Spring Break

SpringBreak

Marina and Nidhi, our daughter, decided to fly off to Las Vegas for the Spring Break. Our son Nikhil had his hands full for the spring break with his re-certification programme for the Lifeguard, CPR and First Aid, scheduled during the week. Further, both Nikhil and I never enjoyed the idea of throwing a few bucks at the gambling table, always sure that one is going to lose all of it. I drove Marina and Nidhi to the Toronto Airport by 5 AM and behold – there was hardly any space to even pull up the car on to the kerb at the departure terminal.

The schools in Ontario close down for a week, beginning the second Monday of March. This week is called the March Break or the Spring Break. It is called the Spring Break as it often marks the beginning of the Spring. Modern spring break owes its origin to a New York swim coach who moved his team to the warm Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the 1930s. looking for a warm place to keep his swimmers in shape over the winter. The concept took off in the 1960s with the release of the movie ‘Where the Boys Are’ and marketed using the phrase ‘Spring Break’. The subject movie was about a group of college students from the US Midwest letting loose in Fort Lauderdale.

Spring break is now one of the most popular travel times in Canada and the US with all the airports jam-packed and the Staff at the border crossings over worked. It is the time of year to shed layers of impermeable outerwear in favour of shorts, T-shirts, and sandals.

The March break is an important week for our family as Nidhi, Nikhil and I – all of us have our birthdays during the week. With the children grown up, they seem to have lost the enthusiasm to celebrate their birthdays. They just do not feel like wasting the money as they say. Please refer my blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/18/how-did-you-manage-it/

The March break coincides with the thawing of the snow. The grass is now visible and the streams and rivers are flowing faster with the water from the melting snow. The city’s crews are busy cleaning up the parks and the walkways, collecting all the plastic that laid buried under the winter snow. They were also seen repairing the fences, the swings and playing equipment in the parks; setting up the benches and the tables, clearing the flower beds for the springing up of the tulips and daffodils.

March break also marks the beginning of the construction season. In Canada we have four seasons – winter, severe winter, winter and the followed by a six month long construction season. March break marks the beginning of the deployment of roads and bridges maintenance crew, shutting down some parts of the road, closing down a few lanes on the highways; all resulting in the vehicles either slowing down or taking a diversion.   Construction of new buildings commence at this time and most of the high-rise buildings have maintenance hanging down on steel ropes, carrying out repairs, cleaning or painting the outer side-walls or the glass windows.

The logic behind having a school break in March always eluded me. The new semester begins in February and logically in case a break is to be given, it got to be in April or May as it would mark the mid-term.

March break also marks the start of the cycling season. The cycles, all stored during the winters makes their appearances on the streets and cycling paths. The number of joggers and walkers also shows a marked increase. Most people, restricted indoors due to the snow and the cold winter now set out to enjoy and welcome the spring. The households become busy with the spring-cleaning of their front and back yards, often with the children helping their parents, to clear the yards of dead plants and shrubs.

The community centres run by the city offers day long activities for children to include swimming, skating, archery, fencing and various coaching classes for tennis, basket ball, soccer etc. There are many outdoor activities conducted for kids during the week like trekking, bird watching, cycling tours, etc. The city and various other youth organisations conduct full day and half day outdoor camps for the kids during the week aimed at learning motor and social skills, improve creativity through play, arts and cultural activities, develop intellectual capacities and concepts through play and many other life skills and above all build greater self esteem and improve their quality of life and health.

The police also utilises the March break to improve the awareness in children and pedestrians with a week-long pedestrian safety campaign called ‘March Break-March Safe.’ The event aims at increasing safety awareness in children during March Break as there are more children and youth walking around on city streets and the police want to make sure everyone stays safe. During the week the Police Officers would be focussing on drivers, cyclists and pedestrians who commit violations that could jeopardize the safety of other pedestrians.

