Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • No one rushing to emulate Nova Scotia’s cyberbullying law

    Canada's first law specifically outlawing cyberbullying has taken effect in Nova Scotia, just four months after the suicide of teenager Rahtaeh Parsons.

    The 17-year-old Cole Harbour, N.S., girl hanged herself after a photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted during a drunken party made the rounds of her school.

    Just three weeks after her death last April, the Nova Scotia government introduced the Cyber-Safety Act, which aims to protect not just children but adults.

    "Too many young people and their families are being hurt by cyberbullies," Justice Minister Ross Landry said in a statement, according to CBC News.

    "I committed to families that the province would work with them to better protect our children and young people. Court orders, and the ability to sue, are more tools that help put a stop to this destructive behaviour.

    "This sends a clear message, cyberbullying is a serious act with serious consequences. Think before you text."

    [ Related: N.S. cyberbullying legislation allows

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  • U.S. envoy post to Canada in limbo as politicians duke it out over Keystone XL project

    Former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Jacobson delivers a speech on December 4, 2012 in Montreal.How much should we take it to heart that the Americans can't be bothered to replace their departing ambassador to Canada?

    David Jacobson left Ottawa last month after serving four years as the Barack Obama administration's top envoy to the United States' closest ally and biggest trading partner, with no word who the new ambassador might be.

    The U.S. Department of State has dispatched a temp; career diplomat Richard Sanders arrived last month to act as chargé d’affaires until the president appoints a new ambassador and his choice is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, CBC News reports.

    So what's the holdup? In a word, politics. Specifically, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, expert Colin Robertson suggests.

    Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat now vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, told CBC News Obama may be delaying the nomination to avoid having opponents in the Senate "hold that candidate hostage."

    [ Related: U.S. ambassador to Canada leaving

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  • Stephen Fry’s bid to yank Olympics from Russia likely to fall on deaf ears

    Stephen Fry arrives at the BAFTA Brits to Watch event in Los Angeles, California July 9, 2011.
    Stephen Fry's call to yank the 2014 Winter Olympic Games out of Russia will almost certainly fall on deaf ears at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and participating nations.

    The openly gay British writer and actor, best know for his star turn as Jeeves, and the Black Adder series with longtime collaborator Hugh Laurie, published an open letter on his web site Wednesday urging the IOC to take away the Games because of the Russian government's crackdown against homosexuals.

    The message has also gone out to Fry's six million followers on Twitter.

    The Putin-controlled Duma (a legislative assembly) passed a law forbidding "propaganda" supporting "non-traditional" sexual orientation — gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT). The legislation, which essentially makes it illegal to be openly gay or to advocate for rights for LGBT people, threatens jail terms for violators.

    Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has warned anyone attending the Olympics near the Black Sea resort town of

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  • Cleanup jobs: The dubious silver lining beneath the dark cloud of disaster

    The jet fuel spill into Lemon Creek late last week has sparked fears that food from the Slocan Valley, is contaminated.Efforts to clean up a sizeable jet-fuel spill in B.C.'s Kootenay region are stepping up with plans for a hiring fair in Castlegar on Wednesday, The Canadian Press reports.

    The event at a Castlegar hotel is being laid on to augment the crew of 50 workers already trying to remove what's left of the 35,000 litres of fuel released when a tanker truck tipped into Lemon Creek and ruptured on July 26.

    The fuel also found its way into the larger Slocan and Kootenay rivers, a key source of drinking water for surrounding communities now relying on fresh water trucked into the area.

    [ Related: Jet fuel spill into B.C. creek could result in charges ]

    Like it or not, disasters provide a temporary, if unwelcome boon for companies and workers involved in the cleanup.

    The floods that devastated southern Alberta communities in June drew thousands of volunteers to help residents deal with the the immediate impact of the destruction. But the longer-term work of removing toxic material and restoring damaged

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  • Made-in-Canada military drones could cost defence contractors millions

    A U.S. Air Force Predator unmanned aerial vehicle flies near the Southern California Logistics Airport in this January 7, 2012 handout photo.One of the main objectives of Canada's defence spending over the years, besides equipping the military with the gear they need, is to ensure taxpayers get the maximum economic bang for their buck.

    That policy has cut across party lines over the years regardless of which party was in power, though the execution has not always been smooth.

    Now, The Canadian Press reports the Conservative government's budget-cutting program in National Defence could end up biting Canada's defence industries.

    The government last year announced it was pulling out of two NATO-led aerial surveillance programs in hopes of saving up to $90 million a year. It aims to slash the defence budget by $2.5 billion by next year.

    But documents obtained by CP under access-to-information legislation, reveal Canada's participation in the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone program and the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) had resulted in millions of dollars in contracts to Canadian high-tech firms.

