The Weather Networks Nathan Coleman has more.
The Weather Networks Nathan Coleman has more.
The Burmese-Canadian community is calling on the federal government to provide more material support to anti-military protesters after a week that saw some of the deadliest clashes between police and demonstrators in Myanmar since the military coup in that country. The Burmese Canadian Action Network (BCAN) sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Marc Garneau this week, just one day after police killed 18 people and wounded 30, according to the United Nations. "We, Burmese Canadians across Canada, are calling on the Government of Canada to provide tangible support for Burmese people struggling for freedom and democracy," the letter reads. The crisis began after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide re-election as state counsellor of Myanmar — a position equivalent to a prime minister -- on Nov. 8 last year. The military questioned the results, accusing the winning party of fraud, before seizing power and placing Suu Kyi and other senior members of her government under arrest on Feb. 1. Since then, dozens of protesters have died -- 34 on Wednesday alone -- at the hands of police and more than 1,000 civilians and elected officials have been arrested. Anti-coup protesters maintain their position behind a barricade despite smoke from tear gas in San Chaung township in Yangon, Myanmar, on Friday, Mar. 5, 2021. Demonstrators defy growing violence by security forces and stage more anti-coup protests ahead of a special UN Security Council meeting on the country’s political crisis.(The Associated Press) From pot-banging to protesters taking to the streets clad in hard-hats and goggles to protect themselves from assaults by police, the demonstrations are happening daily, in spite of bans on political protests and on social media. The letter to Trudeau and Garneau says Canada should take further action, including helping people who are now struggling with food scarcity. The civil unrest has caused major shutdowns in the country and interrupted the people's daily lives, especially those who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). BCAN appealed to Canada to send food and material support via UN agencies and civil society organizations. "We encourage you to find ways to provide such essential assistance urgently," its letter reads. The letter also calls on Canada to officially recognize the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Htaw (CRPH). The CRPH, which was created soon after the coup with the support of 400 elected MPs, combines the Lower and Upper Houses of Myanmar's parliament. Protesters hold up placards demanding the release of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw on March 4, 2021 (AFP via Getty Images) According to Tin Maung Htoo, spokesperson for the BCAN, the CRPH is currently working underground in defiance of the police and supporting the demonstrators under the radar, by releasing information and making announcements to the public. "We are quite encouraged by the [Canadian] government's stand and this stand and actions from the government is very encouraging for people on the ground in Burma, especially," he said, referring to a move by Canada and Britain to impose economic sanctions on Myanmar. The two countries made the move under the Special Economic Measures Act on Feb 18 after police violence escalated against demonstrators. We don't want to go back 20, 30 years -- back to the dark age. That is why this is the time for us to do whatever we can. - Tin Maung Htoo Maung Htoo was a student when he fled Myanmar during in 1988 after organizing protests against the military dictatorship. "More than 3,000 people, mostly students, were killed in the streets," Maung Htoo recalled. "There was no freedom of expression, association, student unions were banned." The regime lasted over 20 years, finally ending when Myanmar achieved partial democracy in 2010. Tin Maung Htoo, with the Burmese Canadian Action Network, says the people of Myanmar 'are showing their strong stand and support for democratization in the country.'(Submitted by Tin Maung Htoo) Two years before the country opened itself to the world, the military wrote a new constitution, which allowed it to keep some of its former powers, including 25 per cent of seats in parliament and control of the defence, border affairs and home ministries. When the military moved to take power in February, General Min Aung Hlaing announced the removal of 24 democratically elected ministers, naming 11 replacements.. Maung Htoo said he believes the coup is an act of desperation. He said the the military was gradually losing not only political control under Suu Kyi's leadership but also economic power, since big business organizations are military-backed and military-owned. "People are showing their strong stand and support for democratization in the country." Maung Htoo said. "We don't want to go back 20, 30 years ... back to the dark age. That is why this is the time for us to do whatever we can."
A Strathmore resident who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria has opened a new barbershop in the downtown core. Sam Al-Mubaied, together with business partner Ahmad Asheti, have opened the Strathmore Barbershop, located in the Strathmore Centre. A grand opening celebration was held on March 1, attended by Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule and Councillors Bob Sobol and Denise Peterson, along with other members of the community. The opening culminates Al-Mubaied’s relocation to Canada with his wife and family from Damascus, Syria in 2016 because of the Syrian civil war. “We weren’t safe there, especially the kids, so we had to leave,” he said. The Hope Community Covenant Church, along with five sponsors, helped Al-Mubaied and his family settle in Strathmore. Since then, Al-Mubaied and his family have adjusted to life here. “I love Strathmore – I feel like it’s my own town and my own community,” he said. “We’re so happy to be safe here.” The business has been ready to open for a few months, but was delayed by COVID-19 public health measures. So, Al-Mubaied took a “wait and see” approach to opening while many businesses were closed. But with personal and wellness businesses services open again (by appointment), Al-Mubaied decided the time was right to launch the new business venture. Like other barbers and hairdressers in town, Al-Mubaied will be working within the confines of COVID-19 protocols. “We’re working under the government’s rules,” he said. Al-Mubaied has been cutting hair for over 10 years and does not think his approach to the craft will be much different than in Syria. “Hair is hair, but every year, there are new styles,” he said. “I’m so excited to start serving the people of Strathmore.” At the reopening, Fule said that having businesses downtown, such as the Strathmore Barbershop, being successful is important to Strathmore’s downtown revitalization. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
A tree disease caused by a fungus has been identified in Wheatland County and, if left unchecked, may result in the stunting or death of trees. Black knot, caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, is a disease affecting certain fruit trees (in the genus Prunus), including cherries and plums. The stems of affected trees show a blackish growth or swelling. On Feb. 17, Wheatland County announced its maintenance crews identified black knot in some of its communities. The county’s hamlet operations foreman said black knot was seen a few years ago, and while it does not seem widespread, residents should be aware of it and how to deal with it, wrote Mackenzie Maier, the county’s communication specialist, in an email. While the disease is considered common and widespread in Alberta, if it is left to progress, it can disfigure and reduce the growth of branches, sometimes leading to the death of the tree. It also stresses the infected tree, leaving it more prone to infection from other pathogens. The county cut the infected portions out of the trees areas it maintains. However, diseased branches were identified on private properties, so the county is asking landowners to assess their properties for its presence and remove any infected materials. To control black knot, all knot-bearing branches should be pruned out in late fall, winter or early spring, when plants are dormant and knots visible. Infected branches should be removed six to eight inches below the knot. To avoid spreading the spores of the fungus, shears should be cleaned and disinfected after use. Diseased wood should be either burned or removed from the site, as they may release spores for up to four months after removal. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