The many museums and libraries offer special programmes for the youth and the young and also many family-friendly activities all week. The Canadian War Museum at Ottawa offers opportunity for children to play strategy board games against opponents. The Ontario science Museum offers kids (age 5-12) an opportunity to carry out exciting science experiments and enjoy exclusive access to the exhibit halls and the speciality is that no parents are allowed to accompany the kids.

When you drive on the roads in the residential areas and find children playing hockey on the roads the entire day, believe it, its March Break and the Spring is here and the warm Summer is not far away.

 

 

 

 

 

Terrorism Live

(Hold Fire; Advertisements of the sponsors are being aired; The nation wants to know!)

TerrorLive

Everyone must be a bit surprised to note the advisory by India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting asking all TV news channels not to broadcast live anti-terrorist operations to avoid any adverse impact. This advisory came in the wake of some TV channels covering live anti-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district on March 20, 2015, in which five lives were lost and 11 wounded.

The advisory is not to focus on location, strength, movement, strategy and other related operations being followed by security forces engaging with the terrorists so that no operations linked information reaches the terrorists and their handlers.

One presumed that during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the Indian Home Ministry had issued a similar advisory to the news channels not to air the operations live as it was helping the Pakistani handlers of the terrorists. It is learnt that the home ministry wrote to the information and broadcasting ministry asking for amendments in the Cable Television Network rules, under which the private broadcasters operate in India. The home ministry cited that such live coverage not only affects the secrecy and effectiveness of the operation but also puts the safety of security forces, common people and journalists in jeopardy, official sources said.

After the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the National Broadcaster Association put out a set of rules, including restriction on live reporting of terror situations, as part of a self-regulation exercise on the part of private broadcasters. The rules set seemed to be meant to be broken by the very same people who set it; all for a few TRPs.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher very aptly called media publicity the ‘oxygen’ of terrorism (also for the news channels) and for good health of the news channels (higher TRPs), they need to breath in a good dose of this ‘oxygen’. Live reporting of terror attacks does provide a lot of it and hence why would any channel miss it.

The speed by which these news channels deploy their vans and crews, even in the remote towns like Kathua, appear as if the terrorists have given them prior notice before undertaking the operations. The terrorists also seen to have timed and choreographed the attacks in order to extract maximum media attention. In case had the media not covered the act, the impact would have been localised in the small town of Kathua, but now the media has helped it to be a national issue.

The timing of the attack, during the fortnight when the knockout stage of the Cricket World Cup 2015 is being played, is also very pertinent. When the entire nation and the media is gloating over the achievements of its cricket team (with Pakistan being knocked out), the terrorists struck to divert the media attention. It can be compared to the terrorist attack during the Munich Olympics in 1972, when the world and the media were focussing on the Olympic Games, the Palestinian terrorists carried out the infamous Black September attack on Israeli athletes. What followed was a hostage situation and a rescue attempt that was closely covered by all of those media, and watched by millions of people throughout the world.

The media coverage of the recent acts of terrorism – Lindt Chocolate Cafe hostage crisis in Sydney; attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo in France, the attack on the Canadian Parliament etc- were all in restrained so as to ensure that the deployment and actions of the forces were never divulged.

Another aspect of the media reporting is the sensationalising of the event and privacy of the affected parties. The coverage of the Canadian media during the funeral of Corporal Cirillo and the Indian media during the funeral of Colonel Rai; both victims of terror attacks, needs comparison. The Indian TV channels appear to have not given any space for the family members of the gallant soldier to express their grief. The entire fraternity of the news channels were more interested in cashing on the sentiments of the near and the dear ones of the hero.

Has anyone ever seen a photograph of the dead after the 9/11 World Trade Centre terror attack? Has anyone seen video clippings of the funerals of those who lost their lives in the attack? Has anyone seen how the near and dear ones of those who lost their lives reacted during the funerals? The American media seemed to have restrained itself, even though there was no media-policing.

In any democracy, the parliament is supreme and every citizen has the right to know what happens during the sessions. The proceedings inside the parliament in any country is telecast by providing only one feed to the entire media and no one seems to be questioning it. Based on it, some suggested methodology for covering terrorism based events is laid down.

