Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Luka Magnotta’s murder trial won’t be televised, Quebec judge rules

    Luka Magnotta is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jun Lin.

    It comes as no surprise, really, that accused murderer Luka Magnotta's trial won't be televised.

    The last case the justice system wants to road test the idea of live televised trials would be that of Magnotta, a one-time stripper and porn actor accused of killing a university student, cutting him up and mailing parts of his body across Canada.

    "The danger [is that media] will get into sensationalism," said Robert Pidgeon, associate chief judge of the Quebec Superior Court, according to QMI Agency. "It scares me. Having to testify in court is already intimidating for witnesses and victims."

    Magnotta, 31, is scheduled to be tried in September for first-degree murder and other counts related to the death and dismemberment of Jun Lin, a Chinese student studying in Montreal, in May 2012.

    The case is already highly charged, given the nature of the crime. Video alleged to be of the murder itself showed up on the Internet.

    [ Related: Judge allows search for evidence in Magnotta case in Europe

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  • Security costs for Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games now more than double first estimate

    Ontario Pan Am/Parapan Minister Michael Chan poses Olympian Kristina Groves. (CP/Galit Rodan)You don't have to be a die-hard cynic to smirk at the latest cost estimate for providing security at next year's Pan Am Games in Toronto.

    There's always been a bait-and-switch quality to budget estimates for big sports extravaganzas like the Olympics, Pan-Am Games or World Cup Soccer.

    Why we put up with it is another matter.

    Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections Services issued an updated estimate Monday for keeping everyone safe at the 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games.

    It's now $239 million, up from the previous estimate $206 million and more than double the initial budgeted cost of $113 million, the Toronto Sun reports.

    The ministry said in a news release the contract for private security services is almost in place, which is what generated the revised estimate.

    "However, Games security planning is ongoing and must respond to the evolving scope and scale of the Games as well as to any specific threats that may be identified in the future," the ministry said.

    That's code

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  • Cruise ship hired to help ease boom-town Kitimat’s housing crunch for flood of workers

    Resource boom towns are notoriously costly places to hang your hat, especially when it comes to housing.

    Kitimat, B.C., is just such a town. Workers are flooding in to help with Rio Tinto's massive aluminium smelter upgrade, while others are expected to work on planned liquified natural-gas facilities and the export terminal for the contentious Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline.

    Rental vacancy rates have plummeted while rents have soared, according to District of Kitimat statistics. Anti-poverty activists are complaining landlords are conducting "renovictions" on their properties so they can jack up rents for the well-paid newcomers, CBC News reported last week.

    But Rio Tinto Alcan has found a novel way to skirt the problem for hundreds coming in to work on its $2.7-billion smelter project. The international mineral giant is bringing in a cruise ship that can house up to 600 workers.

    [ Related: Where real estate prices are skyrocketing ]

    The Silja Festival, a cruise ferry that

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  • Ezra Levant back in court to defend against latest defamation suit

    Ezra Levant at the University of Ottawa on March 23, 2010.

    Ezra Levant has never been afraid to throw down against his adversaries, even when it lands him in court.

    The prickly right-wing commentator is back there this week facing a libel allegation from Khurrum Awan, a lawyer and Muslim activist.

    Awan claims Levant defamed him on his blog following his appearance before a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over a hate-speech complaint against Maclean's magazine for a notorious Mark Steyn 2006 article entitled "The Future Belongs to Islam."

    Steyn argued western civilization was in danger of being swamped by a rising Islamic tide. Awan, then an articling law student and member of the Canadian Islamic Congress, joined in filing human rights complaints in Ontario, B.C. and federally after claiming Maclean's refused to give space to an opposing point of view.

    None of the complaints succeeded but Awan's appearance to testify made him a target for Levant, who has long fought the role of human rights commissions in hearing hate-speech complaints.

    Awan's

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  • Police dog Quanto’s killer jailed but Ottawa still hasn’t tabled ‘Quanto’s Law’

    Police dog Quanto. The Canadian Press photo
    The man who stabbed Quanto to death last fall is going to prison but the promised federal law, named after the Edmonton police dog he killed and aimed at protecting law-enforcement animals, has yet to break cover.

    The question is, why the delay?

    Paul Joseph Vukmanich was handed a 26-month prison term on Friday. He had pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and other offences related to his flight from police and deadly encounter with Quanto.

    Vukmanich, 27, was high on methamphetamine and cocaine and driving a car with stolen licence plates last October when police caught up with him, The Canadian Press reported.

