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An Abuse Of Privilege?

Police say the wealthy and eccentric owner of a Bedford Road museum and rooming house sexually assaulted young men over a period of 17 years. Others say he is a victim of unfair persecution. Norman Elder isn’t saying anything.

By David South

Annex Gleaner (Toronto, Canada), May 1997

The tattered sign on the door is barely noticeable, and its message gives little away: “Dr Elder has moved to Fort Torrance, Ontario. Sorry no tours.”

I peek in the window of the Norman Elder Museum on Bedford Road and see the eyes of a zebra staring back at me. To the left are formaldehyde jars filled with oddly shaped objects.

While Norman Elder, amateur anthropologist and full-time Annex eccentric, may be hiding at his Muskoka cottage, he has left behind a community stunned by police allegations that he sexually abused young men. His story is one of a man born into wealth who cultivated an image of eccentricity as carefully as he surrounded himself with the things he loved.

According to police, the assaults took place at Elder’s 140 Bedford home – a brooding Victorian mansion that’s one part rooming house, another part museum holding his large collection of artifacts plucked from the world’s tribes.

Detective Robert Mann of Metro’s 32 Division Youth Bureau says Elder has been charged with 12 counts of indecent assault/male, spanning 1972 to 1989.

“Some were minors, some were adults over the age of 16. Most were adolescent and teenage males between the ages of 15 and 19.” While the charges laid were at the end of February, police have still not disclosed the details. Without that information, Elder hasn’t entered a plea.

Last Wednesday, I walked past the gravestone that marks the front yard and approached three young men having a cigarette outside the house. Two of them said they lived in the house. One man with a skinhead hairstyle who looked to be in his mid-20s nervously said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” He admitted he was taking messages for Elder from the answering machine and had passed on my numerous calls. Calls to his cottage weren’t answered, and none of Elder’s friends and acquaintances contacted by The Gleaner wished to comment on the charges.

Mann alleges that Elder’s modus operandi was to offer homeless youths a place to stay in return for sexual favours. The multiple charges stem from men contacting police after reading articles in Toronto’s two dailies about the first charge, which was laid in February.

Elder’s trip to the cottage isn’t a case of spring fever; he is out on bail and has been court-ordered to not return to his house.

Off the record, several sources suspected that some of the young men living at the house were involved in the sex trade and weren’t innocent of trading sexual favours for a place to stay. In the language of the street, they say, Elder was a sugar daddy. Some acquaintances of Elder felt he was being unfairly persecuted by police for sexual acts that took place between consenting adults (though, legally, the homosexual age of consent is 18, while for heterosexuals it’s 16). They also questioned the validity of charges that are in some cases 25 years old and only ferreted out by police during the Maple Leaf Gardens scandal.

Elder may be an eccentric, but he is not a loner; nor did he keep a low profile. Elder was born into wealth and attended Upper Canada College with the likes of Conrad Black, whom he once called a friend. He is listed in the Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in Canada. He financed his globe-trotting expeditions by selling artifacts collected in the Amazon, Africa and Borneo to museums, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He filled his house with exotic animals, including a 20-foot, 400-pound python called Peter.

As a one-man National Geographic magazine, Elder has self-published several books on his travels and made documentaries. His house served as location for David Cronenberg’s The Naked Lunch. He once told a journalist. “What bothers me most about going to zoos is that I’ve tasted most of the animals in there.”

In 1979, an article in The Toronto Star weekend magazine described Elder as a “slightly balding, surprisingly genial guy, who looks a bit like Jack Nicholson … and speaks a bit mezzo forte for a 20th-century Victorian.”

The former Olympic equestrian rider has had a long association with running rooming houses for youth that dates back to the 60s. When he was a social worker in Yorkville’s hippie days, Elder boasted of having 6,000 kids crash at his place in 1969.

In the 70s, he had political aspirations, running for city council and for the provincial NDP. He was friends with late New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield, who was also dogged by rumours about his relationships with young men.

Update: “In 1998, Elder pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting 10 young men between 1970 and 1980. On March 12, 1998, Judge Faith Finnestad sentenced Elder to two years less a day in jail.” 

“Elder died on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 in Toronto of an apparent suicide by hanging.” (Source: Wikipedia).

Other stories from the Annex Gleaner

Artists Fear Indifference from Megacity 

Will the Megacity Mean Mega-Privatization? 

