Crosby’s comeback a study in post-concussion performance

OTTAWA – When Canadian hockey great Sidney Crosby hits the ice Monday night, many will be scrutinizing his every move for any sign of the concussion that took him out of the game for nearly a year.

The 24-year-old star of the Pittsburgh Penguins was sidelined on Jan. 5 when he sustained a concussion after being nailed by two hard hits in back-to-back games.

The Penguins thought he would be back before the end of last season, but Crosby was out for the entire summer, with concussion related symptoms including a sensitivity to bright light and loud noises, dizziness and fatigue.

Even when the symptoms started to fade in September, Crosby stayed off the ice opting for a patient approach that would see him return in top form.

His return will be a landmark case study in how long athletes need to recover from concussions and whether they return at the same level of play.

“There will be some pretty trained eyes watching, and probably, they won’t be able to notice a big difference,” says Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “But the research suggests that people have been injured in the way Sidney Crosby has been never quite return to the same level they were before.”

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Cusimano says, like the Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemeiux before him, Crosby’s advantage lies in his brain, not his skates or his stick-handling.

“All these superstar guys, what distinguishes them is how smart they are, and that’s the word for how quickly their brains work in the sport,” he says. “These guys are fast thinkers. They are multitaskers. They are able to anticipate. Brain injury effects that very severely.”

Even if Crosby’s mental reaction time slows slightly, Cusimano says he won’t have the same edge as before.

In announcing Crosby’s return, his coach Dan Bylsma said it may take a few games to get Crosby fully warmed up, but his progress is promising.

“In practice he is one of the best players on the ice, he is the best player on the ice,” Bylsma said.

Crosby took a time-out with an MVP title, a Stanley Cup win and an Olympic gold medal already under his belt.

Dustin Fink, a certified athletic trainer, specializing in concussions, said as long as Crosby’s brain has truly healed, there’s no reason he can’t continue to rack up the achievements.

“You shouldn’t go back on the field or the court unless you are playing at 100 per cent because you’ll be at risk of injury again,” he said. “Crosby himself will be playing at the best of his ability at this point.”

Fink, who curates theconcussionblog杭州夜网, said that in his experience athletes who return to play without fully healing their brains can’t compete at the same level as before the injury, but those who give it time have no problem returning.

“When you receive a concussion, you do sustain some sort of damage on the brain,” he said. “When the brain recovers, the brain figures out a correct way to do the same processes as they knew before.”

Former NHL player Jesse Wallin knows just how tough it can be to recover from a concussion. The coach of the Red Deer Rebels hockey team had to cut his career as a player short after he couldn’t shake concussion-related symptoms.

But he says not all concussions are equal. Wallin said he suffered several concussions, most of which he was able to shake after a day or two.

“You recover, get back to health and you are right back at it,” he said, referring to most concussions.

The last concussion was different though, Wallin said. The symptoms never really went away and he had to walk away from playing the game he loved.

Wallin said that as a player, you always want to get back out there and fast, but that it seems Crosby has handled his injuries with care.

“If he is returning there is no question he can return to form,” he said.

Hockey fans won’t know what form Crosby will be in until Monday at 7 PM ET, but regardless the NHL community has been buzzing with excitement about his return.

Fink said he expects Crosby’s return to show athletes that it is possible to come back from a head injury.

“You can still play sports, but the road to recovery isn’t going to be four or five weeks,” he said. “(Sidney) let the symptoms be the guide. That’s the most important thing.”

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Launch of Nova Scotia budget website a ‘diversion,’ Opposition Liberals say

HALIFAX – The government of Nova Scotia launched a website Monday encouraging people to offer feedback as it tries to trim its deficit – a move the Opposition said was a “diversion” from the grim economic realities the province faces.

Finance Minister Graham Steele declined to elaborate on what measures the government is considering as it tries to steer its finances back into the black from a projected deficit this year of $319 million.

Instead, Steele announced the launch of a website that allows people to create their own provincial budget. The site encourages users to adjust revenues and expenditures to show what impact their choices would have on the province’s bottom line.

He said the website and upcoming public consultations are a chance for people to come up with new ideas that could be examined as the government prepares next year’s budget, likely to be presented in early April.