    The AGS program

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  • Program to pay failed refugee claimants up to $2k to go home getting lots of takers

    Members of the Canadian Border Services Agency gather at the Canadian border crossing in Surrey, B.C., on Oct. 16, 2012.The Conservative government's experiment to pay failed refugee claimants to go home apparently is a roaring success.

    The Toronto Star reports that as of June, 2,157 people took advantage of Assisted Voluntary Returns and Reintegration [AVRR] three-year pilot program, which aims to short-circuit the laborious and often costly program of removing unsuccessful claimants.

    And talk about fast: It takes an average 32 days between the time a person registers in the program and when he or she gets on a plane to go home, the Star reported.

    Under the program, which so far is available only in the Toronto area, failed claimants receive up to $2,000 if they apply before filing a legal appeal of their rejection in the Federal Court. The amount drops the further along a claimant is in the post-rejection process, down to $1,000 if they've exhausted their appeals and received a pre-removal risk assessment.

    Recipients get a plane ticket home and money delivered in the form of reintegration assistance in

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  • Python escapes pet store, strangles two young boys in New Brunswick

    Two children were strangled to death after a python apparently escaped from an exotic pet shop. The boys, Noah Barthe, five, and Connor Barthe, seven, were on a sleepover at their best friend's house, which is located above a store called Reptile Ocean in Campbellton, N.B.

    RCMP said in a news release that its major crime unit was investigating after police were called to the apartment at 6:30 a.m. Monday.

    "The boys had been sleeping over at the apartment of a friend, which is located above a reptile store," the Mounties said.

    "The preliminary investigation has led police to believe that a large exotic snake had escaped its enclosure at the store sometime overnight, and got into the ventilation system, then into the upstairs apartment. It's believed the two boys were strangled by the snake."

    Two boys, Noah Barthe, five, and Connor Barthe, seven, were killed after a snake escaped from a reptile store in New Brunswick and strangled them.
    The snake was captured and was in the RCMP's possession.

    Autopsies were scheduled to be performed on Tuesday.

    [ Related video: Teenager owns more than 300 exotic pets ]

    The store's Facebook page was hit

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  • CBSA faces hefty holiday overtime bills while officers waive duties to reduce border wait times

    You might think the lineups to get back into Canada after a long-weekend excursion into the United States are interminable, but it seems they could be much worse without a little-known tweak in the rules.

    Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) apparently has a policy of relaxing the requirements to pay duty and taxes on goods brought over by cross-border shoppers during times of heavy traffic volume.

    Normally, returnees can bring in up to $200 duty-free after an overnight stay in the United States, while trips of less than 24 hours offer no exemption. That latter requirement goes out the window when it's really busy, Jason McMichael of the Customs and Immigration Union told CTV News.

    "During periods of peak traffic, I’ve seen (the federal duty exemptions) raised anywhere from $150 to $200 and more per person in order to alleviate the traffic strains," McMichael, the union's national vice-president, said.

    [ Related: Cross-border policy that lets shoppers avoid duties and taxes frustrates

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  • Alberta Mounties involved in shootings amid national debate over use of lethal force

    Both ASIRT and the RCMP are investigating after a man was fatally shot Saturday night. (CBC)Canadians don't like to think their police are as trigger-happy as their American counterparts but a recent spate of police-involved shootings might trouble many.

    Just days after Toronto was stunned by the shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim on an empty streetcar by a Metro police officer, RCMP in Alberta were involved in two shootings, one of them deadly, as well as a fatal Taser incident, over the space of three days.

    According to The Canadian Press, a Mountie stopped a suspected impaired driver near Ma Me O Beach, south of Edmonton on Saturday night. RCMP said the officer apparently got into a fight with two men in the car and shot both, killing one and wounding the other.

    The National Post reported that relatives identified the dead man as Lance Cutarm and the wounded man as his older brother Larron, both of Pigeon Lake, Alta.

    Another man died Sunday after being stunned with a Taser during his arrest in Leduc, south of Edmonton, on Friday, CP reported.

    And on Thursday night, RCMP

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  • From looting to charity scams, disaster brings out the worst in some people

    Mud and building contents litter the sidewalk during clean up in High River, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan VerlageDisasters may bring out the best in many people but it also seems to bring out the worst in others. Along with helping hands, there are hands that want to help themselves.

    While crews in B.C.'s Slocan Valley work to clean up a jet-fuel spill from a tanker truck that fell into a creek last week, someone appears to be going around local homes pretending to offer air and water quality assessments, The Canadian Press reports.

    Executive Flight Centre, the company responsible for the cleanup, is warning residents in the southeastern B.C. area to beware of people offering to do inspections on properties near the Lemon Creek spill site.

    The company said the local health authority is not doing door-to-door checks but only responding to individual requests, CP reported.

    Meanwhile, the RCMP are also dealing with two acts of vandalism that targeted a clean-water holding tank set up in the wake of the spill, CP said. One of several tanks used to to dispense water while nearby water sources remain off

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