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In Their Own Words: Selected Writings By Journalists On Mongolia, 1997-1999 | 6 January 2010

Launched in 1999 towards the end of my two-year assignment in Mongolia, this book is a unique resource for a developing country: a one-stop compilation of journalism chronicling the ups and downs of life in a country where the political and economic system has been turned on its head. You can download an edited selection of the book from Google Books here: In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999

Now also available at the University of Toronto: https://search.library.utoronto.ca/details?3403065

The UNDP Mongolia Communications Office aided many journalists to cover Mongolia from 1997-1999. Two examples are below:

“Herding instinct” by Jill Lawless, The Guardian, 9 June 1999.
“A Mongolian Shopping Spree Fizzles” by Thomas Crampton, The New York Times, June 25, 1998.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2020

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CASE STUDY 3: Id Magazine | 1996 – 1997

Expertise: Editing, investigative journalism, art direction, managing teams, strategy, content development.

Location: Guelph, Ontario, Canada 1996 to 1997

Features Editor: David South  

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 3: Id Magazine | 1996 – 1997 Images

Abstract

In 1996 I was hired as Features Editor for Id Magazine, a bi-weekly alternative magazine in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. 

About 

In 1996 Id Magazine, an Ontario, Canada alternative biweekly, was expanding and needed to improve the quality of its journalism, while also making the difficult shift to being a more consistently professional offering. I was hired as Features Editor and set about swiftly assembling a team of investigative journalists. My strategy involved targeting stories overlooked by Canadian newspapers and TV news. In the 1990s, it was often the case the best journalism and the best investigative journalism in Canada could be found in the country’s alternative media. This led to a number of firsts, including an extensive investigation into Canada’s flourishing sex industry, the government’s addiction to casinos to boost revenues, unearthing a plot by neo-nazis to infiltrate Ontario high schools with hate rock, university students’ catastrophic debt culture, reporting from the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Canada’s UN mission, and probing the government’s public services privatisation plans (including being invited to debate this topic on CBC TV’s programme, Face Off). 

There clearly was a gap in the news marketplace Id could better fill with solid investigative journalism and features writing aimed at a younger demographic. 

How large a market gap can be confirmed by various analyses on the state of the Canadian media at the time and since. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was in a mess in the 1990s resulting from declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reducing the breadth and depth of news coverage.  

My challenge: Could I bring together a talented, young team and improve the quality and consistency of journalism for a start-up magazine seeking to grow? The proof came in the form of improved audited pick-up of the magazine by readers, the magazine’s confident push to expand on the Internet, and the fact many from that original team have gone on to not only have successful careers in the media and film, but also to be influential in their own right – proof the original belief in their talent was correct.  

Pressure on journalists to toe the line and not upset advertisers was also increasing in the context of ongoing high unemployment, a stagnant economy in a recession, and government austerity. Canadian media as whole also has a “great dependence on advertising, which accounts for more than 70% of daily newspaper revenues, about 64% of magazine revenues,” which means there is enormous pressure to only publish stories that do not upset advertisers. And monopolies exert great control over news content in Canada: “In the United States, ten companies control 43.7% of total daily newspaper circulation. By contrast, in Canada since 1996, one single company controls a comparable share of the media pie.” 

Quoting Jeffrey Simpson in the book, newspapers are “shrinking in size, personnel, ambition and, as a consequence, in their curiosity,” …. “I believe the result has been a diminution in quality.” (p64) 

Fast forward to “Today, we have a crisis in the journalism industry unprecedented in scope. A media implosion. Newspapers being reduced to digital editions, large numbers losing their jobs, circulation falling, ad revenues plunging, near monopoly ownership of big-city dailies, the old business model in a state of collapse.” (Canada’s media: A crisis that cries out for a public inquiry by Lawrence Martin, The Globe and Mail, Feb. 02, 2016). 

Brief descriptions of sample issues are below: 

Can Harris be Stopped? Cover 

My first Id Magazine cover. It was thrown together in a few days after being hired. While a work of resourcefulness under pressure, it did capture the spirit of the times as multiple demonstrations and strikes tried to bring down the much-hated Conservative government in Ontario. 

“Can the UN Help Remake a Country?” Cover 

This cover photo by Phillip Smith was taken in the market area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I had never seen such squalor and desperation in my life. It got worse as we visited the city’s morgue, packed to the rafters with the dead and mutilated bodies of children and adults. It was a tough assignment and one that was captured with professionalism by Phillip’s camera.  

Christmas Issue Cover 

Back in 1996, the Thatcher thirst for privatisation came to Ontario with a vengeance. In this issue, we asked if it showed a lack of imagination to just sell publicly paid for assets to wealthy investors. We offered other ownership models and I debated this topic on CBC TV’s Face Off.  

