Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • ISIS mission in Syria: What happens if a Canadian gets captured?

    Kurdish peshmerga forces carry their weapons at outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015. (Reuters)Kurdish peshmerga forces carry their weapons at outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015. (Reuters)
    It’s a foregone conclusion Prime Minister Harper will win next week’s Commons vote to expand Canada’s military mission against Islamic State.
    Harper's plan is for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to attack ISIS targets inside neighbouring Syria. 
    Critics of the mission say besides being an illegal intrusion into a sovereign state, CF-18 air strikes increase the potential risk to pilots. Unlike Iraq, where allies are close at hand to help a downed pilot, Syria is entirely hostile territory.

    Last December, a Jordanian pilot whose aircraft went down in ISIS-held territory was captured and executed, but not before ISIS extracted maximum propaganda value from the incident.

    As of yet, there have been no Canadians captured by ISIS, despite the military missions in the region and Canadians choosing to join Kurdish forces independently. But after seeing what has happened to other foreign nationals, Canadians can’t help but wonderwhat would happen if it were one of their own citizens

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  • Get-tough policy for not criminally responsible offenders unnecessary, studies find

    The mother of Tim McLean, who was stabbed and beheaded by Li in 2008, is 'horrified' by freedoms granted to himThe mother of Tim McLean, who was stabbed and beheaded by Li in 2008, is 'horrified' by freedoms granted to him
    New studies that suggest a lot of success from programs for people found not criminally responsible for offences they commit due to mental illness have done nothing to sway federal policy makers on how they should be treated by the justice system.

    Four studies and an overview that are part of what’s known as the National Trajectory Project were published this week in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

    Among other things, researchers found the recidivism rate for patients classed as not criminally responsible due to mental defect (NCRMD) was 17 per cent, about half the rate of reoffending by prisoners released from Canadian prisons.

    The rate for NCRMD patents who committed the most violent offences was even lower, 0.7 per cent of the 1,800 cases examined from B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

    And yet there remains a perception, based largely on media coverage of the most shocking offences, that NCRMD patients are time bombs who shouldn’t be released back into society or are feigning mental

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  • Irish discount airline Ryanair prepares to cross the Atlantic

    We may be headed towards an air fare war on trips between North America and Europe after Dublin-based discount carrier Ryanair announced its intention to break into the transatlantic market.

    According to European media reports, Ryanair’s board of directors this week approved plans to fly between 14 European cities such as London, via Stansted, Dublin and Berlin, and 14 U.S. hubs, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Miami.

    “European consumers want lower-cost travel to the USA and the same for Americans coming to Europe,” the company said in a statement reported by the Guardian. “We see it as a logical development in the European market.”

    Ryanair’s transatlantic service won’t get off the ground for five years, as it works to acquire the aircraft it needs for the long-haul trips. But its reputation for deep-discount airfares on European routes will doubtless have competitors preparing to defend their share of the market.

    “That would put pressure on at least the very price-sensitive

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  • Ontario's 'Sunshine List': High-earning cops not just a Toronto problem

    Toronto police chief Bill Blair walks by officers at the memorial for constable John Zivcic. REUTERS/Fred ThornhillToronto police chief Bill Blair walks by officers at the memorial for constable John Zivcic. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

    More than half the 8,000 members of the Toronto Police Force earned more than $100,000 last year, including one constable who pulled in close to a quarter million dollars, according to figures released under Ontario’s so-called sunshine law.

    The data, released Monday by the department under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, shows more than 4,100 Toronto officers earned more than $100,000 in 2015. Roughly half of them were pushed into six figures thanks to things like overtime and paid duty — voluntary work on days off at events such as escorting funerals or providing security at sporting events.

    But with base salaries for constables ranging from roughly $90,000 to $98,000, it didn’t take much to push many officers above the $100,000 threshold required for disclosure on the province’s sunshine list.

    The head of the Toronto Police Association calls the list “irrelevant.” The $100,000 threshold dates from 1996 when the salary-disclosure law was first passed, said Mike McCormack.

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  • Countering ISIS social media offensive not impossible, says expert

    Social media has become a popular vector for Islamic jihadists to spread their message and entice recruits, as we’ve seen recently with ISIS’s use of Twitter to lure young men and women from Britain and Canada to Syria.

    But an argument has raged in intelligence circles on how to counter social media’s power, whether it’s even possible or even desirable.

    The co-author of a recent report by the Brookings Institution study on ISIS’s use of Twitter argues it’s not only possible but also effective.

    J.M Berger, a research fellow at the Washington-based think tank, said Twitter’s recent crackdown on accounts related to ISIS and its supporters did much to degrade its ability to reach outside the group’s smaller community.

    But there’s been little discussion on the topic among the companies that operate social-media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google Plus, government and others, including free-speech advocates and those working to counter violent extremism, Berger told Yahoo

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  • Jahanzeb Malik’s alleged bomb plot plays to Canadian fears of attack on home soil

    The strange case of Jahanzeb Malik does nothing to allay the Canadian public’s fears about a potential attack on our soil.