  • Let there be only a single feed, which is not real-time and does not jeopardise the action of the forces.
  • Create or nominate a pool of available reporters to cover the event. The force responsible to carry out the operation must coordinate this media pool.
  • Clear guidelines about the lights and camera equipments to be used and their positioning to ensure safety of the camera crew.
  • Avoidance of interview of the commanders and troops participating in the operations to reduce additional pressures on them.
  • Providing a point of contact for the media in terms of a Public Relations Officer (PRO), who should be providing the apt information.
  • Avoidance of questioning of the PRO and commanders during the operations. The same can be done after the culmination of all events and a press conference can be organised for it.
  • Avoidance of reporting on sensational aspects of the incidents.
  • Not playing into the terrorists’ hands is also very important. All media reports must ensure that the readers/viewers are not terrorised further.
  • Ensure that the media does not become a propaganda tool in the hands of terrorists.

As per the latest directions of the Government of India, there is a blanket ban on airing live coverage of anti-terrorist operations. The broadcasters in such situations will have to restrict themselves to reporting periodic briefing given by designated officers.

It appears that terrorism is here to stay and acts of terrorism will continue to haunt us in times to come. Hence it is imperative that the media regulates itself or the governments are forced to regulate the media. It is the duty of every citizen to ensure that they do not become a propaganda tool in the hands of terrorists; meaning that what you speak about the act of terror is sure to have an impact on the listeners.

Coping up With Winter in Toronto

toronto winter

On 04 March, after an appointment with the Cardiologist in downtown Toronto, I was driving back home. The roads were slippery due to the freezing rain we had the previous day and thus the traffic was moving slow. The traffic light I came upon was not functional and the traffic was further slowed down. After a kilometer, I found the road blocked by a police cruiser and at a distance I could see two fire tenders putting out the flames on the poles that housed the transformers. I took a diversion and then pulled up on the drive-through of the coffee shop, to be welcomed with a bold sign – ‘CLOSED – Due to power failure’.

The transformer fire in the area kindled my brain cells to write about it. As if to vent the vengeance caused by the transformer fires, snarling traffic and the aborted coffee mission, on reaching home,  I decided to research the cause of the fire (which made my day awful).  Thus this article was born.

On 03 March 2015, thousands of homes in Toronto were without power until 04 March evening, after a major power outage struck the city amid a blast of winter weather. The power outage was the result of over 50 electric poles housing transformers catching fire. Pole fires generally occur once every couple of weeks in a normal winter.

What caused this sudden outburst of pole fires now? Toronto area had temperatures of around minus 10 degrees Celsius for a fortnight without any precipitation; either in the form of snow or rain. The temperature on 03 March rose to zero degrees Celsius and there was freezing rain in the afternoon. During a freezing rain, raindrops become super-cooled while passing through sub-freezing layers of air. These drops freezes on impact with any surface they encounter. The resulting ice, called glaze, accumulates to a thickness of several centimeters.

Salt is spread on the roads to melt off the snow in sub-zero temperatures. The salt crystals are powdered under the tyres of the vehicles. This salt dust rises up and gets deposited on the vehicles, poles, pavements, road-signs, etc. This salt had built up on the joints on the transformer terminals throughout the extremely cold winter fortnight. As there was no rain or snow to rinse salt off the power lines, they accumulated, especially at the joints and corroded the insulation.

Once the freezing rain hit these salt covered joints, the salt dissolved in the water, making it a good electric conductor, but the ice ensured that it got stuck to the terminal. Thus the distance between the transformer terminals and the ‘earth’ reduced. This resulted in discharges of electricity (arcing), powerful enough to set the oil-filled transformers on fire.  Normally, the air outside the solid insulator provides additional insulation.

The power outage caused the subway services to be suspended in some areas. The traffic lights in some areas did not function and a few shopping malls, restaurants and businesses closed down until the power was restored by 04 March.

