It’s a snow day! All TDSB and TCDSB schools closed in Toronto


Kids across Toronto are jumping for joy after a snow day was declared Tuesday morning, shutting down both public and Catholic schools for the day.

It’s the first snow day for the Toronto District School Board in eight years. The last time TDSB schools were shut down because of snow was in February 2011, the night before a potential storm coined by the public as “Snowmageddon.”

A woman gets blasted Tuesday morning by wind and snow in the West Don Lands, at Lawren Harris Square and Lower River St.
A woman gets blasted Tuesday morning by wind and snow in the West Don Lands, at Lawren Harris Square and Lower River St.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

That decision drew sharp criticism as countless parents were left scrambling to find backup care for their young children. What made it worse was that the storm never came that day, angering parents even more.

Eight years later, the TDSB tweeted Tuesday that it would shut down shortly after 6 a.m. Not a snowflake had hit the ground when the decision was announced. But this time, the storm did start rolling in at around 8 a.m.

“We always make the decision the morning of, so that we have the absolute latest available information,” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird. “There have been cases in the past where there has been a forecast, but it hadn’t (arrived) or was delayed later in the day.”

The TDSB sent an email to parents Monday about the pending storm.

“As I hope you can appreciate, the decision concerning whether to keep schools open or closed has a major impact on the lives of thousands of families across Toronto and that is why we strive to keep them open whenever possible,” wrote John Malloy, director of education, before the storm hit. “Should all schools be closed, it causes significant hardship for many families, some of which have no other options readily available for their children.”

The region’s two French-language public school boards, Conseil scolaire Viamonde and Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir, have both also closed schools across the GTA.

On Monday, Environment Canada had issued a winter storm warning for Toronto, calling for high winds and between 15 and 25 centimetres of snow, ice pellets and possible freezing rain.

“Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become difficult to navigate due to accumulating snow,” Environment Canada said. “Visibility will be suddenly reduced to near zero at times in heavy snow and blowing snow. There may be a significant impact on rush hour traffic in urban areas.”

Pearson airport and Billy Bishop airport are experiencing delays and cancellations Tuesday morning. There have already been more than 400 flights cancelled at Pearson as of 9 a.m. Travellers are advised to check in with their airlines to confirm flight status before leaving for the airport.

Click here to check on status of your flight

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt called the highways “a mess.”

“We’ve got about a dozen crashes right now in the GTA,” said OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt.

All northbound lanes of Highway 400 are currently closed at Teston Rd. because of an earlier multi-vehicle crash that left the male driver of an SUV with life-threatening injuries, Schmidt said.

Other GTA school boards rolled out various cancellations.

Universities and colleges also cancelled classes ahead of the storm’s arrival.

  • Ryerson University is closed, including all classes, university-run events, research labs, business services and administrative operations.
  • The University of Waterloo closed all campus locations. Classes, events, labs and administrative operations are cancelled.
  • George Brown College and Centennial College campuses are closed. George Brown tweeted that child care lab centres will also be closed and continuing education classes will be cancelled for Tuesday evening.
  • All of Centennial College campuses will be closed, including Ashtonbee, Downsview, Morningside, Progress and Story Arts Centre. The college tweeted that the closures include all daytime and evening classes, child care centres and other services. Campuses are expected to reopen Wednesday.
  • Seneca College is closed. In a tweet, the school said it expects to reopen Wednesday.
  • Durham College remains open and all activities are expected to continue as scheduled, although the college said it’s keeping a close eye on the weather.

“We are expecting quite a bit of snow,” Environment Canada meteorologist Gerald Chang said. “If you can plan to avoid going out altogether, that’s the ideal way to deal with it.”

The snowstorm was so bad, even the Raptors cancelled their scheduled practice at the Toronto Raptors Training Facility, their last chance to hold a practice before the NBA all-star break.

The city, police and the TTC say they are keeping close track of the storm and preparing to take extra precautions — especially in light of the city’s last serious snowstorm in January.

The TTC is reminding riders to give themselves extra time for their commute — and asking drivers not to park in the paths of streetcars, which caused massive delays last time.

Toronto police plan to remove vehicles blocking streetcar tracks “as expeditiously as possible” by patrolling the most problematic routes, and making tow trucks readily available, spokesperson Brian Moniz said.

“Depending on the snow level and the degree of obstructions and infractions that may take place, we’re ready to mobilize our staff and provide dedicated resources to the routes,” he said.

City staff will be monitoring streetcar corridors to clear snow “as quickly as possible,” spokesperson Eric Holmes said.

