a pair of honeymooners from Edmonton showed up at the gate for a WestJet flight only to learn they had been rebooked on a later flight without any notice.

The couple argues they were denied boarding and are entitled to much more compensation than what WestJet offered them: $125 each in travel vouchers. 

The CTA is currently investigating whether the airline’s decision in this case violates the regulations. 

A WestJet spokesperson told CBC last month that the airline is co-operating with the CTA and declined to comment further while the investigation is ongoing.

Chelsea Williamson and her husband Sean Fitzpatrick pose outside the Edmonton airport ahead of their honeymoon — before they learned they had been bumped from their WestJet flight. (Chelsea Williamson)

Unpaid bills and broken promises: Indig Inc. problems go beyond failed Tokyo trade mission | CBC News


An Indigenous entrepreneur facing allegations of financial mismanagement related to a trade mission to Japan has left behind a trail of unpaid bills and broken promises, both in Canada and abroad.

CBC News reported last week on the fallout from the July trade mission, with delegates saying they were embarrassed and disappointed by a poorly organized trip.

CBC has since learned that a hotel in Tokyo is trying to collect $15,000 in cancellation fees after the trip organizer, Heather Abbey, confirmed the group’s reservation just hours before arrival, but then checked the Canadian delegation into an Airbnb instead.

Meanwhile, several business owners and artists have come forward to accuse Abbey of failing to honour other financial commitments, including a Saskatoon web designer who said Abbey “stiffed” him for $20,000 in pay in 2018.

$160K in taxpayers’ money

The Saskatchewan government has given Abbey and her company Indig Inc. more than $160,000 in taxpayers’ money over the past four years, through its arts funding agency called Creative Saskatchewan.

In an interview with CBC News, Abbey said she will repay nearly $60,000 she received for two recent projects: the trade delegation to Japan for Indigenous artists and a pop-up retail space in Saskatoon for handcrafted Indigenous goods that never happened.

She said her actions weren’t malicious or fraudulent, rather that some business gambles don’t always pan out.

“I feel that whether or not I always made things happen … I did things with the best intentions,” said Abbey.

Outstanding bills

Abbey is a charismatic Cree businesswoman with a knack for pitching ideas and self-promotion. She has won numerous awards for empowering Indigenous artists and received government grants for her much-lauded website Indig Inc. — an e-commerce platform that allows Indigenous artists to sell their homemade products. It is now offline.

In February 2019, Abbey pitched the idea of a trade mission to Tokyo that would showcase Indigenous art and culture. She qualified for $61,310 from Creative Saskatchewan’s market and export development fund to send “Saskatchewan-based entrepreneurs” to Japan. Abbey collected $36,786 of that before the July 21-28 trip.

However, only three of the 15 people who went to Tokyo actually live in Saskatchewan.

Indigenous model Makayla Ross poses for a photo shoot in Tokyo intended to showcase Canadian designers. The photographers say they’ve yet to be paid. (Makayla Ross/Instagram)

Thirty-two delegates were initially slated to go on the July trip, but Abbey contacted most of them a few days before their departure to try to postpone the trip until October. Abbey said most of the people on the second trip would have been from Saskatchewan, but she’s cancelling it.

Most of the participants who travelled to Japan said the trip was a debacle, with some telling CBC News of a laundry list of problems, including cancelled shuttles, no promised fashion show and a professional photo shoot from which artists say they haven’t received any photos.

The photography company, Tokyo Momento, said Abbey only paid for one image in full — and it was a photo of herself. It declined to say how much money it’s owed.

Delegates said Abbey switched them from Tokyo’s Hotel Nikko Narita to a cheap Airbnb with small plywood pods. One delegate dubbed it a “coffin hotel.”

The hotel said “the group failed to arrive at the hotel and no prior notice was given.” The hotel declined to say how much money it is owed, but email correspondence obtained by CBC News revealed the hotel is claiming Abbey owes roughly $15,000 in cancellation and no-show fees.

Faith Starlight took a picture of the Airbnb bed, left, where Indigenous artists slept during their trip to Japan. She compared it to the hotel room, right, where they were supposed to stay. (Faith Starlight/Facebook)

In an interview with CBC News concerning the latest allegations, Abbey said she accepted responsibility for some of the failures, but attributed most of the problems to her inexperience in planning an international trip.

Abbey said she won’t collect the remaining $24,524 of grant money and will repay 95 per cent of the first instalment. She also pledged to reimburse some participants for certain costs and to pay the photographer and hotel.