The Winter of January-February 2014 brought with it the polar vortex, where in the cold winds from the North pole swept through Canada. This resulted in heavy snow and temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Snow and ice weighed on power lines or snapped tree branches, which took transmission cables down with them, causing many power outages.

A freezing rain storm on March 2, 2007, resulted in a layer of ice several centimetres thick forming on the side of the 533-metre-tall CN tower and other downtown buildings. The sun thawed the ice, and winds of up to 90 km/h blew some of it away from these structures. There were fears that cars and windows of nearby buildings would be smashed by large chunks of ice. In response, police closed all the streets surrounding the CN tower. There were a few other cases of falling ice chunks reported in Toronto from the towers and high-rise buildings.

The modern buildings and towers are high-performance structures with double or triple-pane windows to reduce heat loss. The windowpane material is an efficient insulator. This results in no loss or transfer of heat to the outer side of the windowpanes causing the outer surface to be much cooler in comparison to the warmer inner surface. This causes accumulation of snow on these windowpanes. In the older buildings with less-efficient windows, enough heat escapes through the glass to melt the snow on contact. Further, protruding sun shades, end up creating ledges for snow and ice to accumulate.

Many suggestions were mooted to solve the ice-chunk problem of CN Tower – from manually chipping off to using laser or magnification of light to targeted problem areas to melt off the ice. The most practical one appears to be the one developed by Victor Petrenko, a professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. It is a thin film that uses an electric pulse to melt ice and snow in less than a second. It can be applied to any surface, including concrete and glass..   The pulse melts a thin layer of ice right as it meets the surface, forcing the ice to slide off.

The invention is already being used on the cables of the Uddevalla Bridge in Sweden, where built-up ice kept crashing down on vehicles in winter. The problem was solved by wrapping the bridge’s cables with a special stainless steel foil, which is heated with a short pulse of electricity. A transparent electrically conductive film is also being used in Russia to de-ice a huge glass dome over a mall.

The frequency of watermain breaks is greater in the winter months. The watermains are buried at about 10 feet below ground surface (much below the freezing level) to prevent the water from freezing. Low temperatures cause soil to freeze and expand, creating frost loading or force applied on the watermain. Prolonged periods of cold weather will result in an increase in the number of watermain breaks. Leaving a tap slightly open for a very thin stream of water and Insulating pipes that are outside or exposed to an uninsulated wall with foam pipe covers are some suggested methods to prevent watermain breaks. Opening kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing will also help.

Environment Canada has said that February 2015 that Toronto experienced, was the first in 75 years in which the temperature did not get above the freezing mark.

Always remember that winter is only temporary and think ahead a few months, the warmth of the Spring is on its way.

Canada and Anti-Terrorism

counterterr

Canada’s proposed anti-terrorism bill C51 passed its second reading on Monday, 23 Feb 2015 with a vote 176-87 in favour of its omnibus legislation. The act would empower law enforcing agencies to arrest somebody if they think a terrorist act ‘may be carried out’ and place them in preventive detention up to seven days. The bill recommends maximum sentence of five years in prison for any act that may promote terrorism. It further permits security officials to go online and challenge the communications sent to those suspected of becoming radicalized.

This new legislation would make it easier for police to detain suspected terrorists before they can harm Canadians. It would also assist national security agencies in preventing non-citizens who pose a threat from entering and remaining in Canada. This law would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) the ability to intervene against specific terror plots. This new legislation would provide the courts with the authority to order the takedown of terrorist propaganda – to interfere with terrorists’ efforts to radicalize and recruit others. This legislation would also enable the sharing of information related to national security, across federal departments and agencies, to ensure that authorities can better identify those with terrorist links and intentions. It would also stop them from travelling by air for terrorism purposes.

The terrorists attacks of 9/11 changed the way the world viewed terrorism. The first major terrorists act Canada witnessed was the devastating tragedy of the Air India bombing by the Sikh terrorists that killed 329 people, most of them Canadians.

