Around the World in 80 Pages

30 04 2009

By Kara Bertrand
Managing Editor, Convergence Magazine
Spring 2009

An article on the ever-changing landscape of travel writing, written for Convergence Magazine, the flagship magazine produced by final-year journalism students at Humber College. The magazine focuses on media-related issues and the theme of the magazine this semester was business journalism and the economy.

Click here for a PDF of the article.

Getting A Jump On The Season

19 04 2009

By Kara Bertrand
Photo Editor, Sweat Magazine
Spring 2009

A health and lifestyle article written for Sweat Magazine, the official magazine of the Ontario College’s Athletic Association (OCAA). The piece looked at the offseason behaviour of women’s softball players and how this might contribute to their success during the season.

Click here for a PDF of the article.

Bar-going women should put safety above pleasure

6 12 2008

Kara Bertrand
Life Editor, Humber Et Cetera
Published: November 13, 2008

They’re out every Friday and Saturday night, often at the same place in the hope of finally succeeding in their nightly mission. These women can’t be missed. They squeal, shout and embrace almost anyone in their presence. They’re far past the point of inebriation and seem to have lost all account of their actions. All it takes is one night – one moment – when one of these women can be the victim of sexual harassment, rape or worse yet, murder.

Women need to stop portraying themselves as prostitutes or lesbians to please or excite men and learn to control their alcohol intake. I feel guilty saying drunk rape victims are partly to blame for what happens to them, but there has to be a point when a woman puts her own safety before her physical pleasure.

Quite frankly, it’s a sad display to see a normally level-headed woman lose all control, and it happens every weekend. Some will dance on poles or make out with their girlfriends – all to impress whomever is watching them that night. I’m not sure when acting like a lesbian became the norm and it sort of bothers me. That lesbianism excites men baffles me in the first place, but that heterosexual women decide to succumb to this fantasy is even more obscene.

A study published in the December 2003 issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggested that women who engage in certain behaviour at certain bars are “more likely to experience bar-related aggression.” This behaviour might include alcohol consumption, leaving the bar with strangers and even non-verbal communication.

Research by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health showed women are more vulnerable to alcohol abuse than men, as women who are drinking have higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood. Consequently a woman ends up drunk faster then a man, often forgetting her inhibitions at the door.

Women need to be especially concerned of this since sexual assaults are on the rise. Toronto Police Service states that 895 sexual assaults were reported from January to August 2008, compared to a total of 944 in all of 2007. According to Stats Can, there were 546,000 sexual assaults in Canada in 2004, with young women between the ages of 15 and 24 being most at risk.

For women who think sexual assault is rare, think again. These statistics are based on only eight per cent of women – the rest are not reporting sexual assault incidents for reasons of fear or embarrassment.

Such statistics should be a rude awakening for women who frequent bars and parties. Women need to be more aware of how to prevent becoming a victim of a sexual assault. Common sense will say to keep your friends nearby, with having at least one sober; never leave your drink unattended; and watch your alcohol consumption. All these precautions will certainly make the next day easier to handle.

Twenty-first century women should be proud to be who they are before they set foot in the bar, without having to pretend to be something they’re not.

Military casualties must be public

6 12 2008
Kara Bertrand
Life Editor, Humber Et Cetera
Published: October 23, 2008

The United States Department of Defense enacted legislation in Aug. 2008 granting journalists access to ceremonies honouring fallen military personnel, a motion that was not present in any legislation until this point.

For the first time since the Vietnam War, under the Fallen Hero Commemoration Act, photojournalists and videographers can now capture flag-draped coffins returning to American soil.

Canada has no such legislation. In April 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper even banned the media from ramp ceremonies at C.F.B. Trenton. While this particular ban has been lifted, there is no official legislation allowing the media to capture these tragic yet poignant moments in Canadian military history.

It’s true that with the ban lifted people can see footage and photos of ramp ceremonies but there is no guarantee that the media will not be prohibited from documenting a service.  Canada should have legislation to ensure every death can be broadcasted for the public record and for history.

The war in Afghanistan has produced the largest number of fatal casualties for any single Canadian military mission since the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 where 516 were killed. With 98 dead and hundreds wounded, the sacrifice encroached by this war is not unknown. Without legislation stating the media can attend these ceremonies, government decisions made on the fly could keep the public in the dark regarding military deaths, forging the effects of the war.

As each day passes, insurgent forces continue to gain strength, and critics wonder when the deaths will cease.  However, with Harper’s promise to begin a pull-out of Afghanistan in 2011, there still is no excuse for forgetting those who gave their lives in the war. Media coverage has given light to each death, providing the family with comfort and support, while putting a human face to the war.

When faced with the decision of enacting legislation, like the Fallen Hero Commemoration Act, hesitation might hang on the notion of Canada forever following in the footsteps of Big Brother America, often looking south to see what’s next on the horizon. Emulating the act should not be taken as lowering ourselves to a game of follow the leader, but rather as a step up to respect not only those who have died but their families and the Canadian public in general.

Failing to cover these issues leaves a great hole in the fabric of Canadian society. With Canada often taking a peacekeeping role in more recent wars, the Canadian public was not used to hearing of military deaths in 2006. Harper was presumably trying to shelter the sensitive ears and eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Normal, and leaving us in the dark regarding the war.

But we should not forget those fighting in Afghanistan, especially with Remembrance Day approaching, regardless of our personal beliefs about the war.

