Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Don't remember the name: Upholding publication bans in digital age proves difficult

    Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: Thinkstock
    Canadians were riveted last year by the shocking story of a 15-year-old Nova Scotia girl tormented into a suicide attempt after a photo of another teen having sex with her at a drunken party in 2011 circulated on social media.

    Her name became synonymous with cyberbullying. But now thanks to a law some consider increasingly absurd, we’re asked to forget her name, at least in relation to what happened to her.

    She later died in hospital when she was taken off life support. The boy involved was not charged – there was some question of whether the sex was consensual.

    Outrage focused on the fact that photo, which showed her vomiting out the window, was taken and shared. Police did not investigate initially. But this year, perhaps helped by public pressure, two boys were charged with making and distributing child pornography.

    One young man, now 20, pleaded guilty in September to taking the photo and sending it to a friend, who later sent it to others.

    This week he was handed a non-custodial

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  • Do political parties make sense in municipal politics?

    Gregor Robertson unveils Vision Vancouver affordability plan. (CBC)Gregor Robertson unveils Vision Vancouver affordability plan. (CBC)

    As the battle for control of Vancouver city hall tightens ahead of Saturday’s B.C.-wide municipal elections, voters will be doing something most other Canadians can’t; choosing leaders who run under the banners of civic political parties.

    Outside of Montreal, Vancouver is the only major Canadian city where civic parties dominate municipal politics. Some provinces, like Ontario, forbid them.

    But in B.C. and Quebec civic parties are common, and a political scientist says he believes they could make sense elsewhere as Canadian cities grow and the issues they tackle go beyond maintaining roads and making sure residents can count on police and fire services.

    “Once a city gets to a certain size, the issues they confront become more complex,” says political scientist Carey Doberstein of the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. “They become more than simply about filling that pothole.”

    The campaign in Kelowna, his home base, now has two civic parties vying for power in the

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  • Homeless abuse incidents show that many see them as less than human

    Park rangers walk past a homeless person sleeping on a bench in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park. Park rangers walk past a homeless person sleeping on a bench in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park.
    We walk past homeless people all the time. We look through them, ignoring requests for spare change, pretending they’re not there.

    But we’d never egg a homeless man into setting his hair on fire in exchange for a cigarette. Or urinate on one passed out in the street. Or set one on fire while he’s sleeping in a bus shelter.

    All those things happened in Canada and it just may be at the far end of the continuum of our willingness not to acknowledge their existence as people.

    A video of a downtown Vancouver panhandler setting a lighter to the back of his own head, encouraged by some faceless, drunken louts, went viral this week.

    The incident predictably appalled most who saw it. But those who work with the homeless say it’s only an extreme example of the dehumanized existence homeless people face. People get angrier if a pet dog is mistreated.

    “Not to say abused animals aren’t important,” says Bruce Curtiss, manager of Hastings Chaplaincy and Outreach for Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission.

    “But

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  • As Canada remembers its fallen, are our living veterans well served?

    Former service personnel gather at a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Nov. 11, 2012. (CP)Former service personnel gather at a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Nov. 11, 2012. (CP)

    Remembrance Day and its emblematic red poppy are meant to honour Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice in war, but it’s also come to include surviving veterans and serving military members, especially those scarred by their service.

    The Conservative government, which has endured years of criticism for embracing Canada’s military heritage while short-changing its living representatives, insists it’s addressing the problems.

    The independent watchdogs, ombudsmen appointed to deal with complaints against the National Defence and Veterans Affairs bureaucracies, agree there’s been progress on some files.

    But one of the system’s most ardent critics says nothing has changed.

    “Definitely not, not at all,” says retired colonel Pat Stogran, who was appointed Canada’s first Veterans Ombudsman in 2007 but whose contract was not renewed in 2010, reportedly because of his outspokenness.


    Related:

    Full Coverage: Remembrance Day

    Canadians wonder how, not if, to wear a poppy

    New veterans' coalition

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  • New veterans' coalition refuses to work with government over decreased benefits

    The Wounded Warriors park is a tribute to uniformed personnel injured in the line of duty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin PerkelThe Wounded Warriors park is a tribute to uniformed personnel injured in the line of duty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
    As Remembrance Day nears, a split is widening among veterans’ organizations over how to push the Conservative government to improve their treatment of veterans.

    Six organizations announced Thursday they’d formed the Canada Coalition for Veterans, and their first action would be to boycott government photo opportunities and announcements.

    “They draw us forward, they take the picture and then they don’t do what they promised,” Blais said. “It’s time to stop that.”

    But the new coalition does not have the support of the country’s largest veterans’ group, the Royal Canadian Legion, exposing a rift in the vets community over how best to pressure Ottawa over a long list of perceived inadequacies.

    One of the new group’s leaders says low-profile advocacy isn’t getting results for troubled and impoverished vets, so it’s time to step up that pressure.

    “We’re not vocal enough to make them address it,” Michael Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, told Yahoo Canada News on Friday.

