Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Can risks be eliminated for journalists in war zones?

    The deadly attack on two veteran journalists, one of them Canadian, in Afghanistan on Friday serves as an example that no amount of experience or training is complete protection against random violence in a conflict zone.

    Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon and AP photographer Anja Niedringhous were sitting in a car that was part of a convoy delivering election materials near the city of Khost ahead of this weekend's presidential vote when an Afghan police officer riddled the vehicle with bullets.

    Niedringhous, a 48-year-old German who won a Pulitzer Price in 2005 for her part in AP's photo coverage of the Iraq War, was killed instantly. Canadian Gannon, 60, who's covered Afghanistan for more than 20 years, was wounded.

    Both women were very experienced in reporting from war and conflict zones.

    Niedringhous was chief photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, working from Sarajevo, where she was wounded by city's infamous sniper

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  • Review details B.C. police caught on wrong side of law

    We endow police officers with a lot of power over us, including life and death, so we tend to hold them to a higher standard of behaviour than the rest of our fellow citizens.

    But they are all too human, as we repeatedly discover.

    The B.C. Office of the Police Complaint Commission's latest annual review offers a picture of the kinds of wrongdoing cops get up to.

    As the Vancouver Province put it, the result looks like a composite sketch of Harvey Keitel's character in Bad Lieutenant: drunk driving, cocaine snorting, sex with prostitutes and hanging with drug dealers.

    The complaint commission office opened 1,091 files in 2013, though some of the complaints date from the previous year. Complaints against police must be filed within a year of the alleged transgression.

    Of those, 36 per cent found no evidence of misconduct, while 49 per cent were deemed admissible for investigation. Not surprisingly, more than half the complaints stemmed from the province's biggest municipal departments —

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  • Canada scores well ahead of U.S., U.K. on Social Progress Index

    Canada comes off pretty well in a new report measuring countries' social progress.

    The Social Progress Index, compiled by the U.S.-based Social Progress Imperative, ranks Canada seventh in the world based on 12 categories grouped under basic human needs, foundations of well-being and opportunity.

    New Zealand tops the list of 132 countries (up from 50 in the first-ever index issued last year), followed by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Canada.

    The United States is all the way down in 16th, behind Ireland and ahead of Belgium, while the United Kingdom is 13th, just behind Germany but ahead of Japan.

    If you're wondering who's at the bottom of the index, it's Chad.

    The Social Progress Imperative says the index provides a strong measurement tool to help countries make choices to advance social progress.

    [ Related: Canada among top three best places to live in new quality of life ranking ]

    “The Social Progress Index is a complimentary measure to GDP," Michael

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  • Wanted: Someone to look after RCAF’s honorary colonels for $100k

    Members of Royal Canadian Air Force
    Giving civilians honorary posts in the military is an age-old tradition, kind of like an honorary doctorate.

    It's a recognition for a person's accomplishments or position. You get to wear a uniform but you don't get to command troops in battle or anything.

    In Kentucky, for instance, honorary colonels are so thick on the ground (Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame was one), they have their own organization dedicated to charitable works.

    A number of British royals traditionally become colonel-in-chief of Canadian units. For instance, Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's husband, has been colonel-in-chief of the Royal Canadian Regiment since 1953. Her daughter, Princess Anne, is colonel-in-chief of the Royal Canadian Medical Service. And the Queen herself is captain-general of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery.

    Honorary colonels are a little different. Canadians from many walks of life are appointed to help strengthen ties between the military and Canadian society. They can be former

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  • Norma Marshall’s story of elder-abuse a warning to aging Canada

    The story of Norma Marshall is chilling, especially as many Baby Boomers around us are starting to look into their own future as they age.

    The 94-year-old Toronto resident was victimized by a crooked couple that insinuated themselves into the lonely woman's life, moved into her home and essentially robbed her blind.

    But it's also a story about how a stranger's kindness and concern can rescue someone like Marshall from a nightmarish situation.

    It all began four years ago when Marshall, whose closest living relative is a nephew in Montreal, hired a housekeeper to help keep her apartment tidy.

    But the 32-year-old woman did more than clean, CityNews reported.

    “The housekeeper became quickly involved in the woman’s daily activities, as well as gained access to her banking and finances,” said Det. Const. Valerie Dahan at a news conference Wednesday.

    [ Related: Alberta elder abuse probe promised following charges, allegations ]

    Then, earlier this year, the housekeeper told Marshall she and

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  • A memorial in honour of Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan in Trenton, Ont.

