Silvio Berlusconi’s tax troubles, Whistler angst, and Terry Fox’s mom

Newsmakers of the week

Amy S. Foster and David FosterFoster daughter
Back before Michael Bublé sold any of his 22 million CDs, he was breaking into the Los Angeles recording business under the tutelage of Canadian-born producer David Foster. He was eager, earnest and perhaps a bit lost, so Foster asked a favour of his daughter Amy S. Foster. “Can you just sort of hang out with this guy?” The two became friends, and that evolved into a musical partnership. She has written two No. 1 hits with Bublé, Home and Everything. Their latest Vancouver-written collaboration, I Just Haven’t Met You Yet, is number eight and climbing on Billboard’s adult contemporary chart. This year, Foster returned to her Canadian roots, moving north from Nashville, and added “author” to her resumé. Her first novel, When Autumn Leaves, is set in the enchanted hamlet of Avening, which resides in her imagination somewhere on the Pacific Coast between her new home in North Vancouver and her Vancouver Island birthplace. At Avening’s heart is a sisterhood of women; not witches, perhaps, but possessing extraordinary powers. “Magical, yet believable,” says her proud pop. “Every word is measured, no words wasted, no more needed. Just like her songwriting.”

Rupert GrintThese little piggies
They are called micro pigs, not teacup pigs, says their British breeder Jane Croft, and they promise to be the biggest pet craze since, well, pot-bellied pigs. But where pot-bellied pigs live up to their name, these miracles of selective breeding look less like a food source and more like lapdogs. While they indeed fit into a teacup at birth, “no animal stays the same size as it was when it was born,” writes Croft on her website, They reach a height of 12 to 16 inches, but have several advantages over dogs. They’re easily litter-box trained and are non-allergenic, since pigs have hair, not fur. They’re so intelligent Croft only sells them in pairs so they have companionship—pigs, she says, are the fourth most intelligent species after man, monkey and dolphin. This may put them within the intellectual range of some celebrities who accessorize with small dogs—though actor Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter moves, seems happy with the pair he bought. So far they aren’t available in the U.S. Sorry, Ms. Hilton.

Hard time
The attempted hijacking in Montego Bay of a CanJet plane bound for Halifax has earned a Jamaican man a prison sentence of up to 20 years of hard labour. Stephen Fray, 21, was found guilty of robbery, assault and firearms charges on Thursday after holding at gunpoint 167 passengers and crew for six terrifying hours on April 19. Fray let the passengers go free after taking their money and valuables. (See for an account by Halifax couple Mina and Wayne Murray.) The judge dismissed an insanity defence by Fray’s lawyer, George Thomas, but she did recommend Fray receive psychiatric treatment while in prison. Thomas said he would appeal. Passenger Brenda Grenier of Halifax told the Canadian Press the punishment was justly deserved. “He could have put a lot of people’s lives in danger,” she said. “I know I thought for a moment that we were all goners.”

Silvio Berlusconi Billionaire blues
The coalition led by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi translates as the People of Freedom, and until now the 73-year-old has been the freest of the free. He’s accused of tax evasion, corruption and bribery. His wife left him for “frequenting minors.” And last week, Italy was riveted by the television appearance of escort Patrizia D’Addario, who says Berlusconi knew she was a prostitute when she spent the night at his villa. Such allegations would be fatal to most politicians but he still commands 50 to 70 per cent support in public opinion polls. It helps that the billionaire owns many of Italy’s major media outlets and A.C. Milan, one of a soccer-mad nation’s best teams. Last week, though, Italian courts stripped him of immunity from prosecution, meaning several pending cases may now proceed. Berlusconi has vowed to serve the final 3½ years of his term, and the public seems eager for this soap opera to continue.

Women in the diet
Women are shaking up the boys’ club that is Japanese politics. A record 54 women were elected to the 480-seat parliament last month, due to the victory of the leftist Democratic Party of Japan. Their impact is already being felt, and, predictably, they face a rough ride. Keiko Chiba, the new justice minister and an opponent of capital punishment, is set to launch a bruising debate on the death penalty. Community Affairs Minister Mizuho Fukushima’s mandate includes encouraging family-friendly policies to reverse the country’s low birth rate. The toughest hazing is faced by 26 women elected to the diet’s lower house. Opponents have dubbed them the “Princess Corps,” a group of comely, if inexperienced, political assassins who beat out their male establishment rivals. Gossip magazines are digging into their past. They include an ex-bar hostess and a former sex industry reporter who appeared in the erotic horror movie Blind Beast v. Killer Dwarf. Another rookie, Kayoko Isogai, was trailed by a mob of reporters as she shopped for her first ever business suit. “This attention is subconscious jealousy,” she said, “and a sense that we are not supposed to be here.”

