Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • 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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  • 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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