Steve Mertl

    National Affairs Contributor
  • One year later, challenges remain for Kurdi family

    A year after her three-year-old nephew became the tragic symbol of the Syrian refugee crisis, Tima Kurdi still wears a pendant with a tiny portrait of Alan Kurdi and his older brother Galib around her neck. The photograph of Alan’s body, lying on a Turkish beach after the rubber boat his father Abdullah was trying to steer to nearby Greece capsized, summed up in one image the desperation of Syrians risking everything for safety in Europe as civil war tore apart their country. In Canada, it was a turning point in the federal election campaign, helping propel the Liberals to power on a promise to bring over 25,000 Syrians from crowded refugee camps.

  • Can the world do without Alberta oil?

    The Fort McMurray wildfire in May never did damage any of northern Alberta’s sprawling oil sands facilities, but the precautionary shutdown it triggered sent a brief shiver through world oil markets. Added to production problems in Nigeria, markets were briefly jittery in late May as fire threatened oil sands facilities.

  • Tories tough-on-crime agenda gutted but prison expansion still needed

    The new Liberal government has committed to dismantling much of the former Conservative regime’s tough-on-crime policies that haven’t already been gutted by the courts. The program to add 2,700 new cells at various institutions begun in 2010 in anticipation of more criminals serving longer sentences is largely finished. “The construction is substantially complete,” Howard Sapers, of the Correctional Investigator of Canada watchdog, told Yahoo Canada News.

  • Is Alberta’s economy really too dependent on fossil fuels?

    Instead, money would be put into development of sustainable and renewable energy projects and retraining oil and gas workers. The manifesto was quickly rejected by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. If Notley and the manifesto’s authors have anything in common it’s the view that the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels, which in the long term could make Alberta’s oil and gas sector a sunset industry.

  • Experts skeptical of money-laundering crackdown at B.C. casinos and elsewhere

    The B.C. government’s announcement this week of a new police unit to combat casino money laundering has some experts skeptical the fresh crackdown will do much to curtail the practice. The Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team will operate within the existing Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, a joint RCMP-municipal police agency that targets gang activity. The gaming unit will focus on disrupting organized crime’s involvement in gaming, specifically using casinos to sanitize proceeds of crime.

  • Former veterans ombudsman skeptical Liberals will fulfill promises to vets

    Stogran, who was Canada’s first veterans ombudsman, says he tried unsuccessfully for years to get the former Conservative government to recognize that homelessness among ex-soldiers was an issue. More than five years after being dumped as Canada’s first Veterans Ombudsman, Pat Stogran’s bitterness seems not to have diminished. If anything, the retired infantry colonel’s cynicism about Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and government in general has only deepened.

  • Self-driving cars may speed growth of car sharing, say experts

    While the aggressively-expanding Uber ride-sharing service gets all the ink, an older form of shared on-demand mobility has been growing quietly, steadily and may be poised for a huge leap in popularity with the advent of autonomous vehicles. Car-sharing services arrived in North America two decades ago, starting in Canada, and have proliferated in major cities. Starting with co-operatives and small-scale businesses, car sharing has lured a growing list of automakers who’ve invested directly.

  • What’s the answer when public parks become homeless campgrounds?

    Homelessness remains a seemingly intractable problem in Canada and we’ve become somewhat inured to its presence. A couple of court decisions have confirmed the homeless have the right to pitch tents in municipal parks if no suitable shelter spaces are available. Now, the B.C. government seems prepared to follow suit to deal with a tent city set up almost a year ago on the lawn of the Victoria courthouse, which is provincial property.

  • If Trump wins, don’t expect a stampede to Canadian border

    Donald Trump’s seemingly relentless march to the Republican presidential nomination has a lot of Americans wringing their hands about the future of the United States. Some apparently are looking for the exit, maybe through a door that leads to Canada, if response to joking post pitching Cape Breton, N.S., as a landing spot for American refugees from Trump is anything to go by. The flurry of interest supposedly caused Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) web servers to slow down.

  • Federal Court move to repeal marijuana restrictions a big win for low-income users

    Canadians with a medical marijuana licence have the constitutional right to grow their own pot, regardless of the former Conservative government’s plan to put it in the hands of a few large commercial producers, according to a Federal Court judge. “Most of the people who want to grow for themselves or have a caregiver do so are people on disability pensions who can’t afford the prices from the LPs [licensed producers] or the dispensaries and they’ve determined they can produce at very low cost,” John Conroy told Yahoo Canada after Justice Michael Phelan’s ruling was handed down. The Tories’ Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which took effect in June 2013 would have effectively denied medical marijuana to those who could only afford it by growing their own, Conroy argued during a Federal Court trial that spanned several weeks last year.

