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Wild hockey brawl leads to suspensions of 15 players, both head coaches

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HALIFAX — Two head coaches and 15 players have been suspended after an ugly university hockey brawl that has raised questions about the sport’s culture of trash talking — and attitudes toward sexual assault.

Atlantic University Sport announced the suspensions Wednesday, after members of the Acadia Axemen and St. Francis Xavier X-Men fought during a game in Wolfville, N.S., on Saturday.

The melee spread from the centre of the ice to both squads’ benches and was captured on video that was circulated widely online.

Six Acadia players and nine from the X-Men were handed automatic suspensions of between two and five games, totalling 39 games. The suspensions also apply to the two head coaches and are effective immediately.

“It’s unfortunate that something like that is even possible in our locker rooms or within our teams in men’s hockey,” AUS executive director Phil Currie said at a news conference in Halifax.

On Monday, St. F.X. issued a statement alleging the brawl was instigated by a derogatory comment related to a sexual assault survivor that was made to an X-Men player. A few hours later, Acadia issued its own statement, saying the information it had gathered was not consistent with allegations made by St. F.X.

On Wednesday, Currie told reporters the alleged comment was directed at St. F.X. player Sam Studnicka, and was something to the effect of, “You’re a little (expletive) rapist.”

“In the comment, the word ‘rapist’ was used, so to a victim of sexual assault, obviously that has a tremendous amount of impact,” Currie told reporters.

“Let me be clear about this: In terms of student athletes in our system, regardless of the sport, making comments like that, it’s just not acceptable or appropriate, and we will address it.”

Currie issued a later clarification saying there was “some consensus” that inappropriate words were used before the melee, but there was a “lack of clarity” about their context, and said further investigation is necessary.

And he added that his reference to “a victim of sexual assault” was meant in a general sense: “This kind of language — in general — can have a negative impact on victims of sexual assault everywhere. I apologize if I misspoke or if my words were misinterpreted.”

Also on Wednesday, Currie was asked about the place of so-called “chirping” in hockey, were players often try to gain an edge through insulting or making fun of their opponents. He said while he doesn’t see the need for it, it would be hard to police in every instance.

“One of the things that we’ve tried to do in university sport, one of the reasons we don’t have fighting in university sport, is an attempt to change the culture in the hockey world. I think potentially, this is related to a cultural issue and (it’s) not acceptable in a university environment. We don’t condone it in any way, shape or form.”

Currie has also filed official complaints on five athletes and three coaches involved in Saturday’s incident after reviewing video evidence.

That means they will be subject to a secondary review process, which will involve the AUS sport chair “gathering additional evidence and speaking directly with players, officials and coaches involved to determine where more severe sanctions are warranted,” a statement said.

In a statement Wednesday, Acadia University called the fighting incident “unacceptable” and said it accepts the ruling by the AUS.

The university also acknowledged that one of its players made an “inappropriate comment containing a particular word” to a St. FX player.

“The Acadia student-athlete admitted and took responsibility immediately after the game and extended an apology,” the statement said.

However, the university said it disputes that the comment was made deliberately or that it was “made with the intent and in the context in which it has been portrayed in mainstream and social media.”

For its part, St. F.X. said little in an emailed response. “St. F.X. is honouring the decision of the AUS. We have no further comment.”

On Monday, Studnicka issued a statement saying that over his three-year AUS career, “I have been challenged in dealing with insulting and derogatory comments on the ice pertaining to the shaming of a sexual assault survivor.”

“It has taken an emotional toll on me, and it has been frustrating that one AUS hockey program in particular has elicited repeated on-ice comments directed towards me,” said Studnicka.

“There is no place for such comments within our society. Sexual assault is a very serious issue and there is simply no place for shaming sexual assault survivors, ever.”

Currie confirmed that he was informed about the issue two years ago by both schools after they had discussed it and had found a solution that was “satisfactory to all parties involved.”

He said while he didn’t know what they agreed to, there were no complaints brought to his attention last season. Currie did say comments had been made by teams other than Acadia, although he didn’t elaborate.

“It flies against all the missions of our institutions,” Currie said. “We need to be solid and strong on how we address the rest of this.”

Acadia’s statement Wednesday also called into question reports the inappropriate comments were an ongoing issue. The school said the issue involving St. FX was brought to them two years ago.

“They were dealt with at that time and there have been no such incidents since then. Those earlier incidents occurred before the Acadia student-athlete involved in Saturday’s incident joined its hockey program.”

It said the published statements on Monday by St. FX had led to an “outpouring of comments and commentary, including personal threats directed to members of the Acadia community, that are a reaction to a narrative that simply is not true.”

“We are acutely aware of the importance of making every effort to eliminate sexual violence and re-victimization of survivors everywhere in our society. We believe our student-athletes, coaches, and every member of the Acadia community have an obligation to act as role models in our communities and this standard was not met on Saturday night.”

The university said it is working with St. FX to address the incident and the two schools would be making a joint statement in the future.

Acadia was scheduled to play at Saint Mary’s University Wednesday night, while St. F.X. was set to return to action Friday at the University of New Brunswick.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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National

Senate Arctic committee calls recommendations in report a ‘wake-up call’

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OTTAWA — We the North? Canada’s Senate is skeptical.

The marketing slogan for Toronto’s NBA team may be everywhere these days. But for Sen. Dennis Patterson, who helped write a new report on the Arctic, it’s mostly just that.

