Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Vancouver's tempting wilderness a deadly trap for the unprepared

    Just west of Vancouver, British Columbia, Pacific Spirit Regional Park lures urbanites and adventurers to get lost in the woods.Just west of Vancouver, British Columbia, Pacific Spirit Regional Park lures urbanites and adventurers to get lost in the woods.
    There’s an amusing TV commercial for Subaru’s Outback that’s meant to poke fun at millennials and their unwillingness to brave a hiking trail once their smartphones lose reception.

    As they retreat from a trailhead, a couple in Subaru’s crossover wagon, bikes stowed on the roof rack, drive by headed for an authentic wilderness adventure.

    But the ad has an unintended message: Maybe those kids were right. They were ill prepared for a stroll in the bush, as visitors to Vancouver’s beguiling but treacherous North Shore mountains regularly discover.

    North Shore Rescue (NSR), the volunteer search-and-rescue service, finds between 80 and 100 people a year who have ventured into the back country just metres from suburban neighbourhoods or skied out of bounds on the three local mountains that you can reach by public transit.

    Though unprepared, local residents also get lost. The ones being plucked shivering from snowy drainage channels or clinging to rocky precipices after taking the wrong fork

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  • Sunni vs. Shia: The religious rivalry behind the Middle East turmoil

    Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric explains the history behind the sectarian discord between the warring Muslim factions in Iraq.Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric explains the history behind the sectarian discord between the warring Muslim factions in Iraq.
    If you pay attention to the debate over western involvement in the Middle East, you’ll eventually hear someone explain the United States and its allies have blundered into an age-old sectarian conflict between the Sunni and Shia strands of Islam.

    And then they move on, as if if that’s all we need to know. The rest, presumably, is inscrutable.

    But some knowledge of the roots of the Shia-Sunni divide and how it’s played out through history may be essential to understanding the complex situation today.

    For most of us, our knowledge of Islam doesn’t extend much past an awareness that it is divided into different sects, much as Christianity is.

    The schism between Sunnis, who make up an estimated 85 per cent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and Shiites, dates almost to the beginning of Islam. It has always had both a theological and a temporal component because Islam extended religious principles to political control.

    According to an excellent overview produced last year by the Council on

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  • Over-protective parenting may be seeping into child welfare laws

    When I was a little kid I had a friend named Bobby. He was a year or two younger than me and the boys I played with but he liked to hang around with us.

    Except his mother, who looked closer in age to my grandmother than my mom, never let him cross the street in our quiet, blue-collar east Calgary neighbourhood. That meant he couldn’t rove with us to the hill behind the nearby school, or the waste area near the railway tracks where there were always fascinating things to find and play with.

    Looking back, I think having had Bobby so late, his mother was extra protective in an era when most kids were allowed to roam free once they were old enough for school.

    But it today’s agee of helicopter parents and bubble-wrapped children, Bobby’s mom may be the rule, not the exception. That overprotective mindset appears to be seeping not only into parenting, but into child-welfare law, judging by two recent cases.


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  • Is Canada doing enough to stop the flogging of a Saudi blogger?

    Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in MontrealEnsaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal

    Sometime after prayers on Friday, it’s likely Raif Badawi will be led in front of a crowd outside a mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and flogged.

    It will be his second set of 50 lashes. Out of a thousand. He’s scheduled to receive them at a rate of 50 a week. It was postponed last week because a prison doctor determined wounds from the first 50 strokes, administered by a huge cane, hadn’t healed sufficiently to continue.

    “In his sentence it was made clear that the lashes were to be administered with force,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada told Yahoo Canada News. “The eyewitnesses said that it was very clear while he was being flogged that he was in pain, he was grimacing, his back was arching.” 

    Badawi’s crime? Operating a blog the autocratic Islamic state has determined was blasphemous. He advocated for free speech and a sectarian state, a position that has also earned him 10 years in prison.


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  • Abbotsford, B.C.'s journey back from gang violence infamy

    A CBC News report on the country’s gang hotspots still singles out the Fraser Valley city of 133,000, and adjacent Mission, as the country’s No. 1 municipality for gang murders, based on Statistics Canada data from 2003 to 2012. It had 1.02 gang-related killings per 100,000 people, doubling the rate for most other Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) its size.

    The CBC News report does point out that the figure is skewed somewhat by the 11 gang murders committed in 2009 at the height of a gang war that raged across the Lower Mainland in 2008-09. Dozens were killed as the Abbotsford-based Bacon brothers’ Red Scorpions battled with the United Nations gang for control of the lucrative marijuana trade.


    Related Stories:

    Canada’s gang hotspots — are you in one?

    Haevischer, Johnston sentenced to life in Surrey Six slayings

    A safer Canada: Stats show most forms of crime in decline


    The city’s reputation is probably unfair today, though Abbotsford police spokesman Const. Ian MacDonald won’t go as

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  • Death of Canadian jihadis likely won't deter the most determined, experts say

    Canadian John Maguire, shown in this ISIS video, is reported to have died recently. (CBC)Canadian John Maguire, shown in this ISIS video, is reported to have died recently. (CBC)

    News this week that several young Canadian men have died recently while fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria ought to dim the attraction of going overseas to wage violent jihad, but odds are it won't.

