Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Fears raised after successful sex-offender program has funding slashed

    CoSA helps convicted sex offenders take responsibility for their actions and reintegrate into society. (Reuters)I think if you stopped 10 Canadians on the street and asked about how to deal with sex offenders, nine of them would say lock 'em up and throw away the key.

    But the inconvenient truth is most eventually will be released and it's in the public interest to ensure they don't victimize anyone again.

    So why is Ottawa cutting funding for a program that apparently helps reduce significantly the rate of reoffending?

    The Edmonton Journal is the latest outlet to report the slash in the government's contribution to Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), a volunteer-run program operating for two decades and praised by corrections officials for its effectiveness.

    “We would have trouble overstating the severity”of the situation, Scott Drennan, the program co-ordinator in Edmonton, told the Journal.

    According to the Huffington Post, the program was getting $2.2 million in federal funding each year. But at the end of this month, it will lose $560,000, with the balance cut by September.

    The

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  • School trustees face backlash after asking Toronto to enforce public nudity law at Pride Parade

    (Canadian Press Photo)
    A motion requesting that Toronto enforce public nudity laws at the city's annual Pride Parade has generated quite the fuss, both online and off.

    The parade is a huge event, attracting up to a million spectators and participants each year. Some of them like to let it all hang out, and that bothers some members of the Toronto District School Board.

    Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos put forward a motion at the board's Wednesday meeting requesting the school district write to Toronto's mayor and council for clarification whether public nudity laws will be enforced at Pride events.

    The request, supported by two other trustees, is based on the fact the school district usually has its own float in the parade. Sotiropoulos and his supporters believe overt displays of a gentleman's tackle are inappropriate in what's supposed to be a family-friendly event.

    “It happens,” trustee Irene Atkinson told the Toronto Sun. “I've got a photograph of a man, full-frontal nudity.”

    [ Related: Toronto Pride festival at

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  • Canada Post unveils redesigned community mailboxes as it begins phasing out home delivery

    If you're one of the Canadians destined to lose their home mail delivery, cast your eyes on your new community mailbox.

    Canada Post has taken the wraps off the redesigned community boxes destined to be installed in neighbourhoods where door-to-door delivery will be phased out over the next five years. The Crown corporation last month announced the first 11 communities to make the transition by the end of 2014.

    The decision to end home delivery, part of Canada Post's overall plan to stem the growing tide of red ink by the end of the decade, has sparked a strong backlash.

    Critics say community boxes, like those that have been used for housing developments built in the last three decades, are magnets for thieves, accumulate garbage in the form of discarded junk mail and a burden for seniors and the disabled to use.

    Canada Post says the "new, improved" community box will address those problems.

    [ Related: Protests against Canada Post's delivery cuts heat up at Parliament resumes ]

    Instead

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  • Tudor-era coin found in Victoria mud may prove Sir Francis Drake visited B.C.

    A tarnished silver coin recovered from the mud of a Victoria waterway is being touted by some as proof that legendary explorer Sir Francis Drake reached the B.C. coast 200 years before Captain James Cook.

    Drake is best known as a leader of the English fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada, saving the country ruled by Queen Elizabeth I from invasion. He was a notorious raider of Spanish ships and colonies in the New World (some consider him little more than a pirate) but also a giant of exploration, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe in a secret four-year odyssey of discovery and plunder on behalf of the Queen.

    During that trip, Drake is known to have sailed up the West Coast as far as California or possibly Oregon in search of the western entrance to the Northwest Passage. He reportedly gave up at that point and turned his ship, the Golden Hinde, west across the Pacific and eventually home in 1580.

    Some have theorized Drake reached what is now British Columbia, though

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  • Could a fat tax curb Canada’s surging obesity rates?

    Get ready for more hand-wringing over the collective thickening of Canada's waistline in the wake of a new report showing obesity rates have tripled since 1985.

    The study published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that between 1985 and 2011 there were "significant increases" in the categories of those considered excessively overweight.

    The researchers predicted the trend to increased obesity would continue up to 2019, when 20 per cent of Canadians would be classed as obese, compared with 18 per cent in 2011 and just six per cent in 1985.

    You're overweight if you have a body-mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 29.9. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese, which is split into three classes, with the worst being BMI of 40 or more. Class 2 obesity increased 350 per cent and Class 3 soared 433 per cent, CBC News pointed out.

    Obesity seems to increase as you travel from west to east (though Quebec rivals B.C. for the lowest rates), with New Brunswick reporting the

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  • 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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