Two steps back

From Julian Assange to RIM–this year’s reversals of fortune

by Alex Ballingall

Two steps back

Dave Chidley/CP

Don Cherry

As the hockey world adjusts to stricter hitting rules and increasing concerns over brain injuries, Cherry’s tough-guy rhetoric seems more and more antiquated. The man of a million suits bowed to pressure in October and apologized after he called three former NHL enforcers “pukes” and “turncoats.” Weeks later, he declined an honorary degree from the Royal Military College after a professor took issue with Cherry’s alleged intolerance of French-Canadians, immigrants and homosexuals.

Conrad Black

In September the former business mogul was returned to the prison population he once described as “an ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead.” U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve had re-sentenced Black to 13 more months behind bars in Florida for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

Julian Assange

Less than 12 months after being named Time’s Person of the Year, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was on the cusp of being extradited from Britain to face an investigation for sexual assualt in Sweden. Meanwhile, online-payment mediators in the U.S. refuse to transfer donations to WikiLeaks. The website claims this “financial blockade” has reduced its revenue stream by 95 per cent. In October, WikiLeaks suspended publication of secret files and diplomatic cables.

RIM

After months of declining profits, Research in Motion’s dynamic duo, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, officially fell from the global club of billionaires. Then, in October, millions of BlackBerry users were incensed by worldwide service outages that lasted several days. To top it all off, Google stopped offering its Gmail app on RIM smartphones, and reports emerged that 1.8 million U.S. subscribers were lost over the summer.

Rob Ford

From breaking the long-standing tradition of attending Toronto’s Pride parade to calling 911 when confronted by a CBC comedic interviewer, the city’s mayor cemented his position as a lightning rod of controversy this year. A September poll showed that support for Ford, who allegedly flipped off a constituent when she called him out for talking on his cellphone while driving, had dropped to just 27 per cent.

Venus Williams

The tennis legend rocked the sports world in August, dropping out of the U.S. Open just minutes before she was set to take the court. Williams, a favourite to win the women’s crown at Flushing Meadows this year, announced she’d been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, a little-known disorder that causes fatigue and joint pain. “Some mornings I feel really sick,” said the seven-time Grand Slam singles winner. “The more I tried to push through it, the tougher it got.” Just ahead of the tournament in New York, she could barely lift her serving arm. Bouncing back at 31 in tennis is a tall order, and fans of the game worry the diagnosis spells the end for one of the finest women to have ever picked up a racquet.

Michael Ignatieff

The Conservative party tried desperately to make the one-time Harvard professor out as an ex-Canadian who returned home in a vain bid for power. But the reputation that will likely stick is the man who put the nail in the Liberal party coffin. As party leader, he forced an election in which the Grits were reduced to third-party status for the first time in Canadian history. He didn’t even win his own seat.

George Papandreou

A man who rose to power on the heels of his father’s popularity, the former Greek prime minister finished the year on the outside. In the dying weeks of his tenure, Papandreou nudged the world economy toward the edge of collapse when he unexpectedly announced a referendum on the EU-IMF bailout package he had previously agreed to. Markets took a nosedive and European leaders were furious. Within days, he was replaced by technocrat Lucas Papademos.

LULZSEC

The slippery hacking group made headlines for high-profile targets, including the CIA, whose website it took down in August. That month, London’s police arrested two teens—allegedly known as T-flow and Topiary.

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