Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Caught on video: Near-miss between cop, longboarders now under review

    For most visitors to Vancouver who gaze across Burrard Inlet to the North Shore, it's a view filled with leafy neighbourhoods marching halfway up the mountainsides of West and North Vancouver.

    But longboarders see something else: Heaven, the longboarding equivalent of surfing meccas such as Australia's Gold Coast or Hawaii's Pipeline.

    West Vancouver is especially attractive, with posh homes lining steep, twisting streets that see little traffic. Residents have to keep a wary eye for longboarders whizzing by at speeds sometimes approaching 90 kilometres an hour.

    Longboarding is illegal in the municipality but the $45 first-time-offender fine hardly seems to discourage enthusiasts.

    West Vancouver police have tried persuading longboarders to stop these clandestine runs, even participating in a meeting last year to look at the possibility of temporary road closures to accommodate the sport.

    [ Related: Longboarders at Higher Risk for Injury Than Skateboarders ]

    But I suspect part of the

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  • Veteran senior Mountie charged with underage sex offences dating back to 1982

    Insp. Ronald Patrick Makar, shown here in 1994, spent most of his career in Saskatchewan.

    The RCMP is reeling after a senior officer was charged with underage sex offences dating back to 1982, when he was a young constable in Saskatchewan.

    Insp. Ronald Patrick Makar, the chief operations officer at the Wood Buffalo Detachment in Fort McMurray, Alta., was arrested at his job Tuesday, the Mounties said in a news release reproduced by the Regina Leader-Post.

    The Mounties said they launched an investigation after the alleged victim came forward last April and said she'd been assaulted in the summer of 1982 at a home in Carlyle, Sask. Makar, a 34-year RCMP veteran, was serving in Carlyle in his first year as a constable at the time, CBC News said.

    Makar, 54, is charged with one count of sexual intercourse with a female without her consent and one count of intercourse with a female under age 14 under Criminal Code sections in force at the time. The current equivalent charges would be sexual assault.

    [ Related: RCMP dogged by yet another sexual-harassment suit ]

    Constance Haduik,

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  • Rampant price-gouging, reckless driving prompts Ontario to propose tow truck regulations

    I wonder if the long, harsh winter Canadians just endured has anything to do with the Ontario government's move to crack down on the province's tow-truck business.

    Plenty of drivers probably found themselves on the hook, so to speak, after sliding off some icy road or finding their vehicle had simply chilled out.

    Whether the timing's coincidental or not, Ontario Consumer Services Minister Tracy MacCharles has announced changes to the Consumer Protection Act to impose regulations on the towing and vehicle storage industries aimed at eliminating price gouging, the Toronto Star reports.

    There's always been a Wild West element to the largely unregulated tow-truck business, with drivers racing each other to reach crash sites and holding illegally parked vehicles for ransom after they're towed.

    [ Related: Killed tow truck driver's friends praise tabled move-over law ]

    Globe and Mail automotive columnist Peter Cheney, writing last November, described tow trucks lurking near Highway 401

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  • Digital Privacy Act not so good for privacy, critics say

    It's funny how laws proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government sometimes have titles that critics say mean the exact opposite of what they claim to do.

    The Fair Elections Act is being slammed on all sides as being anything but fair, and now the, government's Digital Privacy Act is also being nominated for the doublespeak roll of honour.

    Bill S-4 actually amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, but Digital Privacy Act has a more consumer-friendly ring to it. It aims to crack down on identity theft by making it a criminal offence to traffic in someone's identity documents.

    [ Related: Data privacy shapes up as a next-generation trade barrier ]

    The law, which is receiving first reading in the Senate, requires businesses and other organizations to tell consumers when their personal information has been lost or stolen via hacking. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $100,000 under the new legislation.

    All that's good, but

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  • Ontario police collar head of cult-like church on sex and violence charges

    Frederick King.Judging from his photo, Frederick King hardly looks like a charismatic religious leader who held a Mormon splinter sect in his thrall.

    But the pudgy, moustachioed King apparently controlled the Church of Jesus Christ Restored that dwelled in a former Ontario ski resort and allegedly kept several "church wives" while ruling his congregation allegedly through intimidation and violence.

    King, 55, was arrested in a Hamilton, Ont., hotel room on the weekend and charged with more than 20 criminal counts, including sexual and physical assault, uttering death threats, sexual interference and sexual exploitation, the National Post reports.

    King's brother, Judson William King, was arrested in Oakville, Ont., last week and charged with assault with a weapon, uttering death threats and four counts of assault, QMI Agency reported.