The province says that in the next fiscal year, starting April 1, the health system will provide 55,000 additional surgeries on top of the normal volume of 290,000, and by 2023 it plans to be able to to provide all scheduled surgeries within "clinically acceptable times." Health Minister Tyler Shandro says this plan, which will receive $1.25 billion from the province's COVID-19 contingency in last week's budget, and $120 million from the Alberta Surgical Initiative, should eliminate the pandemic backlog of 36,000 surgeries by the end of the year. "Even as AHS was forced to make specific changes to free up capacity, they pressed ahead where they could, and they've worked in partnership with Covenant Health and chartered surgical facilities to minimize delays for patients and the backlog of postponed surgeries," he said Friday. Shandro says chartered surgical facilities began ramping up their surgical activity in December, especially cataract surgeries that have the largest wait lists. This spring, the government will issue requests for proposals for additional capacity for ophthalmology and orthopedic surgical services, in March and May, respectively. "By 2023, this plan means that chartered surgical facilities will offer Albertans 90,000 surgeries each year, far more than the current 40,000 surgeries each year," he said. Opposition criticizes provincial plan In a statement, NDP health critic David Shepherd attributed the number of Albertans waiting for surgeries to the province's "failure to act" as the second wave of COVID-19 rose. "Now, [Premier Jason] Kenney and Tyler Shandro plan to Americanize our health care and lay off 11,000 front-line health-care heroes," Shepherd said. "Kenney's plan to bring more American-style profit into our public health-care system will harm Alberta patients and taxpayers. "Every dollar taken out of Alberta health care as corporate profit is a dollar not available to strengthen the public system that has served Albertans so well through this pandemic." Dr. Francois Belanger, chief medical officer and vice-president of quality for AHS, says seeking an expansion of procedures with chartered surgical facility partners will help manage demand and enhance capacity in high-need areas. "Working in partnership with Alberta Health and these chartered surgical facilities, we are ensuring patients and families receive the surgery they need, when they need it, according to best practices and target benchmarks," he said. "These changes will improve access to surgery for patients, and will increase efficiency in our health-care system." The province said more surgeries are also being performed at five hospital sites — in Edson, Innisfail, Peace River, Banff and Edmonton — which are dedicated to surgical patients. This means people won't face postponements due to space and resources being reserved for COVID-19 patients. Shandro said that, all together, the province reduced the surgical wait list by almost 3,000 patients, from about 77,000 last spring to about 74,200 patients now.
Jason Spezza would have jumped at the opportunity to voice his support for women’s hockey even if he didn’t have four daughters growing up at home. The veteran Maple Leafs forward was a big fan of the women’s game long before he was married, dating to years ago when Spezza attended a pre-Winter Games tune-up between Canada and the United States at a rink in suburban Toronto. “It was one of the best hockey games I’ve watched,” he recalled this week. “There were 6,000 people packed in the building. And it didn’t matter that it was males or females. It was just a great hockey game.” That memory, coupled with the invested personal interest he has for his children, helped prompt Spezza to be one of numerous NHL players to participate in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association’s latest campaign promoting the need to establish a new North American women’s league. “I think regardless if I have daughters or not, I think it’s a really important cause,” Spezza said. “But it definitely hits more close to home for me with having four daughters and a wife, and women’s rights and talking about equality, which we talk about quite a a bit about in our house.” Titled “Stick In The Ground,” a one-minute video released last week features U.S. and Canadian women’s national team players, NHL players, tennis great Billie Jean King and even Toronto Mayor John Tory discussing the importance of planting a stick to benefit the future of women’s hockey. As PWHPA executive and Hockey Hall of Fame member Jayna Hefford says in the video: “Every young girl deserves to have the same visible hockey role models as every young boy.” It was a message echoed by Edmonton Oilers forward Kyle Turris, who participated in the video. “I have two sons and a daughter, and yeah, I think it’s important,” Turris said. “I want my daughter to grow up thinking she can run the world if she wants to do as well.” Founded in May 2019 following the demise of the Canadian Hockey League, the PWHPA is made up of the world’s top female players united in a bid to establish a single North American professional league — ideally backed by the NHL — with a long-term sustainable economic model. The association’s members have balked at playing for the U.S.-based six-team National Women’s Hockey League, and instead have been holding a series of barnstorming weekend events called the “Dream Gap Tour.” This year’s tour opened with New Hampshire and Minnesota playing two games, including one at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, which was televised nationally in both the U.S. and Canada. This weekend, the two PWHPA U.S. hub teams will play two games at Chicago, including a contest at the United Center on Saturday that will be televised on NBC Sports Network. The games represent a homecoming of sorts to U.S. national team member Brianna Decker, who grew up a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin. “I’m super exited to play there,” the two-time Olympian said, adding, “my brothers are definitely jealous.” Decker is particularly impressed by the support the PWHPA has generated from NHL players and its franchises. “Kyle Turris saying he wants his daughter to have the same opportunities as himself, that’s what we’re striving to do,” she said. “Right now, we have college hockey. And if you’re at the elite level, you make the national team. But after college, you’re usually just done playing, which is sad.” Decker played at Wisconsin, where she had more access to resources and training facilities than when she played in either the CWHL or NWHL. “There should be something bigger and better out there for us once you’re done with college,” she said, referring to a dedicated dressing room to being able to do your laundry at the rink. “Those are some little things that we’re striving for, aside from a financial backing.” And that’s where PWHPA members say the NHL needs to step in. The league has provided some monetary support in the past, while also increasing the visibility of top female players by including them in each of the past two All-Star weekend festivities. The NHL, however, has stopped short at committing to back a women’s pro league. Commissioner Gary Bettman has previously said the league is open to establishing a league, but not at the expense of forcing an existing league like the NWHL out of business. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league’s position hasn’t changed. “I think the league and our board are supportive of women’s hockey, period,” Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Friday. “We understand it’s importance to the game generally and the growth of our game going forward. But as you are seeing, that support can (and does) take a variety of forms.” The NHL Players’ Association has also been on board in providing the PWHPA both monetary and organizational support, including attracting corporate sponsors. Timing is becoming an issue, with the PWHPA hoping it can align the launch of a league with the quadrennial boost women’s hockey gains from Olympic competition. The Beijing Games are a year away. “We want the NHL to step in and be like, `We’re going to support your league.' We want that and we wish it was that easy,” Decker said. “Hopefully, Gary Bettman and the NHL can figure out a way to have our league started and get going, and have something that’s going to be long-term for us soon.” ___ More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports John Wawrow, The Associated Press
