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Amid backlash, Nova Scotia tells schools athletics authority to reinstate rugby

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  • HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government has told the province’s schools athletics authority to reinstate high school rugby, after it was abruptly cancelled across the province without warning over safety and liability concerns. 

    Amid a backlash from players, politicians and Rugby Canada, Education Minister Zach Churchill said in a statement late Friday that the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation had contravened a governing agreement with the province.

    He said its decision came without appropriate consultation, and noted that respected physicians including the provincial medical officer of health have expressed concerns about it.

    The athletic federation had said Thursday its board of governors made the decision for safety reasons after reviewing incident report data from the province’s School Insurance Program.

    Stephen MacNeil, chairman of the federation’s board of governors, said Friday the data indicates that over a five-year period, there were three times as many insurance claims from rugby players when compared with those playing soccer, football and hockey.

    He said those figures indicated that rugby players were also five times as likely to suffer head injuries or possible concussions.

    “Everyone in the meeting was unanimous in their opinion that this is not a safe sporting environment for our students,” he said.

    But Churchill said the federation had neglected to inform the Education Department of its intent, which contravenes its memorandum of agreement with the department.

    “Furthermore, (it) made the decision without appropriate consultation with school communities,” he said in a statement.

    “Given the perspective offered by the province’s medical officer of health, I have called on NSSAF to reinstate rugby for all high schools immediately for the duration of the season.”

    He said he has asked the federation to assemble a panel of experts “to thoroughly review and assess available research on safety in sports for school sports across Nova Scotia.”

    Dozens of athletes had converged Friday on a Halifax luncheon celebrating high school sport in the province, chanting “Let us play” and “We want rugby back.”

    “It’s due to our safety, but we all go into playing rugby knowing the risks of it,” said Kelly Baillie, a Grade 10 student who plays for the girls team at J.L. Ilsley High School in Halifax.

    “I don’t think it’s a good decision at all.”

    MacNeil confirmed that an international student attending the Sydney Academy sustained a head injury during a Nova Scotia rugby match on Wednesday and had to be airlifted to a Halifax hospital. He said the boy’s mother and sister had flown to Halifax to be by his side.

    He said Nova Scotia officials were also cognizant of the death last May of P.E.I. rugby player Brodie McCarthy. The 18-year-old sustained a fatal brain injury during a routine play which resulted in bleeding from two different parts of his brain.

    However, MacNeil said concerns about rugby had been discussed at the board level for two years and he was adamant that the decision wasn’t a “knee-jerk one.”

    “Despite our attempts to educate coaches and make sure certain levels of certification are gained the injuries are still coming and we don’t have to look any further than the last year for two very significant ones,” he said. “We’re not against rugby, but initiating a student’s exposure to rugby at the high school level is too dangerous an environment right now.”

    Tim Powers, chairman of Rugby Canada, agreed safety should be a concern, but he wondered about the level of consultation and the data used to arrive at the Nova Scotia ban.

    Powers said the level of injury reporting in rugby is high because it has been prioritized through his organization’s Play Smart program.

    He said there’s also plenty of global data to show that rugby ranks behind soccer, football and equestrian sports in terms of catastrophic injuries, adding that it also suggests the risk for pre-teens is not unacceptably high when compared to other sports.

    “We arguably are a safer sport than other contact sports,” said Powers, who added the decision could eventually have ramifications beyond Nova Scotia.

    “I think the intent was right here, but I think the decision is ill-informed and ill-informed decisions like this, yes sometimes can spread like wildfire.”

    The ban also drew political fire from Nova Scotia’s opposition parties on Friday. 

    In a statement, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston noted the decision had resulted in “widespread shock and anger from the public.” The New Democrats also issued a statement of support from MLA Susan Leblanc, a former student rugby player.

    Meanwhile, Baillie said her team has received support from many football players at her school.

    “They know they are a full contact sport as well and they could very well be next,” she said.

    Ben Lohr, a Grade 12 student who captains the boys team at King’s-Edgehill School in Windsor, N.S., questioned the decision to end rugby for safety reasons.

    “Look at the rest of the world,” he said. “When you have people who actually understand the sport and know how to play it properly and tackle properly it’s a safe sport.”

    According to Statistics Canada, rugby was the third most common sport in which 15- to 19-year-old males sustained concussions and other brain injuries between 2012 and 2014, behind ice hockey and football.

    In 2013, Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old high school rugby player from Ottawa, suffered two concussions in one week before sustaining a third during a rugby game that led to her death two days later. Ontario later passed Rowan’s Law, concussion safety legislation designed to protect amateur athletes and educate coaches about the dangers of head injuries.

