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Plan needed for 'dumpcano'

Government officials are to meet this week to consider a plan for putting out a dump fire that has been fouling the air in Nunavut's capital for more than two months.

The city of Iqaluit just doesn't have the $2.2 million it would take to quench the blaze and its nostril-searing smoke, said fire chief Luc Grandmaison.

"We're asking them (the territory) to help us with resources."

The fire began May 20 and has been dubbed the "dumpcano" — a term Grandmaison regrets having coined, because he feels it belittles the seriousness of the situation.

The combustion is centred somewhere deep within the massive pile of trash that is the Iqaluit city dump. The burning section — about the size of a football field and up to four storeys deep — is a smoky cauldron of untold numbers of household garbage bags.

There are no flames. But Grandmaison said the subsurface heat reaches up to 2,000 C.

The heart of the blaze is too deep for firehoses to reach. The pile of garbage is too unstable to attack with backhoes or other equipment. The best crews have been able to do is cut trenches through the garbage and isolate the burning section from the rest of the dump.

The fumes have at times closed schools and prompted health warnings. City council decided the fire couldn't be allowed to burn itself out and turned to a landfill expert from British Columbia to help.

Anthony Sperling has proposed building a large pond walled by dirt and garbage and filled with seawater. High-extension excavators would take load after load of burning waste and dunk it in the pool to extinguish it. The waste would then be drained, flattened and stored in a new area.

Water from the quenching pond would be pumped onto the burning section of the dump to quell the flames expected to leap up as shovels bit in.

The work would continue for weeks until the garbage pile was no more than five metres high. Specialized industrial firefighting crews would have to wear respirators and splash suits to protect themselves from contaminated water.

Sperling said the problem is that the Iqaluit dump, commissioned in 1995, was supposed to be open for five years. It's still in use, nearly 20 years later.

"It's been stacked higher into very steep slopes to make it last," said Sperling. "That's created conditions that make it very difficult now to extinguish it."

It's the dump's fourth fire since mid-December. In 2010, a blaze took six weeks to put out.

Iqaluit's situation isn't unique in Nunavut.

In 2001, Nunavut mayors pleaded with Ottawa for extra money to deal with dangerous dumps and lagoons. A 2004 report by the Conference Board of Canada made similar points, as did a 2010 consultant's study for Environment Canada.

A 2011 estimate put the cost of modernizing all 25 municipal dumps in Nunavut at between $320 million and $500 million.

Sperling's plan has been approved by Iqaluit city council.

The government of Nunavut and representatives from Environment Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development are to meet with city officials to discuss it.

The Canadian Press


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Beer for Rob Ford food fight

A Toronto man has been charged after police say an online post urged people to throw food at Mayor Rob Ford during a party in a city park.

Police say they became aware Thursday of an Internet post on a Toronto-based website that referred to the annual "Ford Fest" event to be held the following day at an east-end park.

It's alleged the author of the post offered free beer to anyone who threw eggs or tomatoes at Ford.

Police say Dilaz Rajwani, 37, turned himself in on Friday afternoon, and is charged with counselling an uncommitted indictable offence.

He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 3.

Hundreds of supporters and a handful of protesters showed up for Friday evening's party, where the mayor shook hands, posed for pictures and signed autographs.

Ford's role as mayor has been largely symbolic since November, when city council stripped him of most of his power following his admissions of alcohol abuse and drug use during "drunken stupors.''

He spent nearly two months in rehab earlier this year to tackle substance abuse problems.

The Canadian Press


Bird plucker defends herself

A Facebook posting says a woman caught on video in a Montreal subway train apparently plucking and eating a bird was only preparing "country food" for a meal at home.

A woman, who identifies herself on Facebook as Christina David and an Inuk, says she's not "crazy" and wasn't eating the bird raw, as has been reported.

A YouTube video posted earlier this month appears to show a woman sitting down, bent over, pulling the feathers off what looks like a bird and then eating it.

Montreal police spokesman Manuel Couture said investigators haven't been in contact with David and haven't confirmed the identity of the woman in the video.

