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Football Confusion Keeps Growing


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The Canadian Football League doesn’t know whether it will operate this year. It may not operate ever again.

This nation’s top level of amateur football, which links top universities from coast to coast, has no idea whether to play four or five games this season. One step below the college guys is Canadian junior football, which now considers schedules of four, five, six or seven games in what would be the 2020 season.

Confusion is everywhere.

On all three of the major gridiron tiers, COVID-19 – what else? – dominates every imaginable picture of the future, both short- and long-term. The same applies throughout the sports universe, of course.

It can never be guaranteed that a league cancelling its 2020 season will return in 2021 or beyond, with the exception of the Big Four: NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. Already, the American Hockey League, hockey’s top playpen for future big-timers, has been forced to back away from any prospect of completing the current season. Season-ending games, gone. Playoffs, gone.

It’s a simple scenario, written indelibly for all organizations without TV crowds or million-dollar sponsors: the AHL is a gate-centred league; playing before empty stands won’t come close to paying the bills. That scenario is written indelibly for amateur and minor-league entitles everywhere.

Too often overlooked in concern over sport’s billionaire owners and millionaire players is the group of youngsters just about to start their professional careers. Thomas Jack-Kurdyla, the University of Buffalo grad selected first by the Edmonton Eskimos in the recent CFL draft, has said several times that he’s anxious to get here from his Montreal home. Mentally, he’s ready to play.

In a similar situation is offensive tackle Theren Churchill, a Stettler product who starred for the Edmonton Huskies in the Prairie Junior Football Conference before becoming a Regina Ram and producing a three-year university career good enough to be grabbed as the Toronto Argos’ second pick in the first round. Churchill, too, wants to earn a living as a professional athlete.

John Belmont, the respected veteran junior, university and Eskimos assistant coach who watched Churchill closely as a Huskie, is confident for him.

“He came from a good program in Stettler. He’s tall (6-foot-5) and that helps a lot. He has long arms. That helps, too.

Most important was Belmont’s judgment of the young man’s talent. “He worked hard to get bigger (he’s listed at 295 these days) and he improved day after day and week after week.”

It’s equally important: Churchill is durable. He played 25 regular-season games in a row, plus a Rams’ semi-final loss to UBC.

Another possible area of comfort is that Canadian college teams play before tiny crowds. As an Argo, the rookie is sure to see empty seats when they play at home. As CFL boosters bided their time waiting for word on potential financial aid to this wonderful football tradition, there was good news in western amateur precincts. University teams have designed a program that could provide five-game schedules and the PJFC declared itself (mostly) confident that there will be a season this year.

The national picture remains cloudy; five provinces have junior teams. Will all lockdown procedures end in roughly the same way at roughly the same time?

“I don’t know,” said the veteran Belmont. “Nobody knows, but I think this league could be ready for almost a full schedule by the middle of July. I hope nobody rushes to make a decision (to reduce or eliminate games) before it’s necessary.”

“We’re doing our best to be prepared for anything”

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‘Harm Reduction’ is killing B.C.’s addicts. There’s got to be a better way

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Susan Martinuk 

B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy

Since 2016, more than 40,000 Canadians have died from opioid drug overdoses — almost as many as died during the Second World War.
Governments, health care professionals and addiction experts all acknowledge that widespread use of opioids has created a public health crisis in Canada. Yet they agree on virtually nothing else about this crisis, including its causes, possible remedies and whether addicts should be regarded as passive victims or accountable moral agents.

Fuelled by the deadly manufactured opioid fentanyl, Canada’s national drug overdose rate stood at 19.3 people per 100,000 in 2022, a shockingly high number when compared to the European Union’s rate of just 1.8. But national statistics hide considerable geographic variation. British Columbia and Alberta together account for only a quarter of Canada’s population yet nearly half of all opioid deaths. B.C.’s 2022 death rate of 45.2/100,000 is more than double the national average, with Alberta close behind at 33.3/100,00.

In response to the drug crisis, Canada’s two western-most provinces have taken markedly divergent approaches, and in doing so have created a natural experiment with national implications.

B.C. has emphasized harm reduction, which seeks to eliminate the damaging effects of illicit drugs without actually removing them from the equation. The strategy focuses on creating access to clean drugs and includes such measures as “safe” injection sites, needle exchange programs, crack-pipe giveaways and even drug-dispensing vending machines. The approach goes so far as to distribute drugs like heroin and cocaine free of charge in the hope addicts will no longer be tempted by potentially tainted street drugs and may eventually seek help.

But safe-supply policies create many unexpected consequences. A National Post investigation found, for example, that government-supplied hydromorphone pills handed out to addicts in Vancouver are often re-sold on the street to other addicts. The sellers then use the money to purchase a street drug that provides a better high — namely, fentanyl.

Doubling down on safe supply, B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy — though for now that effort has been stymied by the courts.

According to Vancouver city councillor Brian Montague, “The stats tell us that harm reduction isn’t working.” In an interview, he calls decriminalization “a disaster” and proposes a policy shift that recognizes the connection between mental illness and addiction. The province, he says, needs “massive numbers of beds in treatment facilities that deal with both addictions and long-term mental health problems (plus) access to free counselling and housing.”

In fact, Montague’s wish is coming true — one province east, in Alberta. Since the United Conservative Party was elected in 2019, Alberta has been transforming its drug addiction policy away from harm reduction and towards publicly-funded treatment and recovery efforts.

Instead of offering safe-injection sites and free drugs, Alberta is building a network of 10 therapeutic communities across the province where patients can stay for up to a year, receiving therapy and medical treatment and developing skills that will enable them to build a life outside the drug culture. All for free. The province’s first two new recovery centres opened last year in Lethbridge and Red Deer. There are currently over 29,000 addiction treatment spaces in the province.

This treatment-based strategy is in large part the work of Marshall Smith, current chief of staff to Alberta’s premier and a former addict himself, whose life story is a testament to the importance of treatment and recovery.

The sharply contrasting policies of B.C. and Alberta allow a comparison of what works and what doesn’t. A first, tentative report card on this natural experiment was produced last year in a study from Stanford University’s network on addiction policy (SNAP). Noting “a lack of policy innovation in B.C.,” where harm reduction has become the dominant policy approach, the report argues that in fact “Alberta is currently experiencing a reduction in key addiction-related harms.” But it concludes that “Canada overall, and B.C. in particular, is not yet showing the progress that the public and those impacted by drug addiction deserve.”

The report is admittedly an early analysis of these two contrasting approaches. Most of Alberta’s recovery homes are still under construction, and B.C.’s decriminalization policy is only a year old. And since the report was published, opioid death rates have inched higher in both provinces.

Still, the early returns do seem to favour Alberta’s approach. That should be regarded as good news. Society certainly has an obligation to try to help drug users. But that duty must involve more than offering addicts free drugs. Addicted people need treatment so they can kick their potentially deadly habit and go on to live healthy, meaningful lives. Dignity comes from a life of purpose and self-control, not a government-funded fix.

Susan Martinuk is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of the 2021 book Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health Care Crisis. A longer version of this article recently appeared at

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