Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Is publicly shaming shoplifters a real deterrent?

    (Photo via Thinkstock)(Photo via Thinkstock)

    They call it shrinkage in the retail sales business. The rest of us call it shoplifting.

    It’s costly and aggravating for many merchants who know dealing with shoplifting complaints is pretty low on the police’s list of priorities.

    Toronto grocery store owner David Chen created legal tremors when he and some employees chased down a repeat shoplifter and trussed him up. But when the cops finally arrived, Chen was charged, too, with assault.

    The case got international attention and ultimately ended with Chen being acquitted, and the Conservative government amending legislation to strengthen citizen’s arrest rules.

    Now a convenience store chain in Hamilton, Ont., has raised eyebrows by posting photos of alleged shoplifters on its front windows.

    The suspected thieves, supposedly caught by store surveillance cameras, presumably have

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  • 'Vaccine-free' daycare sign of Canada's fraying immunization safety net

    A private daycare touts it is a “vaccine-free environment,” but public health officials in Ottawa can’t do anything about it, another sign Canada’s immunization system seems to be fraying.

    CBC News reports the daycare in the Ottawa suburb of Orléans run by Paapa and Melissa Abekah was set up for fellow vaccine skeptics who believe that live-virus vaccines are a threat to the unvaccinated.

    "The live vaccine that’s administered to you, you carry that vaccine. It’s a virus," Paapa Abekah told CBC News. “You’re a walking, living, breathing virus for at least 30 days, and in some cases longer.”


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    But Marie-Claude Turcotte, program manager at Ottawa Public Health, said there’s absolutely no truth to the claim live attenuated vaccines, essentially weak versions of a virus designed to

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  • Supreme Court rules for the right to die: So what's next?

    Lee Carter (R) stands next to her husband Hollis Johnson at the Supreme Court of CanadaLee Carter (R) stands next to her husband Hollis Johnson at the Supreme Court of Canada

    The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision Friday to toss out the criminal law forbidding assisted suicide and euthanasia is hardly the end of the argument.

    The high court’s one-year suspension of its ruling will trigger a furious debate by Canadians on an issue that probably eclipses even abortion in terms of divisiveness.

    “It’s not an incremental change in our values, as the pro-euthanasia people argue,” said medical ethicist Margaret Somerville, who opposes legal assisted death. “It’s a seismic change in our most fundamental values.

    “I think future generations will look back on this and this decision and what comes out of it as the single most important values decision of the 21st century.”

    But what exactly comes next is not clear.

    “This is a sensitive issue for many Canadians, with deeply held beliefs on both sides,” said a statement by Justice Minister Peter MacKay. “We will study the decision and ensure all perspectives on this difficult issue are heard.”


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    Supreme

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  • Target Canada's closing sale just as underwhelming as its opening

    It looks like Target is going out the way it came in, amid a swath of disappointed customers.

    The U.S. discount retailing giant, in one of the the biggest marketing disasters in Canadian history, is closing its 133 Canadian stores after only two years and liquidating its remaining inventory between now and May.

    Many shoppers lined up before doors opened Thursday for the first day of liquidation, expecting fire-sale prices. Some found bargains but others were apparently disappointed to find the promised cuts of 30 per cent didn’t apply to many items.

    “Bookends,” quipped management consultant Alex Arifuzzaman, founding partner of Interstratics Consultants Inc., about the first and last days of Target in Canada.


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    When Target opened its first Canadian stores in the spring of 2013, mostly at defunct

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  • Medical ethicist red-flags new three-parent in vitro baby procedure

    A vote to approved in vitro fertilization with genetic material from three people in Britain. A vote to approved in vitro fertilization with genetic material from three people in Britain.

    A prominent Canadian medical ethicist is alarmed by a vote this week in Britain’s House of Commons to approve in vitro fertilization involving genetic material from three people.

    Margaret Somerville, founding director of McGill University’s Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, said the procedure, which aims to eliminate genetic diseases inherited from the mother, creates a “very worrying” precedent and opens the door to a future that could include designer babies.

    “It’s a major, major move away from what we thought was acceptable,” Somerville said in an interview with Yahoo Canada News.

    BBC News reported the Commons approved the technique Tuesday, 382-128 in a free vote.