Donald Trump last year publicly worried that the explosion in voting by mail during the pandemic would increase turnout so much that “you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again.” But a new study shows the record rates of mail voting in 2020 didn't help Democrats or lead to an increase in voting. The research is only the latest in a years-long number of studies finding no partisan benefit to mail voting. But it also draws the conclusion that making it easier to vote did not increase voting levels because voters were already highly motivated to participate in the 2020 contest. “We find a pretty precisely zero effect on turnout,” said Jesse Yoder, one of the study's authors and a Ph.D. student in political science at Stanford University. “Voter interest was really driving turnout more than these convenience voting forms.” The researchers proved this with a novel approach — examining turnout rates in Texas, which, unlike many states, did not ease its mail voting restrictions during the pandemic. Voters 65 and older could vote by mail automatically, while younger ones still had to provide a legally justified excuse. The researchers compared the voting rates of 65-year-olds with automatic access to mail voting to those of 64-year-olds who lacked them. The two age groups voted at identical rates and there were only .2% more Democrats in the 65-year-old group than in the 64-year-old one, showing mail voting didn't increase Democrats' share of the vote. The researchers found there was a modestly higher turnout rate among 65-year-olds compared to those a year younger in 2014 and 2018, implying that mail voting does increase turnout in off-year elections when interest in the contest is typically lower. Democrats were more likely to vote by mail than Republicans in 2020 — largely due to Trump polarizing the issue. But that didn't help them win the election, the Stanford study found, because they were equally less likely to vote early in-person or on Election Day. The 65-year-olds, for example, were 9.5% more likely to vote by mail but 9.5% less likely to vote in person. Another recent study from Emory University's Alan Abramowitz found that states that encouraged mail voting in 2020 saw a sharper increase in turnout than those that did not. But, notably, Democrats did not do any better in those higher turnout states. “Eased absentee voting rules were not the only reason for increased turnout in 2020, but they did make a difference,” Abramowitz wrote in his study, released late last month. However, he added, it did not help President Joe Biden increase his share in any of the states. Abramowitz noted that Republican-controlled state legislatures are now rushing to curtail mail voting, convinced it cost them the White House. “These findings suggest that efforts by Republican legislators in a number of states to roll back eased absentee voting rules and make it more difficult for voters to take advantage of absentee voting in the future are unlikely to benefit GOP candidates,” he wrote. Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press
A U.S. agency investigating Facebook Inc for racial bias in hiring and promotions has designated the probe as "systemic," attorneys for three job applicants and a manager who claim the company discriminated against them told Reuters on Friday. The EEOC typically resolves disputes through mediation or allowing complainants to sue employers. Facebook operations program manager Oscar Veneszee Jr. and two applicants denied jobs brought a charge last July to the EEOC, and a third rejected applicant joined the case in December.
MONTREAL — Live theatre and music could soon return to Montreal for the first time since the fall but promoters say they are worried that the nighttime curfew in the city will dampen their plans. Still, representatives of Quebec's cultural industries say they're optimistic after meeting earlier this week with the province's culture minister, Nathalie Roy. The government is looking to reopen theatres and concert halls even in regions under the highest pandemic-alert level, such as Montreal, where residents are forbidden to be outside after 8 p.m. "We're thrilled that there is real concrete conversation between the cultural industries and the government about reopening; it's really collaborative and positive," said Amy Blackmore, a member of the board of directors of the Conseil Quebecois du Theatre, an industry group. While theatres and concert halls in much of Quebec are allowed to be open — or will be by March 8 — live performance venues remain closed in "red" zones, where around 60 per cent of Quebecers live. Blackmore, who attended the meeting with Roy, described it as a "positive step." She said she's particularly pleased with the province's proposal that would allow theatres to collect government aid for another month after they are permitted to reopen. That time will help venues adapt, said Blackmore, who is also the executive and artistic director of the MainLine Theatre and the Montreal Fringe Festival. "Venues have to hire staff," she said. "Selling tickets takes time, putting marketing campaigns together." Blackmore said she was also pleased to hear that school field trips to theatres outside red zones will be allowed starting March 15. "It is nice to see that there already is a plan to bring students back into theatres." Luc Fortin, president of the Quebec Musicians’ Guild, said he thinks the government's plan is "interesting" but he said he has concerns about the 8 p.m. curfew, which the government appears to have no intention of soon changing. "It's very limited," he said, adding that he thinks venues will be able to put on daytime performances on weekends and performances aimed at children and retirees during the week. Fortin said he'd like the government to push the curfew back and come up with a concrete reopening plan. He said, however, his members will be happy to perform again, adding that 40 per cent have thought about leaving the industry over the past year. "The essence of music is to play in front of an audience. So it's fine to record at home and put it on Facebook, but that's not the real thing." But strict capacity restrictions may lead some venues to stay closed even if they are allowed to reopen. Meyer Billurcu, concert promoter and co-owner of Le Ritz PDB, a music venue in Montreal's Mile-Ex neighbourhood, said it doesn't make sense to put on performances with a limited audience. "I can't imagine us doing anything unless it was outside," he said. "If you're going to cover all your expenses, paying the artists, paying the sound techs and stuff, it doesn't make sense to open unless, either the tickets are very expensive or we can open up at full capacity." The curfew is also a limiting factor, Billurcu said, adding that most shows he promotes start after 8 p.m. He's putting his hopes on the province's vaccination plan and he's somewhat optimistic — he's booking performances for November. Other cultural producers are planning to hold shows outside. Mathieu Murphy-Perron, artistic and executive director of Montreal's Tableau D'Hote Theatre, said his company is planning to put on a play outdoors in June. He said from what he's heard, the rules for the reopening will be strict. "You're talking about incredibly reduced capacity, you're talking about audience members needing to wear masks the entire time," he said. "You're even talking about the limitations that casts have at interacting with one another — you have to keep the cast at a certain distance; they can touch for no more than 15 minutes a day." That will shape what kind of performances can be presented, he said. "But at least it allows us to present something." Quebec reported 798 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and 10 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including three in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 617, and that 111 people were in intensive care, a drop of four. Quebec's government-mandated health institute said Friday it had confirmed 194 cases involving coronavirus variants, the first reported rise since Feb. 28, when the number was 137. The institute said there were 1,462 presumed cases involving mutations, up from 1,353 on Thursday. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021. ——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration insisted Friday that a quest for scientific accuracy, not political concerns, prompted members of his COVID-19 task force to ask the state health department to delete data last summer from a report on nursing home patients killed by the coronavirus. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, citing documents and people with knowledge of the administration’s internal discussions, reported late Thursday that aides including secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa pushed state health officials to edit the July report so it counted only residents who died inside long-term care facilities, and not those who died later after being transferred to a hospital. At the time, Cuomo was trying to deflect criticism that his administration hadn't done enough to protect nursing home residents from the virus. About a third of the state's nursing home fatalities were excluded from the report as a result of the change. The revelations about the removal of the higher fatality number come as the Democrat also faces accusations he sexually harassed two former aides and a woman that he met at a wedding. Cuomo had apologized Wednesday for acting “in a way that made people feel uncomfortable” but rejected calls for his resignation and said he would fully co-operate with the state attorney general's investigation into the sexual harassment allegations. Federal investigators are scrutinizing his administration’s handling of nursing home data. Top Democrats in the state have said they want those investigations to conclude before they make a judgment about Cuomo's conduct, but in the wake of Thursday night's report, a few state lawmakers renewed calls for the governor to either resign or be ousted. “And Cuomo hid the numbers. Impeach,” tweeted Queens Assembly member Ron Kim, who said Cuomo bullied him for criticizing how Cuomo withheld nursing home data. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the allegations that Cuomo aides deleted data from the report was “troubling” and said the White House “certainly would support any outside investigation.” The July nursing home report was released to rebut criticism of Cuomo over a March 25 directive that barred nursing homes from rejecting recovering coronavirus patients being discharged from hospitals. Some nursing homes complained at the time that the policy could help spread the virus. The report concluded the policy didn't play a major role in spreading infection. The state's analysis was based partly on what officials acknowledged at the time was an imprecise statistic. The report said 6,432 people had died in the state's nursing homes. State officials acknowledged even then that the true number of deaths was higher because the report was excluding patients who died in hospitals. But they declined at the time to give any estimate of that larger number of deaths, saying the numbers still needed to be verified. In fact, the original drafts of the report had included that number, then more than 9,200 deaths, until Cuomo's aides said it should be taken out. State officials insisted Thursday that the edits were made because of concerns about accuracy. The administration initially released data about how many nursing home residents died at both hospitals and nursing homes, but quietly stopped in early May. “While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the COVID task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report,” Department of Health Spokesperson Gary Holmes said. The governor's office didn't respond to questions from The Associated Press about whether Cuomo himself was involved in removing the higher death total from the report. Scientists, health care professionals and elected officials assailed the report at the time for flawed methodology and selective stats that sidestepped the actual impact of the directive. The administration refused for months to release more complete data. A court order and state attorney general report in January forced the state to acknowledge the nursing home resident death toll was higher than the count previously made public. DeRosa told lawmakers earlier this month that the administration didn't turn over the data to legislators in August because of worries the information would be used against them by President Donald Trump's administration. “Basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said. Cuomo and his health commissioner recently defended the March directive, saying it was the best option at the time to help free up desperately needed beds at the state’s hospitals. And they've argued community spread is the biggest risk factor for nursing homes, and that it's unlikely that most hospital patients treated for COVID-19 were contagious once they arrived. “We made the right public health decision at the time. And faced with the same facts, we would make the same decision again,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Feb. 19. The state now acknowledges that at least 15,000 long-term care residents died, compared to a figure of 8,700 it had publicized as of late January that didn’t include residents who died after being transferred to hospitals. The Associated Press
Three more Hamilton schools are offering asymptomatic COVID-19 testing this week. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will offer asymptomatic testing at Orchard Park Secondary School in Stoney Creek on Friday for students and staff at the high school. Orchard Park’s feeder elementary schools — Eastdale, Green Acres, South Meadow, R.L. Hyslop and Winona — are also eligible. This is the second time testing will be offered at Orchard Park, which was part of a Feb. 13 pilot clinic. At the Catholic board, testing will be available at Cathedral Catholic High School in central Hamilton on Friday for asymptomatic students and staff at the school and at Cathedral Children’s Centre. On Saturday, testing at the school will be for the feeder schools, Holy Name of Jesus, St. Ann Hamilton, St. Eugene, St. Lawrence, St. Luke, St. John the Baptist, St. Patrick, Sts. Peter & Paul. Hamilton public health says the rapid antigen test, which is being used at both Orchard Park and Cathedral, is “less invasive” than the nasopharyngeal swab. St. Eugene Catholic Elementary School is using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, lab-based and more accurate than rapid tests, at its clinic on Thursday evening. An outbreak was declared Feb. 23 at the east Hamilton elementary school, which has had four confirmed cases of the virus. PCR tests will be used as directed by public health “during an outbreak investigation.” “PCR tests will also be used for close contacts of confirmed cases,” said spokesperson James Berry in a Feb. 26 email to The Spectator. No cases were found among the more than 250 asymptomatic tests conducted at Hamilton schools last week. HWCDSB chair Pat Daly told The Spectator on Monday the board had “expected somewhat of a higher turnout” among students. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by three Democratic state attorneys general that had sought to force the federal government to recognize Virginia's vote last year to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and add it to the Constitution. Shortly after Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment that supporters say will guarantee women equal rights under the law, the archivist of the United States declared he would take no action to certify the amendment's adoption, citing an opinion from the Department of Justice under the Trump administration. constitutional amendments must be ratified by three-quarters of the states, or 38, but Congress enacted a ratification deadline for the ERA that passed decades ago. In a ruling Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said that Nevada, Illinois and Virginia's motives were “laudable” but that they came too late because the U.S. Congress set deadlines for ratifying the ERA long ago. Contreras also said the Archivist's publication and certification of an amendment are “formalities with no legal effect” so the archivist's failure to do that doesn't cause harm and there's no standing for the states to sue. In their lawsuit, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul argued that the deadline, which was first set for 1979 and later extended to 1982, was not binding. Herring said in a statement after the judge's ruling that he is not giving up the fight and is considering an appeal, hopeful of backing from Democrat Joe Biden's administration and Congress. “While I do not believe that the arbitrary deadline Congress imposed on the Equal Rights Amendment is binding in any way, I welcome any support from both the Biden Administration and Congress in ensuring that this amendment is recognized as part of the Constitution once and for all," he said. The U.S. Department of Justice, which represented the archivist of the United States David Ferriero, declined to comment. An emailed message seeking comment from the press office of the National Archives and Records Administration was not immediately returned. In a January 2020 opinion, the Justice Department said it was too late for states to sign off because of the deadline set by Congress decades earlier. Ford in Nevada said in a statement Friday that women have always been endowed with equal rights but it's past time for the country to recognize that. “Unfortunately, today’s decision requires women to continue waiting. Though I’m disheartened by this decision, all women can rest assured that, regardless of this court’s decision, my fight for your equal rights does not end today, tomorrow, or any day," he said. The ERA states, in part, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Supporters contend the amendment would offer stronger protections in sex discrimination cases and give Congress firmer ground to pass anti-discrimination laws, among other protections. Opponents of the measure warn it could be used to erase protections such as workplace accommodations during pregnancy. Anti-abortion activists worry that the amendment could be used by supporters of abortions rights to eliminate abortions restrictions on the grounds that they discriminate against women. Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press