‘I’m done creating opportunities’

Eighteen months ago, before the Tokyo trip, Abbey was given a $25,430 grant from Creative Saskatchewan to set up a retail space in Saskatoon for Indigenous artists. She hasn’t done it yet, and her final report is past due.

She said she’s scrapping the idea and will repay the money, blaming backlash on social media, including a hashtag used a few dozen times on Twitter late last month.

“With #boycottIndigInc, I mean, who’s going to want to shop there?” Abbey said. “I’m done creating opportunities.”

Creative Saskatchewan said it cannot comment on Indig Inc. projects until it receives final reports.

Unpaid bills

Frank Collins, CEO of Saskatoon-based Danger Dynamite, said Abbey approached him in late 2017 to commission his web design and marketing company to build her Indig Inc. website and brand. He said Abbey told him she would have grant money from Creative Saskatchewan, but he didn’t know the details.

In fact, Abbey had been approved in August 2017 for roughly $61,000 to assist with website design, advertising, marketing and promotion.

Danger Dynamite CEO Frank Collins says his company built a website worth $25,000 for Indig Inc. but only received $7,000. (Submitted by Frank Collins)

Collins said Abbey paid his first invoice of $7,000 in late 2017. Then she asked for more sophisticated web features and graphic design, as well as a photo and video shoot. He sent her another bill for $5,300 in December 2018. She didn’t pay it.

Abbey assured him that she was in line for grant money, Collins said, but that she needed Danger Dynamite to deliver more materials so the public funding would come through. He estimates his company did another $15,000 to $20,000 worth of service in 2018 without receiving a penny from Abbey because he believed in her idea, her passion and her promises.

‘It blows my mind’

Eventually, Collins said, he ceased work until their expenses were covered. Collins said Abbey was “apologizing profusely” and promised him she was just waiting for Creative Saskatchewan to release the funds. Then, in January, she stopped responding to emails, phone calls and text messages. She moved her website over to another company.

That’s the same month that she submitted her final report to Creative Saskatchewan and received the final grant instalment, a total of $55,761.25.

Abbey said she can’t comment on that.

“It blows my mind,” Collins said. A huge loss like he experienced, he said, would be enough to put some small companies out of business.

Collins said he called Creative Saskatchewan on March 5 to alert them about issues related to Abbey’s business practices. “Creative Saskatchewan completely washed their hands of it,” he said.

Fear of backlash silences critics

Collins decided it wasn’t worth taking legal action against Indig Inc. or speaking out publicly at the time because he felt that “a white man crying foul against an Indigenous entrepreneur with the clout Heather has looked like a really bad PR choice.”

Three well-established Indigenous fashion designers say they were also burned by Abbey but were too afraid to criticize a much-celebrated Indigenous female entrepreneur.

As artists, we’re all just trying to survive, feed our kids, pay our bills.– Candace Bell, Indigenous designer

Tishna Marlowe, of Dene Couture, won a business competition hosted by Abbey in Saskatoon in November 2016. She said the prize was supposed to include a sewing machine, product promotion and a cash prize.

Marlowe said the cheque for $2,200 bounced and she never received a sewing machine.

Over the next year, Marlowe said she hounded Abbey for the prize money and only received it in small chunks after she threatened to go to the Better Business Bureau.

Marlowe said she suffered backlash from within the Indigenous art community when she quietly denounced Abbey and was accused of “native-on-native jealousy.”

Candace Bell, a well-known designer of beaded sunglasses based in Prince Albert, Sask., said she stayed silent to avoid a similar backlash.

Candace Bell says she was too afraid to publicly criticize Abbey’s business practices for fear of backlash. (rebelina_candace/Instagram)

A few years ago, Bell said, Abbey struck a deal with her to sell her sunglasses for a 50-50 share of the revenue. But Bell said Abbey stopped sending the designer her share.

“As artists, we’re all just trying to survive, feed our kids, pay our bills,” Bell said. “[Abbey] was very good at making you feel super sorry for her — a struggling businesswoman, a single mom, ‘If you don’t help me, you’re not supporting another Indigenous woman.'”

In 2016, Abbey recruited the designer to be one of the first artists to sell merchandise on her website, first known as ShopIndig.ca. Bell said the website would frequently go offline and she didn’t sell anything, yet Abbey would collect monthly subscription fees from her credit card.