  • Robert Pickton book removal creates free speech and ethical dilemma

    There’s irony in a decision by U.S. variety publisher Outskirts Press and online giant Amazon to stop printing and selling a book purportedly written by notorious Canadian serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton during Freedom to Read Week. The Colorado-based publisher said it was not aware Pickton was the real author, which violated its policy against producing books by convicted criminals. The flap puts a sharp focus on the question of how to balance freedom of expression, which even the worst criminals theoretically retain, with the desire not to inflict more pain on their victims or allow them to exploit their notoriety for gain.

  • Vancouver’s 4/20 controversy exposes challenges cities face over marijuana regulation

    It’s hard to find a better example of marijuana’s uncertain status in Canada than the current flap in Vancouver over where to hold the annual 4/20 pot smoke-in this year. The controversy pits event organizers and Vancouver administrators against the city’s own elected park board, which opposes plans to move the April 20 event from its traditional site on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery to Sunset Beach, a waterfront city park looking out onto English Bay.

  • Canada’s ‘non-combat’ ISIS mission not risk free

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fulfilled a key election promise this week by announcing the RCAF’s six CF-18 jets would be withdrawn from the aerial campaign against Islamic State before the end of February. While critics continue to challenge the reasoning behind that decision, the announcement Canada would be bolstering its military commitment on the ground generally has been well received. “They haven’t really nailed down a lot of the details,” David Perry, senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told Yahoo Canada.

  • La Loche shares problems with other aboriginal communities, say experts

    The fallout nationally from the shooting rampage at the school in La Loche, Sask., is following a familiar pattern when it comes to tragedies in isolated aboriginal communities. La Loche, like many remote First Nations communities, has been afflicted with social problems: poverty, low rates of employment, lack of services, an alarmingly high suicide rate among the young and that feeling of isolation from living literally at the end of the road. A lot of official hand-wringing and calls to “do something.” The same sentiment followed other high-profile tragedies, whether it’s the epidemic of gasoline “huffing” in Davis Inlet, N.L., deadly gang violence at Hobbema, Alta., the housing crisis at Attawapiskat in Ontario, or waves of suicides and rampant opioid drug addiction in seemingly countless aboriginal communities.

  • ‘Revenge porn’ court judgment could serve as deterrent, says privacy law veteran

    An Ontario civil court ruling is adding a hefty price tag to so-called “revenge porn” that may make purveyors of this nasty form of payback think twice, an expert in privacy and defamation law says. Stinson awarded a young woman, identified only as Jane Doe, a total of $141,708.03 in damages, interest and court costs.

  • Bye-bye Bengal: Victoria, B.C. landmark soon serves its last martini

    No trip to Victoria is complete without a visit to the fabled Empress Hotel, either for afternoon tea or a superlative martini at the Bengal Lounge. The Empress’s latest owners have embarked on a major renovation of the century-old hotel that apparently does not include preserving the Bengal. Prominent Vancouver developers Nat and Flora Bosa bought the Empress, managed by the Fairmont chain, in 2014.

  • Requests for pause in flow of refugees to Canada likely to hurt ambitious February goal

    A veteran of many such refugee-resettlement efforts says the new Liberal government’s intentions were good and its speedy action praiseworthy. During the summer-fall election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised a Liberal government would accept 25,000 Syrian refugees – privately sponsored and federally assisted – by the end of 2015. Barely a month into power, Citizenship, Refugees and Immigration Minister John McCallum revised the target to 10,000 by the end of December and 25,000 by March 1st.

  • How Canadians can get back the taxes on their U.S. gambling wins

    It comes as a surprise to many Canadians that Uncle Sam withholds almost a third of their winnings.

  • Obama gun initiative has potential to reduce illegal gun smuggling into Canada

    When U.S. President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions this week targeting firearms sales his primary goal was to try to make some dent in the numbingly routine gun violence plaguing America. The parts of his initiative that might be relevant to Canada involve the rules for licensing gun-sellers and tightening of rules requiring background checks of gun buyers. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has been ordered to clarify who needs a federal licence to sell guns, including those who don’t have a bricks and mortar store but deal on the Internet or at gun shows.

  • Uber’s New Year’s Eve surge pricing fallout highlights challenges of unregulated services

    Some Uber users got a rude lesson in the workings of an unregulated free market over the holiday season. One Uber user in Edmonton said he was billed more than $1,100 to get home after sharing a car with some other revelers. Uber refunded some of it and the man admitted he was drunk and not paying much attention to the surge-pricing information on his smartphone.