OCALA, Fla. — Jennifer Kupcho and Austin Ernst each shot their second straight 5-under 67 to share the second-round lead Friday in the LPGA Tour's Drive On Championship. A day after playing most of the back nine with a migraine that blurs her vision, Kupcho had six birdies and a bogey at Golden Ocala. “I’m feeling a lot better today,” the 23-year-old former NCAA champion said. “I would say yesterday was pretty rough. Yeah, the whole back nine I just pretty much wanted to get off the golf course and go lay down. ... It was definitely a rough day, but was able to get through it well so that was helpful.” Golden Ocala is renowned for having replica holes from famous courses, three of them from Augusta National and two from the Old Course at St. Andrews. Kupcho won the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019 with a back-nine charge. “They are very similar and the look is definitely very similar, but I think I’m more nervous playing them than I was back then, actually,” Kupcho said. The former Wake Forest star from Colorado is seeking her first LPGA Tour victory. “I’ve been in contention before out here,” Kupcho said. “Just go out and relax and have fun.” Ernst had a bogey-free round. She has two LPGA Tour victories. “Fairways were a little allege bouncy this afternoon so got a few more wedges,” Ernst said. “You get quite a few wedge opportunities, so you have to take advantage of it with how firm the greens are." Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., shot a 3-under 69 and is 1 under for the tournament, nine off the lead. Calgary's Jaclyn Lee is 1 over and Hamilton's Alena Sharp missed the cut at 4 over. Carlota Ciganda of Spain had the best round of the day, a bogey-free 65 to get to 8 under. She played alongside Laura Davies, the 57-year-old Hall of Famer who rebounded from an opening 75 with a 69 to advance to the weekend at even par. “I love playing with her,” Ciganda said. “I think she’s amazing to play with. I think her talent is unbelievable, like everything she does with her different shots. She’s very creative. Lots of imagination.” Davies is playing on a World Golf Hall of Fame exemption. “I’m still a decent ball-striker,” Davies said. “My nerves let me down more than my game. So that’s why I’m still here playing, because I can hit the shots. It’s just hitting them in the right order. That’s the problem.” Nelly Korda, tied for the first-round lead with Kupcho and Ernst, was three strokes back after a 70. Playing in a group with sister Jessica Korda the first two days, Nelly Korda is trying to win consecutive events and run the family winning streak to three. Jessica Korda won the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, and Nelly Korda took the Gainbridge LPGA last week at Lake Nona. “Honestly, it’s so mentally draining," Korda said about trying to win two straight events. "I played on Tuesday. I played the back nine and I was just like, `I do not want to be out here.' But it’s just something where you’re like, `OK, it’s the first day. Let’s go, come on.’” Lydia Ko was 3 under after a 72. Second-ranked Sei Young Kim and No. 5 Danielle Kang were another stroke back, each shooting 70. Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson were 1 under, each following an opening 74 with a 69. Jessica Korda shot a 75 to fall to even par. Top-ranked Jin Young Ko, playing with Korda sisters, followed her opening 75 with a 72 to miss the cut by a stroke. The Associated Press
Canada will take its share of vaccine doses from the internationally funded COVAX initiative and will not give any doses to other countries until all Canadians are vaccinated, said Procurement Minister Anita Anand. "We are going to make sure that all Canadians have access to vaccines. That's our priority, that's the role of the federal government," Anand told CBC News Network's Power & Politics Friday. "We will then make sure that we are sharing vaccines with the rest of the world and I will say that motivates us every day." COVAX is a global vaccine-sharing initiative jointly coordinated by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. The program pools funds from wealthier countries to buy vaccines for those countries and ensure low- and middle-income countries have access to vaccines as well. Canada will receive 1.9 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the program by the end of June. The federal government bought into COVAX with $440 million in September and committed an additional $75 million last month. Half of the original $440 million secured doses for Canadians, and the other half is directed toward providing doses for 92 countries that need help securing vaccines. "We are entitled under our agreement with COVAX to draw down on that commitment that we made with them back in the summer," she told guest host Catherine Cullen. "We are committed to the COVAX facility … and we are one of the largest contributors to that facility and will continue to support it." 'We have enough doses,' says former UN envoy Canada has been criticized for saying it will take vaccine doses from COVAX, despite having signed supply contracts that would ensure each Canadian could be vaccinated ten times over. Last month, Canada's former ambassador to the UN added his voice to those questioning Canada's decision to accept COVID-19 vaccines from the global vaccine sharing initiative. Watch: Procurement minister says Canada will still use its share of COVAX vaccines: "We don't need it. We will have enough doses to do the job and we're getting them online very quickly," Stephen Lewis told CBC News Network's Power & Politics Green Party leader Annamie Paul has also criticized the move. "Canada is part of a global family, and Canadians know that caring for our neighbours extends beyond our borders. Canadians want to be responsible members of the international community, and the government should refuse to take any doses from the COVAX facility. It's not smart, but most importantly, it's not right," she said in a statement published on her party's website last month. September schedule remains Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said vaccine manufacturer Pfizer has agreed to move up the delivery of 3.5 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine — originally scheduled to arrive in the summer — to the next three months. The company will deliver an additional 1.5 million doses in March, one million more doses in April and another million in May, Trudeau said, bringing the total number of doses of all approved vaccines expected to arrive by the end of this month to 8 million. Anand said that even with Canada now in a position to receive two million more doses than it had planned for by the end of the first quarter of the year, she's not prepared to move up the September deadline to deliver vaccines to all Canadians who want them. She said that global supply chains remain volatile and until the federal government can be completely sure vaccine deliveries will arrive on schedule, the government will stick with its initial deadline. "We've seen manufacturers make decisions about retooling their plants and indeed, that's an important thing to remember — these global supply chains are still volatile and we are protecting our vaccine supply chain every step of the way," she said.
The provincial government has established a new one-time benefit for parents for daycare costs during the pandemic. The Working Parents Benefit, announced during a government news conference on Feb. 24, will provide a one-time payment of $561 to parents in the province. To be eligible, parents must make less than $100,000, have children in childcare, and have paid three months of childcare between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2020. Examples of eligible childcare include licensed or unlicensed daycare, day homes, out-of-school care, or preschool. This new support will help families invest in childcare and preschool, but will also create economic stimulus, said Rebecca Schultz, the province’s minister of children’s services. The program is being funded with $108 million of unspent funds from Children’s Services to support the families of up to 192,000 children, according to the government. Applications for the benefit are made online, the date of opening varying regionally to manage volume, between March 1 to March 5. Applications will be open until March 31. A MyAlberta Digital ID is required to apply for the benefit. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times
When you think of eating luscious tropical fruit like guava, papayas and pineapples off the tree, you might figure you've got to travel down south. In Blyth, Ont., these exotic fruits are now being grown locally -- even in the dead of winter. Minna Rhee reports.