Bell tried to quit the site, but said Abbey refused to cancel the charges, didn’t reply to emails or texts and then blocked her on social media. Bell said she had to contact her bank to stop the charges.

Beyond the money

Beyond the alleged financial mismanagement, several delegates on the Japan trip say they are more disturbed that Abbey capitalized on the hopes and dreams of Indigenous artists who went on the trade mission.

Yukon soapmaker Joella Hogan spent hours translating her soap names and business cards into Japanese so she could expand her market on the Tokyo trip.

“Yukon has a huge Japanese tourism market, especially in the winter with the aurora borealis. I knew there was a huge interest in Canada’s North, Indigenous people and natural handcrafted products,” Hogan said. “I thought this was going to change my business.”

But the trip only had one vendor opportunity at a shopping mall and didn’t forge business connections, she said.

Inuvialuit artist Inuk 360 says she didn’t agree to be a ‘guinea pig’ for Abbey’s trade mission to Tokyo. (Inuk 360/Facebook)

Inuk 360 is an artisan based in the Northwest Territories who makes handcrafted jewelry with caribou and moose hair tufting. She said while she had problems getting paid by Abbey’s Indig Inc. website, she was excited to be part of Indig Inc.’s cultural showcase.

“To be trailblazers? Absolutely. I was completely sold on the idea,” Inuk said.

Inuk is offended that Abbey previously told CBC the artists agreed to be her “guinea pigs” for an international trade mission.

“I thought, ‘Are you frickin’ kidding me?’ I have worked so hard for 29 years, I’ll be damned if I’ll be anybody’s guinea pig.”

The high-speed hard sell: why the F-35 is coming to a Canadian air show | CBC News


The F-35, the warplane Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised not to buy four years ago, touched down in Ottawa on Wednesday — on the eve of a federal election — as one of the leading contenders in the competition to replace the air force’s aging CF-18 jet fighters.

The stealth jet’s demonstration team will perform this weekend at an air show in Gatineau, Que., giving many of the capital’s movers and shakers their first up-close look at an aircraft that has consumed a lot of oxygen in Canadian politics.

During the last election, the Liberals famously (or infamously) promised not to buy the F-35 and said they would opt instead for a cheaper aircraft, using the savings to refit the navy.

The jet’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin — the world’s largest defence contractor — is among the bidders in the $19 billion competition launched by the Liberals in July to supply Canada with 88 jets. Lockheed Martin is making its case both behind closed doors and through a marketing campaign that includes billboards throughout the capital region and a heavy social media presence.

A Lockheed Martin billboard touting the benefits of the F-35 outside of the Ottawa International Airport. The U.S. defence giant is conducting a marketing campaign as part of its bid to win Canada’s fighter jet competition. It is – so far – the only one of the three competitors to make its pitch directly to the public. (Murray Brewster/CBC News)

The U.S. Air Force demonstration team that will be taking the F-35 through its paces this weekend fits into that marketing effort with its use of slick cockpit videos — the most recent of which was shot over Niagara Falls, Ont. Wednesday morning, prior to the arrival of a pair of F-35s at the Ottawa International Airport.

“The really cool things about the airplane are not going to be on display out there this weekend,” said Capt. Andrew ‘Dojo’ Olson, the demonstration team leader. “So if they think the demo is cool, they have no idea how cool the other stuff is.”

Olson is referring to the stealth jet’s top secret features, many of them related to the aircraft’s ability to network with other units in the field — both in the air and on the ground — and gather electronic intelligence.

The F-35, the Joint Strike Fighter, was conceived originally as an economical stealth fighter to replace a whole series of other aircraft, including the F-15 Strike Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the A-10 ground attack aircraft and the FA-18 (a class of aircraft which includes Canada’s CF-18s).

It rapidly morphed into the Pentagon’s most expensive program; some U.S. publications have estimated its cost at $1.5 trillion over its 55-year lifetime. The development of the F-35 has been plagued by glitches and delays.

Still, the jet is now operational in nine countries. with other nations (including Poland) lining up to place orders. Olson said the fact that the F-35 is flying missions around the world is a major selling point, adding the aircraft has the potential to make a difference in a major conflict.

US Air Force Capt. Andrew ‘Dojo’ Olson, the commander of the F-35 Demonstration Team, arrives in Ottawa on Sept. 4, 2019. (Murray Brewster/CBC News)

“When we go out there with all the variants, all the surfaces, all the partners, we’re speaking F-35 and we’re a very formidable fighting force …” he said.