    He bailed out of the car after destroying the tires in the chase. Quanto, a five-year-old German shepherd, was sent to chase him down, the court heard. When the dog clamped onto his arm, Vukmanich stabbed Quanto several times in the chest. The dog bled to death despite emergency treatment from a veterinarian.

    Judge Larry Anderson accepted the joint sentencing recommendation of Crown

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  • The federal prison system has long faced criticism over its handling of mentally ill prisoners, with the most notable example the horrific death of teenager Ashley Smith.

    Now documents obtained bythe John Howard Society under access-to-information legislation and furnished to CBC News reveal prisoners with serious mental illnesses were being kept in "grossly inadequate" conditions, including long stints in solitary confinement.

    A report by the correctional investigator of Canada raised concerns about the isolation, lack of programs and "gross neglect" of the maintenance and hygiene of mentally ill prisoners at Millhaven Institution in Ontario, CBC News reported.

    Society executive director Catherine Latimer said the segregation unit of the prison was "totally unsuitable," lacking in program space and providing a stark, isolated environment.

    "It's underground, it’s small cells intended for punishment, and another coat of paint has not really converted it into a treatment centre where

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  • Shooting community angered after rifle suddenly appears on prohibited list

    Some members of Canadian shooting community are up in arms over the prospect that a gun they've been legally allowed to own for a decade now will be added to the list of prohibited weapons.

    The situation has prompted questions on how the government determines which guns are OK to own and which aren't.

    The Swiss-made PE-90 semi-automatic rifle, also known as the Classic Green, is a civilian target version of the standard 5.56-millimetre assault rifle used by the Swiss Army.

    The expensive firearm (estimated value $3,000-$5000) has been imported into Canada since the early 2000s, but the RCMP's National Firearms Centre now has recommended it be placed on the prohibited list. That means owners must turn over their guns for destruction unless they have a rare prohibited-firearms licence.

    The issue has been simmering for months within the shooting community but it broke cover last month when Postmedia News reported the RCMP had zeroed in on the PE-90.

    Ironically, the decision to put the

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  • First Murphy, now Mansbridge: CBC personalities under fire for oil industry connections

    Talks before groups such as CAPP leave Mansbridge open to questions about impartiality. (CBC) When I was still a scribbler at The Canadian Press, a wise senior supervisor gave me a very good piece of advice when it came to outside work: Don't do anything you don't want to see on the front page of the Globe and Mail.

    I'd been offered a chance to write some material for a business group, nothing provocative or related to the things I covered as a reporter. My name would not appear on what would essentially be limited-circulation brochures or pamphlets.

    But my boss's injunction forced me to gut-check the offer. Even if it had only a peripheral connection with my work as a journalist, it would still present at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. I couldn't accept that.

    Which brings me to Peter Manbridge. Critics are pillorying the chief correspondent and anchor of CBC News' The National over his paid speaking engagements before energy-industry audiences.

    The flap blew up following a tweet by environmentalist Sierra Rayne a few days ago.

    Read More »from First Murphy, now Mansbridge: CBC personalities under fire for oil industry connections
  • Disabled mom’s plea to find home for young daughters spurs emotional responses

    A desperate plea by a disabled Edmonton single mother to keep her young daughters out of foster care is getting a strong response on social media.

    Sarah Vibert is trying to find a home for her girls, aged eight and nine. Vibert was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008 and suffered a spinal injury the following year that left her paralyzed. She now lives in a care home.

    "Until entering my care facility, I had always been their primary caregiver; and this despite the fact I was in a wheelchair since 2009, I was able to provide for their needs--both physically and emotionally," Vibert wrote in a blog post soliciting help to find her girls a home.

    Vibert said she was forced to hand over her daughters to their father in 2011 but last June he left the country and the children were put in the care of family friends. However, they can no longer keep them, she said.

    "It was never supposed to be a permanent arrangement," Vibert wrote.

    "I now have less than two weeks to find them a home

    Read More »from Disabled mom’s plea to find home for young daughters spurs emotional responses
  • We Canadians watching the latest culture-war eruption in the United States have little right to be smug.

    While we no longer have egregious legislated discrimination in this country, we're not exactly Simon Pure when it comes to prejudice.

    Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed a bill passed by state legislators that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays, lesbians and same-sex couples – or anyone else, for that matter – on religious grounds.

    After waffling for a few days, Brewer concluded the proposed law addressed a non-existent problem.

    "I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated," the governor said, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

    The bill, she added, was a broadly worded proposal that "could result in unintended and negative consequences."

    By that she may have meant the economic hammer blow that was about to fall on Arizona. There was widespread opposition in the business community. Large

    Read More »from Canadians shouldn’t scoff at Arizona’s struggles over ‘right to refuse service’ legislation

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