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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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    From Hawkesbury to Estevan, documents show towns to be hit hardest by automation

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  • HAWKESBURY, Ont. — Sitting around a table with fellow Steelworkers, Steve Berniquez starts listing companies that once stood in and around Hawkesbury, a small Ontario town an hour’s drive east of Ottawa.

    When he mentions Canadian International Pulp and Paper, everybody nods. Its mill closed in 1982 and that was a bad one, more than 400 jobs gone at once.

    “We had how many mills around here where everybody could work? Now we don’t have anything else,” Berniquez says, leaning back in his chair. “They’re not coming back to us.”

    If federal calculations are accurate, automation and technological advances could make the local situation worse in the coming years, with Hawkesbury, a town of about 10,000, hit harder than any other city in Ontario.

    An internal government presentation from last August listed Hawkesbury as having the largest share of workers at high risk of being affected by automation. The chart in the lengthy presentation to a group of deputy ministers went province by province with the municipalities that were facing the same fate: Bay Roberts, N.L.; Summerside, P.E.I.; New Glasgow, N.S.; Winkler, Man.; Estevan, Sask.; Quesnel, B.C.; and Brooks, Alta.

    Also on the list was Lachute, Que., across the Ottawa River from Hawkesbury.

    Federal officials expect that rural areas and small towns will feel the biggest negative effects of automation, as well as regions “dependent on high-risk sectors like manufacturing or mining,” while gains from technological advances accrue to large urban centres.

    “Less-educated local workforces mean that rural areas and small towns are less likely to seize the economic opportunities presented by new technologies,” reads the August presentation, a copy of which The Canadian Press obtained under the access-to-information law. “Less-diversified local economies mean that rural areas and small towns are less likely to adapt if incumbent sectors and businesses are disrupted.”

    The steelworkers who considered the past, present and future of Hawkesbury on a snowy spring day estimated about one-third of manufacturing jobs that disappeared in the town over the past 30 years could be attributed to technological changes.

    Among the recent examples was an automated packing machine that replaced two workers in one plant, and a “magic eye” that does quality control instead of a handful of workers. Three years ago, 100 workers lost their jobs when a local warehouse decided to automate work.

    Berniquez has seen it. He works in the next-door village of L’Orignal, in the melt shop at Ivaco Rolling Mills, which makes wire rod and steel billets — semi-finished products that go on for further processing elsewhere. Earlier this month, the company announced it will lay off 50 people of the 538 who work there, most directly because of the tariffs the United States has put on Canadian steel imports.

    Automation, punishing tariffs and now additional costs from the federal carbon tax in Ontario have left steel and aluminum companies in the town in a bind, the workers say.

    But Berniquez isn’t ready to throw in the towel, nor would he considering moving to another town for work. He said it’s not how he was raised. “We need to protect what we’ve got,” he said.

    As manufacturing declined, the town has found new sources of employment. More health-care jobs have flowed into town thanks to the local hospital, the steelworkers say, and, according to the latest census figures, the local service sector employs the largest share of workers in the town.

    “These folks are making the (local) economy work,” said Richard Leblanc, the area co-ordinator for the United Steelworkers union. “We focus a lot on these big manufacturers that have gone, but some of that has been replaced.”

    How quickly towns like Hawkesbury have to adapt is unclear. The government presentation notes that Canadian firms traditionally have low takeup rates of new technology. There is also uncertainty around how quickly new technology will come available and the breadth of its impact on any number of professions, including doctors and accountants.

    A report this month from the Brookfield Institute suggested there are few easy answers for workers who want to know what training courses they should take to prepare. The report, produced to help a federal organization studying future skills needs, said a key problem is that the country lacks a “holistic, detailed, and actionable forecast of in-demand skills.”

    “A complex array of changes could impact employment over the next 10 to 15 years. Some, such as population aging, are well understood, while others, such as technological change, present a high degree of uncertainty,” the report said. “When these changes interact, uncertainty expands, making it challenging to predict the future of Canada’s labour market, and more specifically, what skills will be most in-demand.”

    The federal Liberals’ latest budget promised $1.7 billion in spending to provide a training tax credit and employment insurance benefits to cover wages during time away from work. The steelworkers questioned how low-income workers will be able to afford the upfront costs of programs and worried about time off from companies where training time is at a minimum because staff are stretched thin.

    The spending in the 2019 budget comes after billions more, over three previous federal budgets, aimed at helping workers prepare for the tectonic digital shifts in the labour market, and help those in the workforce stay there later into life.

    Hawkesbury’s future is more clouded because so many younger workers have gone off to college and university and moved away. In fact, nearby Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., have the lowest shares of at-risk workers in their respective provinces, based on the Finance Department calculations.

    David Bruneault stayed in Hawkesbury as friends got higher educations, eventually landing jobs as teachers or physiotherapists down the highway in the capital. The 34-year-old went into manufacturing, but says he’s willing to take a retraining course to learn to do something else.

    “You don’t want to be left with nothing,” Bruneault said. “I’m thinking about it a lot more now, too, because everything is uncertain.”

    — Follow @jpress on Twitter

    Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


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    Supreme Court upholds residential-school compensation for former student

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  • OTTAWA — A former residential-school student is entitled to compensation for abuse at the hands of a nun, the Supreme Court of Canada says in a decision that helps clarify the scope of appeals in such cases.

    The decision came Friday in the case of an Indigenous man, known only as J.W. due to privacy considerations, who said he was assaulted at a residential school in Manitoba.

    For over a century, tens of thousands of Indigenous children were required to attend residential schools, primarily run by religious institutions and funded by the federal government.

    Students were not allowed to use their languages or cultural practices.

    Former pupils provided accounts of physical, sexual and emotional abuse as part of an independent assessment process to determine how they would be compensated for what they went through, a program that flowed from a major 2006 settlement agreement aimed at ensuring a lasting resolution of the residential schools legacy.

    J.W.’s claim was rejected by an adjudicator on the grounds that he had failed to show the nun’s alleged act — grabbing his penis while he was lightly clothed, waiting in line for a shower — had a sexual purpose.

    His efforts to have the decision overturned by other adjudicators failed, but a Manitoba judge found fault with the internal decisions and sent the case back to the initial adjudication phase. A reconsideration adjudicator decided in J.W.’s favour in September 2016, awarding him $12,720.

    Meanwhile, however, the federal government successfully challenged the judge’s ruling in the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which said that, under the terms of the assessment process, judges can’t carry out detailed reviews of adjudication decisions.

    In its decision Friday, the Supreme Court said the courts can intervene if there is a failure to apply the terms of the settlement agreement.

    However, in looking at the specific facts of J.W.’s case, only five of seven judges agreed that his appeal should succeed and that he could be compensated. Of the five, the judges split along two lines of reasoning.

    In writing for three members of the court, Justice Rosalie Abella said while claimants in the assessment process do not have a “broad right” to judicial intervention, “they do have a right to the implementation of the terms of the settlement they bargained for.”

    “The courts’ supervisory power must permit intervention when it is necessary to ensure the benefits promised are delivered.”

    Abella lauded the 2006 settlement agreement as a respectful part of the healing process following a profoundly shameful era in Canada’s history.

    The legacy of abuse committed at residential schools consists of “deep wounds not only to those who were forced to attend, but also to our national psyche,” she wrote. “The recovery process, when it is possible, is slow and painful.”

    — Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

    Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press



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