He said whichever path it chooses, the government intends to remain on track to balance the budget as promised in 2013.

“The plan is that for every dollar in new revenue there will be between three and four dollars of savings in expenditures,” Steele said. “But that can be efficiencies, it can be reductions in appropriate spots.”

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Steele said the government has rejected implementing “across-the-board” cuts, but added that it would seek savings in areas it deemed appropriate.

“We are still on that plan, but this pre-budget consultation tour is a chance for Nova Scotians to tell us whether that is still what they want us to do with their money or whether they have other ideas,” Steele said.

Liberal finance critic Diana Whalen said she has no problem with the government gathering public input for the budget, but she called the new website a “diversion.”

“There are some urgent questions that need to be asked today about jobs and the economy,” Whalen said. “I think that’s the comments we are going to see at the end of the whole exercise.”

Steele said the website has cost $32,250 to develop and maintain.

The government has already announced a three per cent cut in health spending last month, and the Transportation Department is reviewing snow-clearing operations with the aim of saving about $2 million.

The recent closure of the NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill in Cape Breton dealt a blow to the province’s economy, and the pending layoffs at the Bowater Mersey paper mill on the South Shore will do the same. But Steele wouldn’t comment on the specific economic impact those would have on Nova Scotia’s finances.

He said his department was still gathering data that would form the basis of a budget update, expected in mid-December.

The consultations will also involve a series of public meetings that will be held across the province during January and February.

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Theatre community mourns death of veteran actor and stage director John Neville

TORONTO – John Neville, a veteran Canadian actor and stage director who appeared in a multitude of productions, including the hit TV series “The X-Files,” died Saturday at the age of 86.

Neville, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died in Toronto surrounded by family, said a statement from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where Neville worked as an artistic director in the 1980s.

Neville appeared in dozens of movies, television shows and theatre productions during a career that spanned six decades.

His career experienced a big lift when he was cast in the title role in the 1988 film “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” Although the film was a financial failure, Neville’s performance was well-received and it led to a plethora of film and television roles.

Perhaps the one that gave him the most prominence came in the ’90s when he landed the recurring role of the “The Well-Manicured Man” in the “The X-Files.”

He also did stints as artistic director for Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre in the 1970s and of Halifax’s Neptune Theatre from 1978 to 1983.

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“John Neville was a superb actor, an outstanding director and a terrific artistic leader of our Festival,” Des McAnuff, the current artistic director of the Stratford festival, said in a statement.

“His charisma and charm were matched by the generosity of his spirit.”

Neville was born in England, emigrating to Canada in 1972 and later he became a citizen.

He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2006 for his work in Canadian theatre and drama. He became an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1965.

Neville received one Gemini nomination in 1999 in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role category for his performance in the 1998 TV series “Emily of New Moon”

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Caroline, six children and six grandchildren.

A private funeral is to be held immediately and plans for a memorial are to be announced in the new year, the statement said.

In the interview below, Neville shares his thoughts on his career, politics, his challenges and fears, and why he loved living in Canada. 


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Seniors tax credit and 30% tuition cut to be key features of throne speech

TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberals will address only their own agenda in the throne speech Tuesday that opens the first session of the legislature since the Oct. 6 election, despite being reduced to a minority government.

The speech, to be read by Lt.-Gov. David Onley, will outline plans to provide a home renovation tax credit for seniors and a 30 per cent reduction in college and university tuitions, but won’t mention ideas from the opposition parties.

“Overall it’s a more focused agenda than you’d normally see in a throne speech,” said a senior Liberal source.

“It’s not a laundry list of every commitment we made in the platform because, quite frankly, in the current fiscal situation and minority government, that’s not always going to be possible.”

The speech will focus on items that are “core to the Liberal agenda,” and won’t talk about the Progressive Conservatives’ demand for a public sector wage freeze or the New Democrats’ call to eliminate corporate tax cuts.

“I’d say there’s a tip of the hat that we need to find ways to work together in this (minority) house and look forward to getting good ideas from anybody,” said the source.

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“There’s no ‘we picked this up from your agenda and we picked up that from your agenda.’ There’s none of that.”