The man filming the video says he's about to vomit, while other passengers are seen moving to the other end of the subway car, but David says she is surprised at the uproar the video has caused.

In a lengthy message thread on Facebook, she accuses other passengers and the media of over reacting about the bird.

"It's their own fault they were watching and disgusted... I couldn't wait to go home so I can put it on the big pan with onions and mushrooms.

Some of the friends on the thread posted that David, who also used the name Christina Qualli Poasie on Facebook, was being a "true Inuk."

David also posted that she "wasn't even making any mess."

"I was so happy that I didn't care where I was at the moment but all I have to say is that I ain't crazy," she said.

"I will always be an Inuk no matter where I am."

The Canadian Press attempted to contact David on Sunday to ask her about the Facebook postings in which she suggests she was the woman on the video, but the news service was unable to talk to her.

Couture said the woman in the video could still be charged with disturbing the peace.

"An investigator has to meet her and find out what happened," Couture said.

The Canadian Press


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Feminist disappears from history

The Harper government has spent millions to commemorate the War of 1812 and other episodes from Canadian history, but has also erased at least one inspiring piece of the past.

Therese Casgrain, a feminist icon and Quebec heroine who died in 1981, has been quietly removed from a national honour, to be replaced by a volunteer award bearing the prime minister's banner.

The Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award, was started in 1982 by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau.

It honoured Canadian activists such as June Callwood until it was eliminated — unannounced —by the Harper government in 2010.

An image of Casgrain and her namesake volunteer-award medal also disappeared from Canada's $50 bank note in 2012, replaced by the image of an icebreaker on a new currency series.

An image of the so-called Famous Five women was removed from the same bank note.

"It was a very difficult thing for the family to see the award disappear all of a sudden," Michele Nadeau, Casgrain's granddaughter, said in an interview. "It was a great disappointment."

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which had administered the Casgrain award, was instructed in 2010 to create a Prime Minister's Volunteer Award in its place, to be handed out in a ceremony each year presided over by Stephen Harper.

Casgrain fought for the right of Quebec women to vote, which they finally won in 1940. She also became the first female leader of a political party in Canada, heading the CCF in Quebec, and was appointed to the Senate in 1970 by Trudeau.

A spokesman for Employment and Social Development Canada, the successor department to Human Resources, says the Casgrain award was reviewed in 2010 following the fall speech from the throne, which announced plans for a new volunteer award.

"Discussions took place with the Casgrain Foundation and it was decided that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada end the ... program, rather than re-orient and re-launch it," Pierre Nolet said in an email.

"There was no public announcement of its end. The spirit and objectives of the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award were retained in two national categories of the PMVA (Prime Minister's Volunteer Award)."

Nadeau, however, says her family and the Montreal-based Therese Casgrain Foundation, which she heads, were not consulted about whether the award should be eliminated.

"We were informed of a sort of internal review that was done by the Human Resources Department, and they decided to discontinue. But we were never consulted."

"Basically, we were advised that at some point the award would be discontinued. ... Members of the family, the grandchildren, etc., the great grandchildren, were rather upset."

The Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards, launched in 2011, honour 17 Canadians from across the country each year. The awards ceremony was held Feb. 27 this year in Toronto, with Harper personally presenting a medal and certificate to each winner, and having his picture taken with them.

The Casgrain Award was killed once before by the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1990, but was revived in 2001 by the Chretien Liberals.

Two members of the Therese Casgrain Foundation sat on the selection committee for the two volunteer awards handed out each year, but Human Resources handled all the administration. Much the same group of public servants now administers the new prime minister's award.

The department gave the Casgrain family two commemorative packages about the Casgrain award and its 31 recipients after the demise, including a book and a copy of the medal.

A $51,000 focus-group study commissioned by the federal government in late 2010 found strong resistance to naming a volunteer award after the prime minister.

"They (participants) were uncomfortable with the notion that through the reference to 'Prime Minister' there was the possibility that the awards might be perceived to be political in nature," said the Harris-Decima report.