    Malik is accused of plotting to use remote-controlled bombs to attack the U.S. Consulate in Toronto and bomb buildings in the financial district. Authorities allege Malik presented a very real threat, although the landed immigrant from Pakistan so far is facing only deportation, not criminal charges.

    An investigation by Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP that began last fall turned up evidence Malik allegedly wanted to bomb the U.S. consulate in Toronto, as well as other buildings in the city’s financial district.

    Malik, 33, who came to Canada a decade ago as a student, is being held while deportation proceedings take place. Officials won’t say why he hasn’t been charged criminally, even though they claim he had received weapons training overseas and tried to radicalize an RCMP undercover officer.

    It’s likely the evidence fell short or sustaining a criminal

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  • Winning the lottery can be more frightening than exciting for Canadians

    A woman holds a ticket purchased for the U.S.  Powerball lottery on February 9, 2015. (Reuters)A woman holds a ticket purchased for the U.S. Powerball lottery on February 9, 2015. (Reuters)

    If you play the lottery regularly, you probably love that interval between the time you buy the ticket and when the numbers are drawn.

    You get to dream a little about what you’ll do with all those millions if you win. You conjure fantasies about quitting your job, lying on a beach, paying cash for your dream house and studding the driveway with toys or playing lady bountiful to your family. That’s what the lottery ads suggest, anyway.

    The dream almost always evaporates after you check your numbers. But for the rare few, that moment makes the dream real. And that can be a daunting prospect.

    Suddenly, you’re confronted with the challenge of actually making decisions about the equivalent of several lifetimes’ earnings for the average person. No one could blame you for being intimidated.

    In B.C., for instance, someone came forward Monday to claim a $50-million Lotto Max price just days before the March 14, 2014, ticket was set to expire.

    It’s the longest anyone has ever waited to bring

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  • Weekend deaths in Quebec cast light on snowmobile safety

    Speed a factor in Etobicoke woman's snowmobile death: policeSpeed a factor in Etobicoke woman's snowmobile death: police
    A spate of snowmobile deaths in Quebec last weekend is once again calling into question the safety of one of Canada’s most popular winter pastimes.

    Three people died, bringing to 27 the number of people who’ve died aboard snowmobiles in Quebec so far this season. It equals the figure for the 2012-13 season and one below the fatality total for 2010-11, according to figures compiled by the Fédération des Clubs de Motoneigistes du Québec.

    Eleven of this year’s deaths happened off Quebec’s 32,000 kilometres of maintained trails and three involved alcohol, according to the federation’s figures.

    Dozens of people die in snowmobile accidents in Canada every year, though precise figures are hard to come by because provinces usually lump them in with other types off off-road accidents, such as all-terrain vehicle rollovers.

    But data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information suggests snowmobiling trails only skiing and snowboarding in winter activities that result in trips to the

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  • TSN Twitter flap highlights the liability users have for what they tweet

    Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf poses during a shoot for a television network Sept. 18, 2014. (CP)Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf poses during a shoot for a television network Sept. 18, 2014. (CP)

    Canadians this week got a short, sharp object lesson in the pitfalls of unfiltered social media courtesy of some Toronto Maple Leafs and a Canadian-born Hollywood starlet.

    Most of us by now understand the perils of posting potentially embarrassing things about ourselves or hurtful things about others on Twitter, Facebook or on other social platforms, even if some people do it anyway.

    But the legal consequences of saying something nasty came home to Leafs fan Anthony Adragna.

    While watching the TSN sports channel’s NHL trade deadline coverage on Monday, Adragna tweeted what he apparently considered a droll remark about the personal relationships of Leafs’ captain Dion Pheneuf, his wife actress Elisha Cuthbert and forward Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul.

    The tweet ended up as part of the Twitter feed TSN was scrolling across the screen during its program.

    Lupul didn’t take long to respond to the nasty piece of gossip:

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  • Right to die legal debate takes another turn in B.C.

    Margot Bentley (CBC)Margot Bentley (CBC)
    The lawyer for a family that claims their Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother is being fed against her will in a nursing home says there are grounds to take a B.C. Court of Appeal decision on the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Vancouver lawyer Kieran Bridge says 83-year-old Margo Bentley, who lives in an Abbotsford, B.C., care home, left written instructions that if she became terminally incapacitated she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means, including receiving “nourishment or liquids.”

    Bentley is in the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease first diagnosed in 1999. She does not recognize anyone, is unresponsive and requires someone to perform all basic needs.

    As a retired nurse who used to take care of dementia patients, Bentley anticipated this, said Bridge. She told her family verbally and in writing she did not want to be kept alive.

    But her caregivers have been feeding her with a spoon, which her husband and daughter, her legal guardians, argued first in B.C. Supreme

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