    "We’re not playing god here,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. “We’re just making sure that two parents who want a healthy baby can have one."

    The measure must still be passed by the House of Lords to become law, but it’s thought the first baby conceived using the technique could be born next year.

    The

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  • Yellow Pages trimming home delivery only latest example of once-needed goods becoming obsolete

    The Yellow Media Inc. logo is shown at the company's quarterly results meeting in Montreal, Thursday, May 6, 2010. The maker of the once ubiquitous telephone directory is beginning to drop home delivery in some Canadian communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham HughesThe Yellow Media Inc. logo is shown at the company's quarterly results meeting in Montreal, Thursday, May 6, 2010. The maker of the once ubiquitous telephone directory is beginning to drop home delivery in some Canadian communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
    When was the last time you cracked open the Yellow Pages when you were shopping for a product or service?

    That question occurred to me when the new Yellow Pages appeared on my stoop last month. I couldn’t remember picking up its predecessor, which sat unused and pristine on a shelf next to the phone for the last year. I suspect I’m not alone.

    Yellow Pages Ltd. confirmed that suspicion Monday with an announcement that it would begin cutting back on door-to-door deliveries of the once massive business directory in areas where research shows it and other print media were in declining usage. When we let our fingers do the walking, for most of us it’s on a keyboard.

    It’s yet another once commonplace part of our lives that’s perhaps not obsolete but certainly being forced to adapt to the way new technology has reshaped society and the way we do things.

    Neighbourhoods in the Ontario cities of Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville will be the first to not receive the books on doorsteps, says

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  • Dog walker's jail sentence shows courts getting tougher on animal cruelty

    The surprise in the Emma Paulsen case was not that the Vancouver-area dog walker was convicted of allowing six animals in her care to die of heat stroke in the back of her pickup truck, then lying about it.

    After all, she pleaded guilty last fall to leaving the dogs in the truck while she went shopping and, returning to find them dead, dumped them in a ditch on a country road. Then she concocted a story that they’d been stolen while she was in the washroom at an off-leash park.

    No, the surprise was when provincial court Judge Jim Jardine on Wednesday sentenced Paulsen to six months in jail – three months for allowing animals to continue to suffer and three more for mischief in connection with her elaborate cover-up, which included tearful TV interviews about the purported theft. She’s also banned from working with animals for life and from owning them for 10 years.


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  • Canada's transit wars: People want good service but not the cost

    Vancouver, that glittering, glass-walled city on the Pacific, is heading into a potentially vicious war over transit.

    Other big Canadian cities will, without a doubt, be watching closely as residents in Metro Vancouver vote in a referendum to boost the provincial sales tax by half a percentage point in the region to pay for a 10-year, $7.5-billion program of improvements to roads and bridges, but mostly to fund public transit expansion.

    The mail-in vote, run by ElectionsBC, will take place between March 16 and May 29, but there are already signs the Yes side may have a steep hill to climb to convince voters to add another transit tax. 

    Residents already fund the system via fuel, property and parking taxes, not to mention fares. An earlier proposal for a vehicle-licensing levy was quashed in the face of a looming public backlash.

    The sales tax proposal has broad support among the establishment, including Metro Vancouver’s business community, unions and the Vancouver’s main civic

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  • Conservatives guilty of bad communication, not mission creep in Iraq, military experts say

    Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance arrives for a technical briefing, Monday January 19, 2015 in Ottawa. (CP)Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance arrives for a technical briefing, Monday January 19, 2015 in Ottawa. (CP)

    We probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Canadian soldiers would end up exchanging fire with Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

    The question is, was the government being naive or disingenuous when it said last fall that Canada’s mission there would not put them in danger on the front line (except, of course, the pilots flying CF-18s on bombing missions)?

    It’s not a minor question since the Conservatives are likely to make Canada’s security against terrorism a central component of its re-election campaign this year and it’s identified the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL) as a major threat to that security. It committed a half-dozen CF-18 fighter jets and dozens of soldiers to an international effort to defend Iraq against ISIS forces surging through the country from Syrian strongholds. 

    About 70 special forces troops have been working with the Kurdish peshmerga fighters for the last few months. The Conservative government initially told Parliament the troops’ duties would be

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

    (The Canadian Press / Chad Hipolito)(The Canadian Press / Chad Hipolito)
    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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