    [ Related: Polygamy, exploitation charges considered in Bountiful case ]

    Frederick King dropped off the radar in 2012 after Ontario Provincial Police began investigating

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  • Privacy watchdog slams Toronto police for sharing suicide-attempt reports with U.S.

    Attempting suicide is not a crime either in Canada or the United States. It's considered a mental health emergency and is treated as such.

    Suicides or attempts are also generally private. News organizations don't report them unless publicity can't be avoided — in the case of a celebrity, say — or it's an incident that directly affects the public.

    So it's disconcerting to learn police forces in Ontario have been sharing data on suicide attempts with U.S. border agents and the FBI via the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), causing some travellers to be barred from entering the United States.

    Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian published a report Monday into her investigation of several cases in which Ontario residents were barred from crossing the border apparently because of their mental-health history.

    She specifically cited the Toronto Police Service as having a policy of automatically recording all incidents of suicide in CPIC's Special Interest Police

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  • Plans for Jim Flaherty’s rare state funeral excite mixed reviews

    I don't know about you, but I was surprised when it was announced former finance minister Jim Flaherty would receive a state funeral.

    Flaherty died suddenly a month after stepping down from the post he'd held ever since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives were elected in 2006. Though he'd been battling a serious and painful auto-immune skin disease that left him looking tired and bloated, Flaherty, 64, claimed to be in otherwise good health and looking forward to a new life in the private sector.

    So when he died in his Ottawa condo apartment Thursday morning of an apparent heart attack, the entire political establishment reeled in shock. Grief crossed party lines – witness NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair struggling to hold it together before the cameras.

    People from inside politics and out came forward to share their stories about Flaherty, his combativeness but also his personal warmth, generosity and his ability to remain friends with political opponents – traits not normally

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  • New murder charges against Dellen Millard further complicate Bosma case

    The so-called Kijiji killing, one of the most mystifying murder cases in Canada, has gotten even stranger.

    What started out as the inexplicable death of a man trying to sell his truck via online classifieds ad has blossomed into a case involving an alleged staged suicide and the disappearance of a young woman police now believe is dead.

    Police in Ontario announced Thursday they've tied all three deaths to one man but aren't prepared to connect-the-dots publicly, leaving people to speculate.

    The announcement was followed on Friday by the court appearance of a new face in the case, a woman who is reportedly Dellen Millard's girlfriend.

    21-year-old Christine Noudga of Toronto was charged with being an accessory after the fact in Bosma's death. The Crown alleges she helped Millard and Mark Smich, his acquaintance and co-accused, escape after the alleged murder.

    Noudga appeared in court Friday, shackled and biting her lip in nervousness, CBC News reported.

    Millard and  Smich were charged

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  • Change slowly coming to Bangladesh garment industry one year after disaster

    As we approach the first anniversary of the the Rana Plaza building collapse, the deadliest industrial accident since the 1984 Bhopal disaster, it's worth asking if anything has changed much in Bangladesh's garment industry.

    The apparent answer is 'maybe.'

    On April 24, 2013, the eight-storey building housing a number of clothing factories in the Dhaka suburb of Savar crumbled into a pile of concrete and steel rubble, killing more than 1,100 workers and injuring 2,500 more.

    The output from Rana Plaza was destined mostly for western clothing stores and the disaster exposed the the appalling conditions that low-paid garment workers endure so we can buy shirts, pants and dresses at rock-bottom prices.

    The world subsequently learned employees were ordered to continue working in the building the day after dangerous cracks began appearing in the shoddily constructed building. Shops and a bank on the ground floor closed.

    But conditions in Bangladesh's garment and textile industry, its main

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  • CBC job, budget cuts could further hasten public broadcaster’s death

    It'll be a couple of years before we see the full effect of the latest massive downsizing at CBC and Radio-Canada, but clearly the public broadcaster's presence on the media landscape will continue to shrink.

    CBC president Hubert Lacroix revealed on Thursday that the corporation will cut 657 full-time positions, pull out of competition to broadcast pro sports (NHL hockey is already on its way out), cut amateur sports coverage and cancel planned expansions, including a new station in London, Ont.

    The belt-tightening is part of an effort to cope with $130 million in budget cuts as a result of declining support from the federal government with no meaningful increase in advertising revenue.

    Although CBC has more than 8,000 full-time, contract and temporary employees, the job cuts are significant, and bound to crater the already poor morale among the corporation's employees.

    As the Toronto Star points out, this is the third round of job cuts in five years. CBC axed 800 jobs in 2009 to try

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