“Every vehicle we have is on the road,” said Holmes. “Typically for this kind of storm, the average amount is 10,000 tonnes of salt city-wide.”

The city has 1,100 vehicles at its disposal, which includes on road plows, driveway machines, snow plows and salt trucks to cover 5,600 streets, 7,000 km of sidewalks and separated bike trails.

The highest priority routes for snow-clearing are expressways, which the city has promised to clear within two to three hours of snowfall. Arterial roads and streetcar routes will take six to eight hours; collector roads, bus routes and all other local streets will be clear after 14-16 hours, according to the city’s levels of service commitments.

With files from Jack Hauen

Stefanie Marotta is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @StefanieMarotta

Emerald Bensadoun is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @twerk_vonnegut


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Illinois man arrested in bomb threats made to southern Alberta schools


Police in a southern Alberta town say a man in the U.S. has been charged in connection with bomb threats made to schools and a business in the community last week.

Taber Police announced in a statement from Chief Graham Abela late Saturday that a man in Illinois faces 10 counts of felony bomb threats.

The Horizon School Division said last week in a letter sent home to parents that two schools were the focus of bomb threats in anonymous voicemail messages early Friday.

Police said they investigated and determined the threats to be hoaxes.

Abela thanked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Jackson County Sheriffs Department in Illinois, as well as the Medicine Hat Police Service.

He says the investigation is ongoing and police will be releasing more info on Tuesday.


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Feeling fidgety in class? Go stomp, jump or hop down this school’s sensory hallway


In many Canadian schools, recess and phys-ed class may be the only activity students get in their day, but a school in rural Manitoba is trying to change that.

« This is our Sensory Path, » says Roland School principal Brandy Chevalier, as she points to a colourful activity map on the floor of the school’s main corridor.

« We are very focused on making sure our kids are learning both numeracy and literacy but also being mindful of their whole bodies and wellness, and wellness as a whole being. »

The path instructs them to hop, squat, do pushups and crawl.

They follow the path every morning and after lunch, on their way to class in this community about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

Kindergarten student Elizah Wall likes stomping on the bugs. Classmate Everly Semograd likes crawling on the flowers.

« Some parts are challenging, some parts are easy, » says 11-year-old Addison Elias.

If teachers notice students fidgeting, they will send them to the path for a couple of rounds.

Students Ethan Dyck and Caleb Mitchell say it’s making a difference.

 « Really helps me calm down when I’m in a very active position … It’s just helps me burn some energy, » Caleb says, adding his favourite activity is the frog jump.

« Helps me focus, » Ethan ​adds.

Principal Brandy Chevalier and her staff created a Sensory Path for students in the main hallway. She says more schools are developing a strong physical literacy focus. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Roland School’s Sensory Path is the first of its kind in Manitoba, Chevalier says. It was inspired by an Alberta initiative called Don’t Walk in the Hallway, launched in 2015.

Chevalier says she’s been approached by schools across Canada since her school installed the path in November.

Her students’ comments are music to her ears. 

She explains how this helps the students. « They feel like they burned some energy. They feel ready to sit down and to get down to work. They can focus a little bit better. »

She hopes such exercise can become « a preventative measure for some behaviour issues that might happen by a child who cannot regulate themselves to sit in class. »

The benefits aren’t just academic. Doing exercises like this every day increases physical competence, which boosts confidence, making people more likely to move and be active.

That has health, social, environmental, and economic benefits.

But Canadians are just not moving enough. We got a C– in a recent study of activity levels in 49 countries.

It’s not how much you move. It’s not whether you’re fit or not. It’s do you have the ability to move on land, air, ice, snow, water?– Dean Kriellaars , University of Manitoba

According to Health Canada

  • Just 13 per cent of preschool children and 9.5 per cent of children and teens are meeting Canada’s 24-hour Movement Guidelines.
  • Only eight per cent of Canadian adults are doing 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week.
  • Adults over 65 are doing a little better — 14 per cent of them are meeting those guidelines.

« There’s two returns on investment here, » says Dean Kriellaars, with the department of physical therapy at the University of Manitoba. He has practised, researched and taught physical literacy for more than a decade.

« First is the health-related equity that happens if you increase they physical literacy of the population. And then safety and activity levels, you then get dramatic reductions in costs. »

In 2013, the World Health Organization estimated the global cost of physical inactivity was approximately $54 billion US in direct health care, plus another $14 billion in lost productivity.

It accounts for up to three per cent of national health-care costs, and that doesn’t include mental health and disorders such as repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.