In Canada, the definition of terrorist activity includes an act or omission undertaken, inside or outside Canada, for a political, religious or ideological purpose that is intended to intimidate the public with respect to its security, including its economic security, or to compel a person, government or organization (whether inside or outside Canada) from doing or refraining from doing any act, and that intentionally causes one of a number of specified forms of serious harm.

The first priority of the Government is to protect Canada and the safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad. Building Resilience Against Terrorism. Canada is not immune from terrorism. A number of international and domestic extremist groups are active in Canada—some engage in terrorist activity in Canada, or support terrorism beyond Canada’s borders. Some have worked to manipulate or coerce members of Canadian society into advancing extremist causes hostile to Canada’s peace, order and good government.

Today violent Islamist extremism is the leading threat to Canada’s national security. Several Islamist extremist groups have declared Canada as one of their targets. This includes Al Qaida affiliates and ISIS from abroad to homegrown Islamist extremists posing a threat of violence within Canada.
Threats are also posed by Canadians who support violent conflicts abroad, or by foreigners in Canada interested in using Canada for refuge, financing, recruitment or other forms of support. Canada has listed under the Criminal Code more than 40 terrorist entities that are considered a threat, having either knowingly engaged in or facilitated international terrorism. These entities include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA), the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Hamas and Hizballah.

The Canadian laws have been shaped by a deep attachment to democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and pluralism. Canada is an open-minded multi-cultural society which rejects intolerance and violent extremism. Security and laws coded to ensure security of the country will depend upon a respect for these values. When these are compromised, the safety and survival of every citizen would come under threat.

Extremism has many sources – from individuals to a diverse range of groups, who either actively participate in or who support violent extremist activities. Hence there is a need for identifying and isolating such individuals and groups. To achieve this, building partnerships with groups and individuals in Canadian communities must be the first step. This would facilitate in a better understanding of the communities and foster much better confidence in the security agencies. It would facilitate in implementing preventative and intervention methods to stop the process of radicalization leading to violence.

To succeed, the Government’s counter-terrorism efforts cannot be limited to operations to contain these groups or individuals involved in terrorist activities. They must also be reinforced by preventive measures, aimed at keeping vulnerable individuals from being drawn into terrorism. These measures call for a focus on individual motivations, and other factors contributing to recruitment into terrorist activities.

To effectively counter violent extremism, a culture of openness must exist between citizens and government. This will require the Government to share knowledge with Canadians about the nature of the terrorist threat. This would ensure better understanding of the need for these actions and develop better and effective responses. Every citizen has a responsibility to act—a responsibility to work with Government and security personnel, and a responsibility to build strong and supportive local communities. Only when these tasks are shared will a truly resilient Canada be achieved.

Capturing of biometric data, such as fingerprints and photographs, in the visa issuing process will accurately verify the identity and travel documents of foreign nationals who enter Canada. This will enhance the integrity of existing immigration programs by preventing criminals from entering Canada and facilitating the processing of legitimate applicants.

It will never be possible to stop all terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, Canadians can expect that their Government will take every reasonable step to prevent individuals from turning to terrorism, to detect terrorists and their activities, to deny terrorists the means and opportunities to attack and, when attacks do occur, to respond expertly, rapidly and proportionately.

The terrorist threat has evolved over the years, and Canada now faces ever more decentralized and diverse threats. This indicates that Canada’s Strategy must be adaptable and forward-looking—not just to react to emerging threats but to identify and understand emerging trends.

Doctor-Assisted Death

DocAssistedDeath

In a landmark judgement, nine member bench of Supreme Court of Canada on 06 Feb 2015, voted unanimously to allow doctor-assisted death for patients suffering ‘grievous and irremediable medical conditions.’ The bench observed that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes on the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. The court suspended its ruling for 12 months to give the Canadian government, medical regulatory bodies and the provinces a chance to draft new laws and policies around assisted dying. It said doctors have the ability to address whether an individual is capable of consent, and said the intolerable suffering can be physical or psychological. In its direct effect on how Canadians are permitted by their government to die (or live); this ruling will always stand out as one of the most remarkable one by the Supreme Court of Canada.