"Not-for-profit organizations shared particularly strong feelings about this issue." Few participants felt 'prime minister' conveyed any sense of prestige.

Another volunteer award begun in 1995, the Caring Canadian Award, is handed out by the Governor General each year.

Other elements of Canada's past have gone uncommemorated in recent years, notably the 25th and 30th anniversaries of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, signed into law in 1982 under Pierre Trudeau.

In 2012, Harper suggested "divisions" around the patriation of the Constitution kept the government from commemorating the 30th anniversary, a reference to the fact Quebec did not sign the deal.

 

The Canadian Press


Prisons to test monitoring devices

High-risk offenders in Ontario and Quebec are among the inmates slated to take part in a federal prison service pilot project to test the effectiveness of electronic monitoring devices.

Research data will be collected for at least two years before a decision is taken on further use of the devices, to be worn by offenders completing sentences in the community.

The Canadian Press obtained internal memos about the planned pilot project — which is months behind schedule — under the Access to Information Act.

The government announced plans for the pilot early last year despite opposition from the NDP, which questioned the cost.

In a September 2012 report, a majority of the Commons public safety committee recommended that the Correctional Service look into broader use of monitoring, which usually involves an ankle bracelet that can be electronically tracked from a central facility.

However, the NDP disagreed, saying the government's own witnesses made it clear that the devices are not effective for low-risk offenders.

Only medium- or high-risk male offenders out on statutory release — the final one-third of their sentence — or subject to a long-term supervision order will be eligible to take part in the pilot, says a September 2013 Correctional Service memo to regional deputy commissioners.

The Ontario and Quebec regions were selected because they have the largest number of high-risk offenders with special conditions imposed on their release, adds the memo.

Offenders who agree to participate in the research will be randomly assigned to one of two groups: those fitted with a device, or those without one.

The prison service tested monitoring devices from 2008-11, but did not gauge their "effectiveness and efficiency," the memo says.

Legislation passed by the Conservatives gives the prison service authority to demand that an offender who leaves prison on temporary absence, work release, parole, statutory release or long-term supervision wear a monitoring device.

The bracelets can be programmed to send an alert if the offender violates a release condition prohibiting them from being in certain places. Officials see the tool as a means of overcoming the challenges of monitoring offenders who have been ordered to abide by a curfew, or to avoid schools, parks, bars or known gang areas.

Correctional Service notes on the current project, prepared last November, say it will examine the cost-effectiveness of electronic monitoring, changes in offender behaviour, staff experiences with the devices, and any additional "intended and unintended" consequences.

Prison service spokeswoman Veronique Rioux refused to make anyone available to discuss the pilot.

It was supposed to begin last spring, but no bids from potential equipment vendors met the government's requirements.

The prison remains committed to the project, Rioux said, though she did not indicate when it might begin.

A number of provincial correctional systems use electronic monitoring to keep track of suspects out on bail or offenders permitted to be in the community under court-ordered conditions.

Still, the November notes say, a key challenge is managing expectations of partners involved in electronic monitoring, or EM.

"Many of them have very limited experience with EM, and their knowledge is often based on what they've seen on TV, in Hollywood movies and from seeing some American celebrities who have worn an EM device," a prison service official wrote.

"It is important for them to understand that EM is not a silver bullet and as with all technology some limitations do exist."

 

The Canadian Press


Bees sting PM's wife in Toronto

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's wife probably would have preferred a taste of honey but ended up on the business end of a bee sting.

Laureen Harper was taking a look at a bee hive on the rooftop of Toronto's Royal York hotel Sunday, but she and the hotel chef got a bit close and were stung.

The bee hive is part of the hotel's effort to provide in-house honey for its restaurant and to help the environment by providing bees to pollinate area gardens and parks.

Video footage on Toronto television station CP 24 appeared to show the chef getting the most attention from the bees.

Laureen Harper didn't appear at all fazed by the stinging rebuke handed out by the bees, and for good reason.

The Prime Minister's Office says she is very comfortable around bees as her father raised bees on the family farm.

There was no word on how many stings she received.