More than 40 non-communicable diseases including breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes and strokes can be related to what Kriellaars describes as a global physical inactivity epidemic.

« Our society has to change. Our valuing of movement has to change, in our workplace, in our schools, where movement will be as important as reading and writing, » he says.

« Physical literacy has a physical component, a social component and a psychological component. It’s really about creating that holistic picture of a child and saying we need all three of those working together. »

Exercise physiologist Dean Kriellaars hops in one of his movement labs at the University of Manitoba. He trains athletes of all ability levels, educates health-care professionals, coaches, trainers, and educators about physical literacy and healthy lifestyles. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Chevalier sees a strong future for mpvement programs in schools. « I think a lot of schools are embracing opportunity for choice in seating in the classrooms, and this just directly complements that concept. »

Her advice for education profesionals?

« You need to do your homework. You need to sit down with your occupational therapist. You need to sit down with your experts in the building from phys-ed background and really chat about what your students need, » she says.

Students travel the Sensory Path at Roland School. (Brett Purdy/CBC)


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LGBTQ teachers allege discriminatory hiring practices in Alberta Catholic schools


Catholic bishops in Alberta are planning to address the growing controversy surrounding hiring practices within the province’s separate school districts.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission is currently hearing two cases involving teachers within Calgary’s Catholic school district.

In both cases, members of the LGBTQ community are alleging discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

Kristopher Wells, a MacEwan University professor who specializes in LGBTQ issues said these complaints are not unique.

“In the past several years there have been at least two other complaints against school divisions within Alberta alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

READ MORE: Former teacher’s book ‘Homophobia in the Hallways’ takes aim at Calgary Catholic schools 

Wells says those cases, which both involved school districts outside Calgary, were both settled without changes being made to the school district’s hiring policy.

Many Catholic school districts, including Calgary and Edmonton, require employees sign contracts agreeing to live by Catholic lifestyles and values.
University of Alberta law professor, Eric Adams says that while the requirement may be discriminatory, it could also be within district’s right.

“They might say for example that it is what’s called a bona fide occupational requirement of the job, that it is a particular requirement of the job that individuals be allowed to discriminate against their teachers because we need to have Catholic teachers in order to maintain our Catholic educational system,” Adams said.

In a statement to Global News, the Calgary Catholic School district said it is obligated to ensure an authentic Catholic environment in its schools, “and with that, our contracts include a Catholicity clause that defines our expectations that align with Catholic teachings and principles. All of our teaching candidates have the opportunity to review this expectation in our application process when choosing whether to join the district.”

61 Alberta schools still not complying with GSA rules: education minister

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Judge certifies $600-million class-action lawsuit on behalf of former residents of Ontario’s training schools


An Ontario Superior Court judge has certified a class-action lawsuit seeking $600 million in damages against the Ontario government on behalf of former residents of the province’s training schools.

The certification order, signed by Justice Danial Newton in Thunder Bay and released Tuesday, defines the class as all individuals who resided at 13 of the province’s training school facilities between Jan. 1, 1953, and April 2, 1984.

A look at what is left of Pine Ridge Training School in Bowmanville, Ont. The provincially-run training school operated in the 1970s. On Tuesday, a judge certified a $600-million class-action lawsuit against the Ontario government on behalf of former residents of the province’s training schools.
A look at what is left of Pine Ridge Training School in Bowmanville, Ont. The provincially-run training school operated in the 1970s. On Tuesday, a judge certified a $600-million class-action lawsuit against the Ontario government on behalf of former residents of the province’s training schools.  (Randy Risling / Toronto Star file photo)

“This is an important milestone for the boys and girls from the training schools,” said lead plaintiff Kirk Keeping in a statement issued by Koskie Minsky, the law firm representing him and other class members. Keeping alleges he was sexually, physically and psychologically abused while attending Pine Ridge Training School in Bowmanville in 1968 when he was 15.

“We have all lived with this for years and we are glad this case is moving forward,” he said.

Training schools were institutions set up and operated by the provincial government to house and educate thousands of children between the ages of 8 and 16 who were deemed by the courts to be “incorrible” or “unmanageable.” Children sent to training school need not have committed any crimes; transgressions such as petty theft, truancy, or running away from home could land a child in training school. Many children sent to the institutions came from abusive or poverty-stricken homes.

A Star investigation published last year revealed that the provincial government has secretly settled more than 200 individual lawsuits launched by former training school residents who alleged horrifying treatment at the hands of school employees. Former students interviewed by the Star alleged they were raped, beaten and put in solitary confinement by staff members, among other abuses they say they suffered.

