Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • The Ontario sex-ed debate: Catching up with Canada or hidden agenda?

     

    The protest against a new sex-education program in Ontario schools continues with no sign the provincial government is ready to revisit the controversial curriculum.

    Parents opposed to the new curriculum on cultural and religious grounds are staging a boycott, pulling their children out of school and holding rallies. The protest is centred mainly in Metro Toronto, where CBC News reported more than 40,000 kids were absent on Monday.

    Andrew Morrison, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Education, said pockets of absences have been reported in other communities, including London, Windsor and Ottawa, but had no figures.

    Not everyone opposed to the new program is keeping their children out for the whole week.

    “Today we’re not doing protest,” Christine Liu of the recently formed Parents Alliance of Ontario, told Yahoo Canada News on Tuesday. “Among the Chinese community we’re only doing protests for one day in May but we will do protests in September in a bigger scope.

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  • Super high-end car sales on the upswing in Canada

    McLaren 570SMcLaren 570S

    The numbers Chris Green tosses out as he leads a walk-around tour of McLaren’s new 570S sports car would cause any gear head to geek out.

    The orange waist-high, scissor-doored road rocket weighs about the same as a Toyota Corolla, which is unremarkable unless that Corolla is packing the British car’s 562 horsepower turbocharged V-8 engine.

    It’s enough to propel the McLaren to 100 kilometres an hour in a blink over three seconds, says Green, McLaren’s national brand manager. It will reach 200 km/h in 9.5 seconds, about as long as it takes the Corolla to get to 100, and has a top speed of 328 km/h (204 mph).

    Fuel economy, if you must know, is estimated at around 11 litres per 100 km, possibly achieved by putting a raw egg between your right foot and the gas pedal.

    But it’s the car’s price (not official since deliveries won’t start till fall) that will keep the 570S literally a dream machine for all but a few lucky Canadians – roughly $215,000-$230,000. It is, says Green, McLaren’s entry

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  • 'Decapitation strikes' on terrorist groups may bolster attacks against civilians: study

    A man inspects the remains of what ISIS militants say was a U.S. drone in Raqqa Sept. 23, 2014. (Reuters)A man inspects the remains of what ISIS militants say was a U.S. drone in Raqqa Sept. 23, 2014. (Reuters)

    The United States’ controversial program of using drones to target terrorist groups overseas, especially their leaders, came into sharp focus again in recent days after President Barack Obama was forced to apologize for a drone strike in Pakistan that killed two foreign hostages held by al-Qaeda.

    U.S. policy-makers view drones as the best way to disrupt terror groups with minimal risk to American lives. The strategy has created a backlash over unintended civilian casualties and the legality of targeting American members of terror groups.

    Advocates claim it’s effective, making it harder for terrorists to operate in the open and putting a target on the back of anyone who aspires to the leadership.

    But what if the basic premise behind so-called “decapitation programs” (attacks that target the leaders of an organization) is wrong? What if drone attacks or other forms of targeted assassination using special operations hit teams leads to more terror attacks on civilians?

    Max Abrahms, a

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  • How Canada can improve its preparedness following Nepal quake

    A resident tries to clear debris of his house at a village following Saturday's earthquake in Nepal. (Reuters)A resident tries to clear debris of his house at a village following Saturday's earthquake in Nepal. (Reuters)

    With a death toll of at least 4,000 and widespread devastation, the initial response to last weekend’s earthquake in Nepal has been to rush aid to the Himalayan nation and its suffering people.

    But what happened there can also provide lessons for Canada to deal with earthquakes in this country, especially when it comes to preparedness and ensuring older buildings can withstand the shaking.

    The quake that struck Nepal registered as magnitude 7.8, with aftershocks as high as 6.7.

    Although the region is in a zone known for large quakes, the weekend temblor reportedly was the strongest in 80 years. It was enough to crumble many older brick buildings in the capital, Kathmandu, and destroy a centuries-old tower that was a World Heritage Site.

    “From what I’ve seen, this is a very sad illustration of why building practices are so important,” Alison Bird, a seismologist at Natural Resources Canada’s Pacific Geoscience Centre in Sidney, B.C., told Yahoo Canada News.

    “The buildings there are not

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  • Never mind the science: Anti-vaccine tide difficult to stem

    Results of a very large study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found no association between autism spectrum disease and children who received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

    The study, which analyzed health records of more than 95,000 children, should finally put to rest claims of a causal link between autism and vaccination.

    But it won’t.

    This is World Immunization Week (April 24-30), with the World Health Organization (WHO) hoping to close the immunization gap that sees one in five children (about 29 million) going unvaccinated, which the WHO says could potentially avert 1.5 million deaths of children from preventable illness.

    Opponents of vaccination, whether it’s MMR or influenza, seem surprisingly resilient to scientific evidence refuting their claim that ingredients in the vaccines cause anything from autism to bowel disease, auto-immune disease and narcolepsy.

    The phenomenon, especially prevalent in Europe and North

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  • Does Canada’s auto industry have a future?