Without the generational leap in technology the F-35 represents, “you really run the risk of being irrelevant in certain areas of operation. That’s just a fact.”

The F-35 has been described occasionally — and sometimes inaccurately — as a first-strike weapon, a warplane to be used in an attack on the first day of a conflict.

The jet has been designed to operate in hostile skies, Olson said. He claims it can go where older aircraft designs cannot.

“If you want to be lethal and survivable with all your friends in those areas, it’s got to be done in fifth generation,” he said, referring to the F-35’s design.

Alex McColl is a defence researcher who wrote his master’s thesis on Canada’s troubled CF-18 replacement program for the University of Calgary. He said most of the future missions Canada’s defence planners envision for the new fighter call for something that looks an awful lot like the best aspects of the F-35.

“All of the strike scenarios are peer-level strike scenarios against adversaries with state-of-the-art Russian equipment,” said McColl, whose in-depth paper favoured the Swedish competitor, the Saab-built Gripen.

One scenario in the request for proposals, for example, involves Canada’s future fighter jets evading Russian-style air defences to bomb an airport.

“That is heavily biased towards the F-35. And it is such an aggressive use of the F-35 that I don’t even think the Americans would ever do that,” said McColl, whose research is available through the University of Calgary website. 

In any such scenario, he said, the U.S. would take out the anti-aircraft batteries remotely with cruise missiles, or B-1 bomber strikes, before sending any fighter jets — including the F-35 — into a contested airspace.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A arrives at the Ottawa International Airport on Sept. 4. (Murray Brewster/CBC News)

Last week, one of the competitors in the Canadian contest, Airbus Military, announced it was dropping out, citing the strict NORAD intelligence and security requirements and the cost they impose on companies outside of North America.

That led to speculation about whether the other European competitor — Saab — would also drop out. The company’s CEO, in an interview with Swedish media a few weeks ago, said his company does not believe the fix is in for the F-35.

“In the last process that was closed, we had the same view, that is, it was very rigged for U.S. F-35,” said Hakan Buskhe, who was quoted in July by Dagensindustri (Di), a business and finance publication.

“The countries that have chosen F-35 have had almost the same procurement document. We do not have the same view today, but we have the view that it is an open procurement.”

Lockheed Martin, Saab and the third competitor, Boeing, have until next winter to submit their bids.

Exceptional Toyota parts delays needs to be addressed | CBC News


A national consumer advocacy organization is calling on Toyota Canada to be transparent about parts delays and compensate owners affected by the Canada-wide problem that has seen some vehicles in the shop for more than two months.

George Iny, director of the Automobile Protection Association (APA), told CBC in an interview on Ontario Today that he doesn’t know the specifics of Toyota’s problems, but it needs to speak up.

“It’s non-transparent, and they will evade or provide incorrect or incomplete information for as long as they can get away with it, and when they feel something is potentially embarrassing,” he said.

He noted that this has happened before when Toyota in the U.S., made statements and accepted responsibility for problems with their vehicles while in Canada. “They just kept quiet, and it usually works.”

He said he’s not sure exactly what is causing the problem, but typically with system changes it’s poor co-ordination between the consultant and the client. Sometimes a consultant sells software that isn’t fully mature. In other cases, there isn’t enough focus on training people using the old system to adapt to the new one.

“The big surprise here is that Toyota is a world leader in inventory management, just-in-time delivery and continuous optimization,” he said, noting that “if Toyota can be in trouble like this, nobody is really safe, in a sense … migrating from an old system in a complex company.”

Toyota has said the problem is the result of a “planned systems transformation,” although it hasn’t specified what that means.

Company spokesperson David Shum told CBC on Aug. 20 that the systems change was aimed at improving customer service, but he acknowledged some delays in parts deliveries in the meantime.

“We recognize that these changes may affect some of our customers and dealers in the short term,” he said in an emailed statement. “We apologize for the unusual delays, and we thank our customers for their patience as we make these changes.”

Suspend lease payments

Toyota owners are bearing the costs of having their vehicles sitting in a repair shop while they wait for parts. Some have used all of their allowable insurance rental coverage, forcing them to pay for their own transportation or drive a vehicle that is roadworthy but still missing parts.

Iny said Toyota should take several steps, including suspending lease payments for any Toyota leased vehicle that is off the road while waiting for parts. 