A newly formed organization is encouraging Black people in Western and Northern Canada to run for office and get more involved in electoral politics. Throughout March, Black Voters Matter Canada will be hosting an event series offering opportunities for potential Black candidates to network, ask questions and learn about the process of running a campaign. The series will feature national chair of the Conservative Black Congress of Canada Tunde Obasan, NDP member of Parliament Matthew Green, Ontario representative to the Green Party of Canada Federal Council Adrian Currie and Liberal member of Parliament Greg Fergus. Juliet Bushi, a co-founder and organizer of Black Voters Matter Canada, hopes this event series will help lower some of the barriers to Black candidates running for office. Last year, Bushi herself ran a successful campaign for Regina Catholic School Division trustee, becoming the first Black woman elected to the role. She believes Saskatchewan politics would benefit from more Black candidates participating at every level. "Given that our population in Saskatchewan is increasing, we need better representation and equal voices at the table, especially given the current pandemic as well as the unending social inequalities that continue to plague our society," she said. For Petros Kusmu, also a Black Voters Matter co-founder and organizer, these conversations are particularly important right now, when there are murmurs of a possible snap federal election in the spring. Petros Kusmu is a co-founder and organizer of Black Voters Matter Canada.(Petros Kusmu) "We know, historically, [a snap election] doesn't bode well for parties having more diverse candidates," he said. "We have to work with parties to help them scout some of the best-qualified Black candidates in the West and in the North. "But we also have to engage with our communities and really start telling them … 'Hey, you're a pretty amazing person. You do a lot of great work in the community, You're a smart small-business owner. You're a brilliant teacher. You are the type of person that we think should be considering running for office.'" In the 2019 federal election, there were no Black candidates in Saskatoon or Regina. In fact, the Black Voters Matter Canada event series does not feature any speakers from Saskatchewan because, according to Kusmu, "we don't have any of our own that we can claim here." He says it's not just a matter of convincing more Black people to run — parties decide how much to support the candidates who do put their names forward. "I think the challenge you often see is that you'll get a lot of diverse candidates who are then placed in areas, or encouraged to run in areas, where there isn't a shot of winning," he said. Political engagement discouraged While Black Voters Matter Canada is focused on all forms of civic engagement, not just supporting Black candidates for office, Bushi says a lack of meaningful representation on campaigns and in office can do a lot to reduce participation and erode confidence from marginalized communities. "Oftentimes, politics — and especially campaign slogans — become redundant and quite boring for a lot of marginalized people, because it's the same thing over and over again," she said. "And once that election is done, they're gone with their promises. So people are discouraged to actually get interested and active and engaged in politics." Kusmu believes all Canadians would benefit from having more diverse political representation, and that Western Canada is particularly ready to see more Black people run for office and win seats. He points to Leslyn Lewis, who recently ran for the federal Conservative Party leadership, as an example. "She was so popular out in the Prairies and in Western Canada — which was a surprise, because she's from Ontario — that the Saskatchewan Conservatives threw their support behind her. "And there are so many more Dr. Leslyn Lewises and future potential Barack Obamas that are hidden gems here in the West and North." Kusmu hopes Black Voters Matter Canada will help cultivate "a larger growing garden of amazing Black leaders for Canadians to have the pleasure of picking from" as more Black candidates get the resources, information and support they need to throw their hat into the ring. "For Black folks who are thinking about running, I want to remind them that no one Black candidate is coming to save us," he said. "We are the ones we have been waiting for, in terms of who is going to be in office to help change things. It's not going to be the silver bullet, but it's going to be part of this transformation of having a more just and more equitable Canada at the end of the day."
This spring, Winnipeg’s civil service will unveil its new master plan for public transit, coming on the heels of Ottawa’s announcement to shovel billions of dollars into programs across the country over the next decade in an effort to lower emissions from the transportation sector. This convergence of public money and planning seems to offer Winnipeg a chance to reimagine what is possible in the realm of transit — what the system could be going forward, despite past failings. However, it is quickly becoming clear there are no visions of streetcars or light rail dancing in their heads. Dreams for Winnipeg’s transit system are much smaller, even among its biggest proponents, which speaks to how far the system still has to go in order to meet a threshold of service that would successfully convince people to leave their cars at home. Or, even more radically, not buy a car in the first place. Breaking people of their car-driving habit is a key aspect of national and municipal climate plans. More than 40 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions in Manitoba came from the transportation sector in 2018. Of the emissions from transportation, about 37 per cent comes from vehicles classified as light-duty cars and trucks. Electrification will help lower passenger-vehicle emissions, but prospective civic policies also rely on getting more people out of their vehicles altogether and on to bikes, buses and trains. “Investments in public transit will also require some behavioural changes on the part of commuters,” declared the Senate’s 2017 report on decarbonizing the transportation sector. “Unless taking transit is easier, faster and cheaper than taking a car for one’s daily commute, investments will not result in the desired emission reductions.” Ideally, all of the pieces are meant to come together to help solve the emissions problem. But in Winnipeg, the road forward is shaping up to be a long, slow one. ● ● ● Coun. Vivian Santos grew up getting around the city by bus, accepting the hour-long commute between her Southdale home and downtown that would otherwise take 15 minutes by car. As she got older, a bike became a better alternative to the bus, cutting her commute time in half. “I stopped taking transit because it was just, to be honest, a waste of my time in the morning,” she says. In the decades since, bus service hasn’t really improved, but her financial flexibility did, plus she added kids to the mix. And so, the Point Douglas councillor made the same choice most Winnipeggers who can afford it make, and she bought a car. There are now two in her household to shuffle her family around the city. Her children are getting to the age where they could start taking transit on their own — and she’d like to encourage them to do so — but it’s not realistic, based on where they live in the northwest part of the city. “There’s actually no transit service out here, to be honest with you. So if my son were to take transit, he would actually have to walk 10 minutes to McPhillips. Or he’d have to walk maybe seven minutes the other way down towards Pipeline and Templeton. So we’re really kind of outside of the transit system,” she says. Winnipeg has some of the lowest transit use rates per capita in the country, according to a recent report from Climate Reality Canada, the Canadian arm of former U.S. vice-president Al Gore’s international environmental non-profit organization. Among large cities with more than 600,000 residents, Winnipeg came in last, with an average of 67 transit trips per person annually. The next lowest was Calgary with 84. The Canadian leader in transit trips per capita is Montreal, with 236. Nationally, transit ridership has increased from roughly 1.8 billion regular service trips in 2009 to 2.1 billion in 2017, according to the Canadian Urban Transit Association. But in Winnipeg, ridership stalled and even declined in that same time period, according to city statistics. The last census revealed Winnipeg was the only Canadian city where commuting by public transit had declined over the preceding 20-year period. Santos believes getting more people on transit isn’t about building rail lines or any other flashy, grand plans. To her, it’s much more simple — it’s about making transit more frequently accessible and reliable, and charging less money to use it. “I think a good balance of both should be done,” she says. “They need to be done together. Because I understand that if we lower the fees, we’re going to have more people come on, we’re gonna see an uptick rate of people taking the transit. So obviously, we need to increase purchasing buses, and we need to better our frequency.” To that end, she