Tory Leader Tim Hudak met with McGuinty last Friday to discuss the minority legislature, but emerged “frustrated” after the premier “shot down” his ideas such as legislating a public sector wage freeze.

“It sounds like, so far, that Dalton McGuinty didn’t get the message sent in the last election campaign that we need change,” said Hudak.

“We need to get our province back to living within its means.”

The opposition parties each campaigned on eliminating the eight per cent provincial portion of the HST from home heating bills, an idea that won’t be in the throne speech but will be debated later this week when the NDP introduces it as a private member’s bill.

“It’s a small step to make life more affordable for families and protect them from an unfair tax, one that never should have been applied to a daily essential like home heating” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Private members’ bills rarely become law in Ontario, but the Tories and NDP combined now have one more seat than the governing Liberals, so reducing the HST on home heating bills could be the first real test of the minority government.

The tone of the speech from the throne will be one of fiscal restraint, and follows a warning by McGuinty the government will have to limit spending increases to an average of one per cent a year until the $16-billion deficit is eliminated in 2017-18.

That’s going to mean cuts in virtually all areas except health care and education, which together eat up more than 70 cents of every dollar the province spends. But the throne speech will not detail what services may be reduced or eliminated.

“These are serious times and we need a serious plan,” McGuinty told the Economic Club of Canada last week in his first major speech since voting day.

“It’s going to require discipline and some tough decisions on the part of government.”

McGuinty still talks about governing with what he calls a “major minority,” and the opposition complains they aren’t seeing any signs the Liberals are willing to genuinely co-operate with them to make the minority parliament work.

“I didn’t see much different between Dalton McGuinty in November 2011 and Dalton McGuinty in November 2010,” said Hudak.

The PC leader sent an email to supporters after his meeting with McGuinty telling them to be “ready to go into an election next year,” but the New Democrats say that’s the last thing people want.

“I don’t want to spend the next few years with an unstable government, making threats that we’ll bring the government down,” said Horwath.

“The people of this province don’t want to see the same squabbling status quo.”

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will deliver the fall economic update Wednesday, which will detail the impact lower growth forecasts are having on the provincial books, and pave the way for some serious belt-tightening measures in next year’s budget.

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Tembec exiting flooring business with $13 million sale; Huntsville closing

MONTREAL – Forest products company Tembec is exiting the hardwood flooring business as it shutters a 108-year operation in Huntsville, Ont., and sells another facility in Toronto to a private company for $13 million.

The Montreal-based company said 63 workers, including 52 unionized employees, will be affected when the Huntsville business, which opened in 1903, ceases operations in January.

The Toronto plant, along with its Muskoka and Vintage flooring brands, will be sold within the next few weeks. It employs 79 workers, including 58 unionized employees.

Opened in 1989, Vintage Flooring relocated its manufacturing via an acquisition to its current 6,300-square-metre facility in western Toronto.

Tembec (TSX:TMB) said it will record a one-time charge of $2 million in its December quarterly results.

“The sale of the hardwood flooring division is consistent with our strategy to focus on the company’s core businesses,” stated president and CEO James Lopez.

The two facilities generated $48 million of sales, $1.9 million of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization and $1.6 million of operating earnings.

Tembec’s hardwood sawmill operations in Huntsville are unaffected by the transaction.

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The company wouldn’t disclose the identity of the buyer, at its request. It also wouldn’t indicate how much of the flooring sales are generated in each facility.

Paul Quinn of RBC Capital Markets said he’s not surprised by Tembec’s sale of the flooring operations, which has been in the works for a few months.

“They’ve heard from investors that one of the reasons why their multiple is so low is that they’ve got a hand in every bucket so they’re trying to simplify their business and get back to the core,” he said from Vancouver.

The pulp business may be losing some money now, but Tembec’s management believes it can once again deliver decent profits, he added.

While there may also be other assets that are non-core, they are more difficult to separate from existing operations and sell, Quinn added, pointing to the coated paperboard plant in Temiscaming, Que.

Tembec’s printing plant in Kapuskasing, Ont., is holding its own with Ontario energy credits. The company believes its lumber business could recover once the U.S. housing market does.

“I think (the strategy is) more focused on what they know, which is lumber, pulp and a few ancillary businesses,” Quinn added.