“If you’re a lease customer, you’re not getting any use for your payment, and if it’s an insurance repair and your car is off the road, they should take over paying for the rental car when your insurance company gives up on you,” Iny said.

He noted the inconvenience is “extreme.” He said it’s not like waiting for a recall part to come in where you can actually continue driving your vehicle and just cross your fingers that you don’t have the problem. “This is a more severe thing if your vehicle is sidelined and it involves costs.”

He said Toyota should provide a courtesy car for any Toyota vehicle off the road more than a day or two waiting for parts.

He also called on the automaker to automatically authorize dealers to order parts from non-Toyota suppliers. 

“We’ve heard from people who started work on their car, were told there were no parts, and found parts themselves but the dealer is not approved to install them on the cars by the manufacturer because they’re not Toyota parts,” he said.

Finally Iny said Toyota should apply the Toyota warranty and indemnify dealers for extra cost they’ve incurred. 

Catrina Brown stands in front of the rental car provided by her insurance company. She waited more than two months for parts to fix her car, which was finally returned to her on Sept. 3. (Robert Short/CBC)

In August, Halifax resident Catrina Brown said it was like “pulling teeth” trying to get any information from Toyota Canada, the dealership or the collision repair centre about what was causing the delay and when the needed parts for her vehicle would arrive.

At that point, she had been been waiting 57 days (since June 30) for parts for her RAV-4, which had been in an accident. She finally got it back Sept. 3 and has asked Toyota to reimburse her for the lease payments she had to make, even though she couldn’t drive her car.

She called on Toyota to communicate effectively, responsibly, and transparently, saying “all of the hit is on the public,” not Toyota.

Iny said customers are frustrated in part because of Toyota’s failure “to get out in front of the problem.” 

What should you do?

Iny has advice for Toyota owners whose vehicles are not driveable because of the parts shortage:

  • Make sure you document everything.
  • Inform Toyota in writing if your vehicle is off the road because of the parts delay and ask them to cover the cost.
  • If you’re going to a Toyota dealer, make sure you get not only an estimate but that they confirm the parts have arrived before they take your car apart, otherwise you could be stuck  

Despite the current situation for customers with no timeline for fix, Iny remains an optimist about the situation.

The APA is hopeful that Toyota will eventually see the light and compensate customers,” he said.



Robbie Robertson documentary opens TIFF in a golden age for rock docs | CBC News


It’s a story well known to Robbie Robertson fans and those who read his 2016 memoir Testimony: A 16-year-old Robertson convinces Ronnie Hawkins to let him join his band with the promise that “no one will work harder.”

(The Hawk, so the story goes, nodded and said, “I know.”)

Some 60 years later, a Canadian filmmaker in his early 20s approached Robertson in hopes of directing a film based on that memoir, using similar words while lobbying for the job.

“I was jumping up and down, being like, ‘It’s gotta be me! No one else will give this more than I will,'” said Toronto director Daniel Roher, now 26. 

“I recognized that feeling,” said Robertson. But he said not all involved with the documentary initially thought it should be put in the hands of such a young filmmaker.

“I’ve been through so many things that I have done that they weren’t sure [of], and then I made it happen,” Robertson said. “That just gave me the confidence and feeling of, Go get ’em, kid!”

Robertson, left, and director Daniel Roher, right, are shown on the set of Once Were Brothers. (Piper Ferguson)

The product of that collaboration — a film called Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band — will now open the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday.

Its opening night gala status speaks to the rising caché of music documentaries.

The likes of The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese documentary about The Band’s last performance, were once rare. But with the increasing number of platforms where these films can air — from Netflix to specialty channels to film festivals — rock docs are booming.

Watch: Robbie Robertson reacts to the new documentary about his legendary rock group The Band

Canadian musician Robbie Robertson was surprised by his own emotional reaction to reliving his time with The Band in a new documentary called Once Were Brothers. 2:32

While these films may promise an all-access, unfiltered view of a star, not all deliver on that.

Stars and their management wield increasing power over these documentaries, often producing or funding them themselves, leading to questions of who controls the narrative that the audience is seeing.

Record labels making documentaries

Perhaps more so than any other celebrity-based documentary, music docs live and die by the access the filmmaker is granted — and, of course, by featuring the artists’ best-known songs.

Getting the rights to those songs is usually not possible without the permission of the artists or their labels, which is why the co-operation of a subject is often crucial to a music documentary, compared to other profile projects.