The Canadian Press


Car rams Costco, kills 6-year-old

A six-year-old child who was injured after being hit by a car that crashed through the front doors of a London, Ont., Costco has died.

On Friday, the collision injured six and caused panic among those shopping in the busy store (on Wellington Road South).

Police have identified the six-year-old child as Addison Hall.

They say three people remain in hospital, including a woman in fair condition and two children who are in critical condition.

Police continue to investigate.

They are asking any witnesses to come forward.

The Canadian Press


Electric cars hindered by utilities

Ontario's overabundance of utility firms may pose a major roadblock to the province's plan to boost electric car ownership, some experts say.

The experts say Ontario's 75 independently operated utilities often overlap their efforts and breed inefficiency, holding back upgrades needed so the grid can support what the province expects will be an influx of electric cars in the next few years.

"A lot of work needs to be done (…) if Ontario is going to move toward infrastructure to support electrification of vehicles," said Hossam Gaber, an energy professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

"Having co-ordination is important to avoid waste of time, waste of resources and also, making sure we are not lacking or losing something important."

Plug'n Drive, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the move to electric cars, said about 2,500 of the province's approximately seven million cars are electric — less than half a per cent.

The province said in 2009 it aims for one in 20 cars to be electric by 2020 — at least 380,000, based on current figures.

Thomas Timmins, head of the global renewable energy practice at the law firm Gowlings, said grid upgrades are needed as demand for power grows exponentially with charging speed. Fast charging — under an hour — uses up to 10 times the power a household usually consumes.

"Everyone's going to be like, 'I need to charge in an hour. I need to charge in 15 minutes. No, no, I need to charge in five minutes,'" he said.

Some small-scale utilities have as few as three employees and are unequipped to handle the necessary changes, he said.

Horizon Utilities' vice-president of business development, Neil Freeman, said one way to better integrate electric cars would be to merge some of the utilities.

"It would be easier to implement those innovations and it would be of lower cost," he said. "There would be less administrative cost for larger utilities than 70 different implementations."

Provincial boards proposed some forms of merger in 1996 and again in 2012, but officials never acted on those recommendations. Some firms, however, did merge of their own volition after 1996, dropping the number of utilities — 393 at its peak in 1932 — to close to current levels.

Ministry of Energy spokeswoman Andrea Arbuthnot said the province will not force mergers, but expects firms themselves to form "innovative partnerships."

She said the government has pumped $50 million into research on smart grids — systems that provide feedback so utilities can identify high-demand areas — which should help ensure electric car owners get the power they need without overwhelming the grid.

About $14 million of the funds have been doled out so far but Arbuthnot said the province will announce where the rest will go in the "near future."

Meanwhile, some are taking steps to ensure the existing electric cars are integrating well into the grid in certain areas.

Plug'n Drive is providing lists of those who buy home chargers to 14 major utilities in the province to monitor usage, said outreach manager Ron Groves.

"The idea there is that if they see a cluster happening — of five, six, 10 electric vehicles in a neighbourhood — they can make a decision as to whether the infrastructure there can handle the load."

The Canadian Press


2 dead after plane crash

Two people have been killed in a small plane crash near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

Transportation Safety Board spokesman Bill Yearwood says the plane, an "amateur built" Avid amphibious aircraft, crashed on takeoff from the Nanaimo Airport in Cassidy Saturday evening.

Cassidy is located about 20 kilometres southeast of Nanaimo.

Yearwood says the single engine two seater went down on the Cottonwood Golf Course, which is adjacent to the airport, and that the two people on board died of their injuries.

Some golfers were on the course at the time of the crash, but Yearwood says there are no reports of anyone else being injured.

He adds that Mounties are interviewing witnesses on the ground as they, along with the TSB and the BC coroner’s service, investigate the crash.

No details have been released at this point concerning the victims.

Weather conditions were sunny and clear at the time of the fatal accident.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect location for Cassidy, B.C

The Canadian Press


Man gets one-year for break-in

An Alberta man has received a one-year sentence for his role in the theft of a ring belonging to Olympic curling champion Brad Jacobs.