The Star’s investigation also revealed that provincial officials warned the government — in one case as early as the late 1960s — that students were being mistreated at the institutions, but that these warnings appeared to have been ignored. The last training school closed in 1984.

“The allegations of abuse by the province are quite frankly shocking,” Jonathan Ptak, a partner at Koskie Minsky and the lead lawyer for the class, said in a statement Tuesday. “We are pleased that the case now has been certified as a class proceeding, so that we can now litigate this case on the merits. We will continue to push forward as quickly as possible and to seek access to justice for the thousands of survivors of the Ontario training schools.”

The next step in the case, he said, will be to return to court to determine how to provide notice to class members that the action is proceeding. Class members will then have the opportunity to opt out if they wish. Ptak said records filed by the province in the case show there were about 21,000 former residents of training schools.

The lawsuit, which seeks $500 million in damages for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and vicarious liability, as well as $100 million in punitive damages, was certified in Thunder Bay, where lead plaintiff Keeping lives.

Among Keeping’s allegations in the statement of claim, which was filed in Dec. 2017, were that he was sexually abused by two Pine Ridge training school employees: a female kitchen worker who allegedly took Keeping, who was a virgin, into a large cooler and had sex with him; and a male employee working at the school’s dairy farm who allegedly performed oral sex and “simulated sex” on Keeping.

It also alleges he was put in a locker by staff members and hit with running shoes when he misbehaved.

“The children who resided (in training schools) were vulnerable and powerless and due to the Crown’s systemic failure, were subjected to a toxic environment in which physical, sexual and psychological abuse was widespread,” reads the statement of claim.

As of publication time, the Ministry of the Attorney General had not responded to a request for comment.

Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: or phone 416-869-4734


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Scandal at St. Michael’s College School prompts calls for greater oversight of private schools


The scandal at St. Michael’s College School, where police are investigating allegations of assault and sexual assault, is prompting calls for greater oversight of privately run schools.

Any school, publicly funded or private, “has to have transparency and good governance,” says Charles Pascal, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

“You can’t play hide-and-seek in publicly funded schools, so it’s imperative that this long-standing free pass for private schools is replaced with better governance,” said Pascal, a former Ontario deputy minister of education.

His comments come on the heels of allegations of assault and sexual assault involving students at the all-boys grades 7-12 school, located at Bathurst St. and St. Clair Ave. W.

About two weeks ago, two videos, of an alleged assault in a washroom and an alleged sexual assault in a locker room, appeared on social media.

The principal learned of the sexual assault video on a Monday evening, but didn’t immediately notify police, because he was busy with the victim and in meetings involving the expulsion of students. On the Wednesday, around 11 a.m., police showed up at the school after media began asking them about the sexual assault video. The principal says he always intended on calling police about it.

This week, six boys were charged with assault, gang sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon. Police are now investigating six incidents at the school including two alleged sexual assaults, three alleged assaults and one incident related to threatening.

The school’s principal and president resigned.

In Ontario, there are about 1,300 private schools, with 140,000 students, that operate as businesses or non-profit organizations, independent of the Ministry of Education, but must follow the Education Act. The Ministry doesn’t regulate, licence, accredit or oversee the operation of private schools, and has a buyer-beware type of warning on its website, urging the public to do its own research before registering for them. Information on a school’s educational program, business practices and other policies should be obtained from it directly.

The ministry, however, outlines courses students must take to obtain an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, requires private schools submit an annual Notice of Intention to Operate and inspects high schools. Principals and teachers in private schools aren’t required to be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers.

Anyone who works with children must abide by the Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA), which clearly stipulates that they have an immediate duty to report suspected abuse or harm to a children’s aid society. Public school boards have protocols in place for when they should notify police, which covers incidents such as those of sexual assault.

Barbara Bierman, executive director of Ontario Federation of Independent Schools, which represents 149 private schools, says the law is very clear in the duty to report. And, some private schools do have protocols with police, but whether they do varies by region.

“They (schools) have to have policies in place for abuse prevention and intervention,” she said. “Otherwise, they don’t get insurance.”

St. Mike’s, which is overseen by a board of directors, is a member of the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario (CIS Ontario), an association of 48 private schools. CIS Ontario did not respond to the Star about whether its members have protocols in place.

Police welcome the opportunity to help St. Mike’s, and other private schools, with protocols, and, at a St. Mike’s alumni meeting this week, the administration said it plans to debrief with them on whether the episode could have been handled better.

