Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • 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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  • Simeon Garratt, son of Canadians accused of spying in China, shocked by allegations

    Simeon Garratt, son of a Canadian couple accused of spying in China.Simeon Garratt, son of a Canadian couple accused of spying in China.

    Bewilderment. That's Simeon Garratt's central reaction to the arrest of his parents in China as alleged spies.

    Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt are being held in detention in the city of Dandong, on China's border with North Korea, accused of "suspected theft of state secrets about China's military and national defence research," according to a statement released through the Xinhua news service.

    China's famously opaque justice system has released no details about how the longtime residents of China, who run a popular coffee shop that overlooks the main bridge between China and North Korea, could have led a secret life as spies.

    Speculation has ranged from the Garratts being pawns in a tit-for-tat retaliation for Canada accusing China of state-sponsored hacking of the National Research Council's computer system to being caught up in the Communist government's latest crackdown against unsanctioned Christian churches.

    None of it rings true to their eldest son, who grew up in China but now

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  • Failed tailings pond at B.C. mine creates fear of long-term environmental damage

    Copper-gold mine wastewater spilled into creeks, lakes, and flowed into central B.C. river systems.Copper-gold mine wastewater spilled into creeks, lakes, and flowed into central B.C. river systems.

    It could be days before residents of a remote part of British Columbia learn whether their water is safe to drink or even bathe in after a massive spill from a breached mine tailings pond dumped millions of litres of toxic water into local waterways.

    The giant containment pond for the Mount Polley copper and gold mine ruptured early Monday morning, sending an estimated five million cubic metres of water and sludge into neighbouring Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek, which runs into salmon-rich Quesnel Lake six kilometres downstream.

    The Cariboo Regional District quickly issued a notice banning water use covering several lakes and creeks, including the Quesnel and Cariboo River systems as far as the Fraser River. District chairman Al Richmond told Yahoo Canada News between 200 and 300 residents of the community of Likely and surrounding area are affected.

    "We've got a long expanse of river frontage but largely uninhabited for the most part," he said in an interview Tuesday. "We do have

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  • Canada's character homes are disappearing fast, should we save them?

    Vancouver: A character home on the west side after demolition. (Facebook/Vancouver Vanishes photo)Vancouver: A character home on the west side after demolition. (Facebook/Vancouver Vanishes photo)

    Teardown. It's a dismaying word for many residents of Vancouver, where sustained high real-estate prices have sacrificed a lot of older homes to the wrecker.

    Teardowns used to refer to mouldy old shacks but in Vancouver, hundreds of solid, even fully updated homes are being bulldozed.

    Statistics from the Canadian Real Estate Association show the average sale price of a Vancouver single-family home in June was $796,714, compared with a national average of $413,215. Most of the value is in the land which is so high that owners feel compelled to replace smaller homes with ones that max out the square footage.

    The problem is affecting other active property markets like Calgary (average price $466,994) and Toronto ($568,374), but Vancouver's white hot market has altered the character of many neighbourhoods at a startling pace.

    Novelist Caroline Adderson's family has lived in the upscale westside neighbourhood of Kerrisdale for 15 years. She became alarmed at what she saw as she took her

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  • B.C. pioneers pharmacist-administered HIV testing in pilot program

    The number of diagnosed HIV cases in Canada has been falling steadily in the last five years, thanks to greater public awareness, but there's a nagging concern that not everyone who should have an HIV test is getting one.

    That concern has led authorities in British Columbia to launch an innovative pilot program allowing people to visit a pharmacist for a quick, reliable HIV test rather than see their doctor or wait at a clinic.

    Four pharmacies, two in Vancouver and one each in Victoria and Nanaimo, will be offering something called the INSTI test, an HIV antibody test that takes only a few minutes and gives on-the-spot results to an accuracy of 99.8 per cent.

    The program, set up by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Providence Health Care, is said to be the first of its kind in Canada, so the results are likely to be studied carefully elsewhere.

    The project was approved by the B.C. College of Pharmacists. The association that represents B.C. pharmacies is also welcoming it as

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  • Are gay neighbourhoods endangered in an age of acceptance?

    Amin GhazianiCanada's biggest cities have well-known gay neighbourhoods, whether it's Davie Village in Vancouver's West End, the Church and Wellesley district in Toronto or Montreal's Le Village Gai.

    From edgy bars and hip restaurants to unique shops or just a interesting vibe, so-called "gaybourhoods" have a distinctive texture not unlike multicultural Canada's ethnic enclaves. And they served much the same function, allowing residents to live openly and relatively safely.

    But a University of British Columbia sociologist says society's growing acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people paradoxically may have put gay neighbourhoods under threat.

    A study by Amin Ghaziani that looked at several historically gay enclaves in the U.S., such as San Francisco's Castro district, New York's Chelsea and Boystown in Chicago, found same-sex couples were abandoning these neighbourhoods, replaced by heterosexual families who are helping change their character.

    Ghaziani, an assistant

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