Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Vancouver Aquarium’s future could be whale of a civic election issue

    Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre staff handle a rescued false killer whaleVancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre staff handle a rescued false killer whale
    The Vancouver Aquarium, a target for animal-rights activists for decades, appears headed up the agenda as the city's municipal election campaign begins ramping up.

    More than 130 people turned up to speak at a special weekend meeting of the city's Board of Parks and Recreation (known locally as the park board) over whether the aquarium should be allowed to continue keeping cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – in captivity.

    The crowd was so large the session had to be extended to Monday night to allow everyone who'd signed up time to have their say.

    The aquarium, which draws more than a million visitors a year, is located in Stanley Park, which makes the city its landlord.

    Park board commissioners, most of whom are not standing for re-election in the Nov. 15 vote, set up the meeting at the behest of a coalition of animal-rights and conservation organizations headed by the group No Whales in Captivity.

    No Whales president Anneliese Sorg told Yahoo Canada News that her organization

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  • Drowsy drivers are a bigger danger than you think

    If you're a motorist, chances are one of these little scenarios will sound familiar.

    You're on virtual auto pilot on your daily commute home, hardly aware of the last few kilometres you drove. Or you've zoned out and don't notice the vehicle in front of you has slowed, forcing you to slam on your brakes.

    Or maybe you're on a long, tedious highway drive, willing your eyelids to stay up but unwilling to pull over because you want to make more time, not noticing how you're drifting in and out of your lane.

    While impaired driving and, more recently, distracted driving get most of the headlines as road-safety scourges, driver fatigue is a more insidious threat and probably much more common.

    It was brought into stark relief this week when a Quebec coroner compared drowsy driving to driving under the influence in an inquest into a 2011 collision where a van carrying farm workers home hit a school bus full of children, killing five in the van.

    [ Related: Quebec coroner compares driving drowsy

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  • Smoke rises in Syria REUTERS/Khalil AshawiSmoke rises in Syria REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    Three news stories are bringing into sharp focus the pull that conflict abroad can have on many Canadians in this multicultural country.

    This week we learned the RCMP has laid the first charges under a new section of the Criminal Code that bars Canadians from leaving the country to aid a group the government has designated as terrorist.

    Twenty-five-year-old Hasibullah Yusufzai of Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, has been charged under Section 83.201. The Mounties allege the young man, who apparently came as a child with his family from Afghanistan, left the country in January with plans to join an Islamist militia fighting in the Syrian civil war.

    On Thursday, an Ontario judge sentenced Mohamed Hersi of Toronto to 10 years in prison for attempting to leave Canada to become a "terror tourist" under a different Criminal Code section. He was arrested at Toronto's Pearson International Airport in 2011 on allegations he was headed to Somalia to join the Islamist al-Shabab group, though he

    Read More »from Canadians shouldn’t be allowed to fight for other countries, no matter the cause, historian argues
  • A safer Canada: Stats show most forms of crime in decline

    GlobalGlobal
    If you're one of those people who worries society is devolving into a lawless, dystopian cesspool, take some comfort in Statistics Canada's latest crime report.

    The crime rate last year continue its two-decade decline. And, perhaps more significantly, the measurement StatsCan uses to track the severity of crime also dropped.

    Police-reported crime for the most common types of violent and property offences
    was down eight per cent over 2012, dropping 30 per cent since 2003. The Crime Severity Index (CSI) declined by nine per cent nationally year over year.

    "With the exception of Yukon [up six per cent] and Newfoundland and Labrador [up one per cent], declines in the volume and severity of police-reported crime were reported across all provinces and territories, as well as in virtually all census metropolitan areas," the report says.

    The continuing drop in the CSI is important because it weights the data based on the seriousness of the crime.

    “I would say this metric is more informative and

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  • Closure of Morgentaler Clinic turns abortion into New Brunswick election issue

    Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton performs last abortions before closure (CBC)Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton performs last abortions before closure (CBC)

    No savvy Canadian politician willingly wades into the issue of abortion. Polling shows public opinion is pretty solidified on either side and bringing it up never wins votes, only loses them.

    Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told the socially-conservative members of his caucus his government's won't revisit the issue, for all their attempts to trigger a debate via private member's bills.

    So you can understand New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant's reluctance, heading into a fall election, to get too specific about how he would change provincial health-care policy that effectively restricts women's access to publicly funded termination of pregnancy.

    But the Sept. 22 provincial election campaign may force Gallant's hand after the long-expected closure of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton put the question front and centre.

    The clinic, founded in 1994 by the late abortion activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler, accounted for about 60 per cent of abortions performed on New

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  • Fires and floods, what's the connection between extreme weather and climate change?

    A teenager pours water out of her boot after wading through flood waters in a park in Claresholm, Alta.A teenager pours water out of her boot after wading through flood waters in a park in Claresholm, Alta.