Given what’s come to light at St. Mike’s, it’s time for the government to tighten its oversight of private schools, said NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles.

“It’s really kind of striking, when you look at what the Education Act requires of private schools,” Stiles said. “I think even parents of children in private schools would be surprised at how little oversight, and how little regulation, is required.”

Stiles said the government should mandate that private schools have clear processes in place when dealing with incidents such as those at St. Mike’s.

When she was a Toronto public school board trustee, she had to review, on a yearly basis, such protocols, the CYFSA, and her responsibilities as an employer.

“It’s quite striking to me that maybe that’s not required” outside the public system, she said. “At the very least, this indicates that there are some shortcomings in the private education system around understanding what people’s responsibilities are and what the protocols are, and that needs to be made clear.”

Marvin Zuker, a retired provincial court justice who is an associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, would like to see the Ontario College of Teachers regulate all teachers, whether they’re certified or not.

“Then they would be subject to the discipline of the college, and, once we can discipline you, we can get rid of you and you’re not going to go next door to teach.”

When it comes to reporting abuse, Zuker, who’s been teaching education law for nearly 40 years, always tells his students to contact a children’s aid society and police immediately. He plans on using the St. Mike’s case as an example in his lessons of what not to do, calling it “a great learning tool.”

MPP Mitzie Hunter, who served as education minister in the previous Liberal government, said, when it comes to private schools, “the expectation would be the same as all public schools: that every student is safe and there’s a trust there. When parents send their children to school, that safety is paramount and there’s no compromise on that safety.”

With 95 per cent of Ontario students attending public school, it’s a small percentage who are in the private system and it may be time to look at changes, she said.

Public boards have “various levels of supervision and trustees who are publicly elected, so there’s additional oversight. There’s no question that, in the public system, there are many layers of oversight which do not exist in the private system,” she added.

“Certainly, the ministry (of education) has a role in registering those schools and there’s an expectation that they are safe environments, but the layer of oversight is not the same.”

Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, an assistant professor of law society at Wilfrid Laurier University, said protocols with police are “helpful, but not a guarantee,” when it comes to reporting.

“Protocols are a really important part of the network of protection for children,” she said. “When you don’t have that protocol maybe you’d make more of a decision that’s sort of about the institution.”

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Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy


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Woman, 23, in critical condition after shooting in Mississauga, hold-and-secure status imposed on seven schools and two daycares now lifted


A 23-year-old woman is in critical condition after a shooting in Mississauga Friday afternoon.

Peel Regional Police have one man in custody who matches the description of the suspect, Peel police Const. Akhil Mooken told the Star.

A shooting left a 23-year-old woman in critical condition, Peel police say. A number of schools, including two daycares, were under hold-and-secure as police investigated.
A shooting left a 23-year-old woman in critical condition, Peel police say. A number of schools, including two daycares, were under hold-and-secure as police investigated.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star File Photo)

“He is being interviewed to determine whether or not he was involved in the shooting,” Mooken said.

Officers responded to a call around 2:45 p.m. in the area of Battleford Rd. and Glen Erin Dr. The victim was located in an apartment building, Mooken said.

Paramedics said she was suffering from a gunshot wound to her abdomen and has been transported to a trauma centre. She remains in critical condition, Mooken said.

Police were searching for a suspect described as a six-foot Black man with light skin, who was last seen wearing a dark green jacket with a hood.

The shooting occurred in a residential area.

Seven nearby schools and two daycares were placed on hold-and-secure status as police investigated the shooting.

This has since been lifted.

Police are asking anyone with information or footage of the shooting to contact them immediately.

—with files from Claire Floody

Marjan Asadullah is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @marjanasadullah


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Alberta government ‘censored’ Indigenous book, undermining reconciliation in schools, author says


A prominent Indigenous author says the Alberta government’s decision to turn the page on one of his graphic novels used in schools is undermining its commitment to reconciliation. 

David Alexander Robertson says a teacher, who had students read Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story for years, reached out on social media last month after noticing it made Alberta Education’s not-recommended list for classrooms. 

The graphic novel — for students from Grade 9 to 12  — explores the real-life story of a 19-year-old Cree woman who was kidnapped and murdered in The Pas, Man., in 1971. 

« It’s concerning to see books being censored in this way, especially in an era of reconciliation where we need those truths, » he said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild

Robertson, 41, contends the list — used as a reference for school boards, schools and teachers — becomes a form of censorship of Indigenous voices in a chapter of Canadian history that should be examining racism, sexism, colonialism and institutional failures.    