Tembec is an integrated forest products company, with operations in North America and France. It has some 4,300 employees, and operates more than 30 market pulp, paper and wood product manufacturing units. It also produces silvichemicals from by-products of its pulping process and specialty chemicals.

Tembec markets its products worldwide and has sales offices in Canada, the United States, China, Korea and Japan.

It was created in 1973 after a closed paper mill in Temiscaming, Que., was purchased from a large multinational company.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Tembec’s shares fell 10 cents, or 3.8 per cent, at $2.57 in afternoon trading.

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Olympian needed years to get over loss, writes book to help others deal with it

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. – Jason Dorland beat himself up for years after losing his Olympic race and he doesn’t want to see others do the same.

So he wrote “Chariots and Horses” in the hope that it can help coaches and athletes avoid what Dorland experienced. The book title? He was a rower to whom boats were chariots and the athletes pulling the oars were horses.

Dorland, who now coaches rowing at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ont., was in the Canadian eight that entered the 1988 Seoul Olympics final with high hopes but finished last.

“I hope that by sharing my story you may continue to develop a greater appreciation for and greater understanding of the reality that there is more to sport, to business, and to life than just winning,” he writes.

How Dorland has changed since that Olympic final.

“I wouldn’t want to know the adult version of the 24-year-old who raced in Seoul,” he says during an interview in his home across the street from Ridley. “He was a jackass.”

He wanted to beat the living daylights out of the men in rival boats in Seoul. It was macho mania. He viewed competition as war. After the war, which existed only in his head, he was a casualty.

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“There was no debrief,” he recalls. “We were never gathered together to talk about what happened. Everybody went his separate way and we were each left to deal with it.

“One of the neat things about writing the book is that I’ve reconnected with almost all the guys in the boat and for the first time in our lives we’ve talked about the race. The majority of the guys I talked to buried that experience – completely took it out of their mind, didn’t want to reflect on it. Some of them crashed harder than I did.”

Meeting and learning from world-class runner Robyn Meagher was a turning point for Dorland in more ways than one. She could celebrate after a loss when she knew she’d given her best and most effective performance and her upbeat attitude reshaped Dorland’s thinking.

They would become husband and wife.

“There’s so many things we can learn from sport,” says Dorland. “But look around at the current climate of sport and we really haven’t come that far.”

He says that when he delivers oral presentations, there often are one or two people who linger.

“They’ll come up to me and introduce themselves and it’ll come out that they were an Olympian and they’ll tell me their story and they get choked up and they start to cry,” he says.

He got an e-mail from a man who competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

“The fact that he didn’t win is now a deep dark secret,” says Dorland. “He just will not celebrate. The Olympic Games should be a highlight in people’s life experiences but for many it’s not. There’s just so much dysfunction in that.”

Given those sentiments, it comes as no surprise that Dorland has issue with some of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Own the Podium program.

“Own the Podium is really a prime example of everything that’s wrong with sport in Canada,” he says. “I have no problem with the initiative of Own the Podium. They provide great services to the athlete. The whole initiative is to raise big money, better coaches, better facilities, better lifestyles for the athletes – I’m totally in favour of that.

“What challenges me is the branding of Own the Podium. The name Own the Podium, you are telling the athletes that the only way we’re ever going to celebrate what you do at the Olympic Games is if you win. That’s it, and if you don’t, we don’t want to hear from you.

“It’s no wonder that you get athletes apologizing to the nation after they have an off day. My question to anybody is: When was the last time you apologized to the nation for having an off day at work? It never happens. But we have present-day athletes who apologize to us. It’s bizarre. We should be apologizing to them because we’ve allowed that culture to take over.”

High performance sport craves sponsors and they like the Own The Podium message, the 47-year-old Dorland argues.

“After Vancouver 2010 there was discussion about changing the name and one of the reasons they left it, from what I understand, is because it was attractive to their current sponsors,” says Dorland. “The current sponsors like the bravado, the confidence, the cockiness, the outright comment that, ‘I’m going to win, I’m a winner,’ and so they wanted to be associated with that.

“There’s a prime example of corporate interests or money coming before the best interests of the athlete.”

