Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Tories’ tough-on-crime battle takes a hit as top court quashes aspect of parole reform

    THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick photoPrime Minister Stephen Harper's get-tough approach to crime and punishment has produced contentious legislation. We now have mandatory-minimum sentences for drug or violent offences, higher victim surcharges and no extra credit for time spent in pre-trial custody.

    But some of it is being peeled back either by the work of defiant judges or direct legal challenges.

    The Conservatives' crime agenda took another blow Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down part of a 2011 law that retroactively reduced parole eligibility for inmates who'd been sentenced before the legislation was passed.

    The Abolition of Early Parole Act eliminated accelerated parole review, effectively lengthening the amount of time a non-violent, first-time offender would remain in prison before being eligible for parole, The Canadian Press reported.

    The Supreme Court decision released Thursday concluded the law is unconstitutional because it amounts to double-jeopardy – imposing additional penalties on those

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  • Canadian pilot’s theory for Malaysia jet mystery goes viral, then debunked

    There's a saying in my business; news abhors a vacuum. In the absence of verifiable information people are left to speculate, seizing on a scanty collection of facts to come up with an explanation for something that happened.

    The Internet has made this kind of phenomenon even more intense and fast-moving, which is how you explain the latest surge of interest in a theory about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

    No trace has been found of the Boeing 777 jetliner, which disappeared March 8 with 239 passengers and crew bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The search by more than a dozen countries has ranged over huge swaths of ocean as theories swirl whether the flight encountered some mysterious mechanical problem or was the victim of some kind of inside-job hijacking, possibly by one of its pilots, perhaps even some James Bond-style plot.

    All anyone has to go on is an apparently routine sign-off with an air traffic controller by the co-pilot, the unexplained loss of

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  • Three years after damning report, Nunavut still failing its children: watchdog

    The eastern Arctic region of the Northwest Territories split off in 1999 to become Nunavut. But dividing into a separate territory seems to have done little to improve the bleak lives of many of its 35,000 residents, certainly not its most vulnerable children.

    An audit completed last December said Nunavut is still not measuring up to child-protection standards three years after the Auditor General of Canada issued a toughly-worded report on conditions. According to QMI Agency, the new report found that out of 395 foster-child cases, only 13 per cent had been checked on after a year. Fewer than a third of all foster children had received visits from social workers at all in 2013.

    The 2011 audit found the territory's Department of Health and Social Services was not meeting key responsibilities when it came to protecting and caring for children, youth and their families.

    "Although it reacts quickly when it is made aware of children in need of protection, the Department is not meeting many

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  • Online predator’s conviction for role in suicide of Canadian teen overturned

    It's pretty hard not to see William Melchert-Dinkel as a predator.

    The American man, who is a former nurse, lurked on Internet chat rooms devoted to suicide where, posing as a suicidal female nurse, he encouraged others to kill themselves. At least two people, including a Canadian teenager, actually did.

    But Minnesota's top court ruled Wednesday that what Melchert-Dinkel did was not illegal because prosecutors didn't prove he actually assisted in the suicides. Encouragement was not enough.

    "We conclude that the State may prosecute Melchert-Dinkel for assisting another in committing suicide, but not for encouraging or advising another to commit suicide," the state Supreme Court said in its ruling.

    "Because the district court did not make a specific finding on whether Melchert-Dinkel, 51, assisted the victims’ suicides, we remand for further proceedings consistent with his opinion."

    [ Related: Court reverses convictions of ex-nurse accused of aiding Canadian's suicide ]

    The decision

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  • For-profit plasma clinic opening in Toronto as Ontario prepares ban on paid blood ‘donations’

    CBC photoA battle is underway in Ontario that could shape the way all Canadians give blood.

    The Ontario government is preparing legislation to stop private, for-profit companies from setting up blood-donation centres in the province. Despite that, one outfit is going ahead with plans to open a clinic in downtown Toronto to collect blood for plasma, the Toronto Star reported Tuesday.

    Canadian Plasma Resources expects to be in operation within days, chief executive Barzin Bahardoust told the Star.

    If it succeeds in staying open, presumably it could open the door to servicing other provinces.

    It's one of two companies with plans to set up shop in Canada. The other is CanGene Plasma, which already operates a clinic in Winnipeg. The company, which makes plasma-based products, was recently acquired by U.S. rival Emergent BioSolutions.

    [ Related: Payment for blood donors comes to Canada ]

    Paying for a blood donation (sort of an oxymoron, really) is not illegal, but has come under fire from critics who

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  • Are the Alberta Tories’ problems due to Premier Redford, or do they go deeper?

    Alberta Premier Alison Redford leaves with members of her caucus after a meeting in Edmonton.

