Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • 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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  • Pressure continues for national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women

    Vigil held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, for Loretta Saunders (The Canadian Press)
    Calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women continue to mount despite resistance from the Conservative government.

    The government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the two opposition parties on Friday jointly called on Ottawa to set up an inquiry, joining Nova Scotia's similar united request Thursday in the wake of the murder of Loretta Saunders.

    The 26-year-old St. Mary's University student, an aboriginal woman from Labrador, was killed one month ago. A man and woman who were subletting her Halifax apartment have been charged with murder.

    Aboriginal groups have held vigils across the country, including on Parliament Hill, in the last week hoping to budge the government.

    “Violence against aboriginal women and children is a serious problem, both in our province and across Canada,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Tom Marshall said Friday, according to the St. John's Telegram.

    “We are calling on the federal government to launch an inquiry into the tragedy of

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  • Shocking undercover video exposes abuse of turkeys at Ontario factory farm

    We've been warned about how cruelly chickens, cattle and pigs are treated in the modern factory-farming system. Now animal-welfare activists want us to think about the torment turkeys go through before they reach our Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner tables.

    CBC Marketplace was set to air a segment Friday night based on video footage shot secretly by Mercy for Animals Canada (MFA), showing turkeys being beaten to death, carried painfully by their open wings and displaying appalling injuries because of forced breeding.

    A YouTube video posted on the group's separate web site on the issue also raises questions on how deeply someone has to suppress their humanity to work in a factory farm.

    Warning: Video contains graphic content

    The video, if you have the stomach to sit through it, will make you think twice about your holiday the bird (or club sandwich, for that matter) unless you've sourced it from some certified free-range operator.

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  • Should data on dangerous goods rail traffic through cities be made public?

    The Lac-Megantic disaster focused a lot of minds on the fact railways transport dangerous cargoes through cities and towns all the time.

    The derailment and explosion of a train loaded with volatile U.S. oil killed 47 people and razed the centre of the small Quebec town last summer.

    But while Ottawa has ordered railways to make regular reports to municipal governments about dangerous goods travelling through their jurisdictions, that information is not available to the public under explicit government instructions.

    Should it be kept secret, or do citizens have a right to know what potentially toxic and/or deadly materials are trundling past their homes and workplaces?

    Transport Canada last November required the major railways, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, to provide municipalities with quarterly updates about the nature and volume of dangerous goods going through their boundaries, the Montreal Gazette reported.

    Anyone else transporting dangerous goods by rail, including

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  • More high-rise apartments means more pressure on fire departments in Canadian cities

    The 'condofication' of major cities such as Vancouver and Toronto is raising concerns about how well equipped fire departments are to deal with a blaze in the growing forest of high-rise apartments.

    The latest to sound the alarm is Gordon Ditchburn, a former president of the Vancouver Fire Fighters' Union, who told CBC News he's troubled by the shrinking size of the city's fire department while Vancouver's population grows.

    Speaking on CBC radio's morning show The Early Edition, Ditchburn said the Vancouver department's staff has shrunk from 900 members in the 1970s to 800 today. Meanwhile, the city's population has doubled.

    "Do we have adequate resources in the city? I would argue we don't," said Ditchburn. "We are not keeping pace with the growth in the city, due to budget cutbacks. We've gone from 14 per cent of the city budget, 15 to 20 years ago, to less than eight per cent today."

    [ Related: New Westminster condos at risk in rail disaster, says mayor ]

    The increasing number of

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  • Spending by major non-profit helping Vancouver’s homeless, addicts under scrutiny

    Mark Townsend of Portland Hotel Society
    The Portland Hotel Society, the biggest non-profit player in Vancouver's drug- and poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside, has come under a microscope over its spending.

    The organization behind harm-reduction initiatives such as the Insite supervised drug-injection site, a crack-pipe vending machine and home-brew booze for alcoholics has been under scrutiny by the B.C. government since last fall.

    It receives millions of dollars in federal and provincial government money to fund an array of programs on the Downtown Eastside and run hundreds of social housing units in the neighbourhood.