RCMP say Terrell Cardinal, 23, pleaded guilty in Alberta provincial court earlier this week to two counts of break-and-enter, which happened at a motel room in Boyle, where Jacobs was playing in a charity golf tournament.

Cardinal was also ordered to pay a $200 victim surcharge.

Jacobs and his team ordered the rings after their 2014 Sochi Games gold medal win.

A woman who is also charged in the case is set to make her first court appearance next month.

Mounties say Jacobs expects to have his Olympic ring returned to him shortly.

The Canadian Press


Man threatens airline, out on bail

A 25-year-old man charged in connection with what authorities allege was a security incident on a flight from Toronto to Panama City is being released on $1,000 bail.

Ali Shahi appeared in a Brampton, Ont., court on Saturday.

Sunwing Airlines says its plane turned around about 45 minutes into the flight Friday morning after a passenger allegedly made a "direct threat" to the aircraft.

Two fighter jets from NORAD were dispatched to escort the flight, carrying 183 passengers and a crew of six, back to Toronto's Pearson airport.

Cellphone video footage from passengers on board that was broadcast on several television networks showed heavily armed SWAT team officers storming aboard the plane to arrest the passenger.

After several hours' delay, the Sunwing flight took off again for Panama.

Shahi is charged with uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft.

Both CBC and CTV reported that Shahi would undergo a psychiatric assessment at the request of his family.

The television networks quoted his father. (680 News)

The Canadian Press


Canada must not falter vs Russia

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the western world can't soften its tough stand toward Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, even at the expense of the economy.

In an unusual move, Harper has written an editorial on the situation in Ukraine that was published in Saturday's Globe and Mail.

He writes that although militants in eastern Ukraine are referred to as 'pro-Russian separatists,' there is no doubt they are "an extension of the "Russian state."

Harper accuses Russia of "aggressive militarism" that he says is a threat to not only Ukraine, but Europe and the values that bind Western nations.

Some Canadian companies, notably aircraft maker Bombardier, have expressed concern about doing business in Russia in the face of increasing Canadian sanctions on Russian individuals and entities.

Harper says Canada's national interests must come first.

"The steps Canada has taken have not been made without careful consideration of their potential impact on Canadian business interests abroad and at home," Harper writes.

"We will not allow business interests alone to dictate our foreign policy."

Bombardier said Friday that Canadian sanctions could affect the timeline of the company's plans to set up a plant in Russia to build regional jets in a project estimated to be worth $3.4 billion.

Harper's editorial also raised the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane this month, killing nearly 300 people including a Canadian.

He pointed the finger at militants in the Ukraine and said whether accidental or not the blood of the victims is on their hands.

Canada is sending an RCMP officer to the Netherlands on Sunday to determine how Canada can assist Dutch authorities in their investigation of the Malaysian air disaster.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson offered the support on Saturday when he spoke with his Dutch counterpart, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.

A statement from Nicholson's office said Canada will take part in a meeting hosted by Dutch officials regarding the next steps for victim identification and the investigation.

The Canadian Press


Gov't insists EU talks on track

The Canadian government isn't commenting directly on a report Germany is poised to reject a proposed trade deal between Canada and the European Union, instead insisting that work to finalize the agreement remains on track.

The German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung cited diplomats in Brussels as saying Berlin won't sign the deal in its current form.

The sticking point is the legal protections granted to foreign investors, the newspaper said Saturday.

Critics say such provisions give companies too much power by allowing them to sue governments for unfair treatment.

A senior European Commission official told the German newspaper the trade deal is seen as a test on the issue for a far larger deal in the works with the United States, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Shannon Gutoskie, a spokeswoman for International Minister Ed Fast, did not speak to the German newspaper report and would only say negotiations to put the finishing touches on the deal continue.

"Excellent progress is being made," she said in a statement.

Canada and the EU reached an agreement in principle on the deal last October after four years of negotiations.

The Harper government trumpets the deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, as one of the biggest ever -- one it says could benefit Canadian business more than NAFTA.