“The country identifies itself by its North. The True North strong and free, the Raptors. But it’s symbolic. It’s not real.”

Patterson is a chairman of a special Senate committee on the Arctic, which just tabled a report with 30 recommendations on everything from funding better education for northerners to building housing fit for a changing climate.

Almost all of them have been made before in some form. The paper’s appendix lists 56 reports in the last 12 years written by Senate or House committees on Arctic issues.

The new report is entitled “A Wake-Up Call” and Patterson says Ottawa’s sleep has been long and deep.

“There’s still a huge infrastructure deficit,” said Patterson, who is from Iqaluit, Nunavut. “We’re feeling neglected and the evidence seems to be that is the case, that the North is not on the radar.”

Sen. Patricia Bovey, a co-chair on the committee, pointed out that when the group was struck in 2017, there was anticipation the Liberal government would soon release its anticipated Arctic policy framework. No such policy has been tabled and Bovey suggests her committee’s work can fill that gap.  

“This report, I hope, will become the basis for actions.”

It does make some specific recommendations.

It calls for a action on high-speed internet connectivity by next March. A dedicated minister for northern affairs is a “must, not a maybe,” said Bovey.

It asks for an Arctic infrastructure bank to help fund housing and public buildings to mitigate the impacts of climate change. New construction codes need to be developed appropriate to the North, the report adds.

Communities should have energy options other than diesel generators. Basic adult education should be better-funded and an Arctic university should be developed.

Chronic health issues should also be addressed by dealing with the social conditions that cause them. And local scientific capacity should be developed and research programs designed to meet the needs of northerners.  

“What I hope we’ve done is express the urgency, develop some immediate steps that can be taken to address the bigger whole, while providing a pathway to a sustained ongoing engagement and improvement,” Bovey said.

In an email, a spokesperson for Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said a policy framework is still coming.

“We are taking the necessary time and steps to co-develop a framework that reflects and integrates the shared interests, goals and priorities of our partners and is responsive to the needs of Northerners and Arctic residents,” it said. “We will have more say on it in the coming weeks.”

The email said the framework will focus on communities, economies, infrastructure, environment, research, safety and defence. It noted the 2019 budget sets out $700 million over 10 years for northern projects. 

Patterson said the North is ready for development. Effective ways of reviewing, assessing and permitting projects in the North are already in place.

“We have experience and we have done innovations in the Arctic that the rest of Canada could benefit from if they’d only pay attention to what we’ve managed to accomplish.”

But first, Patterson said, the North has to get somebody’s attention.

“Maybe, after decades of neglect, this comprehensive report will actually materialize in the form of a new comprehensive federal policy on the Arctic.”

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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Environment

‘Pretty consistent:’ Study says animal abundance in seas drops as climate warms

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Animal life in the world’s oceans will drop steadily and consistently as the climate warms, a Canadian-led study suggests.

“What we see is pretty consistent,” said Derek Tittensor, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax. 

“For every degree of warming, we project a five per cent decline in the abundance of animals. The warmer it gets, the more the decline.”

That means that the world’s oceans are on track to lose about 17 per cent of their productivity by 2100 if there are no significant reductions in greenhouse gases.

The study found the impact of climate change is so strong it almost doesn’t matter if commercial fisheries are included in the calculation. The results are nearly the same.

The research, published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, combined six marine ecosystem models with global ecosystem models and emissions projections. Tittensor said that produced a comprehensive projection for the oceans similar to what already exists for the continents.  

“There are winners and losers,” he said.

Arctic seas are expected to become more productive in a warmer world. Waters northeast of Greenland could have 50 per cent more animals by 2100, the study suggests.

But the great majority of the world’s oceans will be less abundant. If greater efforts aren’t made to rein in emissions, almost all mid-latitude and tropical seas will produce between 25 and 50 per cent less.

The report’s conclusions have been tested against actual data on fish stocks. The predicted results and the measured trends agreed.

Warmer waters reduce animal growth in several ways, Tittensor said.

For example, they increase metabolism, which forces fish to burn more energy just staying alive and leaves them less for growth. As well, warmer ocean water mixes less, which slows the cycling of sea floor nutrients needed by the tiny plants at the root of the ocean’s food web.  

The decline in sea life will be concentrated in larger fish, which tend to be the ones humans rely on for food.

“The species that we have a real interest in are likely to be those that are more susceptible,” said Tittensor.

United Nations figures suggest 10 per cent of the world’s people depend on fisheries for their livelihoods. They say 4.3 billion people rely on fish for at least 15 per cent of their animal protein.

“Five per cent might not seem like much of a decline,” Tittensor said.

“But we’re in a world that’s heading towards 10 billion people and the oceans are hugely important in terms like food security and making sure we can feed people.

“Any kind of climate impact is another stress upon the oceans over and above the other stresses they’re experiencing.”

Some of the changes are inevitable. Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere already guarantee a certain level of warming.

Tittensor said studies such as his will help managers plan for the changes.

“We can try and adapt to this effect.”

And, he added, we can always try to reduce it as much as possible by cutting carbon emissions.

“The future’s not fixed,” Tittensor said.

“We know the climate’s changing and we know that is going to have consequences. We can move toward reducing our greenhouse emissions.

“We have things we can do. We can tackle this.”

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

   

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


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