    According to media reports, three Somali-Canadian cousins died for Islamic State (aka ISIS) sometime last fall. And John Maguire of Ottawa, a convert to Islam featured prominently in Islamic State recruitment videos, reportedly was killed in the last few days.

    It's one thing to harbour romantic notions of fighting for a cause to change the world. It's another to realize there's a good chance you will end up in a dusty hole in the ground somewhere in Syria, Iraq or Somalia.

    But experts say while the news might chill the prospect for some flirting with joining up with ISIS, most who've already become committed won't be deterred. The possibility of martyrdom may even make it more attractive.

    “If you’re generally interested in the idea of going to fight and you bought into the

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  • With clothing-maker Tilley up for sale, iconic hat could cease to be Canadian

    Alex Tilley poses in this undated handout photo. (CP)Alex Tilley poses in this undated handout photo. (CP)
    The word iconic is an overused cliche in the retail world, but when it comes to Canadian brands, Tilley Endurables is right up there with Tim Hortons and Roots.

    So when founder Alex Tilley announced Tuesday via an ad in the Globe and Mail that he was selling his Toronto-based travel clothing and accessories company, you might have wondered if this is another Canadian company destined to pass into foreign hands, like Tim’s or Hudson’s Bay Co. (now owned by New York parent company NRDC Equity Partners).

    And even if it doesn’t, will a company so closely identified with one man’s vision prosper after he’s gone?

    Alex Tilley certainly hopes so, but admits he simply doesn’t know.

    "I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going to happen," Tilley told Yahoo Canada News in an interview. “I know whatever I daydream now will not come to happen. I don’t even worry about it.”

    Tilley is putting his company on the market because his daughters, who live in Hawaii, have no interest in taking it on. At age

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  • Princess of pot: Liberals may not be keen on allowing activist to run in Vancouver riding

    Jodie Emery: Liberal party dismissive of my nominationJodie Emery: Liberal party dismissive of my nomination

    You might think Jodie Emery would be welcomed as a star candidate for the Liberal party in next October’s scheduled federal election.

    The Vancouver marijuana activist is young, articulate, telegenic and her work to legalize pot is in sync with the Liberals’ policy on the issue.

    But you would be wrong. The Liberals seem to be nervous that the 30-year-old wife of Prince of Pot Marc Emery might become their candidate in Vancouver East, which normally is an NDP stronghold but may be in play with the planned retirement of longtime MP Libby Davies.

    Evidence of that nervousness seems to be manifest in an email that CBC News reported was sent to some of her supporters from a Liberal worker in Ottawa stressing the party had no affiliation with the Emerys and it did not endorse the couple’s planned cross-country speaking tour.

    [ UPDATE (Jan. 17): Jodie Emery's bid to seek the Liberal nomination in the riding of Vancouver East was officially rejected after this article ran. She received the

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  • Some veterans groups say new minister still marginalizing them

    Newly-appointed Minister of Veterans Affairs Erin O'Toole leaves Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, January 5, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean KilpatrickNewly-appointed Minister of Veterans Affairs Erin O'Toole leaves Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, January 5, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
    If part of new Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole’s mandate was to mend the public relations fences trampled down by his predecessor Julian Fantino, he’s not off to an auspicious start.

    O’Toole, who replaced the politically tone-deaf former cop on Jan. 5, slowly has been reaching out to veterans organizations, but at least a couple of the more vocal dissidents say they have a feeling they’re going to remain frozen out.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper demoted Fantino to junior defence minister last week as he prepared the Conservative government for its anticipated fall re-election campaign. Fantino’s apparent insensitivity to the concerns of disabled veterans and inability to sell policy changes by his department made him a political liability in what had become a high-profile portfolio.

    O’Toole, a one-time RCAF navigator turned Toronto corporate lawyer, is supposed to reset the government’s relationship with veterans, whose problems generally get a sympathetic reception from the

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  • Should inmates fed up with prison be allowed the right to die?

    Frank Van Den Bleeken, who has spent the past 30 years in a Belgian prison. (IB Times)Frank Van Den Bleeken, who has spent the past 30 years in a Belgian prison. (IB Times)

    What if Canada had a right-to-die law and Justin Bourque, the guy who gunned down three Mounties in New Brunswick last year, wanted to make use of it, rather than spend at least the next 75 years in prison?

    It's not as absurd a question as it sounds. Canadians are headed into a renewed discussion on the right to die as the Supreme Court this year prepares to rule on a couple of constitutional challenges to the law forbidding assisted suicide and Quebec implements its dying with dignity legislation.

    What makes the discussion even more tangible is the debate going on in Europe after a rapist-murderer in Belgium who's spent 30 years behind bars successfully won court approval to die under the country's broad euthanasia law. Frank Van Den Bleeken, who was found not criminally responsible for his crimes, argued he could not psychologically deal with the prospect of ending his days in prison.

    The Belgian government ultimately blocked the decision this week, but meanwhile more than a dozen

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