Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Issues with Magnotta trial highlight history of Canadian jury troubles

    Lawyers are having issues selecting a jury for Luka Magnotta's murder trial. Lawyers are having issues selecting a jury for Luka Magnotta's murder trial.
    Picking a jury for one of the most sensational murder trials in recent Canadian history is proving to be a little complicated.

    It seems a lot of Montrealers are not keen to sit in judgment of Luka Rocco Magnotta, the 32-year-old former male model, stripper and porn actor accused of killing and dismembering Chinese engineering student Jun Lin in 2012.

    Dozens of potential jurors from a pool of 1,600 have, so far, begged off for a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of fluency in English – the main language of this trial – to anxiety over the evidence or simple antipathy towards Magnotta.

    Jury selection will probably take a while as the Crown and defence lawyers also exercise their challenges. There’s little doubt they’ll eventually find their panel of 12 impartial jurors and two alternates, but this case is an extreme example of the pressures facing Canada’s jury system.

    [ Related: Luka Magnotta jury selection underway in Montreal court ]

    Magnotta, originally from suburban Toronto, is

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  • 'People of Winnipeg' Facebook page shows city, warts and all

    Photos from the 'People of Winnipeg' Facebook group, accused of racism by activists.Photos from the 'People of Winnipeg' Facebook group, accused of racism by activists.

    A popular Facebook page showing Winnipeggers in a not always flattering light is drawing fire from some who work with the city’s poor and homeless.

    People of Winnipeg (POW) has more than 17,000 members who post everything from eye-catching urban scenery to photos of people’s bad parking jobs and sometimes questionable fashion choices.

    But what’s got some critics up in arms are a number of shots of people, some aboriginal, who appear passed out on the sidewalk or a bus shelter, or rolling around with a shopping cart.

    Althea Guiboche, who hands out food to the homeless every week, told CBC News the page should be taken down because it makes fun of people who are obviously struggling. She said she couldn’t believe Winnipeggers were even doing this.

    "I would hope all those people try to find something inside themselves to not post stuff like that," she told CBC News.

    There’s little doubt no one would want their friends and family to see them in the condition depicted in the POW’s photos

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  • Ferguson: Lessons for Canada from a police debacle

    A small group of protesters marches down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday.A small group of protesters marches down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday.

    Things appear to be calming down in Ferguson, Mo., the suburb of St. Louis after two weeks of unrest following the police shooting of an unarmed black teen.

    The crisis is far from over, as residents and civil rights advocates continue to demand answers in the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown. But Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has called off the national guard, deployed earlier this week, and police report the streets have been pretty quiet the last couple of days.

    "This is truly the community of Ferguson," Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, the black officer Nixon put in command after local police botch their initial response to protests about Brown's death, said according to Reuters. "We are headed toward a sense of peace for our community."

    Brown's funeral is scheduled for Monday, though a local church planned a memorial service Friday evening, Reuters reported.

    The post-mortem on how police dealt with the situation is likely to go on for months. Ferguson will join a long

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  • What can you do about a drone peeking in your window?

    We've been fretting for decades about Big Brother poking into our private lives, so it's ironic to discover that Big Brother could turn out to be everyday people like you and me.

    Case in point: Conner Galway was having dinner on his patio and enjoying the view from his 37th-floor apartment in downtown Vancouver when he spotted something with blinking red and green lights flitting around near his building.

    A closer look revealed a drone that Galway said was hovering only metres away from him.

    “I didn’t want to be out there when I had no idea what this thing was, so we went back inside,” Galway told CTV News. “Forty-five minutes later it was still buzzing around going next to other apartments, different people, different patios.”

    The quadcopter drone appeared to be equipped with a camera, he said.

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  • New efforts to curb Canada’s painkiller addiction not enough: expert

    Prescription pills containing oxycodone and acetaminophen  (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy)Prescription pills containing oxycodone and acetaminophen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy)

    Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced new rules on Monday aimed at reducing what is arguably Canada's most serious drug scourge, but a policy expert says it's probably too little, too late.

    Health Canada has revised the labelling standards for more than three dozen long-acting opioid drugs used as painkillers, raising the threshold for when they can be prescribed and strengthening warnings about the risk of addiction.

    The Health Canada advisory posted Monday says doctors will no longer be able to prescribe opioid drugs – morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl – for moderate pain, only to manage pain that's severe enough to require "daily, continuous, long-term treatment...and for which alternative treatment options are not adequate."

    "The label changes seek to reduce these risks, which include addiction, misuse and abuse, while preserving access for those who need them most," the advisory says.