    If you've been following the news about this summer's flooding on the Prairies and forest fires in B.C. and the Yukon, chances are climate change probably came up at some point and if not, it probably went through your mind.

    It's almost a reflex now; an unusually heavy flood in Britain, a spate of tornados scouring U.S. towns, a powerful typhoon or hurricane pounding some benighted island. Is climate change responsible?

    It's only natural to think so. Scientists have warned alternations in the Earth's climate, due at least in part us pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, will among other things produce more intense weather more frequently.

    But just how much should we factor in climate change on individual weather events? Is there something like a climate change "premium" attached to an inundating storm, a deep freeze or a forest-crisping hot spell?

    It's a big-picture question, says Andrew Weaver, probably Canada's best known climate-change scientist.

    "The problem is what

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  • Image of the HMCS Whitehorse, via WikipediaImage of the HMCS Whitehorse, via Wikipedia

    Ottawa lawyer Michel Drapeau will be closely watching how the Royal Canadian Navy handles the fallout from its latest controversy.

    The apparently unprecedented recall of a warship during a major international training exercise, which occurred after three sailors misbehaved, is expected to set quite the precedent.

    Drapeau, a retired Canadian Armed Forces colonel and one Canada's leading experts on military law, believes the military justice system is dysfunctional and doubts its handling of the incidents that prompted HMCS Whitehorse to be ordered back to its home port of Esquimalt, B.C., will change his view.

    Changes in recent years, forced on the armed forces by the Charter of Rights and the Somalia Affair, have improved some elements of the military's internal justice system. But Drapeau believes it is still opaque and geared to preserving control and the forces' image.

    “It’s a society within a society," Drapeau said in an interview with Yahoo Canada News. "A system of law within a

    Read More »from Recall of HMCS Whitehorse over misconduct allegations shows systemic problems, says retired colonel
  • How lawyers can still prosecute in the Liknes-O’Brien murder case without the victims’ bodies

    Douglas Garland is escorted into a Calgary police station late Monday, July 14, 2014. (Canadian Press)Douglas Garland is escorted into a Calgary police station late Monday, July 14, 2014. (Canadian Press)

    The disappearance and alleged murder of Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson, Nathan O'Brien, would be a high-profile case even without the fact there's still no sign of them two weeks after they vanished.

    But many might wonder whether that fact will make it harder for the Crown to prosecute Douglas Garland for the alleged killings. Veteran criminal lawyers say it could be a challenge but it's not impossible.

    “It’s not a hurdle that can’t be overcome," former Alberta prosecutor Balfour Der told Yahoo Canada News.

    Garland, 54, has been charged with two counts of first-degree and one count of second-degree murders after the Calgary couple and their grandson were reported missing June 30.

    In announcing the charges Monday, Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson said murder charges were warranted because there is a "preponderance of evidence that leads investigators to believe they are dead."

    The first-degree murder counts apparently relate to the Likneses and the

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  • Tampered baby formula restocked at Walmart against makers’ returns policy, formula maker says

    Due to the possible theft of powered baby formula, some retail stores are securing the product behind glass. (Getty Images)Due to the possible theft of powered baby formula, some retail stores are securing the product behind glass. (Getty Images)

    Some bottles of baby formula sold at Toronto-area Walmart outlets that turned out to contain just water may have been restocked on store shelves after being returned by customers, Yahoo Canada News has learned.

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a notice late last week following three complaints involving stores in Brampton and Mississauga, stating that bottles of Enfamil A+ ready-to-feed infant formula were found to contain water and a little formula residue. The fact the tamper-proof seal had been broken and crudely replaced with blue tape seemed to rule out a production defect.

    Walmart pulled the bottled formula from its shelves immediately but did not find any other cases of tampering, the agency said. However, it warned consumers to check the seals on any of the product they bought and if they suspected tampering, to throw it out or return it to the store.

    [ Related: Consumers warned to inspect infant formula after some bottles found resealed ]

    Besides the agency's

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  • Teen texting and driving remains rampant despite stiff fines, campaigns

     

    THE CANADIAN PRESS/APTHE CANADIAN PRESS/AP
    We all know texting while driving is bad, or at least we're supposed to know.

    But results of a survey released this week by Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health finds the message is falling on deaf ears among teenage drivers.

    The survey conducted last year of Ontario students in Grades 10 through 12 found about 36 per cent admitted to texting or emailing someone while driving at least once in the last year. The figure climbed to almost one in two (45.9 per cent) for Grade 12 students.

    Male drivers (34.9 per cent) were slightly less likely to report texting while driving than female (37.1).

    It's the first time the question was included in the wide-ranging annual survey on student health and well-being. The results surprised co-investigator Dr. Hayley Hamilton because Ontario has had a tough distracted-driving law for the last five years, with fines up to $280.

    "I would have thought the message would have gotten through, especially among young people who had just learned

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