Public invited to submit feedback on short-listed options for Rapid Transit Project

5 12 2008

Kara Bertrand
Staff Reporter, Community News South
Published: July 2, 2008

Waterloo Region’s Rapid Transit Project Team has short-listed rapid transit routes connecting Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. Public meetings were held in June to gather input from residents in deciding which alternative is best for the region.
The region is collecting feedback until July 11.

A light rail transit (LRT) system and a bus rapid transit (BRT) system are both being considered for the region.

The LRT would run roughly from Water St. and Ainslie St. in Cambridge to King St. and Northfield Dr. in Waterloo, running through downtown Kitchener and uptown Waterloo.

The BRT would be similar except that it would travel the 401 from Hespeler to Highway 8. Both systems would connect to ‘Inter-Regional Bus Service’ as well as to existing Grand River Transit routes to allow all members of the region to participate in the system.

Emily Schmidt, from the consultant firm hired by the region, EarthTech, said a priority of the initiative is to make it as fast as possible to get to any location.

A timeline is still being decided, however construction starts are not anticipated for a few more years. Difficulties that exist for developing rapid transit are narrow roads, buildings close to the street, on-street parking and buried utilities. These issues are being taken into account with the alternative routes being considered.

Similar transit initiatives are in Bremen, Germany, Long Beach, California, Ottawa, Montpellier, France, Houston, Texas, and Portland, Oregon.

More information and comment forms are available by calling 519-575-4757 ext. 3242 or at

Your Neighbourhood Credit Union raising funds to support Guide Dogs

5 12 2008

Kara Bertrand
Staff Reporter, Community News East
Published: July 2, 2008

A 10-week old black Labrador Retriever puppy named Pina will soon begin training with Dog Guides, primed to change the life of her future owner.

“It’s amazing to think when looking at her that she’s got such an incredible future,” said Kate Neff, Manager, Marketing and Community Relations for Your Neighbourhood Credit Union (YNCU).

YNCU held their second annual barbeque in support of Dog Guides on June 6, the first of many events in the hope of fundraising $25,000 to cover Pina’s care. Last year, the company raised $15,000 for a yellow lab named Dreyfus who was given to an elderly woman, Thea, in Edmonton.

Neff was almost brought to tears when she told of the message she received from Thea. “She said, ‘my world was getting really, really small… Dreyfus has changed my life.’”

YNCU will sponsor the training of Pina until she graduates from the program and passes the medical, social and intellectual testing. Dog Guides trains dogs in programs such as Hearing Ear, Canine Vision or Special Skills. Its breeding facility for all of Canada is in Breslau, which Neff said was an even better way to ensure YNCU is supporting the community.

Pina will be fostered by Helen and Dave Kindy for a year to work on socialization before she will begin official training for Dog Guides.
“It was always something I wanted to do,” said Helen.

Jennifer Piccione, part of the puppy staff at Dog Guides, said a new program was added to train Seizure Response dogs and the organization also has breeding dogs to ensure their labs, and terriers are pure-bred.

She said Pina’s mother was one of their breeding dogs and her father is actually a guide in California. Piccione said dogs that enter the special skills program, which Dreyfus was entered into, need to be quite smart and be problem solvers. For example, they must be able to retrieve remotes and phones but also be strong enough to stabilize their partner in case of a fall.

Dog Guides is always in need of foster parents and donations. Visit their website for more information. YNCU is accepting donations at all 13 branches.

Community Spotlight: Jason Gingrich

5 12 2008

Volunteering is his favourite thing to do

Kara Bertrand
Staff Reporter, Community News South
Published: July 2, 2008

Jason Gingrich, 29, has been volunteering for 14 years. He’s built homes with Habitat for Humanity in Jamaica and Kansas, and been involved in the Mennonite Relief Sale and ‘Rock Revival Air Band Lip Sync.’ Most notably, Gingrich has dedicated countless hours to the J. Steckle Heritage Homestead and its haunted barn over the past 14 years.

On June 12, Gingrich was honoured with the Helping Hands award at the 2008 Volunteer Impact Awards. He said he was surprised at winning.

“I thought I might have a chance, but seeing the other nominees and the age of everybody else, I thought, ‘I won’t come anywhere close to that,’” he said. “They’ve had so many more years to volunteer.”
An electrician by trade, Gingrich uses his expertise to make the haunted barn ‘high-tech.’

“I love the final product of the people that are going through it and how much they love it,” said Gingrich. “That’s what makes the whole year of working on it worth it.”

All the money raised at the haunted barn goes to help out the Steckle family.

“I think it’s important that it goes to them because they’ve been hosting it for so long,” he said. “It’s a great property in what they do with the kids.”

Gingrich went to Jamaica twice and said he would love to go back to build another house with Habitat for Humanity, but can’t afford the expense for the trip.

“It’s important for the habitat build for the families,” he said. “It’s a great thing to help them out – even if it’s far away like Jamaica.”

Gingrich now does the Mennonite Relief Sale mostly as a memorial to his father. There, he helps out making over 2,000 pancakes.

“That’s always fun because we just get family and friends to help out with it,” he said.

Gingrich said the biggest problem with committing so much of his time to volunteering in the community is “lack of pay and not being at work when doing the event.” With the haunted barn, he said he sometimes has problems making sure volunteers can commit to the event. He sometimes has to put in his own money into fundraising in order to make ends meet.

“I wish I had the money where I could do this all the time,” he said. “I would volunteer constantly.”

It’s clear that volunteering is Gingrich’s favourite thing to do and something he doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon.

For more information on the J. Steckle Heritage Homestead haunted barn happening again this upcoming fall, see their website at