Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • 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.


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    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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  • Could the Charlie Hebdo attack cause a rise in media self-censorship?

    A person holds a pen as crowds gather at Place de la Republique in ParisA person holds a pen as crowds gather at Place de la Republique in Paris

    Editorial cartoonists are used to their work triggering a backlash from those they lampoon, whether it’s angry letters to the editor, demands they be fired and threats of cancelled advertising.

    But the deadly attack by alleged Islamic extremists on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris-based satirical magazine, has shocked Canadian cartoonists and advocates for journalistic freedom.

    They fear it may induce a chill of self-censorship, if not by the acid-penned artists themselves then perhaps from the publications they work for, out of concern that some cartoon might trigger bullets instead of angry words.

    “I certainly hope there won’t be a chill on any form of free expression but it’s hard to imagine how there couldn’t be,” Tom Henheffer, executive-director for Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, told Yahoo Canada News.


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  • Even if Ron Siwicki's mother wanted to die, she didn't need to do it on the floor: experts

    Ron Siwicki (left) and late mother Betty. Photos from Ron Siwicki's Facebook page and YouTube account.Ron Siwicki (left) and late mother Betty. Photos from Ron Siwicki's Facebook page and YouTube account.

    If you read just the headline on the story about charges against Winnipeg musician Ron Siwicki for leaving his mother to die on the floor of their home after lying there for up to three weeks you can’t help but be shocked and angry.

    It’s a clear case of elder abuse, the headline suggests, and certainly the authorities think so. They’ve charged the 62-year-old guitarist with criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessities of life to his 89-year-old mom.

    But dig a little deeper and the story changes to perhaps something even more tragic, especially in a rapidly aging society like ours. It’s perhaps an object lesson to the rest of us who are unwilling to discuss candidly the end of life.

    Most details of the case remain under a publication ban but it’s alleged that Siwicki’s mother, Betty, stumbled and fell in the home the two shared sometime in late November.

    According to Siwicki's lawyers, the elderly woman, who suffered from dementia and other health problems,

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  • 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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