It is pertinent to note that the Honourable Supreme Court had used the term ‘physician-assisted death’ and has not used the term ‘physician-assisted suicide’. This could be because suicide is a criminal offence and so is aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide.

Currently eight jurisdictions permit some form of assisted dying – Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Colombia. The process of legalization began in 1994, when Oregon, as a result of a citizens’ initiative, altered its laws to permit medical aid in dying for a person suffering from a terminal disease. Colombia followed in 1997. The Dutch Parliament established a regulatory regime for assisted dying in 2002; Belgium quickly adopted a similar regime, with Luxembourg joining in 2009. Together, these regimes have produced a body of evidence about the practical and legal workings of physician-assisted death and the efficacy of safeguards for the vulnerable.

Many governments and societies base their laws regarding criminality of suicide and homicide based on a belief that human life is God gifted and no human has the right to take it away. It is a dichotomy that the most countries that legislate a death penalty does not provide for any form of form of assisted dying. It is a crime in these jurisdictions to assist another person in ending her own life. As a result, people who are grievously and irremediably ill cannot seek a physician’s assistance in dying and may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering. A person facing this prospect has two cruel options; either she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. In all the jurisdictions that allow some form of form of assisted dying, the death penalty is not in vogue.

In Canada it all begun with the Rodriguez vs British Columbia case of 1993 and in the judgement, the court upheld the blanket prohibition on assisted suicide by a slim majority. The court ruled that the state’s purpose of banning assisted suicide was legitimate – to protect the sanctity of life. Ms Sue Rodriguez suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and she requested for the right to a physician’s help in ending her life. She in an affidavit said that feared she would suffocate and die struggling for air. She died of an infection in late 2012.

Despite the Court’s decision in Rodriguez case, the debate over physician‑assisted dying continued. Between 1991 and 2010, the Canadian Parliament and its committees debated on six private member’s bills seeking to decriminalize assisted suicide, but none was passed. While opponents to legalization emphasized the inadequacy of safeguards and the potential to devalue human life, a vocal minority spoke in favour of reform, highlighting the importance of dignity and autonomy and the limits of palliative care in addressing suffering. The majority expressed concerns about the risk of abuse under a permissive regime and the need for respect for life. A minority supported an exemption to the prohibition in a given exceptional circumstances.

In case of Ms Lee Carter, she took her mother Kathleen, 89, to Switzerland in 2010 for a doctor-assisted death because of a degenerative spinal condition. Kathleen said in an affidavit she did not wish to live ‘as an ironing board,’ flat on her back, unable even to read a newspaper. Ms Lee Carter said that, after her mother’s death that the entire family were elated as Kathleen got what she wanted. The case of Kathleen led to the court’s decision, which indicates that Canadians have a choice to die with dignity in their own country, surrounded by friends and family.

The timing of the judgement is considered politically explosive. It raises the very real possibility that doctor-assisted suicide could become an issue in the October federal election. The Conservatives led by the incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper, clearly oppose doctor-assisted suicide. Federal lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that totally banning assisted suicide shows that all lives are valued and worthy of protection. They also argued that such a ban would protect the vulnerable from being subtly encouraged to end their lives.

The Supreme Court has placed a 12-month delay on the ruling’s effect. Parliament has a year to draft a new law. If that does not happen, the decision takes over, and would allow for physician-assisted death. With the federal elections taking place in October 2015, formation of the new government after the election, all indicate that there is hardly any time with the parliament to pass any legislation. Politically too, the ruling dispensation would never like to touch such a subject during an election year, for obvious reasons.

The Canadian Supreme Court by this ruling has clearly defined the distinction between ‘right to life’ and ‘duty to live’. The ruling is a statement that the current law against doctor-assisted death breaches rights in Section 7 of the Charter of the Canadian Constitution, which protect life, liberty and the security of the person.