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Budget 2018 plays long game when it comes to boosting number of women in sports



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  • OTTAWA — The Liberal government wants to see gender equality in Canadian sports — from the local arena to the Olympics — by 2035, a vision articulated in a federal budget aimed at increasing opportunities for women and girls.

    The long-term target comes with $30 million over three years to get the ball rolling towards that goal, including for data and research to figure out why fewer women and girls take part in sports or other physical activity than do men and boys.

    “Once we better understand why women and girls choose not to participate in sport, or move into the senior ranks of coaching or management of sport, we can then work to remove those barriers,” Jocelyn Sweet, a spokeswoman for the Department of Finance, wrote in an email Wednesday.

    The budget said the money would also support innovative practices to tackle the problem, as well as efforts by national sports organizations to promote a higher rate of participation of women and girls, both on the ice and behind the bench.

    Statistics Canada estimated in 2010 that about one-third of Canadian men regularly participated in sport, compared with just one-sixth of Canadian women.

    In a report released last fall, the House of Commons heritage committee recommended setting specific targets for getting more women and girls involved in sport.

    Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CEO of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity, called the funding a historic step that she suggested could finally provide the momentum necessary to change the numbers in a meaningful way.

    “The gap is just so stubborn,” said Sandmeyer-Graves, who warned against the conventional belief that it’s just the way things are.

    “I don’t think that we should be satisfied with the fact that girls and women participate and need less than men and are reaping the benefits of sport less than boys and men.”

    The details remain to be seen, but sports organizations are hoping it means help for their ongoing efforts to achieve a greater balance.

    Gord Grace, CEO of Ontario University Athletics, said he would welcome any support for recruiting and retaining more female athletes at a crucial age.

    “We know that a lot of females drop out of sports once they get out of high school or above the age of 17,” Grace said.

    There are about 10,000 student athletes that compete in the system, and less than half are female, he added — a statistic that is partly skewed by the fact that one of the biggest sports is football, which has no teams for women.

    Sandra Murray-MacDonell, CEO of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association, said her organization offers teams for men and women in all its sports, but is still fighting systemic barriers to getting female athletes into top coaching positions.

    The association has a female apprenticeship coaching program that is designed to get graduating college athletes into the coaching profession, she said — but while about 66 per cent do become coaches, they remain in assistant coaching positions or become head coaches at lower-level clubs, she added.

    Part of the problem, said Murray-MacDonell, is that the hiring practices at colleges ask for head coach experience, setting up a catch-22 that forces those women to build up their resumes elsewhere.

    “We’ll have to look at some of those barriers,” she said.

    Those barriers to girls can crop up right at the community level, added Sandmeyer-Graves.

    “In a lot of instances, it’s really hard for girls’ teams to get spaces to play, because the boys’ teams are really grandfathered in,” she said, meaning girls have to pay higher prices to get space and time at private recreational facilities.

    “That can almost be like a tax on being a girl in the system.”

    — Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

    Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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    Alberta suspends caribou protection plan, asks for assistance from Ottawa



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  • EDMONTON — Alberta is suspending portions of its draft plan to protect threatened woodland caribou, saying more research needs to be done and that Ottawa needs to help out.

    Environment Minister Shannon Phillips told the house Monday that the province is acting on concerns about the economic impacts of the protection plan.

    “The federal Species at Risk Act is an extremely inflexible instrument that has already had negative economic consequences (in Alberta),” said Phillips.

    “We are going to do our best to make sure that we protect jobs on this.”

    She said she has sent that message in a letter to her federal counterpart, Catherine McKenna.

    Phillips is urging the federal government to help Alberta come up with a workable solution rather than have Ottawa impose an environmental protection order.

    Alberta’s draft plan is in response to a federal deadline under the Species at Risk Act passed last October and is designed to help threatened woodland caribou recover in 15 different ranges.

    The province released its draft plan on Dec. 19 and then held a series of town hall meetings.