“Pulling the Plug on Hate Rock” Cover 

This excellent cover by Gareth Lind was, as far as I know, the first use of pop art on a biweekly magazine cover in Ontario at that time (I certainly hadn’t seen anyone else do it). It sold the excellent investigation into skinhead rock bands infiltrating Ontario high schools very well. It was timed for release during the North-by-Northeast music festival in Toronto, and had zero returns (as in all issues were picked up). 

Sarah Polley Cover 

A regular contributor to Id, Canadian actor and director Sarah Polley challenged the stale Canadian left with her spiky views. In this issue we tackled the decline in the quality of TV programmes and asked if it was a moral vacuum being hoovered up by consumerism.  

Student Issue Cover 

This cover is by great Canadian political cartoonist and illustrator Jack Lefcourt. Always funny, Jack captures well the corporate take-over of the country’s universities and the introduction of the catastrophic debt culture that leaves so many students in a financial pickle. It was also Id’s first student issue.  

“The Great Education Swindle: Are Reforms Destroying Your Future?”

“Today’s Sex Toys are Credit Cards and Cash” Cover 

As Ontario’s economy experienced year-after-year of high unemployment and stagnant salaries, its sex economy flourished. In another first, the Id team tackled all aspects of the growth of the sex economy and changing attitudes to sexual behaviour. Beating the big papers to this story, they wrote with honesty and verve and made a refreshing break from the limp journalism of most Canadian newspapers. 

Timeline

1996: Hired as Features Editor and assembled editorial and creative team.

1997: Id Magazine begins to simultaneously publish its content online, a pioneering move at the time. 

Impact 

Micro 

  • reducing returns and boosting audited pick-ups of the free magazine – a key metric for a publication reliant on local advertising
  • assembled talented investigative team and graphic design and photo team
  • introduced pop art front covers
  • increased news coverage, especially impact of austerity in Canada
  • increased foreign coverage, including on Canada’s United Nations mission in Haiti
  • introduced high-profile contributors, including actor and director Sarah Polley
  • debated stories on other media, including CBC TV’s Face Off 

Macro

  • most of the team have gone on to very successful careers in the media
  • magazine still receives good comments on Facebook many years after its closure
  • one of the first Canadian magazines to embrace the Internet and publish simultaneously online

A sample of published stories is below:  

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far 

Will Niagara Falls Become the Northern Vegas? 

Land of the Free, Home of the Bored 

Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On the Ideas of this Guelph Grad, But Does the Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know the Way Forward? 

Porn Again: More Ways to Get Off, But Should We Regulate the Sex Industry? 

Redneck Renaissance: A Coterie of Journalists Turn Cracker Culture into a Leisure Lifestyle

Swing Shift: Sexual Liberation is Back in Style 

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-market Economics and the UN to Save Itself 

TV’s Moral Guide in Question – Again 

Citations 

Schizophrenia: A Patient’s Perspective by Abu Sayed Zahiduzzaman, Publisher: Author House, 2013 

Other Resources 

Freedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia 

Ger Magazine Issue 1 

Ger Magazine Issue 2 

In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) 

The back issues of id magazine reside at the Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada [has v.5(1995)-v.8(1999)] collection.

OCLC Number/Unique Identifier: 1082496695

ISSN: 1208-4476

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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UNDP Mongolia Handbooks And Books | 1997 – 1999

Publisher: UNDP Mongolia Communications Office

UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator: David South

Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson.
Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson.
Mongolian Green Book by Robert Ferguson et al.
Mongolian Green Book by Robert Ferguson et al.
Mongolian Rock and Pop Book: Mongolia Sings its Own Song by Peter Marsh.
Mongolian Rock and Pop Book: Mongolia Sings its Own Song by Peter Marsh.
Pop music helps fuel Mongolia’s market economy by Oyuntungalag.
As cited in the book Collaborative Nationalism: The Politics of Friendship on China’s Mongolian Frontier by Uradyn E. Bulag (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010).
Mongolia Update 1998 by David South and G. Enkhtungalug.

Other

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless (ECW Press, 2000) is one of many books featuring content and resources resulting from the two-year publishing programme of the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office (1997-1999). 

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless.
Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless.
A review of Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia in the journal Mongolian Studies (2002) by Alicia J. Campi.
“Yet Ulaanbaatar is often ignored or downplayed in Western accounts (see, for example, Croner (1999) and Severin (1991); but see Lawless (2000) for a partial exception). Most Westerners who visit Mongolia seem anxious to get out to the countryside, to see the “real” Mongolia of nomads …” from Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia by Christopher Kaplonski (2004).
In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 by David South and Julie Schneiderman.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017