    “This

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  • Ghomeshi scandal demonstrates how power and celebrity are prime tools of harassment

    Workers scrape a wall which had a photo of former CBC radio host Jian GhomeshiWorkers scrape a wall which had a photo of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi

    Much of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal seems like a classic workplace harassment case, albeit one writ very large.

    It may end up being more than that, though allegations of criminal assault against the former CBC Radio host by women he dated remain unproven.

    But when you strip away Ghomeshi’s celebrity status and his admitted sexual proclivities, this looks a lot like the kind of abuse many women face in every workplace from men in powerful positions, abuse which many feel reluctant to report. As we’re learning, there are systemic problems that can often to leads to these situations.

    Ghomeshi, for those who’ve been somewhere without a decent Internet connection the last couple of weeks, was fired from his high-profile job as host of Q, CBC Radio’s flagship arts program. He claimed he was let go because the public broadcaster determined his sexual activities weren’t compatible with its standards.

    Ghomeshi responded with a $55-million lawsuit and a lengthy defence on Facebook of his sex

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  • Hawk, a different kind of police dog, comforts victims instead of chasing baddies

    Calgary Police Service Victim Assistance Unit dog Hawk and his handler Sgt. Brent Hutt.Calgary Police Service Victim Assistance Unit dog Hawk and his handler Sgt. Brent Hutt.

    If you believe there aren’t any police dogs you can safely cuddle without having your face ripped off, you’d be wrong.

    Meet Hawk, a four-year-old black Labrador retriever who comforts the victims of crime rather than tackling the baddies.

    A judge in Calgary ruled this week Hawk could accompany two young children, a seven-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother, as they testified in a case alleging their father sexually abused his young daughter.

    "You might be the first dog in Canada, Hawk, to be a court-ordered comfort dog," Justice Bruce Millar said in granting the application, CBC News reported.

    Both Crown and defence lawyers supported the decision.

    Hawk and his handler, Calgary police Sgt. Brent Hutt, work in the department’s victim’s assistance unit. They’re familiar figures in the halls of justice, helping tense witnesses get through pre-trial interviews with Crown prosecutors and to relax before testifying.

    If Hawk being in this room with these kids we’ve been dealing with
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  • Rare accident exposes little B.C. girl to HIV during vaccination

    A blood sample is tested for HIV. (Reuters)A blood sample is tested for HIV. (Reuters)
    A lot of children, and adults, for that matter, are afraid of needles. But a little B.C. girl’s flinch as she was getting a routine vaccination is proving scarier than the shot itself.

    The six-year-old was getting a booster shot at the Fort St. James health unit in northern B.C. in early October. The child’s father told 250News she flinched as the nurse was giving the injection, causing the needle to go through the child’s skin and into the nurse’s hand.

    In drawing the needle back, the nurse’s blood mixed with the little girl’s blood.

    The father, who was not identified, said he subsequently learned the nurse was undergoing treatment for HIV, 250News said.

    The incident means the child now must have followup blood tests – more needles – for months to determine if she contacted the virus.

    It also raised the question of how much patients should know about their health-care providers’ potentially threatening medical conditions.

    The B.C. Northern Health Authority’s chief medical health officer

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  • Push to deny Justin Bourque parole for 75 years continues, but experts question justice

    Bourque killed three Moncton Mounties and wounded two others.Bourque killed three Moncton Mounties and wounded two others.
    Few Canadians aren’t likely to lose much sleep if on Friday a New Brunswick judge sentences cop-killer Justin Bourque to consecutive life sentences for the first-degree murder of three Moncton RCMP officers, with no eligibility for parole for 75 years.

    There’s something primal about the thought of Bourque, who gunned down the officers on June 4 as they responded to reports of the heavily-armed young man stalking Moncton’s streets, rotting in a federal prison until he’s at least 99 years old.

    But is it the right thing to do?

    Other than satisfying our need for delivering vengeance and retribution, maybe not. Experts say it probably doesn’t have any practical impact on delivering justice.

    “The empirical evidence showing the deterrence effect of longer sentences is pretty small,” University of Western Ontario law professor Christopher Sherrin, who specializes in criminal procedure, told Yahoo Canada News.

    Prosecutors want New Brunswick’s Court of Queen’ Bench to use a 2011 law allowing for

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  • For Jian Ghomeshi, allegedly fired for his kinky sex life, the best defence is a good offence

    In the relatively small firmament of Canadian radio stars, Jian Ghomeshi is about as big a celestial body as you can get. Or should we say ‘was’?

    The career of the popular host of CBC Radio’s Q unravelled in the space of a weekend following a terse announcement by the public broadcaster that it and Ghomeshi had parted ways.

    The program went on Monday with substitute host Brent Bambury, who began with the show’s signature opening essay, this time on the future of Q.

    Ghomeshi tweeted last Friday that he was taking time off to deal with personal issues, which many ascribed to grief over the recent death of his father.

    But on Sunday evening, Ghomeshi posted a bizarre announcement on Facebook that he’d been “stripped of my show” over the CBC’s concerns about allegations connected with his kinky sex life, which he said includes dominance, submission and role-playing.

    “I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participate in sexual practices that are

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Pagination

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