    “The public meetings were attended by thousands of Albertans who are concerned about the impact caribou range plans will have on their communities and on the industries that support those communities,” stated Phillips’ letter, which was co-signed by Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd.

    The province plans to spend more than $85 million in the next five years to restore caribou habitat by eliminating seismic lines, building birthing pens and bringing in other measures.

    It has already invested $9.2 million and the estimated cost over the next 40 years is $1 billion.

    Phillips said the feds need to step up on planning and consultation, and on the money side as well.

    “Caribou recovery cannot occur without an infusion of federal funds to restore habitat necessary to ensure population growth,” she wrote.

    “While we need more time and partnership from the federal government on this matter, we also need your support in not prematurely implementing federal protection orders that will not have effective outcomes for Canadians and Albertans.”

    The federal government has the option of imposing an environmental protection order if a province doesn’t come up with a plan to protect the caribou. The order would halt any development, such as oil drilling, that could harm the animals.


    Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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    Five Things to know about Canada’s forthcoming peacekeeping mission in Mali



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  • OTTAWA — The Liberal government has unveiled Canada’s 12-month UN peacekeeping commitment to the west African country of Mali. It includes two Chinook helicopters to provide medical evacuations and logistical support, along with four smaller, armed Griffons to act as escorts for the larger transports. Here are five things to know about Mali and the mission.

    1. Lots of Canadian aid dollars. Mali has relied heavily on Canadian foreign aid, with only the United States and France contributing more. In 2014-15, Canadian development spending reached $152 million. Since 2012, Canada has also contributed $44 million in humanitarian aid following the country’s 2012 crisis (more on that below) and about $10 million to support the UN peacekeeping mission, making Canada its ninth-largest supporter.

    2. The 2012 crisis. It started when soldiers overthrew the country’s president, creating a power vacuum that was filled by an Islamic insurgency. The fall of Libya in 2011 busted the locks off Moammar Gadhafi’s arsenal, spreading weapons across north Africa, which armed various militia groups, including al-Qaida linked organizations. France led a war in 2013 that succeeded in driving the jihadists out of the stronghold they established in northern Mali. A UN peacekeeping force was established that year, and it has become its most dangerous mission with more than 160 fatalities.

    3. Canada’s drop in the peacekeeping bucket. Canada’s contribution of 250 personnel is far less than many of its allies. The UN mission comprises more than 13,000 troops. Germany, the country whose air support operations Canada will be replacing, has authorized the deployment of more than 1,000 troops. In addition to the UN mission, Germany has contributed 350 troops to a training mission for Mali’s military. France has 4,000 troops deployed to a counter-terrorism mission in northern Mali separate from the UN’s peacekeeping efforts. “This announcement is a small but important step towards Canada’s re-engagement in peacekeeping,” said peacekeeping expert Walter Dorn of the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, noting that Canada’s contribution to peacekeeping has hit an “all-time low” of a couple of dozen.

    4. The political peace process. In June 2015, a peace agreement was signed between the Malian government, Tuareg rebels and other rebel groups. The Tuareg first sparked the 2012 rebellion, but that was soon hijacked by the better-armed jihadists. Those jihadists are outside the peace process. Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada’s chief of the defence staff, said “there is a prospect of a brighter future for Mali” but that “the basic deconstruction of Libya and the rise of terror groups, terror armies” has to be addressed.

    5. The human rights situation. The UN’s latest report on the human rights situation, tabled last month, offers a grim update of the situation in Mali. Between January 2016 and June 2017, it documented 608 cases of human rights violations involving almost 1,500 victims. These occurred across the country, including Gao, where the Canadian air contingent is expected to be based, and further north in Timbuktu. The perpetrators include signatories to the peace process and “non-signatory and splinter armed groups.” The vast majority of the victims are men. The abuse included illegal detention, torture, extrajudicial executions, recruitment of child soldiers and sexual violence.

    Sources: Government of Canada, The United Nations, Deutsche Welle

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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