    In this March 15, 2013 photo, workers assemble cars at the new Toyota plant in Indonesia (AP)In this March 15, 2013 photo, workers assemble cars at the new Toyota plant in Indonesia (AP)

    Canada’s automobile industry may be on a long, slow slide to oblivion.

    The federal budget Tuesday included a $100-million fund aimed at innovation in the auto-parts industry over five years, but no substantive strategy to keep Canada’s biggest single manufacturing sector from long-term decline.

    Automakers have warned that without a coherent strategy, Canada will continue to lose new production capacity to Mexico and southern U.S., where wages are lower and governments offer fat financial incentives and streamlined bureaucracy for new investments.

    There is a lot at stake. According to Ottawa’s figures, the industry, centred in Ontario, was worth almost $85 billion in annual revenue in 2013 and employed 117,000 people, roughly a third of them directly in building passenger and commercial vehicles.

    It isn’t going to disappear tomorrow but there’s increasing evidence it faces shrinkage.

    General Motors of Canada announced earlier this year it was closing one of its two Oshawa, Ont.,

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  • Ahead of 4/20, marijuana losing its rebellious stigma, gaining more acceptance

    A woman smokes marijuana during the 4/20 Rally at the Civic Center in Denver, April 20, 2014. (Reuters)A woman smokes marijuana during the 4/20 Rally at the Civic Center in Denver, April 20, 2014. (Reuters)

    A pungent cloud of marijuana smoke will be wafting over many parts of Canada on Monday. Yes, it’s 4/20 again, the unofficial holiday that openly celebrates pot, reefer, ganga, weed, Mary Jane or whatever you like to call it.

    In most places, though, you’re unlikely to see police swooping in to corral the tokers. Even though pot possession remains illegal, the narcs probably won’t be busting anyone except dealers.

    Part of the reason is practical; charging dozens, if not hundreds of people is a logistical nightmare. Another part is a reflection of the times, the increasing tolerance, if not acceptance, of marijuana as a part of mainstream culture. It’s no longer on the fringe.

    Despite the federal Conservative government’s determination to crack down on illegal marijuana use and sales, the drug has edged steadily out into the open.

    Successive federal governments, including the current Tory regime, have been partly responsible by creating a regulatory framework for medical marijuana since

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  • Tax season poses health risks to those with something to be worried about

    (CBC Photo)(CBC Photo)

    If you haven’t already filed your income tax return, don’t worry. You’ve got another two weeks. But it’s probably starting to nag at you a little bit, right?

    You’re not alone. According to data compiled by H&R Block Canada, about a quarter of us waited until the final week before the April 30 deadline to file last year, up 10 per cent from a decade ago. The figure could be one in three this year, the firm’s analysts suggested.

    As of April 12, about 13.1 milllions Canadians filed a tax return with Canada Revenue Agency, according to to CRA data, compared with about 12.3 million for the same period last year. About 28.3 million returns covering the 2013 tax year were filed last year, which means if the total number of returns filed this year is roughly the same, about half remain to be filed.

    Apparently we don’t get too wound up about it, perhaps because if we don’t owe anything there’s no financial penalty for filing a late return to the Canada Revenue Agency – what’s known as a soft

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  • Balanced-budget law more political posturing than firm commitment

    Canada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver talks to the media after meeting with private sector economists in Ottawa, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick DoyleCanada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver talks to the media after meeting with private sector economists in Ottawa, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle
    Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver got an underwhelming response this week when he announced the Conservative government was finally going to table long-promised balanced-budget legislation.

    Criticism quickly dismissed it as an economically unnecessary political ploy intended to burnish the Conservative Party’s claim to be a careful manager of the public purse heading into the October federal election. Which, of course, is true. Lost in the spin is whether balanced-budget laws actually are useful tools to impose fiscal discipline on governments.

    Balanced budgets have become holy writ for governments in the last 30 years following decades of chronic overspending that added relentlessly to the national debt. Government expenditures consistently exceeded revenues, creating a structural deficit.

    The backlash began in the United States, where a conservative political wave in the 1980s led states (49 today), but not the federal government, to pass legislation requiring that budgets be

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  • Worst places in the world for Canadians to get arrested

    Canadian passport. (Canadian Press)Canadian passport. (Canadian Press)

    The fate of Neil Bantleman should be a cautionary tale for Canadians venturing abroad, whether as tourists, on business or to start a new life.

    Things we take for granted in Canada, such as a fair and impartial justice system, can’t be counted on in much of the world. Just ask Bantleman, a teacher originally from Burlington, Ont., now facing 10 years in an Indonesian prison for child sexual assaults he insists he didn’t commit.

    Foreigners, even if they’ve lived in a country for some time, can be at a huge disadvantage when they don’t understand its legal system and the culture underpinning it, says Lorne Waldman, a prominent Toronto lawyer who represented Canadian torture victim Maher Arar. 

    “So when they get engaged in a legal system, especially if it’s in a dispute involving other individuals who are from the country, they’re at a huge disadvantage,” Waldman told Yahoo Canada News.

    When that happens, the Canadian government won’t be riding to your rescue. The Department of Foreign

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