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7 hurt, about 100 homes evacuated after blast, fire in London, Ont.

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London Ontario blast

LONDON, Ont. — Seven people were injured and about 100 homes had to be evacuated after a house explosion in a southwestern Ontario city caused a massive fire late Wednesday night.

The blast in London, Ont., was caused by a vehicle slamming into a home and hitting a gas line just before 11 p.m., police said. The ensuing fire then spread to several residences overnight, with crews still on scene Thursday morning, authorities said.

Acting Deputy Fire Chief Jack Burt said the blast had completely destroyed the home that was hit by the vehicle, noting that the residence was empty at the time.

“There’s a hole in the ground,” he said. “This was a significant explosion.”

Four firefighters, two police officers and one civilian were taken to hospital, authorities said. One firefighter was in serious condition while the others had minor injuries and were released, they said.

Police said a 23-year-old woman, Daniella Alexandra Leis, was charged with impaired driving in connection with the incident.  

About 100 residences in the neighbourhood had to be evacuated, a city spokeswoman said, with seven of those homes “severely impacted” by the fire. The blaze was largely put out by Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Brian Magee, who lives a few doors down from where the blast occurred, was among several residents who gathered near the scene on Thursday. He said he had gone outside with his son just before 11 p.m. the night before after seeing first responders in the area.

“All of a sudden ‘boom’ — that’s when the gas line blew,” he said, adding that the force of the blast caused the windows of his home and other nearby residences to shatter.

Magee said he rushed to shield his son from the debris that was scattered across the neighbourhood.

“I just grabbed my son and put him down like a little turtle so it could hit me,” he said, adding that he and his family had to leave their home as the fire spread.

“I’m upset. My kids are upset,” he said, adding that the family cat has gone missing.

Keara-Lynn Douglas, who also lives in the neighbourhood, said she felt her house shake when the blast occurred. She said she went outside and saw an orange glow a few blocks away, which prompted her to drive to the scene.

“There was just debris everywhere,” she said. “It was insane.”

Local councillor Jesse Helmer, who is also an area resident, said he initially thought a tree fell on his house.

“I went outside and saw a huge plume of smoke and fire going up into the sky,” he said.

A community centre was opened for displaced residents and other residents have dropped off food and water, he said.

“It’s important that we get together as a community,” said Helmer. “Everyone is really coming together to put up some donations and things that people will need because some of these people have lost everything.”

Fire Chief Lori Hamer said her crews would be assessing structural damage to the homes to determine when residents could return. The city said some of those displaced by the incident have been put up in hotels.

— with files from Alanna Rizza in Toronto.

Geoff Robins, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the last name Magee on second reference


Agriculture

151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot

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VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.

The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.

The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.

“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.

He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.

An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.

A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.

James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.

Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.

“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.

James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.

“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”

James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.

Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.

The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.

“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”

James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Education

School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar

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A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.

Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.

The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.

The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.

The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.

“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.

Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.

The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.

The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.

The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.

Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.

“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.

Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.

“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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