    Now the National Post, citing government sources, said the government will make announcement in the next few days regarding the PHS Community Services Society, the society's operating organization.

    The Post said the possibilities include purging the society's board and executive staff and installing new managers, appointing a receiver to run PHS or filing a civil suit to recover public funds.

    There are no

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  • Why Alberta school shouldn’t shield students from rowdy MLAs during legislature field trips

    I can relate to Alberta school officials who've decided that watching politicians in action at the provincial legislature would be too disturbing for malleable young minds.

    Innisfail Middle School sent a letter last fall to the speaker, premier and opposition leaders that they would no longer include a visit to the chamber in session as part of future tours of the legislature. It complained the disrespectful way government and opposition MLAs treat each other was hardly likely to foster respect in Alberta's central democratic institution.

    It's an understandable reaction, but I think it's the wrong one.

    The letter, reported by CBC News, was triggered by a Grade 6 social studies class visit in November.

    "The overarching goal of the curriculum is to instill a sense of respect and desire for participation in the democratic process," the letter said.

    [ Related: Alberta legislature too disrespectful for school visits ]

    A similar field trip two years ago was marked by dismay at the lack of respect

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  • B.C. measles outbreak underscores continued battle over vaccination holdouts

    Medical officers in Lethbridge, Alberta, are bracing for a measles outbreak as well. CBC photo.A serious outbreak of measles in Fraser Valley communities east of Vancouver is frustrating health officials, especially over the reasons for it.

    While only two cases have been confirmed, about a hundred are suspected, which has triggered a warning from the Fraser Health Authority for residents, especially children, to get vaccinated.

    Ground Zero for the outbreak appears to be a Christian school in Chilliwack that has low rates of immunization, apparently for religious reasons.

    Fraser Health won't identify the school for fear of jeopardizing its work to protect people in the community, though it has been named in news reports.

    The incident has exposed the continued resistance to vaccination programs that have proven effective in dealing with dangerous childhood illnesses. Some do it because they see it as interference with God's will and others still believe the debunked link between vaccinations and childhood autism.

    [ Related: Wakefield's vaccine-autism link based on falsified data ]

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  • Canadians reported second-largest number of UFO sightings last year

    I take reports about UFO sightings with a large grain of salt.

    I suppose it's possible extra-terrestrials from stars hundreds of light years from Earth could have the technology to visit us more often than I see my mother.

    I even thought I saw an unidentified flying object once. At a remote cabin one summer night, the sky was clear enough to pick out shooting stars and satellites. I was watching one satellite move overhead when it suddenly took a sharp turn. At least that's what I thought I saw.

    So I'm not going to rule out completely some of the sightings in this year's Ufology Research annual report.

    The survey, compiled each year since 1989 by a Winnipeg-based team, reported 1,180 UFO sightings in Canada last year. That's down substantially from the record 1,981 sightings in 2012 but still the second-highest number since the survey began.

    The report says the nearly 2,000 sightings in 2012 probably were an anomaly, "likely due to many people excited about the so-called 'end of the

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  • The Golden Ears Bridge. CBC photo.

    I don't know whether Melanie McIntosh is a victim of circumstance or just poor money management.

    The suburban Vancouver woman owes more than $5,000 in bridge tolls and, according to CBC News, is not being allowed to renew her car insurance as a consequence.

    She seems to be the most egregious of thousands of some 14,000 freeloaders who owe $25 or more for using the Golden Ears Bridge. It opened in June 2009 to replace a small, free ferry that took vehicles across the Fraser River between suburban Maple Ridge and Langley, east of Vancouver.

    The elegant span is obviously more convenient and also cuts a lot of time off the trip but it's been underused. People seem to balk at paying for something that used to be free, and apparently plenty of those who use the bridge don't feel obliged to pay the minimum three bucks per car – and up to $10 for large trucks – in electronic tolls per trip.

    A similar problem is developing with the new Port Mann Bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway across the

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