There’s a “much cleaner way” which could use a title such as Olympic Journey 2010 or Olympic Journey 2012.

“We could become an international leader in how we prepare our athletes for the Games, how we support them during the Games, and how we debrief them afterwards,” says Dorland. “I don’t think there is a country doing it very well and I think we could be that country.

“But that was shot down. No surprise. I just think that if we made it more about the journey of the athlete – how they prepare and train – not only might we own the podium more but we’d have a healthier culture around sport. We wouldn’t have kids growing up in a culture where it is all about winning, all about owning the podium.”

So many children who get into organized sport leave by the time they are teens and one of the reasons is the pressure to win.

“I was the poster child for Own the Podium in Seoul. Own the Podium is wonderful when you’re winning. When it doesn’t work, who picks up the pieces? I want someone to answer me that question. Who takes care of all the athletes who go home, don’t get the articles written about them, don’t end up on a cereal box, and carry that around for the rest of their lives? Who takes care of them?

“I won’t argue that focusing on winning can’t work but what I question is what happens when it doesn’t? If everything doesn’t line up in that one moment and you lose, what are you left with? What is it you can take away from it and celebrate?”

His critics might say he has a warm and fuzzy approach to coaching, but his 16- and 17-year-old rowers might disagree.

“If they say my guys won’t be tough enough, that’s a crock,” he says. “My approach is a strategic approach.

“I believe that when you draw a line in the sand you have told the body and the mind that that’s as far as we’re going to go and it’s done. There’s no line in the sand when I coach. I continually ask my athletes to show up every day and redefine their line.

“In essence, you open the possibility of being better than you ever thought you were. If you never define what the win is, you open up far more possibilities. This is the thing I find now that works so wonderfully well with my athletes. They discover things about themselves that might not have otherwise done if all it was about was beating the guy beside them. What if you’re capable of a lot more than beating the guy beside you? You’re never going to discover that if all you’re thinking about is beating the guy beside you. That’s what I do.

“Much of my philosophy revolves around taking care of the athlete and making sure that if something goes sideways on race day they’re going to be able to live with themselves. It’s also about building excellence. I believe in high performances and holding the bar really high. The difference in my approach is that if my athletes show up and have the best race of their lives and they get beat they can still walk away from that race able to celebrate something. If everything was about having to win the race to have something to celebrate then, yeah, they’re devastated, and I haven’t done my job.

“As coaches, there has to be something more, something bigger, than winning to our job. My job isn’t to create winning crews. My job is to change lives.”

By concentrating on the process rather than the outcome, an athlete is not less competitive, says Dorland. He’s merely smarter than those going to war to win.

Everybody likes to win and the 16- and 17-year-olds he coaches are no different.

“If you ask any of the guys I’m coaching in the heavy eight if they would like to be the fastest crew in Canada, they’ll tell you they want to win, and they recognize that the approach we’re taking is a very good strategy in order to achieve that.”

Dorland is passing on to them the reality that in sports, as in life, it’s all about the journey.

Dorland led crews to national titles while coaching at Shawinigan Lake School in British Columbia, where he co-founded the organic, natural food company Left Coast Naturals before moving back east to coach at Ridley, where his father was a teacher and coach.

Chariots and Horses, 237 pages, Heritage House Publishing, $22.95 paperback.

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Missing Women inquiry commissioner upset over report leaked to media

VANCOUVER – Missing Women inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal said he was upset over an “ethical lapse” that led to a report being leaked to the media.

“I find it reprehensible,” Oppal said as the inquiry resumed Monday after a one-week break.

“I find it upsetting and I’m disappointed,” he said of the report being leaked Friday to a television outlet, which passed it along to Toronto-based newspaper.

The leaked 580-page report by Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans is expected to be made public today at the inquiry.

The inquiry asked Evans to provide an expert opinion and analysis of what went wrong with the Vancouver police and RCMP investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton.

The Evans report was filed today as an exhibit for identification only, meaning it won’t be made public at the moment, because of an objection by lawyer Cameron Ward.

Ward, who is representing 20 families of Missing Women, objected because he wants to challenge Evans being tendered as an expert witness.

Evans is not expected to testify at the inquiry until January.

The inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, who was arrested in 2002 and was eventually charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder.

