Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Bans on tobogganing a symptom of a risk-averse 'bubble-wrap generation'

    (Thinkstock)(Thinkstock)

    When I was a kid in Calgary, we used to toboggan on a tall, steep hill behind the neighbourhood public school. The slope had been terraced in two places, creating a couple of thrilling little jumps, especially the lower one, because you’d build up a lot of speed by then.

    It was fun catching big air, especially if there was more than one person on the sled and you were really moving, but spills were inevitable. I remember slamming down hard once, slightly off balance. I banged my tailbone hard and then pitched forward, slashing my lip on the front of the toboggan.

    I limped home to relative parental indifference. No one called the school board to complain the hill was a death trap, or a lawyer to initiate a negligence suit.

    But those were different times. My best friend and I both had .22-calibre rifles we’d take to a gravel pit to shoot at tin cans. We were what they might now call “free-range kids.”


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    Read More »from Bans on tobogganing a symptom of a risk-averse 'bubble-wrap generation'
  • Canada's Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers. (Reuters)Canada's Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers. (Reuters)

    Howard Sapers has spent more than 10 years as Correctional Investigator, the federal prison system’s ombudsman who investigates individual complaints and issues annual reports and focused investigative reports to the Public Safety Minister on conditions within the correctional system.

    Long before news reports shed light on it, Sapers’ office raised concerns about increased use of segregation (solitary confinement), a related high suicide rate and a lack of resources to help mentally disturbed inmates. He’s also documented the strains caused by the Conservative government’s twin goals of expanding the use of imprisonment while also reining in costs. Under their watch, the budget of the Correctional Service of Canada has shrunk to $2.35 billion for fiscal 2014-15 from $2.65 billion in 2011-12 despite a program to construct almost 3,000 new prison cells.


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    Read More »from One-on-One: Discussing the state of Canada's Correctional Services with investigator Howard Sapers
  • Liberal nomination troubles 'inside baseball,' unlikely to sway most voters

    For all the Trudeaumania redux surrounding the federal Liberals since Justin Trudeau took the helm, the party has had some very old-school problems around its nomination process.

    Trudeau has been accused of going back on his promise to allow open fights for riding nominations and instead getting in his favoured picks. There have been hard feelings in some, including the Ottawa-area riding of Orléans, where former general Andrew Leslie was acclaimed, and in Brantford-Brant, the key southern Ontario battleground where a hurried nomination vote resulted in the only registered candidate being acclaimed.

    Bitterness now surrounds the likely coronation of a candidate in the B.C. riding Vancouver South, where the other main contender pulled out of the race ahead of this Friday’s nomination, leaving the field clear for another ex-military man whom Trudeau apparently prefers.

    [ Related: Andrew Leslie’s Liberal nomination win draws protest ]

    The situation in the riding is complicated by a layer

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  • Health care workplace violence an epidemic, says Ontario nurses' union leader

    A doctor and nurse demonstrate how to reposition a patient. (Associated Press)A doctor and nurse demonstrate how to reposition a patient. (Associated Press)

    There are some professions with an expectation you might encounter violence in your working day. A soldier in wartime. A police officer. A nightclub bouncer. A nurse.

    Wait, a nurse?

    Nurses and others in the healthcare sector face what one union leader calls an epidemic of violence in Canada’s hospitals and long-term care facilities at the hands of patients, but he says little is being done to improve their safety and security.

    “We have particularly in health care this pervasive culture of accepting risk of violence as essentially part of the job,” Andy Sommers, vice-president responsible for health and safety for the 60,000-member Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), tells Yahoo Canada News.

    “Even nurses themselves somehow have bought into this sentiment that being hit or punched or bitten or even yelled at and abused is essentially part of their day-to-day work.”


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  • Wind power protested by NIMBYists, but experts say little effect on health, property value

    Wind turbines are seen near a home in Melancthon Township, Ont., on Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin PerkelWind turbines are seen near a home in Melancthon Township, Ont., on Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
    Leaving aside the debate over the economics and reliability of wind power, it seems many Canadians don’t want giant propellers voom, voom, vooming anywhere near their homes.

    Most of the opposition is centred in Ontario, where successive Liberal governments have committed the province to rapidly expanding wind-turbine electricity generation as part of its controversial green energy strategy.

    While some of the criticism has focused on the high initial cost per kilowatt consumers will be paying – compared with conventional power sources – to help foster the industry, there’s been a growing outcry over perceived adverse effects of the massive turbines themselves.

    Whether it’s aesthetics, health or environmental damage, dozens of opposition groups have sprung up in locations where projects are planned.

    But proponents of wind power say local opposition groups don’t reflect broader public opinion. The Canadian Wind Energy Association commissioned a series of polls by Nanos Research that

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  • Jihadist message reaching younger audience through social media: expert

    This undated image posted on Aug. 27, 2014 by the Islamic State group shows a fighter of ISIS. (AP)This undated image posted on Aug. 27, 2014 by the Islamic State group shows a fighter of ISIS. (AP)

    The arrest of a 15-year-old Montreal boy on terror-related offences suggests jihadist propaganda is reaching a younger audience, probably through social media, an expert on terrorism says.