    Ambrose announced the changes at the Canadian Medical Association's annual conference in

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  • Beer battles: Craft brews eating into market share for mainstream brewery brands

    The market for beer in Canada is, if you'll excuse the expression, in a ferment.

    Canadian beer consumption has declined over the last decade, according to Statistics Canada data, in favour of wine. But the bright spot is the continuing surge of interest in so-called craft beers (aka micro brews) produced in small batches mostly by local independent breweries.

    From being largely non-existent in the 1980s, craft beer now takes up an estimated six per cent of the Canadian market. Its growth has come at the cost of established domestic brands sold by the country's three beer giants, who account for close to 90 per cent of beer sales.

    The phenomenon is most noticeable in British Columbia, Canada's craft-beer hotbed, where recent figures from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch show small-volume breweries (15,000 hectolitres or less) saw year-over-year sales increases of more than 37 per cent between June 2013 and June 2014 while the bigger domestic breweries were essentially flat.

    A

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  • Media coverage of death of Robin Williams brings questions on reporting suicide

    The British media is under fire from one of the country's mental health advocacy organizations over how explicitly they've covered the suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams.

    The Huffington Post UK is reporting that Mind plans to take the issue to Britain's Press Complaints Commission.

    “Mind issued a briefing to all newsdesks twice yesterday with information on how to report suicide in a responsible way as there is clear evidence that media coverage of suicide, particularly graphic language illustrating the method used, can lead to copycat deaths," the mental health charity's chief executive, Paul Farmer, said in a news release Wednesday.

    Mind had recommended journalists avoid explicit details and sensationalist reporting but as the Post noted, the information that Williams hanged himself with a belt in his bedroom after unsuccessfully trying to cut his wrists was revealed by a coroner live on U.S. television. It was out there, and in a wired world there was little to prevent it

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  • Expert warns against labelling 12-year-old Lethbridge boy charged with incest as a pedophile

    Incest usually happens in families because children feel alone. Incest usually happens in families because children feel alone.

    One of Canada's leading experts on sexual abuse is warning people should not jump to conclusions after a 12-year-old boy in Lethbridge, Alta., was charged with sexually abusing his younger sisters.

    The Lethbridge Regional Police said in a news release they've charged the boy, who can't be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, with two counts, each of incest, sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching related to multiple incidents between May and July of this year.

    Children under the age of 12 cannot be charged criminally but those who are between 12 and 18 face justice in youth court. The boy made his first appearance last week and is due back later this month. He was released to his family on condition that he's not allowed with anyone under 12 without adult supervision.

    Most incest cases involve adult family members abusing underage children. Dr. James Cantor says cases where children are seen as the perpetrators rarely go to criminal court.

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  • Pipeline protests less about moving oil and more about forcing energy change, activist says

    Demonstrators protest the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.Demonstrators protest the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

    A web of pipelines runs under Canada, moving water, sewage, oil, natural gas and other substances. We take them pretty much for granted unless one of them breaks, then we repair it and move on.

    At least we used to take them for granted, until a growing chorus of protest put oil pipelines especially into public consciousness.

    Now environmentalists are fingering pipelines as dangerous agents of climate change, not to mention potential sources of ecological disaster.

    There are three major pipeline projects on the drawing board in Canada and all are meeting stiff resistance, not to mention widespread opposition to the U.S. Keystone XL pipeline that would take Alberta oilsands crude to the Gulf Coast.

    Protesters in Ontario are attempting to slow down work on Enbridge Inc.'s Line 9 project, which would reverse the east-west flow of a 40-year-old oil pipeline so crude from western sources, including Alberta's oilsands, could reach refineries and export terminals in the east.

    A group called

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  • Music festival ODs lead to questions of legalization, regulation of ‘party drugs’

    Ecstasy pills, which contain MDMA as their main chemical. Image courtesy of U.S. DEAEcstasy pills, which contain MDMA as their main chemical. Image courtesy of U.S. DEA

    The rash of suspected drug-overdose deaths at music festivals in Canada this summer has public health experts scrambling for solutions.

    British Columbia's chief health officer caused a ripple this week by musing that maybe Canada should look at an experiment in New Zealand that essentially legalized so-called party drugs in hopes regulation would make the events a safer space for those using drugs.

    “If we’re prepared to be very pragmatic and if we’re prepared to accept that we can’t stop people taking drugs, and if we’re prepared to try and go as far as we can to stop the unwanted side effects and the occasional tragic death from a drug, that would be one way of doing it," Dr. Perry Kendall said in an interview with Yahoo Canada News.

    “If we’re not prepared to do that then I think the best we can do is what we’re doing now: trying to educate users that if despite our best advice you’re going to use drugs, how to use them in less dangerous ways.”

    Both these approaches are problematic

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