Regan LauscherSlider rules
Luge athlete Regan Lauscher is a seven-time Canadian champion and a passionate Albertan. Her fiery post last week on her Whistler Life blog ripped some in the resort community for their disdain for the 2010 Olympics and the athletes training there. “Maybe I reek with the stench of oil or speak in a tongue that sounds a little too progressive conservative,” she wrote, “but I feel like if I’m not in snowboard boots, on a committee to save endangered squirrels or addressing the coffee barista by name, then I’m not welcome.” Reaction was swift and divided. Some, tiring of the vocal anti-Olympic minority in both Whistler and Vancouver, leapt to her defence. Others, like Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed and Bob Barnett, editor of the aptly named Whistler Pique, are mindful of constituents in both camps. “Whistler is behind the athletes,” says Melamed, a one-time Olympic critic. Says Barnett: “There is some bridge mending and explaining to do in the few months that remain before the Games. But we are past the point where Whistlerites can afford to be indifferent to the Olympics.” In that regard, Lauscher advanced the debate.

That Eberhard: such a cut-up!
Financial advisers can cost their clients an arm and a leg, and so it is with Christian Eberhard. The 30-year-old German securities expert spent 14 months living out his fantasy to be a surgeon. He used forged medical credentials from Oxford University in England, and references from fictitious doctors to secure a position at an Erlangen hospital. There, after two years’ training—he’d also worked in a hospital for 10 months during his compulsory military service—he was promoted to an assistant surgical doctor. He took part in more than 180 surgeries, including amputations and spinal, liver and lung operations. A recent retrial has added six months to an earlier three-year sentence. Eberhard is unrepentant. “I am proud of what I accomplished nonetheless,” he said. “Less legs were amputated when I was there because I knew what I was doing.”

Jonathan RoyRockin’ the rink
Jonathan Roy, the 20-year-old son of former Canadiens great Patrick Roy, has traded his goalie stick for a microphone and his bad attitude for contrition. It spared him a criminal record when he pleaded guilty to assault for a brawl last year between his former team, the Quebec Remparts, and the Chicoutimi Sague­neens. Roy ripped the mask off of rival goalie Bobby Nadeau and pounded him mercilessly. Nadeau refused to fight back. “I’m really disappointed in myself,” Roy said in court. “What I did was a total lack of judgment.” Roy, who has left hockey, was granted an absolute discharge by Judge Valmont Beaulieu, but not before a tongue-lashing. Nadeau’s refusal to fight made him the “most intelligent on the ice,” said the judge. The discharge allows Roy to travel abroad to pursue his new career as a rock singer.

Michelle VargasTrust me, I’m a star
Perla Beltrán’s life in New York is a catalogue of heartache. Her thieving husband was murdered, and she’s consorting with lowlifes. Who does she count on when things get rough? Why, the U.S. Census Bureau, of course. The bureau has written itself into the script of the popular Spanish-language soap Más Sabe el Diablo (The Devil Knows Best). Beltrán, played by actress Michelle Vargas, will try to sort out her life by becoming a census worker. The implausible plot is a joint effort of the bureau and the soap’s producers to boost Hispanic participation in next year’s count. Many Hispanics avoid the census for fear it fingers them as being illegally in the country. Relax, Beltrán will tell them, the form doesn’t ask your citizenship.

Betty FoxFanning Fox’s flame
Betty Fox has arthritis but that wouldn’t stop her from lighting the Olympic cauldron next February if she gets the call from organizers of the Vancouver Games. Her son, the late Terry Fox, ran more than halfway across Canada with an artificial leg to raise millions for cancer research before the return of the disease that cost him his leg. It took his life in 1981. Betty—who with her family has helped guide the foundation that’s raised hundreds of millions more—wouldn’t let a bum hip stop her from honouring her son. Speculation over the final torchbearer is heating up due to a Facebook group promoting Betty for the honour. It had 89,000 members by Tuesday. “Terry Fox was 22 years old, was raised in Vancouver and did more for Canadians and this planet then we will ever know,” said Mike Sveinson, who administers the group.