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Alberta

Edmonton’s connection to the defection of Baltimore Orioles’ superstar Jose Iglesias

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Here’s the simplest possible message for all and any who are bothered by the realization that the real world has interfered with the world of sport, so often described with great accuracy as “the world’s playpen” — it has happened before and surely will happen again.

For many, the most dismal example of politics destroying a major sports event is the 1936 Olympics, when Adolf Hitler’s prejudices were on open display. Memory of the brilliant sprinting by Black American Jesse Owens during those Games stands as civilized society’s best-known antidote to such critics of what now is identified as “social justice.”

In some ways Alberta is central to this debate: strong statements were made in support of Black Lives Master by players in the anti-Covid bubble designed to keep them healthy enough in Edmonton to complete the NHL’s first-ever late summer Stanley Cup playoffs at Rexall Place.

The international response, pro and con, will continue for some time, close observers predict.

“…. (Castro) was really angry. He was loud.”

It surprised me during the weekend to recall that a hubbub, but smaller, touched international baseball in 2008, when 18-year-old Cuban infielder Jose Iglesias defected from his national team during the world junior baseball championships in  Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley. The memory was triggered by coincidence: Iglesias showed on television as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in a series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

That world championship was one of several conducted in Edmonton by a group of volunteers headed by the late alderman, Ron Hayter. There was immediate evidence that the shortstop with excellent defensive skills was important in his nation: Premier Fidel Castro called personally to object..

Longtime Edmonton resident Don Clark of Edmonton has spoken often of the experience. He wound up taking a long-distance call initially intended for Hayter.

“I only got on the phone because Ron wasn’t around,” Clark said. “At first, I didn’t know who I was talking to, but soon it got pretty clear.  There was nothing any of us could do. They were gone.”

Smiling at the discomfort of that distant moment, Clark recalled the sound of Premier Castro’s voice.

“There’s no doubt he was really angry. He was loud.”

Years later, in an interview with a Detroit newspaper, Iglesias explained the departure from team headquarters on the University of Alberta campus. During a stretch of about two hours when the team was not under direct supervision, “We just got up and walked out.”

At the time, Iglesias spoke no English.

“It was tough. Really tough. I had no family. No friends. I just wanted to do what I loved: play baseball.”

He signed a big-league deal with the Boston Red Sox in 2009 and made the all-rookie team before signing his current $3-million one-year deal with Baltimore. He  also played with the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. With Detroit, he signed long-term contract for about $6 million a year.

Major League Baseball lists 32 active players as defectors from Cuba, including promising Toronto outfielder Lourdes Gurriel, New York Yankees pitcher Aroldis Chapman and other stars.

Read more of John’s stories here.

 

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Alberta

Calgary company begins human clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate

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CALGARY — Human clinical trials have begun in Toronto for a proposed COVID-19 vaccine made by a Canadian company.

Providence Therapeutics of Calgary says 60 subjects will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected next month.

The group of healthy volunteers aged 18 to 65 have been divided into four groups of 15. Three of the groups will get three different dose levels, while a fourth group gets a placebo.

Pending regulatory approval, the company’s CEO Brad Sorenson says a larger Phase 2 trial may start in May with seniors, younger subjects and pregnant people.

Providence uses messenger RNA technology for a product it calls PTX-COVID19-B.

Sorenson says if successful, the vaccine could be released by the end of the year.

“We are thrilled to begin human clinical trials of PTX-COVID19-B. Having a made-in-Canada solution to address the global COVID-19 pandemic will augment the reliability of vaccine supply for Canadians, contribute to the global vaccine supply and position a Canadian company on the global stage as a contributor to the solution,” Sorenson said Tuesday in a release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Stories the numbers tell’: Critics ask why Alberta sat on coal contamination data

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EDMONTON — Critics are asking why Alberta Environment has been sitting on years worth of data about pollution from coal mines while the government considers a dramatic expansion of the industry.

“It raises some important questions about our ability to trust what’s going on,” said New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt. “The fact (Alberta Environment) hasn’t reported publicly is extremely concerning.”

On Monday, The Canadian Press reported on analysis of coal mine contamination in the Gregg and McLeod Rivers and Luscar Creek near Jasper, Alta., dating back to the 1990s. It found toxic levels of selenium many times over the amount considered safe for aquatic life. 

The Gregg and Luscar Creek mines closed in the early 2000s. Selenium levels from both declined, at best, only gradually over more than 15 years of remediation.

In the case of the Cheviot mine on the McLeod River, levels gradually grew between 2005 and 2017. The operation closed last June. 

The data also shows the provincial government knew about the levels for at least 15 years and did not report anything after 2006. The information was available in raw form, but Schmidt said it isn’t enough to simply collect information.

“There are numbers and then there are the numbers that the stories tell. That’s the piece that’s missing.”

The New Democrats were in power for four of those years. Schmidt said sitting on the information is worse now because Alberta is going through a wrenching debate over the present government’s plans to expand the industry by opening up the Rocky Mountains to open-pit, mountaintop coal mines — an option that did not exist under the NDP. 

“This data’s relevance is more important now,” he said.

Alberta Environment has pointed out that the raw data has always been public. Spokesman John Muir promised the province would soon release its own report on water downstream of coal mines. 

Lack of action shows that monitoring often promised by industry and government as new projects are considered isn’t enough, said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

“On those rivers we’re seeing that monitoring hasn’t been enough to actually control selenium. We just continue to promise monitoring. We didn’t see action to bring those selenium numbers down.”

A 2006 provincial report found that selenium was already harming fish. As well, a 2005 published study co-authored by provincial scientists found rainbow trout were suffering facial and skeletal deformities from selenium. 

The province has recently sold about 1.4 million hectares of coal exploration leases. Hundreds of drill sites and kilometres of new roads have already been permitted on previously unmined mountainsides. One new coal mine, Benga Mining’s Grassy Mountain project in the Crowsnest Pass in southwestern Alberta, is before a joint federal-provincial review. 

The information on the old coal mines shows what’s at issue for new ones, said Morrison. 

“Those stakes are really high. (Selenium release) has been happening other places and they have not been able to get the selenium under control.”

Benga says a new method should allow the mine to treat 99 per cent of its selenium. As well, the mine has been designed to minimize contact between water and selenium-bearing rocks, the company says.  

Morrison said that treatment is still unproven. She said if its efficiency falls to even 90 per cent, selenium levels in nearby streams will cross thresholds safe for aquatic life. 

Morrison said her group produced expert testimony at the Benga hearings suggesting the company doesn’t have a convincing long-term plan for controlling selenium long into the future. 

“We have not seen that technology work at the scale that we’ll need it to or with the amount of selenium we’re likely to see.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021

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Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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