    The Conservative government has quickly back-pedalled from a plan to make the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan pay their own way to next month's commemorative ceremony in Ottawa for the campaign.

    On Wednesday night, CTV News reported that it had obtained a letter dated last month inviting relatives of those who fought and died in Canada's decade-long mission to the May 9 National Day of Honour ceremony in Ottawa.

    The letter from the Department of National Defence Director of Casualty Support Management invites families of the fallen to the capital to "commemorate our service and our sacrifices in order to achieve the security and stability we brought to Afghanistan."

    The letter bills the event as a "momentous occasion," but goes on to say "your attendance would be at your own expense."

    The reaction from some of the families of the 158 killed in Afghanistan was not surprising.

    “It was kind of like, ‘We’re having this big special event and you can come if you want, but you

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  • Inuit singer endures nasty backlash after tweeting photo of her baby next to dead seal

    Canada's controversial seal hunt has been the target of celebrities' ire for years. Who could forget Paul McCartney and his then-wife Heather Mills posing on the Newfoundland ice with a baby seal?

    TV host Ellen Degeneres is a longtime opponent of the annual hunt and she recently helped raise US$1.5 million for the anti-sealing campaign via a donation from smartphone-maker Samsung, whose product she used for her now-famous Oscar-night selfie.

    That prompted sealing supporters in Canada's Inuit community to create their own "sealfie" campaign. The effort was intended to point out seal hunting is essential to the Inuit way of life, the web site Indian Country explained.

    “Once in a while, a new pretty blond celebrity comes along and drowns our voice out,” Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an Inuk from Iqaluit, who helped organize the campaign, told The Canadian Press. “I was surprised to see this time it’s Ellen.”

    [ Related: Ellen DeGeneres recast in sealskin in artist's protest ]

    But it was Inuit

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  • C.D. Howe Institute report slams Ottawa’s handling of public service pension plan

    Centre Block is shown through the gates of Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

    At one time people who took jobs in the public service had accepted that they'd be getting lower salaries than those in private businesses in return for job security and a guaranteed pension.

    But a new report by the C.D. Howe Institute says the formula has gone out of whack as far as the federal public service is concerned.

    The Ottawa-based policy think tank's analysis concludes the federal government is seriously underestimating the value of the Public Service Pension Plan when it comes to the total payroll cost of its public service. Meaning the plan's investment kitty may not cover its future liabilities without dipping into public coffers.

    "The payroll for members of the federal Public Service Pension Plan was about $20 billion in 2012, with pension contributions totaling about $4 billion," says the report by pension expert Malcolm Hamilton.

    "At fair market value, pension contributions would have been about $8 billion. As a consequence, the federal government underestimated the

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  • Calgary’s parking rates second priciest in North America, survey finds

    Parking a car downtown can cost more than a meal out these days. In one Canadian city, it's especially bad. It isn't Vancouver or Toronto, though: It's Calgary.

    A survey by Cushman & Wakefield, an international commercial real estate company, found Canada's energy capital has the most expensive downtown monthly parking rates in Canada, the Calgary Herald reports.

    And in all of North America, only New York City has higher monthly parking costs, the company found.

    Calgary commuters pay an average of $473 a month, compared with a national average of $251 for the top 12 Canadian parking markets, the Herald said.

    Cushman & Wakefield didn't have a specific figure for New York, saying its estimate was based on anecdotal evidence.

    [ Related: Top medical journal argues hospital parking fees should be abolished ]

    However, Colliers International's 2012 North American parking survey found New York parking rates averaged US$533 downtown and US$562 midtown, with Calgary second at US$439.


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  • Former CBC boss testifies Crown corporation needs a clearer mandate

    The Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper are not particular fans of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but one of its former bosses says it still has a responsibility to spell out clearly what the public broadcaster's role is.

    Richard Stursberg, former chief of the network's English broadcasting, spent two hours Tuesday testifying before a Senate committee reviewing the CBC's operations and challenges.

    He called the CBC's current strategy "completely incoherent," which he blamed on a vaguely outlined mandate that makes it hard to measure its performance, Postmedia News reports.

    “It tries to do a little of this, a little of that to try and satisfy all these different constituencies . . . its strategy is ultimately, completely incoherent,” Stursberg told the Senate's transport and communications committee. “You can’t hold the CBC to account when there’s no consensus on what it’s trying to do.”

    It's up to the government to define what it thinks the CBC should and

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