Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Scope of surprise bird flu outbreak still unknown

    Hens are seen in cages at a state poultry farm on the outskirts of Minsk.Hens are seen in cages at a state poultry farm on the outskirts of Minsk.

    The latest Canadian outbreak of avian flu appears to have caught animal-health authorities by surprise.

    Although they seem to have moved quickly to try to contain it, one official admitted they may be dealing with a very virulent strain.

    Two more farms in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, just east of Vancouver, were quarantined Wednesday, bringing the number of poultry operations being investigated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to four, said chief veterinarian Dr. Harpreet Kochhar.

    He also warned that officials aren’t sure the outbreak will be limited to those four, three of which are chicken farms and another that was raising turkeys for the Christmas market.

    “As avian influenza is highly contagious and can spread rapidly; it is possible that additional at-risk farms may be identified in the coming days,” Kochhar said.

    Chief B.C. Medical Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said there’s no evidence of people being infected by the virus, though health officials are prepared to isolate and

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  • No dogs allowed: Many Calgary, Ottawa businesses rejecting service animals

    Army veteran Brad Schwarz (L) disciplines his service dog Panzer (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Army veteran Brad Schwarz (L) disciplines his service dog Panzer (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    Dogs have been our friends for millennia, but their role as real helpers in our personal lives has evolved markedly in the last couple of decades.

    From seeing-eye duties for the blind to helping the physically disabled be more independent; from helping provide early warning of epileptic seizures to detecting some kinds of cancer, dogs have come to assist us in many important ways.

    One of the fastest-expanding jobs for our canine friends has been as therapy animals, comforting seniors and those who’ve suffered trauma. They’ve even worked inside courthouses to help steady nervous witnesses.

    They’re also proving very effective at helping former soldiers, police and other first-responders cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    Public awareness of this service, however, is lagging far behind, according to a trainer.

    George Leonard, a search-and-rescue technician, First Nations band constable and dog trainer, runs Courageous Companions, which trains and certifies service dogs for

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  • Canadians joining fight against ISIS may not understand the risks

    White Rock, B.C. woman Gill RosenbergWhite Rock, B.C. woman Gill Rosenberg

    The question of what, if anything, happened to Gill Rosenberg is illuminating the contradiction in Ottawa’s public position over whether Canadians should travel to Iraq and Syria to join the anti-ISIS fight.

    Rosenberg is an Israeli-Canadian woman rumoured to have been captured by the Islamic militant group’s forces during one of its attacks. The Jerusalem Post first reported her capture, based off an ISIS web post, but others, including the Kurdish militia she reportedly was fighting with, contradicted that report and said she was safe.

    On Monday afternoon, a post appeared on her Facebook page, purportedly written by her, also claiming she was “totally safe and secure.”

    Whatever the truth is, the episode highlights the complications that arise when Canadians decide to go overseas to fight for a cause, especially in a region with such complex politics.

    A number of Canadian armed forces veterans have joined or are planning to join Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, apparently with the

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  • Energy-friendly but toxic: Compact fluorescent light bulbs pose a recycling dilemma

    An incandescent light bulb (C) is shown with an LED bulb (L) and a compact florescent (CFL) bulb. (Getty)An incandescent light bulb (C) is shown with an LED bulb (L) and a compact florescent (CFL) bulb. (Getty)

    I confess that as kids, my friends and I loved to come across fluorescent light tubes that someone had thrown in the trash. We’d take them into the alley and toss them in the air. We enjoyed the lovely pop they made as they exploded on the ground, blissfully unaware of the toxic mercury and God knows what other poisons we were releasing.

    We know better now, of course. We as a society no longer blithely dump fluorescent lights in the garbage, where they end up in landfill. But as energy conservation has expanded the use of fluorescent lighting products into our homes, efforts to recycle them remain spotty. A significant number of fluorescent lights – perhaps one in two if Statistics Canada’s figures are right – get tossed in the garbage.