    The teen, who can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, made a second court appearance on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to staging a robbery to fund terrorist activity (Criminal Code Section 83.2) and for planning to leave the country to participate in terrorism (83.181).

    He’s among the youngest ever charged in Canada with a terror-related crime, the same age as one of four youths arrested as part of the 2006 Toronto 18 terror plot, though charges against that unnamed 15-year-old were later dropped. He’s also the first youth to be charged under the Conservative government’s newly minted Section 83.181.

    For adults, the charges carry a maximum 10 years if convicted of terror-related travel and life for criminal activity tied to terrorism.


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  • Scope of surprise bird flu outbreak still unknown

    Hens are seen in cages at a state poultry farm on the outskirts of Minsk.Hens are seen in cages at a state poultry farm on the outskirts of Minsk.

    The latest Canadian outbreak of avian flu appears to have caught animal-health authorities by surprise.

    Although they seem to have moved quickly to try to contain it, one official admitted they may be dealing with a very virulent strain.

    Two more farms in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, just east of Vancouver, were quarantined Wednesday, bringing the number of poultry operations being investigated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to four, said chief veterinarian Dr. Harpreet Kochhar.

    He also warned that officials aren’t sure the outbreak will be limited to those four, three of which are chicken farms and another that was raising turkeys for the Christmas market.

    “As avian influenza is highly contagious and can spread rapidly; it is possible that additional at-risk farms may be identified in the coming days,” Kochhar said.

    Chief B.C. Medical Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said there’s no evidence of people being infected by the virus, though health officials are prepared to isolate and

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  • No dogs allowed: Many Calgary, Ottawa businesses rejecting service animals

    Army veteran Brad Schwarz (L) disciplines his service dog Panzer (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Army veteran Brad Schwarz (L) disciplines his service dog Panzer (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    Dogs have been our friends for millennia, but their role as real helpers in our personal lives has evolved markedly in the last couple of decades.

    From seeing-eye duties for the blind to helping the physically disabled be more independent; from helping provide early warning of epileptic seizures to detecting some kinds of cancer, dogs have come to assist us in many important ways.

    One of the fastest-expanding jobs for our canine friends has been as therapy animals, comforting seniors and those who’ve suffered trauma. They’ve even worked inside courthouses to help steady nervous witnesses.

    They’re also proving very effective at helping former soldiers, police and other first-responders cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    Public awareness of this service, however, is lagging far behind, according to a trainer.

    George Leonard, a search-and-rescue technician, First Nations band constable and dog trainer, runs Courageous Companions, which trains and certifies service dogs for

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  • Canadians joining fight against ISIS may not understand the risks

    White Rock, B.C. woman Gill RosenbergWhite Rock, B.C. woman Gill Rosenberg

    The question of what, if anything, happened to Gill Rosenberg is illuminating the contradiction in Ottawa’s public position over whether Canadians should travel to Iraq and Syria to join the anti-ISIS fight.

    Rosenberg is an Israeli-Canadian woman rumoured to have been captured by the Islamic militant group’s forces during one of its attacks. The Jerusalem Post first reported her capture, based off an ISIS web post, but others, including the Kurdish militia she reportedly was fighting with, contradicted that report and said she was safe.

    On Monday afternoon, a post appeared on her Facebook page, purportedly written by her, also claiming she was “totally safe and secure.”

    Whatever the truth is, the episode highlights the complications that arise when Canadians decide to go overseas to fight for a cause, especially in a region with such complex politics.

    A number of Canadian armed forces veterans have joined or are planning to join Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, apparently with the

    Read More »from Canadians joining fight against ISIS may not understand the risks
  • Energy-friendly but toxic: Compact fluorescent light bulbs pose a recycling dilemma

    An incandescent light bulb (C) is shown with an LED bulb (L) and a compact florescent (CFL) bulb. (Getty)An incandescent light bulb (C) is shown with an LED bulb (L) and a compact florescent (CFL) bulb. (Getty)

    I confess that as kids, my friends and I loved to come across fluorescent light tubes that someone had thrown in the trash. We’d take them into the alley and toss them in the air. We enjoyed the lovely pop they made as they exploded on the ground, blissfully unaware of the toxic mercury and God knows what other poisons we were releasing.

    We know better now, of course. We as a society no longer blithely dump fluorescent lights in the garbage, where they end up in landfill. But as energy conservation has expanded the use of fluorescent lighting products into our homes, efforts to recycle them remain spotty. A significant number of fluorescent lights – perhaps one in two if Statistics Canada’s figures are right – get tossed in the garbage.

    Federal regulations initiated the phasing out of traditional incandescent bulbs in favour of more efficient fluorescent and LED lights, which use a fraction of the electricity and last longer.

    At the time, the Conservative government was expected to

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