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Workers carry a new train crossing barrier in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, as investigators examine the site of a fatal bus and train crash that occurred Wednesday. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Workers carry a new train crossing barrier in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, as investigators examine the site of a fatal bus and train crash that occurred Wednesday. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


Sept. 20: Safety at level rail crossings, and other letters to the editor Add to ...

Rail-crossing logic?

Re Rail-Crossing Safety To Face New Scrutiny (Sept. 19): Replacing level rail crossings with underpasses is illogical. We have an acceptable system to control all traffic at level crossings: Eye witnesses to the tragic accident in Ottawa have confirmed that the barriers were functioning.

Since the Via engineer and the barrier system were doing their respective jobs, the focus of the investigation should clearly be on the bus: Was it driver error or mechanical malfunction, or a combination?

I trust that safety advocates who are now promoting rail/road underpasses as a solution are also suggesting the same thing at road intersections, where far more people are killed every year than at rail crossings.

Peter A. Lewis-Watts, Barrie, Ont.


Values exodus

Re PQ Hardens Lines On Exemptions (Sept. 19): How appropriate that the minister responsible for the Charter of Quebec Values, which may lead to yet another exodus from Montreal (perhaps one of its aims), should be named Drainville.

Alan Scrivener, Montreal


Preserving state secular values does not necessarily have to conflict with personal freedoms for government workers. There is a compromise: Only those government officials who deal in person with the public should be restricted from wearing religious (or political) symbols.

A teacher of young children is promoting a religion when displaying a religious symbol because they are in a position of authority, trust and respect. They don’t have to speak about it, just displaying it is influential to a child. Therefore, this restriction is reasonable. It is also true for government officials who deal with the adult public in an official capacity, such as police officers.

It is not reasonable, however, to insist that all government workers be prevented from wearing symbols freely.

John Pope, Victoria


Pension distortions

Re Alberta’s Pension Evolution Is A Step In The Right Direction (Sept. 18): So the C.D. Howe Institute’s president believes that generous public-service pensions are in need of fixing because they “distort labour markets and expose taxpayers to huge risks.”

In the same day’s newspaper we read that private enterprise (not to mention taxpayer-backed financial institutions) are paying their senior executives over $10-million as annual bonuses, that the wealthiest 10 per cent are taking an increasing share of overall income (true of Canada and the U.S.), that average wages are declining, that child poverty is increasing and that our corporate tax rates are unusually low.

Surely these are the distortions that need to be fixed in order to protect the average taxpayer.

Mary Hallard, Seeleys Bay, Ont.


The underlying problem isn’t the generosity of defined benefit plans, it is that they are “defined benefit” plans. Relatively few examples of these remain in the private sector, representing a shift in risk from the employer to the employee. Yet these same employees (as taxpayers) shoulder most of the risk of the defined-benefit retirement income of public-sector employees.

This unfairness is the result of the failure of elected representatives to effectively bargain with public-sector unions. For those politicians who believe voters will punish them for work stoppages or other disruptions to public services resulting from tough, principled bargaining with our money, my message is: Try us!

Mark A. Roberts, Calgary


Mining’s impact

Re Ottawa To Step Up Support For Mining (Sept. 18): Canada should be instructing its embassies abroad to carefully assess the impacts of Canadian mining operations on affected communities to ensure that commercial interests never outweigh collective and individual human rights.

Rather than “pouring more effort into signing investor protection deals,” Ottawa should pass legislation to regulate Canadian mining companies operating abroad, and provide affected communities with access to Canadian courts and an independent ombudsperson.

Rick Arnold, Roseneath, Ont.


Sex offenders, logic

Re Government Closing Sex-offender Loopholes (Sept. 17): “We do not understand why child predators do the heinous things they do and, in all frankness, we don’t particularly care to,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said while promising a national, online database listing the names of child sex offenders.

If Mr. Harper were interested in science and logic, he would know that the U.S. has had publicly accessible “sex offender registries” for years, and that research overwhelmingly indicates these registries are not only ineffective in protecting the public, but ac-tually put the public at more risk.

If Mr. Harper were interested, he might want to know that risk factors that make a person more likely to commit a sexual crime include social isolation, lifestyle instability, and an absence of community support. Numerous U.S. studies have demonstrated that placing an individual on a public registry can actually increase each of these risk factors, making it more difficult for the individual to reintegrate into society and more likely to commit a future sexual offence.

If Mr. Harper were genuinely interested in protecting the public, he would invest in measures that have actually been proven to work, such as targeted treatment, community supervision (probation or parole), and community supports for healthy living.

Daniel Rothman, psychologist, Winnipeg


Lifestyle issue?

Re Is Reliable Contraception A Lifestyle Issue? (Life & Arts, Sept. 16): Carly Weeks is right to ask why faulty birth-control pills are being treated as a minor inconvenience, categorized as a “Type II” hazard by Health Canada, or a non-urgent problem with low probability of serious health consequences.

Information related to an increased risk of unwanted pregnancy is serious and urgent news to any woman on the pill. It is telling and ironic that Ms. Weeks’s column lamenting a disregard for women’s health appeared in the Life & Arts section.

Natalie Hill, Vancouver


Rhodes less travelled

Re Donation Expands Reach Of Award (Sept. 19): Kudos to John MacBain for his donation to enlarge the Rhodes Scholarships. However, I can’t help wondering what the old rascal Cecil Rhodes would have thought. Here’s the man who said: “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.”

He also wanted to colonize the world with Englishmen and to bring the United States back into the British Empire. Imagine.

Cricket instead of the NFL. Tea, anyone?

Gerald Fitzpatrick, Toronto

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