But record labels have recently become active participants in seeking out documentary projects that profile the artists on their rosters. In addition to facilitating access to the star and archival footage, many labels have launched documentary film arms that help fund and distribute these docs.

BMG Music’s film arm, founded in 2015, recently produced and funded high-production documentaries on David Crosby and Joan Jett — both BMG artists.

While the labels often won’t spell it out, the incentive is clearly financial: A popular documentary has a power to boost music sales.

In a recent Billboard article, Why the music industry is betting on biopics and documentaries for its next revenue boost, journalist Claudia Rosenbaum crunched the numbers to show how a popular biopic — like Bohemian Rhapsody — or a popular documentary  — like Amy, about  Amy Winehouse — can drive up the sales of an artist’s back catalogue or increase streaming numbers.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean all of these documentaries are fawning “puff pieces.”

Amy, directed by acclaimed documentarian Asif Kapadia, was produced by Winehouse’s label, Universal Music Group. It angered her father, Mitch Winehouse, by portraying him as an absentee parent and, later, an enabler of his daughter’s self-destructive behaviour. It was also the most-watched documentary of 2015 and won an Oscar the following year.

David Crosby: Remember My Name received very positive reviews and a strong response at Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered earlier this year. In it, Crosby openly details drug use and the fact that most of the “guys he played with don’t even talk to him.”

Creative control vs. access

Still, financial or creative involvement of the star or the record label can certainly make things trickier. As a New Yorker piece criticizing Lady Gaga’s Gaga: Five Foot Two documentary argues, “the resulting film often either feels like unapologetic hagiography or is revealing only in extraordinarily calculating ways.”

Canadian filmmaker Barry Avrich has cut his reputation on unflinching, often-unflattering docs about powerful men, from The Last Mogul about Hollywood power broker Lew Wasserman, to his unauthorized documentary on Harvey Weinstein in 2011. 

“If you sell your soul to the devil early on, that’s going to be your reputation: gun for hire,” Avrich said of the dangers, especially for young filmmakers, of working on docs where the star is heavily involved. 

“If you’re a documentary filmmaker and you don’t have the wherewithal to deal with the egos and the machinations of dealing with talent management, then you’re dead. Pick another topic.” 

Director Barry Avrich, at left, talks to David Foster, at the piano, on the set of his documentary David Foster: Off the Record. (Melbar Entertainment/Barry Avrich )

With that mindset, Avrich took on his most recent subject: Canadian musician and music producer David Foster. David Foster: Off the Record is also premiering at TIFF this year. 

Avrich expected some pushback when dealing with the famously controlling Foster, known for his airtight production work with Céline Dion or Barbra Streisand. But he says his subject — who did not have a financial stake in the doc — didn’t try to push his own agenda.

“Nothing was off limits,” said Avrich, who talked to Foster’s ex-wives, children and collaborators.

He said he hopes the resulting film is a fair portrayal. “I didn’t go into the process saying, ‘Let me try to find dirt on David.’ I wanted to make a film about somebody that I don’t think enough people know about.”

‘His version of the story’

As he readies himself to walk his first TIFF red carpet, Daniel Roher feels content that Once Were Brothers is very much his “baby” — even if Robertson’s powerful friends, including Scorsese and Universal Music Canada, are among the producers.

“I was always very empowered by that, the respect I was given and felt by all my collaborators,” said Roher. But he said he did take into account some suggestions made by Scorsese or Ron Howard, given their extensive experience. 

Partially based on his 2016 memoir Testimony, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band follows Robertson’s early life through to the creation of the influential roots-rock group. (David Gahr)

If the documentary is not a “warts and all” exposé of Robertson, or The Band’s interpersonal dynamics, or the oft-mythologized, decades-long acrimony between Robertson and The Band’s lead singer Levon Helm, it’s because Roher never intended it to be.

His film, he stresses, was inspired by and based on Robertson’s memoir. “This is a film about The Band through the eyes of Robbie Robertson. This is his version of the story.”

In the end, Roher said he hopes the audience sees what he saw: An inspirational story of how Robertson, a half-Indigenous, half-Jewish kid from working-class Toronto, pushed himself to the very top of the music and entertainment worlds through sheer tenacity and talent.

“What Robbie’s life really embodies is that we have the agency and power in our own lives to invent ourselves, to be like, ‘This is who I want to be. This is what I want to do.’ And it’s just a question of having the ability to go out and make it happen,” he said. “And that’s what Robbie did.”

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