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The real-life stories behind our most-read stories of 2015

Last Updated Dec 30, 2015 at 11:45 am EDT

Simba, the dog an Air Canada pilot saved

A pooch saved by a pilot tops this year’s list of most-read stories on CityNews.ca.

So many stories struck a nerve with viewers and readers that we’ve pulled the top stories out of our archive.

The top three most-read stories are listed below, followed by nine more that had you clicking and debating various issues.

1) Air Canada pilot diverts international flight to save dog

By Shauna Hunt:

We got wind of this on a Sunday evening. Adrian Ghobrial was producing that night and made the decision to send a camera to the airport, knowing this story was going to generate a lot of chatter.

It was a long shot but our camera guy found Simba (the dog) and his owner just as they were leaving the airport.

The next day in our morning meeting it was the first idea up on the board. Half the room thought it was ridiculous for a pilot to divert an international flight for a dog that may or not be in distress. The other half, myself included, was very passionate about the pilot’s decision. And so the debate began.

Simba’s sweet little face was the selling point. The little black-and-white Frenchie reminded me of my little black-and-white Boston (named Anderson Cooper Hunt), so I naturally raised my hand. “I’ll take this one!”

What we learned was that Simba wasn’t in imminent danger but a heater in the cargo bay had malfunctioned and the pilot wasn’t confident that the temperatures wouldn’t plummet.

“Simba’s sweet little face was the selling point.”

That day, I found out it cost at least $10,000 in fuel and extra landing fees to divert the plane and added about 75 minutes on to the trip. I also discovered that most people were understanding, especially when they found out it was all to ensure little Simba’s safety.

For me this story was a nice reprieve. As reporters we spend a lot of our days in the the field covering tragedies. A feel-good story once in a while brings balance.

I’m not surprised this story generated this much attention. A cute dog and a happy ending will always win hearts.

2) The Pedophile Next Door: How many are in your community?

By Cristina Howorun:

“The pedophile next door” was one of the more difficult stories I’ve told. There were the regular journalistic hurdles – collecting data, getting access to challenging locations (like a federal prison and a provincial jail), finding suitable interviews – but the subject matter itself made the process all the more arduous.

“I had to sit across the table from some of the most vilified and hated people in society.”

In order to tell this story I knew I had to not only speak with law enforcement individuals, psychologists, counsellors and victims of pedophiles – but I had to speak with convicted pedophiles and sex offenders too. The only way I could expose society’s flimsy protections from convicted sex offenders, and the potential for redemption and reformation, was to include the voices of the people who commit these heinous crimes.

I had to sit across the table from some of the most vilified and hated people in society and actually hear them tell their stories – listen to them recount how they initially escaped detection, how they were repeatedly convicted and released, and how they now control their urges and actions by policing themselves. I heard stories I never thought I would – men admitting they are pedophiles, point-blank, straight to my face – and their own admissions that they can’t guarantee they won’t reoffend.

I left those conversations with a belief that we can’t just lock them up, forget about them, and hope for the best when they’re released.

Once in a while we get the chance to cover stories that expose systemic problems, shed light on solutions and potentially change some of our audience’s view on things. This story changed my view on how the justice system could better handle sex offenders.

Also: Check the database: How many registered sex offenders live in your area?

3) EXCLUSIVE: Muslim boys high school soccer team refuses to play against team with 2 girls

By Amanda Ferguson:
This story was made memorable because of the young impressive woman at the centre of it all. How can you watch Carla Briscoe at home on the soccer field and not root for her? Yet while you see the simple story of a young woman just wanting to play the sport she loves, there’s also the complex story of another team’s religious beliefs. Both sides seemed to want to respect each other and co-exist, but they were ultimately at odds with each other and a teen girl had to sit out of a soccer game as a result.

“I’ll always remember Carla’s love of the game though and how she just wanted to play.”

In a story where there are so many shades of grey, it’s no wonder it was one of the most-watched stories of the year. I’ll always remember Carla’s love of the game though and how she just wanted to play. A very exceptional, mature young woman.