A longterm setback has the potential to be politically damaging to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has staked his government's reputation on the potentially lucrative agreement.

Karel de Gucht, the EU's trade commissioner, said this week a finalized agreement was still within reach, though he acknowledged negotiations have been difficult and complex.

"It has been very, very arduous to do this," he told the European Parliament's international trade committee on Tuesday.

The Council of Canadians cheered the possibility that Germany could reject the proposal.

Maude Barlow, the organization's national chairwoman, said her group has been warning the legal protections granted to investors give foreign corporations the right to dictate domestic policy.

"We call it corporate rule. What these investor-state deals do is they give corporations the right to challenge domestic law, and we feel that is profoundly undemocratic," Barlow said.

The Canadian Press


Robot to hitchhike across country

Travellers in Canada may have some unusual company on the highway this summer as a Wellie-wearing, social media-savvy robot hits the road on a mission to hitchhike its way from Halifax to Victoria.

Hitchbot sets off Sunday on its own to collect stories, meet fellow adventurers and chronicle its more than 6,000-kilometre journey.

The talking robot is an interdisciplinary research project conceived by a team of Ontario-based communications researchers studying the evolving relationship between people and technology.

"We want to take the question that we usually ask — which is, 'Can we trust robots?' — flip it around and ask, 'Really, can robots trust human beings?'" said Hitchbot's co-creator Frauke Zeller, an assistant professor at Ryerson University in Toronto.

"Our society depends more and more on robots and we need to know more about our relationship to that kind of technology."

Immobile on its own, Hitchbot is entirely dependent on human beings for its survival, a state Zeller said is intentional.

"That's part of the experiment," she said, adding that once Hitchbot departs, its creators will not help with its journey.

"It has to be wholly independent, on its own, to really see, 'Can robots trust human beings?'"

Besides contributing to social science robotics research, Hitchbot will bring an eccentric style to Canada's highways. Built out of parts usually found in a basement or hardware store, Zeller described the robot's look as a yard-sale aesthetic.

"On the one hand it has to be sturdy enough to withstand general weather conditions. On the other hand it has to be appealing to people and it has to be trustworthy," Zeller said. "They should feel like, 'Yeah, I should help that robot.'"

Hitchbot's LED-lit smiley face is protected by a transparent cake saver, set on top of a plastic beer pail wrapped in a solar panel. Its pool noodle appendages are capped with rubber boots and yellow latex gloves, one with its thumb pointed firmly upright in anticipation of its next ride.

Hitchbot can also recharge using a standard AC plug or with a car charger designed to fit in a vehicle's onboard cigarette lighter.

Despite its simple design, Hitchbot is able to plug into a much broader technological world. Voice-recognition robotics can prompt it to reference Wikipedia and it is programmed to document its trip through social media using onboard GPS. Hitchbot's Twitter feed has already passed the 6,000-follower mark.

Hitchbot was first imagined last year, the brainchild of Zeller and co-creator David Smith, a professor in the department of communication studies at McMaster University in Hamilton.

They describe Hitchbot in multiple ways: a collaborative art project, a technological performance piece and a social robotics experiment.

"We actually design robots that are explorers and go places that are too dangerous for human beings, like the Mars rover," said Zeller. "Nowadays we consider hitchhiking to be too dangerous."

Smith spoke of a negative shift in society's attitudes towards hitchhiking, despite falling crime rates.

"There's a kind of perception that strangers present a possible risk," said Smith, who has thumbed across Canada more than once. "The situation of Hitchbot is that we're sending a robot off to do something ostensibly dangerous.

"Hitchbot really sits right in the middle of those interesting discussions about what are our future relationships with robots and what kind of cultural mood are we engaged in currently in terms of our sense of adventure and our wariness or not of strangers."

So far, public response has been overwhelmingly positive, Smith said, with plenty of curious passersby eagerly snapping selfies with the chatty, winking robot.

"It's a whimsical project," he said. "It's adventure by proxy, is how I would describe it."

Follow @gwomand on Twitter.

The Canadian Press




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