put a motion before the city’s public works committee in February to study what the impact of lower fares might be in Winnipeg. It was rejected in a 2-2 vote. Curt Hull, director of Winnipeg’s Climate Change Connection, agrees with Santos’s evaluation of what’s needed to bring the transit system up to speed, and explains why aiming higher at this point isn’t practical. “Implementing rapid transit by rail is really a long ways further from where we are. You don’t start with that. You start with building the demand with things like developing frequent service, and then once you get enough demand, enough ridership on a particular route, then you make it rail. So we’re a long ways away from that,” Hull says. Efforts to regenerate the transit system with rapid bus instrastructure — the second leg of the Southwest Transitway was completed last spring — have proven lacklustre, Hull says, but he is hopeful new, less capital-intensive improvements will help deliver more riders. In addition to Santos’s hopes for more frequent, cheaper service, Hull adds a couple of things to the wish list. The routes need to be simple, he says, and access to lines criss-crossing the city needs to be easy. He envisions something like an on-demand service for suburban neighbourhoods, where a small van or a similar vehicle shuttles a rider to the main bus lines. Having regular but empty buses running through those neighbourhoods doesn’t make sense, he says, but you can’t cut them off from the network, either. “The issue is the availability of funding for it,” he says. ●●● Winnipeg relies more heavily on the fare box to fund transit than any other city in the country on a per capita basis, which pins the system’s progress directly to ridership. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario — the system can’t be improved until ridership increases, but that won’t happen without system improvements. It also puts the system at risk for ridership fluctuations, as was the case for most of last year because of the pandemic. Across the country, transit ridership fell by more than 60 per cent in 2020, according to Statistics Canada. While it rebounded somewhat in the summer months, those minor gains were lost again amid the second wave in late fall and early winter. “That hits our system that much more than other systems,” says Coun. Matt Allard, chair of Winnipeg’s public works committee. Winnipeg’s reliance on fare-box revenues was cemented in 2017 when the provincial government moved away from its 50-50 funding agreement with the city. In 2019, fares represented 45 per cent of total expenditures on transit, which amounted to $91.7 million of $204 million. At the public works committee meeting in February where Santos put forward the idea of free or lower-fare transit, the conversation quickly turned from one that was simply about buses and dollar figures to a much more complicated question: is public transit something Winnipeggers consider to be a public good? Taxpayers who are childless or do not have school-age children still contribute money to the education system. Taxpayers who do not borrow books from the library still pay to keep the lights on and the shelves stocked. Those who do not drive still pay to keep the roads maintained. And all of those services are free of direct costs to the user. Winnipeggers have come to an implicit agreement that some things are in the public’s interest to fund. But so far, Winnipeg and its residents have yet to bring public transit under that umbrella. As long as the system relies heavily on the fare box, it will not be viewed as a public good. At least not to the same extent that other services are. Much like parents not bringing their children to a park with broken swings and garbage strewn everywhere, a neglected transit system will not yield higher ridership. It will not be a civic source of pride, as it is in many other cities. “Convenient access to public transit” is among the United Nations’ indicators for sustainable development goals. Yet, Winnipeg fails to meet measures of success that were created as goals in developing countries. International Institute for Sustainable Development targets for appropriate wait times and distance to the closest bus stop are unattainable for a third of Winnipeggers. Transit investments have been found to have significant positive spillover effects in economic development, especially in sectors such as tourism. It also stands to reason riders save money that would have otherwise have been spent on a car. Then there’s the significant shared benefits between climate interests in transit and equity policy across different socio-economic classes. “If you see transportation as a way of participating in society — which it certainly is — the more accessible transit is, the more people can easily get around and the more their experience becomes comparable to somebody who owns a vehicle, who’s more economically advantaged,” Allard says. The push for change has become louder as the urgency of climate action increases. Carolyn Kim, the director of transportation at the Pembina Institute, argues that making the decision as a city to invest in transit would be transformational, in itself. “If you’re able to increase the level of service, and people can ride a bus that is more frequent, it’s more reliable. It’s affordable,” Kim says. Also critical to the conversation is deliberately targeting dense housing and business development along the main transit arteries, she adds. Getting people onto transit is about making it a more convenient, cheaper alternative to driving. So the flip side of the equation, though often unpopular politically, is to find ways to increase the cost of driving through increased parking rates, lowering parking availability and other planning tools. It’s another avenue to pursue transformational changes, Kim says. Take London, as an example. The British city has created an “ultra-low emission zone” where, depending on how much your vehicle pollutes the air, you are charged a daily fee to drive in certain areas. Cities are free to get creative with policies and find solutions that work for them, Kim says, but they have the power to set priorities and pathways that change residents’ behaviour. ●●● Winnipeg is also contemplating where the electrification of buses fits into the picture. A pilot project for the use of both battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell buses will be considered by council this spring. Allard says he’s looking forward to debate on the topic, but to him, more buses on the road — regardless of how they’re powered — is the priority, since the transit fleet is responsible for such a small fraction of emissions in the city compared to personal passenger vehicles. Joanna Kyriazis, a senior policy adviser with Clean Energy Canada, warns against that kind of thinking, pointing out that electric buses actually stand to save cities money, since operation and maintenance costs are so much lower, even if up-front costs to purchase the vehicles are still higher. “The life of a bus is 12 to 18 years. And so if we keep making diesel bus purchases today, that that decision has consequences for another two decades,” she says. And the added allure of electric buses might be another way for the city to persuade drivers to park and ride, she says. Along with electrification, the new buses also come with GPS to track where they are on routes, and that information can then be sent to users. Generally, they also come with electronic-pass scanners, so riders don’t need to fumble with correct change and tickets. All of these upgrades make the transit experience better, she says. Plus, no more diesel fumes. “It’s also a great way for people to experience an electric vehicle for the first time. And the more we see them on our streets, the more we ride them, the more we see how many benefits they deliver, the more likely those riders are to go and buy an electric car themselves. So there are these spillover effects,” Kyriazis says. “Doing the same thing we’ve always done isn’t working. And so modernizing and connecting these vehicles is going to help improve the rider experience.” In Winnipeg, transformational changes might not be as big and headline-grabbing as they are in other cities, but this city is coming from behind and has more ground to make up if transit is going to become a priority. Rail lines or a world-class network of multi-modal transit aren’t on anyone’s realistic wish list. But perhaps Winnipeg is on the verge of a different radical change. One where transit isn’t looked at as a lost cause, but rather something to be invested in for the good of the community. Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