    Federal regulations initiated the phasing out of traditional incandescent bulbs in favour of more efficient fluorescent and LED lights, which use a fraction of the electricity and last longer.

    At the time, the Conservative government was expected to

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  • Secret recordings just the latest in a long tradition of political dirty tricks

    (iStock)(iStock)

    Dirty tricks are as old as politics. It’s only the techniques and technology that change.

    If you’re scandalized by the idea of a low-level political operative trailing an opposition candidate with a recorder, hoping to catch them in a gaffe, your political education is sadly incomplete.

    For those just tuning in, the federal Conservatives have been scrambling to get out from under a debacle this week triggered when a low-level party worker secretly recorded a conversation that allegedly caught an Alberta Liberal candidate demeaning families at a public meeting in Canmore.

    The young woman, carrying a recorder under her coat, listened in as Banff-Airdrie candidate Marlo Raynolds spoke with two other men about the government’s plans to introduce income splitting for two-income families. Raynolds allegedly said the plan would do “arguably nothing” for children, as parents would spend the extra money on TVs, cars and other things that wouldn’t help the economy.

    The poor-quality recording

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  • Canadians don't need to look to Ferguson to find racial elements in policing

    Torontonians protest the Ferguson grand jury decisionTorontonians protest the Ferguson grand jury decision

    As Canadians watched events unfold in Ferguson, Mo., Monday night, some might have been thinking, “Thank goodness that can’t happen here.”

    Authorities across the U.S. had braced themselves for race riots unseen since the Rodney King verdict, and with sad predictability, some in Ferguson reacted to the grand jury’s decision not to indict a city cop for killing a young black man with looting and burning.

    But Canadians have nothing to be smug about. While it hasn’t had to deal with anything like the effects slavery, America’s “original sin,” it has not been immune from systemic discrimination against minorities, including blacks and especially First Nations people.

    Aboriginal Canadians, who make up less than 10 per cent of the population, are over-represented in the country’s prisons and are more likely to be accused of crimes than non-aboriginals, according to Statistics Canada data.

    There was a disconnect between the vulnerable communities of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and
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  • Burnaby Mountain protests bear strong similaries to Clayoquot Sound's 'War in the Woods'

    (CP photo)(CP photo)

    There were more arrests Monday at the site of a protest against survey work for Kinder Morgan International’s proposed expansion of its TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver to accommodate oil sands bitumen exports.

    For a second week, the RCMP began hauling off pipeline opponents who crossed police tape into the off-limits zone in a forested conservation area on Burnaby Mountain in suburban Vancouver.

    Kinder Morgan obtained a civil injunction barring protesters from interfering with drilling crews taking samples from the rock for a proposed route of the as-yet unapproved line through the mountain to its export terminal on Burrard Inlet.

    But despite the threat of jail for flouting the court order, the arrests continue and numbers at the protest camp are growing, including a 74-year-old grandmother with no previous history of civil disobedience.

    With native drumming, face-to-face confrontations with police and dozens of arrests so far, the anti-pipeline protest has a familiar

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  • Top Gear filming in B.C. excites fans of popular auto show

    Top Gear, the hugely popular BBC programme that’s nominally about cars, is filming a segment in British Columbia for its upcoming season, which has Canadian fans all atwitter.

    We say nominally because while the show, entering its 22nd season, features automotive rides ranging from the plebian to the exotic, it’s really about three overgrown British schoolboys with the biggest allowance … in the world.

    The series, co-hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, is shooting a segment featuring the Hennessy VelociRaptor, a giant luxury SUV (starting price about $150,000 USD) produced by Texas custom builder John Hennessy based on the Ford F150 Raptor crew-cab pickup truck.

    Details of the shoot are sketchy, even secretive. Top Gear fan forums have reported some filming was done in and around Vancouver, as well the resort town of Whistler, north of the city.


    Related stories:

    Bugatti Veyron Supercar: Cockpit views at 238.5mph

    Steve McQueen Ferrari auctioned off by Ontario’s RM

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  • 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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