Markham Councillor Howard Shore remembers being a child, perhaps just shy of 13, hiding among rows of tuxedos in a retail storeroom after his estranged father spurned his hopeful phone call.
He can picture the classroom where he sat in misery as other children pelted him with crumpled paper; the schoolyard where he was forced to be “it” in tag because he was fat and easy to outrun; the laneway behind his house where a group of older boys engaged him in perverse “games” with unspeakable penalties.
“I remember hiding my face in my arm or something so that people or kids wouldn’t see that I was crying,” Mr. Shore said. “Sometimes you think you’re doing a good job of hiding something and you’re not.”
For years, Mr. Shore — all the while gaining prominence as a successful businessman in the health-care industry, a motivational speaker, an avid marathon runner and a town councillor for Thornhill — has hidden all this, and much more.
But his carefully constructed façade began to crack last month with a bizarre allegation that the rookie councillor, who lives with his wife of 19 years on a pleasant Thornhill cul-de-sac, stole an iPhone from a local fitness centre.
A follow-up investigation by the Toronto Star found a pattern of strikingly similar charges dating back a decade. Among them: allegations Mr. Shore stole a laptop from a York Region school board lounge, criminally harassed a former girlfriend and made off with an iPod and debit card from a Running Room location. The laptop charge was ultimately dropped for lack of evidence and the other two withdrawn, in one case because Mr. Shore agreed to perform community service.
A more serious incident, in which prosecutors alleged Mr. Shore stole a judge’s cellphone at a Florida gym and used it to lure a woman to a local hotel via text messages, led to his 2008 conviction in a U.S. court for theft and stalking.
As these details crashed unceremoniously into the public realm one week ago, Mr. Shore immediately moved to shift the conversation, suggesting his ongoing struggle with depression was to blame. It is not a new tactic: In 2004, former Burnaby-Douglas MP Svend Robinson infamously cited his diagnosis of bipolar disorder after being caught stealing a diamond ring from an auction house.
But studies have shown that while depression does not cause people to commit offences per se, it can make pre-existing criminal urges more likely to manifest.
“Understanding these issues can be important for an offender to make the changes in their life that is necessary to stop offending,” said Sandy Simpson, clinical director of the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s law and mental health program.
For Mr. Shore, 46, who has served as town councillor for just over a year while continuing to undergo counselling for his depression, the roots run deep.
“I was never really a happy kid,” he told the National Post in an unusual three-hour interview this week. “Can I tell you when depression clicked in, when it went from being sad to something clinical? It’s not like a tree hitting you on the head or burning yourself on the stove.”
Howard Shore grew up in a north Toronto neighbourhood, where he spent much of his time alone.
His retelling of his childhood is not pleasant. It is the story of a boy so anxious about what he would face at school that he cried and vomited in the mornings; a boy so desperate for playmates that he withstood “utter torment” from a small group of neighbourhood children, whose names still leap readily to mind, like aftershocks.
At home, Mr. Shore was primarily cared for by his grandmother. His father disappeared when he was an infant and his absentee mother, who pioneered an on-call medical house-call service, treated work as her “second child,” Mr. Shore said.
Helen Klingman Cait, a former principal of the general studies department at the Associated Hebrew School where Mr. Shore studied, described him as a lonely boy who spent free hours in her office, finding comfort not among his peers, but in the rare company of an attentive adult.
“The grandmother was of a different generation, so it was a different way of raising a child,” Ms. Klingman Cait explained. “She took very good care of him in many ways, but he was a lonely child… He was a very sad, very special, very needy child. Very needy. Sweet beyond belief.”
In the schoolyard, Mr. Shore says other kids forced him to be “it” in tag because they knew he was slow; one boy routinely agreed to be “caught” in exchange for a dollar.
In the classroom, Mr. Shore recalled being isolated and taunted by his peers. As he struggled to read aloud from Hebrew texts, other children heckled and threw balled-up papers at him.
“I can picture the classroom. I can picture some of the things that were happening by other kids during the middle of a class and the teacher — there’s no way on this Earth [the teacher] would have been oblivious to what was happening, and did nothing,” Mr. Shore veritably spits out this last word. Gone is the careful, measured politician’s cadence: “I hated, I was afraid of my school.”
The story Mr. Shore least wants to tell is what happened, repeatedly, in the laneway behind his house when he was about eight years old. Like old photographs that refuse to fade, the faces of the older neighbourhood boys who abused him have been seared into his memory.
“As mean and cruel as they were, it was kids to hang out with. Our backyard went right into this laneway. There were so-called games that got played, that if you got found in Hide and Go Seek, let’s say, you had to do x, y and z,” Mr. Shore recalled. “I always lost because I was not quick enough, I was fat and lumbering around. Tag or whatever the game was, I lost.”
Mr. Shore is still not prepared to talk openly about the penalties that befell him each time, but he alludes to sexual abuse, describing the neighbourhood boys as “physically vicious, more vicious than merely fighting or pushing somebody around… If it was an adult, they would be the worst of the worst.”
Around the time of his bar mitzvah, marking his transition to teenagehood, Mr. Shore recalled reaching out to the father he had never met. He made the phone call from a tuxedo storeroom at his cousin’s business; his father was not receptive.
“I felt so bad afterward that I went and hid in a row of tuxedos,” Mr. Shore said. “I didn’t understand at that age that it meant he was really the scummy one.”
Mr. Shore eventually did connect with his father – who, it turned out, had been living minutes away with two adopted children. Shortly before Mr. Shore’s wedding, the pair reunited at a deli on Steeles Avenue, but their conversation failed to transcend the realm of small talk.
“There wasn’t a single answer that he could have given to any question I could have posed that would in any way have allowed me to say that I understand his lack of involvement in my life,” Mr. Shore explained.
Beyond perfunctory greetings on the occasional holiday, father and son have not since kept in touch.
As he progressed through adulthood, Mr. Shore collected a string of successes, spearheading his own health-care consulting firm, serving as a York Region school board trustee for several years in the late 1990s and entering the motivational-speaking circuit after narrowly escaping paralysis when a chunk of tree fell and broke his neck. His unlikely comeback as a marathon runner spurred him to raise funds for Sunnybrook’s neurosurgery unit.
The freshly unearthed string of criminal charges stands in jarring contrast, and not a single one of Markham’s 12 councillors leapt to Mr. Shore’s defence when contacted by the Post. None, in fact, offered any comment, other than to cite a prepared statement from Mayor Frank Scarpitti, which aimed to distance the town from Mr. Shore’s ongoing controversy.
“These incidents had absolutely nothing to do with the Town of Markham,” Mr. Scarpitti noted. “The circumstances of these actions are between Councillor Shore and the individuals involved.”
Even Mr. Shore himself — who, when initially charged with the iPhone theft in November, screamed his innocence via the pages of local newspapers — will no longer discuss the matter, citing legal advice. All he will say is he has no intention of resigning, is continuing to attend therapy and will return to court next month.
“In a perfect world I wish that a lot had come out much, much sooner, mostly for my wife and family’s sake and the people that are around me,” Mr. Shore said. “I think that I would have been a better person if I had been able to deal with certain things a lot earlier, a lot sooner.”