    A study conducted by the medical director of Trauma Nova Scotia, Dr. Robert Green, shows youth sport-related deaths, especially rugby-related deaths, are rare.

    Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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    National

    Canada-China relations hit ‘rock bottom’ and at ‘freezing point’: Chinese envoy

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  • OTTAWA — China’s ambassador to Canada says the bilateral relationship is now at “rock bottom” compared to any time since diplomatic ties were first established decades ago.

    In prepared text for a speech Thursday, Lu Shaye said he’s saddened Canada-China relations are at what he called a “freezing point.”

    Lu’s remarks come at a time of heightened tensions following the December arrest of Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request by the United States.

    The Huawei executive’s arrest has enraged China, which has since detained two Canadians on allegations of endangering Chinese national security, sentenced two Canadians to death for drug-related convictions and blocked key agricultural shipments.

    Lu did not mention Meng’s arrest — but he said the China-Canada relationship is now facing serious difficulties.

    He said China has long valued its relationship with Canada, particularly since it was one of the first Western countries to establish diplomatic ties with the Asian country.

    “For clear reasons, the current China-Canada relations are facing serious difficulties and are situated at the rock bottom since the two countries have established diplomatic relations,” said a copy of Lu’s speech, which was posted on the Chinese Embassy’s website.

    “It saddens us that the current China-Canada relations are ‘at a freezing point’ and face huge difficulties. The knots shall be untied by those who got them tied.”

    He continued by urging Canada to view China’s development in a “fair and objective” manner and to respect its concerns. Lu also warned Canada to “stop the moves that undermine the interests of China.”

    In recent months, Beijing’s envoy has used strong words when talking about the relationship. In January, he told Canadian journalists that Meng’s arrest was the “backstabbing” of a friend and said it was evidence of white supremacism.

    Lu also warned of repercussions if the federal government bars Huawei from selling equipment to build a Canadian 5G wireless network.

    He made the remarks in Toronto at an event hosted by the Globe and Mail. The document said former prime minister Jean Chretien was in attendance as was Darryl White, chief executive of BMO.

    The Canadian Press

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    Environment

    Keep guard up against hurricanes in 2019, as risk remains potent: forecaster

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  • HALIFAX — It has been years since a major tropical storm wreaked havoc in Canada, but the Canadian Hurricane Centre is warning against complacency.

    The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its hurricane outlook Thursday, predicting nine to 15 named storms this season, with four to eight becoming hurricanes and two to four being major hurricanes.

    Bob Robichaud of the Canadian centre noted that’s similar to last year’s hurricane season, when only two storms hit Canada, including post-tropical storm Chris, which made landfall in Newfoundland in July 2018.

    However, Robichaud warns that some Atlantic Canadians may be forgetting storms like post-tropical storm Arthur, which snapped trees and caused massive power outages in 2014, and hurricane Juan’s widespread wrath in 2003.

    And he reminded journalists attending a briefing in Halifax about hurricane Michael, which flattened parts of the Florida panhandle last October.

    The Halifax-based centre has created a fresh smart phone app, and recommends people begin tracking storms as soon as they start and then monitor for shifts in direction and intensity.

    “What we advocate is for people to really stay in tune with weather information because the forecast can change as the storms are approaching,” Robichaud said.

    Robichaud says studies show that complacency levels rise about seven years after a storm like hurricane Juan, and that as a result people do less to prepare.

    “People tend not to take any preparedness action if they haven’t had any kind of hurricane in recent years,” said Robichaud, a warning preparedness meteorologist.

    “For us it’s been five years since any major impactful storm … so it’s even more important to take the necessary precautions to get ready.”

    The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo has published a simple guide for Canadians on basic measures to take to prepare in particular for flood risk from extreme weather.

    The centre has repeatedly pointed out that without basic measures, basement flooding can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage during hurricanes.

    Its publications include a Home Flood Protection Program that begin with such simple steps as testing sump pumps, cleaning out eaves troughs and maintaining backwater valves.

    More advanced measures include removing obstructions from basement drains and creating grading to move water away from homes.

    The hurricane season runs from June 1 to early November.

    Robichaud said hurricanes tend to “feed on” warmer waters, and as result the centre is closely monitoring those trends.

    The meteorologist said as summer progresses it’s projected the water will warm in the eastern Atlantic and become warmer than average.

    In addition, Robichaud said the Atlantic Ocean continues to be in an overall period of high hurricane activity that hasn’t yet come to the end of a cycle.

    — Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

    Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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