Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Violence on transit: No one-size-fits-all solution for riders and drivers

    TTC riders exit a subway train in Toronto. (CBC)TTC riders exit a subway train in Toronto. (CBC)

    The scene on an Edmonton transit bus played out like something from a Hollywood B-movie: Three drunken thugs boarded the bus and began hassling passengers, including a young woman.

    When a teenage boy spoke up to protect the woman, the bearded, tattooed louts turned on him, raining punches as he curled up to protect his head. The attackers fled the bus after the driver stopped to call police.

    Millions of Canadians use public transit every day and while such violent attacks are uncommon, the prospect of being verbally harassed, of women being groped, of having your smartphone snatched or of being physically assaulted can make the idea of a bus or train ride unappetizing.

    Edmonton has had a particularly rough time in recent years. Prior to last Friday’s incident (the attackers remain uncaught), an 18-year-old man was stabbed by a 17-year-old at a transit hub last month. The suspect in that case was later arrested and faces aggravated assault charges.

    And two years ago, a man was beaten

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  • Vocal veterans frozen out of Quebec meeting with Fantino, veterans' groups

    Veterans take part in the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. (CP)Veterans take part in the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. (CP)

    When Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino sits down with several veterans organizations in Quebec City’s historic Citadel on Wednesday, there will be some groups on the outside looking in.

    Fantino’s department has snubbed groups who’ve loudly criticized the Conservatives’ implementation of the contentious New Veterans’ Charter, freezing them out of an annual stakeholders’ meeting, which they’d previously attended.

    Officials would not discuss the arrangements publicly, but the groups not invited to the Quebec meeting largely coincide with those who’ve also been exiled from the Royal Canadian Legion’s assembly of veterans organizations that meets twice yearly to consult on common issues.

    The dissidents claim Veterans Affairs is colluding with the legion to isolate the government’s most vocal critics, something that both parties deny. Regardless, a sizable number of veterans won’t be represented at the table as Fantino updates others on what his department is doing.

    "Minister Fantino

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  • Experts say porn can warp childrens' view of sex, so how can we protect them?

    It seems 21st-century parents have a lot more to worry about than their kids squirreling copies of Playboy and Penthouse under the mattress.

    The openness of the Internet has made accessing pornography, well, child’s play.

    Meanwhile, experts warn that widely- and easily-available explicit images can potentially damage children’s sexual development by creating a warped sense of what real sex is all about and dehumanizing their image of sexuality.

    The issue was the focus of a one-day symposium in Winnipeg on Monday organized by Beyond Borders, the Canadian arm of an international advocacy group that focuses on child exploitation.

    “You can’t underestimate the proliferation of pornography that’s available freely online and the degree of depravity,” Mark Hecht, an Ottawa law professor and Beyond Borders co-founder, told Yahoo Canada News. “Pornography doesn’t look like it did 20 years ago or 10 years ago.”

    Children as young as six and eight years old are viewing online porn, said Cordelia

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  • Don't remember the name: Upholding publication bans in digital age proves difficult

    Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: Thinkstock
    Canadians were riveted last year by the shocking story of a 15-year-old Nova Scotia girl tormented into a suicide attempt after a photo of another teen having sex with her at a drunken party in 2011 circulated on social media.

    Her name became synonymous with cyberbullying. But now thanks to a law some consider increasingly absurd, we’re asked to forget her name, at least in relation to what happened to her.

    She later died in hospital when she was taken off life support. The boy involved was not charged – there was some question of whether the sex was consensual.

    Outrage focused on the fact that photo, which showed her vomiting out the window, was taken and shared. Police did not investigate initially. But this year, perhaps helped by public pressure, two boys were charged with making and distributing child pornography.

    One young man, now 20, pleaded guilty in September to taking the photo and sending it to a friend, who later sent it to others.

    This week he was handed a non-custodial

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  • Do political parties make sense in municipal politics?

    Gregor Robertson unveils Vision Vancouver affordability plan. (CBC)Gregor Robertson unveils Vision Vancouver affordability plan. (CBC)

    As the battle for control of Vancouver city hall tightens ahead of Saturday’s B.C.-wide municipal elections, voters will be doing something most other Canadians can’t; choosing leaders who run under the banners of civic political parties.

    Outside of Montreal, Vancouver is the only major Canadian city where civic parties dominate municipal politics. Some provinces, like Ontario, forbid them.

    But in B.C. and Quebec civic parties are common, and a political scientist says he believes they could make sense elsewhere as Canadian cities grow and the issues they tackle go beyond maintaining roads and making sure residents can count on police and fire services.

    “Once a city gets to a certain size, the issues they confront become more complex,” says political scientist Carey Doberstein of the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. “They become more than simply about filling that pothole.”

    The campaign in Kelowna, his home base, now has two civic parties vying for power in the

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  • Homeless abuse incidents show that many see them as less than human

    Park rangers walk past a homeless person sleeping on a bench in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park. Park rangers walk past a homeless person sleeping on a bench in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park.
    We walk past homeless people all the time. We look through them, ignoring requests for spare change, pretending they’re not there.