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Commission counsel Art Vertlieb told the inquiry that the lawyers representing inquiry participants signed legal undertakings not to disclose or copy documents until they are publicly released at the inquiry.

“This appears to be a serious breach of an undertaking,” Vertlieb said.

“It’s a breakdown of trust,” he added. “It’s an embarrassment to the process.”

After the morning break, Vertlien told Oppal that he met with reporters from the Vancouver Sun, Province and Canadian Press to discuss the reasons for not releasing the report.

Vertlieb said the reporters were concerned that there wasn’t a level playing field because some media have the report and others do not.

He asked Oppal if he would reconsider making the report public.

Oppal said he wanted Ward to make a submission at 2 p.m. about his objection to the report being made an exhibit.

“I wouldn’t have any objection to the members of the media getting it,” Ward told Oppal.

The lawyer said he objected to the report because it was unnecessary and it was done by a police insider who is not independent of police.

Vancouver Police Deputy Chief Doug LePard has taken the stand for his fourth day of testimony.

The inquiry took a one week- break to allow counsel to read the Evans report before lawyers begin their cross-examination of LePard.

LePard did an internal review of the police failures in the Pickton investigations by the VPD and the RCMP.

He issued an apology to the families of Pickton’s victims, saying the police should have done a better job.

The inquiry has already heard testimony of families of Pickton victims, who said police didn’t take the reports of missing women seriously enough.

LePard testified that police initially believed that the women had gone missing were historical “so it didn’t raise the level of urgency that it ought to.”

It didn’t become apparent until mid 2001 that an active serial killer was preying on women working as street prostitutes in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver police received tips about Pickton in 1998 and he was the VPD’s prime suspect.

Pickton had attacked a woman with a knife on his Port Coquitlam farm in 1997 and the woman had escaped naked and bleeding to the street. She flagged down a passing car, who took her to hospital.

Three informants told Vancouver police about Lynn Ellingsen witnessing Pickton butchering a woman in his barn one night, but the RCMP interviewed Ellingsen, who denied she had seen anything.

She later admitted she was blackmailing Pickton to keep quiet.

Pickton had offered money to a person to lure Ellingsen to Pickton’s farm, so she could be killed.

Pickton was finally arrested in February 2002 after a junior Mountie executed a search warrrant on Pickton’s farm to look for illegal weapons.

After officers found identification of some of the missing women, it turned into a homicide investigation and the search of the farm continued for 18 months.

Pickton’s murder charges were divided into two trials.

A jury at his first trial in 2007 convicted Pickton of killing six women who disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

After Pickton exhausted all his appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed with a second trial involving another 20 murders, which outraged the families of the victims.

Pickton confessed to a jail cell mate – an undercover officer posing as a criminal – that he killed 49 women and planned to kill dozens more.

A First Nations group of about a dozen people have formed a circle of drummers and singers at the intersection of Georgia and Granville, blocking traffic.

The drumming can be heard inside the inquiry.

A large number of the missing women were first nations.


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Food bloggers share their passion, along with recipes for followers to try

LONDON, Ont. – One of the best things about old, especially hand-written recipe books, is comments written in the margins: “From Ruby Kerr” or “Mabel Cook’s biscuits”; “We really liked this” or “Use less sugar.” It gives the reader a mini-history of the recipes and a connection to the person who took the time to write them out.

The modern, high-tech and infinitely more accessible version of this is the Internet food blog.

Many of the bloggers, mostly amateurs, have a theme: Chocolate, barbecue, Italian, Greek, sweets and pastries, protein-free, beer, wine. But they all have one thing in common. They are passionate about their areas of interest and want to share not only their recipes but also their thoughts and stories about food.

There are literally thousands of bloggers. One website alphabetically lists hundreds of food blogs in Canada alone. It hasn’t been updated since September 2010 and wasn’t complete then.

Bloggers are even organizing. They have conferences, mostly in the U.S. but attended by many Canadians, to network with other bloggers and to discuss the technical aspects of the Internet, food styling and photography, a key part of many blogs.