Vancouver Canucks fans hoping a big trade will solve the beleaguered team's issues this season are likely to be disappointed. General manager Jim Benning said Friday that the Canucks need to rely on pieces they already have as they work to salvage a disappointing campaign. With COVID-19 protocols in place and a flat salary cap, making moves is more difficult this year, he said. "We can’t look to the outside to improve things," Benning told reporters. "We’ve got to figure it out from within.” It's possible that some bodies could move before the NHL's trade deadline on April 12, he added, but noted that blockbuster deals have been few and far between this year. “I expect we’re going to get some calls on our players and we’re just going to see where it goes," Benning said. It's been a difficult season for the Canucks (10-15-2). After impressing many in the playoff bubble last year, Vancouver won just two games in February and currently sits in second-last spot in the all-Canadian North Division, four points out of a playoff spot. A brutal schedule hampered the squad to start the year, Benning said, limiting how much time the group had to practise. The GM believes the group has performed better recently, and said the results could be different through the second half of the season. The Canucks beat the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Thursday night. “Of course I’m not happy with our record," he said. "But I think if you play the right way, do things the right way, we’ll start winning our share of games and our record will be better than it is right now.” Canucks coach Travis Green also thinks his team should have more points based on how Vancouver has played in recent weeks. “Yes, maybe things haven’t quite gone perfectly this year. But we’re only halfway through the season and I like the way our team’s been playing as of late," Green said. “We’ve got a great group of young players that are still learning their way playing in a tougher division this year. And I agree with what (Benning) said — the future is very bright for the Vancouver Canucks.” Two underperforming teams in the North Division have already opted to make coaching changes this season. Last week, the Montreal Canadiens fired Claude Julien and promoted assistant Dominique Ducharme to interim head coach, and on Thursday night, the Calgary Flames announced they had dismissed head coach Geoff Ward and rehired Darryl Sutter in his stead. Vancouver isn't planning to follow suit. “I’m not looking to make a coaching change," Benning said. "I think (Green) and his staff have done a good job with our group.” Green's contract expires at the end of the season, and despite the results through the first half of the season, the Canucks would like to keep him around long-term, Benning said. “My feeling on Travis is we really like him, he’s done a good job with this group. He’s our coach," he said. "I don’t comment on player negotiations, I’m not going to comment on coaching negotiations. But it’s something that we’d like to get done moving forward.” Green isn't the only contract Benning and his team need to get done, however. Three of the team's top young stars will be needing new deal come the end of the season, including centre Elias Pettersson, defenceman Quinn Hughes and goalie Thatcher Demko. The Canucks will start working on those contracts after the trade deadline, Benning said. Getting the business dealt with is likely to be a costly endeavour. Hughes (two goals, 20 assists) and Pettersson (10 goals, 11 assists) are the team's No. 2 and 3 scorers respectively, and Demko is solidifying his spot as Vancouver's starting goaltender with a .911 save percentage. Between the outstanding deals, a flat salary cap and a looming expansion draft, the Canucks are facing unprecedented challenges, Benning said. While it's not the season he expected, the GM believes the challenges will be good for the club long-term. “I look at it as adversity is a good thing. People are hard on you but you try to figure out a way to get better," he said. "Players, everyone involved — coaching, management — we have to be mentally tough to get through these tough times. But I think once we get through them, it’s going to make everybody stronger — the players are going to be better, all of us, we’re going to be stronger for going through this adversity.” This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021. Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
A new program in two Hamilton high schools aims to support the mental health of Black and racialized youth. Students at Bernie Custis Secondary School and Cathedral High School, both in central Hamilton, will have access to a “health and wellness connector” who will connect youth to services to support their overall health and well-being. “It's really important for us to give hope to the kids and to give hope to our youth, particularly the Black and racialized youth who seem, based on the data, to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said Terri Bedminster, co-founder and executive director of Refuge Newcomer Health, the organization leading the program in partnership with the Hamilton School Based Network. “This program is to support Black youth in accessing community services around mental health, and other services, but also to have a familiar face or someone who identifies as the population.” A Statistics Canada report in October found that youth have experienced the greatest declines in mental health since the pandemic began. Visible minority groups were more likely to report “poor” mental health. The service was made possible by a $30,000 grant from Hamilton Community Foundation’s pandemic response fund. This service is an addition to an existing nurse practitioner program that Refuge piloted in 2012. When COVID-19 hit, the group began to consider other ways to support the youth hardest hit by the pandemic. “What we saw was that Black and racialized youth, based on a lot of feedback from community partners, were needing some support,” Bedminster said. Refuge will continue to work with community partners serving Black and racialized youth “to further understand ... the specific needs of these youth,” she said. With the funding, Refuge hired two Black young people — Dejehan “Lucky” Hamilton and Ashleigh Montague — on a part-time basis to spend time in both schools. “We know that relationships are key to Black youth,” Bedminster said. “The ability to connect and identify with someone who looks like you and may have experiences like you, that's key.” Hamilton, a lifelong Hamiltonian with expertise in arts education and youth mentorship, said he is excited to be “an additional resource for (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) students” — a group he has been passionate about for nearly a decade. “I’m a firm believer in the power of one,” he said. “If we can help, change, improve, or empower one young person that would be a win.” Sue Dunlop, superintendent of education responsible for Bernie Custis, said the school community is grateful to the team that is “enhancing opportunities for students.” Bernie Custis is part of a family of schools deemed “high priority” by the board. “This partnership removes barriers for students who are historically underserved and provides them with supports that will lead to success in school and beyond,” she said. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
The Town of Strathmore and Siksika Nation are continuing their efforts for shared understanding and collaboration among residents of the two communities to combat racism. Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule and Siksika Nation Councillor Rueben Breaker provided an update of the work the two communities are leading together, via a Facebook Live address on Feb. 25. Representatives from each community started working together in 2019 to ensure First Nations people visiting and living in Strathmore have positive experiences in town, said Fule. “It’s all about creating a safer and more welcoming community,” he said. This is being done because First Nations people have experienced racism in Strathmore. “I’ve heard some quite serious and harrowing stories from people, as far as things yelled at people (and) comments made to them,” said Fule, adding the problem needs to be addressed. “We have to be willing to own it and admit that there could be a problem. This should not be happening in our community.” The COVID-19 pandemic sidelined these efforts, but now the initiative is being restarted. “Now we’re back at the table and we’re going to go hard at this, because racism is not going away,” said Breaker. The group is generating ideas to present to Golden Hills School Division (GHSD) and Christ the Redeemer (CTR) Catholic Schools to make the education lives and experiences of Siksika students “more smooth and more meaningful,” said Fule. Another focus of the initiative is policing. This follows Strathmore RCMP together with representatives from Strathmore and Siksika Nation signing a shared letter of understanding in October 2020 to develop more trust between them. “It was perfect timing, because it’s no secret that the topic of systemic racism within the RCMP is prevalent all over Canada,” said Breaker. “We want to make sure that even at the law enforcement level, that our people are treated fairly and just have that basic understanding.” Also being considered is how to improve affordable housing, social services and employment for First Nations people in town, said Fule. But these efforts are not focused on Strathmore alone, said Breaker. Strathmore and area sports teams visiting Siksika Nation to play should be welcomed there too, he said. To reach some of these goals, representatives from Strathmore and Siksika Nation are considering forming a formal anti-racism committee. To support this, town administration is looking to create terms of reference to follow, said Fule. Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times