    But we’d never egg a homeless man into setting his hair on fire in exchange for a cigarette. Or urinate on one passed out in the street. Or set one on fire while he’s sleeping in a bus shelter.

    All those things happened in Canada and it just may be at the far end of the continuum of our willingness not to acknowledge their existence as people.

    A video of a downtown Vancouver panhandler setting a lighter to the back of his own head, encouraged by some faceless, drunken louts, went viral this week.

    The incident predictably appalled most who saw it. But those who work with the homeless say it’s only an extreme example of the dehumanized existence homeless people face. People get angrier if a pet dog is mistreated.

    “Not to say abused animals aren’t important,” says Bruce Curtiss, manager of Hastings Chaplaincy and Outreach for Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission.

    “But

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  • As Canada remembers its fallen, are our living veterans well served?

    Former service personnel gather at a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Nov. 11, 2012. (CP)Former service personnel gather at a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Nov. 11, 2012. (CP)

    Remembrance Day and its emblematic red poppy are meant to honour Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice in war, but it’s also come to include surviving veterans and serving military members, especially those scarred by their service.

    The Conservative government, which has endured years of criticism for embracing Canada’s military heritage while short-changing its living representatives, insists it’s addressing the problems.

    The independent watchdogs, ombudsmen appointed to deal with complaints against the National Defence and Veterans Affairs bureaucracies, agree there’s been progress on some files.

    But one of the system’s most ardent critics says nothing has changed.

    “Definitely not, not at all,” says retired colonel Pat Stogran, who was appointed Canada’s first Veterans Ombudsman in 2007 but whose contract was not renewed in 2010, reportedly because of his outspokenness.


    Related:

    Full Coverage: Remembrance Day

    Canadians wonder how, not if, to wear a poppy

    New veterans' coalition

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  • New veterans' coalition refuses to work with government over decreased benefits

    The Wounded Warriors park is a tribute to uniformed personnel injured in the line of duty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin PerkelThe Wounded Warriors park is a tribute to uniformed personnel injured in the line of duty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
    As Remembrance Day nears, a split is widening among veterans’ organizations over how to push the Conservative government to improve their treatment of veterans.

    Six organizations announced Thursday they’d formed the Canada Coalition for Veterans, and their first action would be to boycott government photo opportunities and announcements.

    “They draw us forward, they take the picture and then they don’t do what they promised,” Blais said. “It’s time to stop that.”

    But the new coalition does not have the support of the country’s largest veterans’ group, the Royal Canadian Legion, exposing a rift in the vets community over how best to pressure Ottawa over a long list of perceived inadequacies.

    One of the new group’s leaders says low-profile advocacy isn’t getting results for troubled and impoverished vets, so it’s time to step up that pressure.

    “We’re not vocal enough to make them address it,” Michael Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, told Yahoo Canada News on Friday.

    “This

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  • Ghomeshi scandal demonstrates how power and celebrity are prime tools of harassment

    Workers scrape a wall which had a photo of former CBC radio host Jian GhomeshiWorkers scrape a wall which had a photo of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi

    Much of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal seems like a classic workplace harassment case, albeit one writ very large.

    It may end up being more than that, though allegations of criminal assault against the former CBC Radio host by women he dated remain unproven.

    But when you strip away Ghomeshi’s celebrity status and his admitted sexual proclivities, this looks a lot like the kind of abuse many women face in every workplace from men in powerful positions, abuse which many feel reluctant to report. As we’re learning, there are systemic problems that can often to leads to these situations.

    Ghomeshi, for those who’ve been somewhere without a decent Internet connection the last couple of weeks, was fired from his high-profile job as host of Q, CBC Radio’s flagship arts program. He claimed he was let go because the public broadcaster determined his sexual activities weren’t compatible with its standards.

    Ghomeshi responded with a $55-million lawsuit and a lengthy defence on Facebook of his sex

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  • Hawk, a different kind of police dog, comforts victims instead of chasing baddies

    Calgary Police Service Victim Assistance Unit dog Hawk and his handler Sgt. Brent Hutt.Calgary Police Service Victim Assistance Unit dog Hawk and his handler Sgt. Brent Hutt.

    If you believe there aren’t any police dogs you can safely cuddle without having your face ripped off, you’d be wrong.

    Meet Hawk, a four-year-old black Labrador retriever who comforts the victims of crime rather than tackling the baddies.

    A judge in Calgary ruled this week Hawk could accompany two young children, a seven-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother, as they testified in a case alleging their father sexually abused his young daughter.

    "You might be the first dog in Canada, Hawk, to be a court-ordered comfort dog," Justice Bruce Millar said in granting the application, CBC News reported.

    Both Crown and defence lawyers supported the decision.

    Hawk and his handler, Calgary police Sgt. Brent Hutt, work in the department’s victim’s assistance unit. They’re familiar figures in the halls of justice, helping tense witnesses get through pre-trial interviews with Crown prosecutors and to relax before testifying.

    If Hawk being in this room with these kids we’ve been dealing with
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