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Valerie Lugonja of Edmonton – acanadianfoodie杭州龙凤 – started blogging in 2008 to show her middle school students she could “walk the walk.” She has just retired after 30 years as an English teacher but that year was assigned to oversee a “foods” option for the students. She always had an interest in food and had taken a few cooking classes but had no formal training.

The focus of her blog is Canadian, especially Prairie, cuisine. Her goal is to explore and archive Canada’s food heritage and family food traditions.

She and her husband travel extensively, and for the last three years parts of all her trips have had a food focus. They were in Italy in October, London in March and in Paris last year, where she took a class in bread-making at the Cordon Bleu school. She meets local cooks, takes classes and brings all that information home to make dishes she has experienced, but with a “Canadian twist,” and to share them with her followers.

“We’re a multicultural country so (the international experience) fits in quite comfortably” with her theme, she says.

Her blog has an extensive travel section, a “store” informing readers where they can get some of the kitchen tools she uses, and fans can follow her on Facebook and Twitter. But her food-related activities have expanded well beyond the blog. She organizes cooking classes, “Taste Tripping” parties, and is the moving force behind Eat Alberta, which will hold its second one-day conference in April offering a keynote speaker and hands-on cooking seminars to 200 participants. It’s sold out.

“It’s a hobby,” says Lugonja, and she doesn’t want it to be more than a part-time business. Right now she spends about two hours a day on her blog and gets about 600 visitors daily. She estimates about 40 per cent are Canadian, plus a lot of Americans and many from other countries.

Kevin Lynch is a 35-year-old computer programmer from Toronto who started his blog, closetcooking杭州龙凤 (Cooking in a Closet-Sized Kitchen) in 2006. Before that he had no interest in cooking. He hadn’t cooked as a child and when he was on his own, home cooking “was mostly frozen pizzas and Kraft Dinner.”

But in 2006 he went to Japan and was very taken with the food. He realized how “boring” his own meals were. When he came home, he went online to find recipes for some of the dishes he had eaten.

“I came across some food blogs and found it really amazing that average everyday people were making recipes and taking these amazing photos that really got you into it and publishing it on the web.” He started his own blog almost immediately.

In the beginning, he would search out several recipes for a certain dish and pull out the elements he liked best to create his own.

“But more frequently these days,” says the man who is a totally self-taught cook, “I’m coming up with my own recipes” and sharing them with about 400,000 visitors a month (almost five million a year) on his website.

He doesn’t have a specialty and his recipes cover everything from appetizers, soups and entrees to drinks and desserts. But he does admit to an obsession with grilled cheese sandwiches, experimenting with different breads and cheeses and additions such as salsa or jam. Some of his recipes are family-sized, some more suitable for one or two. And like Lugonja, he does his own photography, another interest he hadn’t developed before he started blogging.

To read some of the innumerable food blogs out there, type “food blog” into a search engine. On their websites, Lugonja and Lynch both list and have links to other food blogs they read. For those who would like to start a blog, all the information you need is on the Internet and you can also hire firms to set up a website.

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Review: Jackson’s music is re-imagined for Cirque Du Soleil, but needs context

Michael Jackson, “Immortal,” (Epic)

“The Immortal World Tour” is a new Cirque du Soleil extravaganza that pays tribute to the life of the late King of Pop through his rich catalogue of hits. Word has it that the show, which will tour the United States beginning in December, is a must-see production.

Listening to the show’s soundtrack will leave you with a “must-see” feeling about the show as well, mainly because you will feel like you have to see the show to put much of the re-imagined versions of Jackson’s hits in context.

Without the imagery and plotline of the show, much of the album seems disjointed. Some songs are oddly chopped up, others are spliced together without much finesse, and there are a myriad sound effects, from bullets firing to glass shattering to the whistle of a train to basketballs bouncing, that just sound like noise.

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There are a few exceptions. “Dancing Machine” is paired with an electro-groove that gives it a nice updated feel (until it is bogged down by the weird insertion of “Blame it on the Boogie” and lots of slamming sound effects); “I’ll Be There” sounds gorgeous with just Jackson’s voice and a piano; and the a cappella confrontation scene from the “Bad” video fits perfectly into a brief interlude of “State of Shock.”

But just as you’re jamming to that, the song switches to “Beat It,” leaving you with a sense of confusion.