    The apparent cracks within Alberta's long-ruling Progressive Conservative party over Premier Alison Redford's leadership seem to be widening.

    The next few weeks could determine whether Redford, who beat established PC heavyweights for the leadership in 2011 and then led the party to re-election the following year, is pushed out by her colleagues, sharing the fate of her predecessors, Ed Stelmach and Ralph Klein.

    Another member of the Conservative caucus, junior minister Donna Kennedy-Glans, crossed the floor Monday to sit a an independent.

    "I’ve been thinking about it for a very, very long time,” the rookie MLA from Calgary told reporters, according to CBC News. “In my own guts, it felt right.”

    The departure followed the resignation from caucus of Calgary MLA Len Webber, who criticized Redford's leadership and accused her of throwing tantrums.

    Kennedy-Glans didn't mention Redford by name but said she could no longer tolerate a culture of entitlement within the party.

    “It’s about

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  • Businesses start feeling the pinch with little progress in Vancouver port strike

    As positions seem to harden, the Vancouver port strike is starting to bite.

    Several hundred non-union truckers who move containers to and from Vancouver's three main ports walked out almost a month ago over financially damaging cost-cutting among shippers and delays at the terminals. They were joined soon after by the more than a thousand unionized drivers, effectively shutting down container traffic.

    There was hope on the weekend the dispute was headed for settlement after the federal and B.C. government, along with port officials, tabled a 14-point plan to address the truckers' concerns.

    But they crashed Sunday when initial talks went sideways. Gavin McGarrigle of Unifor, which represents the unionized truckers, said the management team demanded drivers return to work as a precondition for talks, the Globe said.

    “The first statement out of their mouths was, 'This isn’t a negotiation,’" McGarrigle recounted. "What about our concerns, we asked? 'Those are legitimate, but we won’t be

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  • Robert Pickton’s victim’s families reach compensation settlement

    Robert Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in 2007. CBC photo. The families of some of serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton's victims will finally receive some financial compensation for the shoddy police investigation into the women's disappearances and deaths.

    Vancouver lawyer Jason Gratl, representing 13 plaintiffs, said 11 have agreed to a settlement of $50,000 for each of the victims' children, The Canadian Press reported Monday.

    A 12th plaintiff, who because he is not yet 18 must have the settlement vetted by his public guardian, is expected to respond shortly, Gratl said.

    The final payout could reach millions of dollars, depending on eligibility. And the families are still suing Pickton and his grown siblings.

    The group launched a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver, responsible for Vancouver police, the federal government, which oversees the RCMP, and the B.C. government last May.

    [ Related: Families of Robert Pickton’s victims suing police and murderer’s siblings ]

    The suit alleged police and the Crown failed to warn that someone was

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  • Ikea breastfeeding protest goes ahead despite store’s claim staff didn’t insult nursing mom

    There's a truism in sociology, known as the Thomas theorem, which states essentially that if people perceive a situation as real, that situation produces real consequences.

    Which explains why two dozen women held a "flash feed nurse-in" at an Ottawa Ikea store to protest the dissing of a breastfeeding mum that may or may not have happened.

    The Ottawa Citizen reported some 25 nursing mothers took over the Swedish home-furnishing giant's living-room display Sunday after after Brea Rehder claimed a store staff member told her she was "being disgusting," by breastfeeding her nine-month-old daughter while in the checkout line.

    Ikea initially apologized and reiterated the company supports breast-feeding in its stores. But later the company said an investigation turned up no evidence the encounter had actually happened.

    [ Related: Superstore customer told to breastfeed in change room ]

    Ikea spokesperson Madeleine Lowenborg-Frick told CTV News a careful review of store security footage and

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  • Tourist avalanche deaths: Are visitors uninformed about mountain dangers?

    The avalanche deaths of a Montreal man and his young son while tobogganing near Chateau Lake Louise resort in the Alberta Rockies underscores a seemingly insoluble problem of keeping visitors to Canada's backcountry safe.

    On the one hand, we want tourists and our fellow Canadians to enjoy the unsurpassed beauty of our wilderness. But we don't want it to kill them, something it frequently does.

    Experts have been struggling for years to raise awareness and warn people not to take the risks lightly. Yet every year the roster of people grows of those who pay with their lives for enjoying the outdoors.

    Gabriel Mironov and his 11-year-old son, Oliver, were staying at the 125-year-old mountain resort when they apparently rented a toboggan at the hotel on March 9 and set off to have some fun. No one realized anything was wrong until they missed their March 14 checkout.

    A search discovered their bodies Saturday, buried in the snow in an infrequently used area along the lakeshore, CBC News

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