Also in top spot:

Muslim woman traumatized after being called terrorist during vicious attack

By Avery Haines:
She was at the centre of one of the most terrible allegations – a Muslim woman in a hijab verbally and physically attacked trying to take her child to school. I had done a number of stories on the Muslim community and a few people reached out and gave me leads on who this woman was. The day after the attack I tracked down a phone number for her. She said she was too traumatized to be interviewed but agreed to invite me into her home without a cameraman.

As she lay on her couch with her young children and husband tending to her, she described what happened to her and how it made her feel. The story posed challenges in how to bring it to viewers because I only had my notes. My editor John Cao figured out a visually impactful method: to share her powerful words. This story still intrigues me because police have never once held a news conference, put out a press release or provided updates on where their investigation stands.

Toronto couple says view from million dollar dream home spoiled by Toronto Hydro pole

By Amanda Ferguson:
Yeeeesssh. Wasn’t expecting the backlash on this one. At the heart of it, I feel for the couple. A house like that is the cornerstone of a person’s life. With so much invested, who wouldn’t be upset if a hydro pole was planted in the middle of the yard, no matter how much the home cost? I think the online backlash towards the couple was an example of online bullying and high school mockery. Making fun of someone’s hardship, no matter how insignificant some perceive it as, makes my stomach turn. I give props to anyone who is bold enough to share their story with the public. It opens them up for wider criticism, and unfortunately that’s what happened here.

Chris Hyndman of CBC’s ‘Steven and Chris’ has died

By Anna Vlachos:
This was a challenging story to do from an emotional perspective because I interviewed one of our former colleagues, Taylor Kaye. She was such good friends with Chris and I could see it was overwhelming for her to talk about her friend who died under such bizarre circumstances.

We hugged after the interview and I thanked her for doing something that I knew was difficult for her.

“These types of stories will stay with me for weeks.”

The videos of Chris she shared with us were priceless. They really captured the fun, loveable and quirky person that he was.

In the end I felt like I really knew Chris, that I too lost a good friend and that the world was losing someone special.

On top of this, my sister and I were fans of the Steve and Chris show. I remember breaking the news to my sister and she was in shock. She had always wanted to be an audience member for one of their shows but never got the chance.

I did hate doing the story – because I hate interviewing anyone who loses a loved one. I get too emotionally involved. And these types of stories will stay with me for weeks.

But in the end, I was proud of the piece I put together because I felt it served as a great tribute to such a dynamic, vivacious person. I hope his family and friends feel I captured the essence of who Chris was.

Toronto woman assaulted after her scarf is mistaken for hijab

By Avery Haines:
This story struck a nerve because it appeared to send a message that no one was safe from anti-Muslim sentiments. Even non-Muslims.

The woman who made the claim says she went to police right after the incident. When I called to verify her claims and get details of her police report, I was told by police that it must not have yet made its way into the system. I later found out she didn’t file a report until after she shared her story with the media. She also told me in the police interview that she was asked to draw up a sketch of her attacker. She later admitted that was not true.

EXCLUSIVE: Mississauga man poses as child online to expose suspected predators

By Avery Haines:
This story came from a viewer who reached out because she thinks the pedophile hunter is a hero. It was one of the strangest interviews ever. We had to hide in a parking lot waiting for his “target” to pull up. My cameraman Dave Misener and I were hunched down hiding behind cars when the target saw us and the vigilante-hunter. Misener ran down the street to capture the entire chase until the man pulled into a parking lot and stopped the car.

To see someone caught red-handed, planning to do something really vile, and then watch them try to explain, bribe, and get angry … it was intense.

“My cameraman Dave Misener and I were hunched down hiding behind cars.”

Justin was such an articulate man to interview. And quite fascinating – a man who started tracking creeps on the internet as a bit of a joke, now on a mission to stop them from luring young girls and boys.

Honourable mentions:

Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum will teach Grade 4 students risks of sexting


Woman sought in attempted murder at Shoppers Drug Mart


CityNews’ Shauna Hunt confronts men about ‘FHRITP’ vulgarities

WARNING: contains vulgar language


And our renewed condolences to Erin Davis, our colleague at our affiliate station CHFI, on the passing of her daughter this past spring. A lot of people read the story of Lauren’s passing: Broadcaster Erin Davis’ daughter passes away at 24.

Now let’s see what 2016 brings.