Onstage, it probably all makes sense beautifully – well, let’s hope. But without that visual picture, the listening experience is a disappointment.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: The addition of a choir, as well as the foreboding boots marching, makes Jackson’s anthem for the oppressed, “They Don’t Care About Us,” even more powerful.

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Liberal Dave Levac elected as new Speaker of the Ontario legislature

TORONTO – Longtime Liberal Dave Levac was elected Speaker of the Ontario legislature Monday, taking the reins as chief political referee in Ontario’s first minority parliament in a generation.

Before being whisked away to be fitted for his new black robes, Levac admitted he “got a little verklempt” in the legislature after learning the results of the secret ballot.

“I’ve prepared for this for a long time in terms of my skill sets and I hope I can not lose favour,” he said outside the chamber. “I deeply appreciate the confidence that the members have shown.”

His experience as a former school principal should also come in handy as he takes on the new job, which comes with a bumped up $153,000 salary and an apartment in the legislature.

“I was a fair principal,” Levac said. “I was tough when they wanted me to be and I was very lax when they didn’t want me to be.”

Three of his Liberal colleagues were also vying for the job: Toronto-area members Donna Cansfield and David Zimmer, and Oakville member Kevin Flynn.

Flynn was dropped after the first ballot, while Zimmer and Cansfield – who could have been the first woman elected to the post – lost to Levac on the second ballot.

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Cansfield said she was pleased with the outcome, even though she lost an opportunity to make history.

“I put my name forward for all the right reasons, thought I had the credentials and that’s what happens,” said the former cabinet minister. “It’s called democracy.”

Zimmer, who also failed in his bid for Speaker in 2007, said he wasn’t disappointed by the results.

“As Dave Levac said – and I adopt his statement on this – that the legislature would have been well served by any of the four candidates had they won the Speakership,” he said.

But with the Speaker’s robes comes the heavy responsibility of being called upon to be the tiebreaker in a minority parliament.

The Oct. 6 election reduced the governing Liberals to just 53 of the 107 seats and the opposition together control 54.

The Speaker, by convention, tends to vote with the governing party, although there have been exceptions.

In his acceptance speech, Levac vowed to work with all three parties to “keep the dignity and the honour and the trust” of the legislature in their hands.

Levac said he has read essays by former Speaker Peter Milliken, who cast five of the 10 tiebreaking votes in the House of Commons since Confederation.

“Quite frankly there’s a very large argument to be made about how convention works, and convention is a good tool in this case (because) historically it shows how it can be done properly,” he said outside the chamber.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Levac’s experience on both sides of the legislature will help him in the impartial role of Speaker.

“I think I agree with David that no matter who was to win that position or to win that vote, they have an obligation,” she said.

“They have an obligation to neutrality and to making sure the house operates for all the members, and I know he’ll do that, as would any one of them likely.”

Levac, 57, was first elected to the legislature in 1999 and served in the Opposition benches before the Liberals took office in 2003.

In 2009, he teamed up with the NDP and Tories to pass a private member’s bill that declared Holomodor Memorial Day – to remember the victims of the man-made Ukrainian famine.

There was speculation after the Oct. 6 election that the minority Liberals might push for a Speaker from one of the opposition parties, which would level the playing field by taking away their one-vote advantage.

That didn’t happen, but the race did generate some controversy when Conservative Frank Klees announced his intention to run – against the wishes of Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.

Klees abandoned his bid less than a week later after sparking furious comments from his fellow Tories.

Levac replaces Steve Peters, who held the post since November 2007, and will be Ontario’s 41st Speaker since 1867.

Along with the higher salary and apartment, the job comes with another perk. The Speaker is one of the few people honoured with a portrait on the walls of the legislature, along with the premier.

Now that a Speaker has been chosen, the legislature can officially get back to business with a throne speech on Tuesday.

Premier Dalton McGuinty congratulated Levac on his new job Monday, noting that the role of Speaker is “vital” to ensuring that the legislature functions effectively and that “all voices are heard.”

“The challenges facing Ontario are, perhaps, greater than they have ever been since the Great Depression,” McGuinty said in a statement.

“Families are counting on their MPPs to work together to create jobs and strengthen the economy.”

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