This isn’t the first time Robertson’s books have been flagged as inappropriate in Alberta.

7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga is a four-part graphic novel that follows the story of an Indigenous family over three centuries. (David Alexander Robertson)

In September, his first-ever graphic novel series, 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga, was named on the Edmonton Public School Board’s so-called « Books to Weed Out. » The school board defended its decision, saying the site’s purpose was to help teachers make informed decision around their use of resources and not to suggest that books be made unavailable. Outcry prompted the board to ultimately take down the book review site. 

« These are the books that we need to be reading. If we’re putting them on a list that we’re saying, ‘don’t read these books,’ then I think that probably matches a pretty good definition of what censorship is, » the award-winning author said.

But the province stressed its « unwavering » commitment to the accurate reflection of Indigenous history.

By fall 2020, Alberta Education plans to introduce a new curriculum that « honours the history and perspectives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities » for students from kindergarten to Grade 4. The curriculum will be introduced in stages. 

If we take that out of [students’] hands, then how are we going to teach them about it?– David Robertson, author

Last year, the Alberta government revamped lesson plans for teachers from Grade 1 to 9 about the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit — and the legacy of residential schools. It was part of a trial to incorporate recommendations made by the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was made available as a resource to be taught at the discretion of teachers, individual schools and boards.

Administrators must ‘get with the times’

Writing Osborne’s story in a graphic novel was a way to « bridge the gap between the classroom and the outside world, » Robertson says, and draw attention to the issue of violence against Indigenous women.

« The book looks at the night she died, but it also asks people to think about what led to her death and then what we can do about it now, » he explained. 

It would take 15 years before murder charges were laid in Osborne’s death, and the case went on to become the basis of an Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story is based on a young Cree woman who was murdered in northern Manitoba 47 years ago. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Officials from the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission determined that racism, sexism and indifference in the northern Manitoba community marred the police investigation from the start.     

Robertson argued stories about missing and murdered Indigenous women, suicide, the legacy of residential schools and reconciliation « need to be woven into the fabric of who [youth] are as Canadians. » This is done in schools, he says, and serves to deepen the discussion about Indigenous issues. 

But teachers can’t do this with their students, he says, if they shelve some resources — like books. 

« As administrators and educators, we need to do the work to understand these things ourselves rather than just say this is not going to the classroom because we think it’s too difficult to learn, » Robertson said.

The province, school boards and teachers need to recognize stories like Betty ‘bridge the gap between the classroom and the outside world,’ Robertson says. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

So far, Betty is one of the only young adult books to address missing and murdered Indigenous women, Robertson says. 

« If we take that out of [students’] hands, then how are we going to teach them about it, » he asked. 

‘It’s truth’ 

Education Minister David Eggen was unavailable for an interview with Unreserved, but in an email statement, a government spokesperson said the province’s concerns about Betty centred on « graphic representation of sensitive content, » including sexual assault, which the ministry explained could be upsetting to students and must be taught in « age appropriate ways. »

« We have a duty to our students to ensure resources with explicit content are handled with due care and contextualization, » the province said.

« Explicit content has the potential to trigger short term and long term emotional and psychological responses from students who may have in the past or are currently experiencing related trauma. »

If it is written by an Indigenous author from their lived experiences: it’s truth.– David Alexander Robertson

However, the province said if a school or teacher would like to use Betty, « they can still do so as it’s ultimately up to them to decide what resources are used to teach students. »

The ministry noted it reviewed 10 of Robertson’s books and determined eight met its standards. 

Robertson says he wants to see such decisions « made in a more informed way, with the right people involved. »

This revelation, he explained, led him to re-evaluate the province’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.

« We talk about reconciliation, but the truth part of that process comes from Indigenous peoples’ voices, sharing our stories through literature, and art, and dance, and all of these different avenues, » he said. 

« If it is written by an Indigenous author from their lived experiences: it’s truth. »

Written by Amara McLaughlin. Produced by Unreserved’s Stephanie Cram.


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Ford breaks promise to keep pot stores away from schools


Private cannabis stores can open within 150 metres of schools under new regulations posted by Premier Doug Ford’s government — something he had promised not to allow.

“I won’t put it besides schools like you did,” Ford said in a spring election debate to then-premier Kathleen Wynne. The Liberal government had planned to open its first state-run marijuana outlet 450 metres from Blantyre Public School in Scarborough.

Premier Doug Ford’s government has released long-awaited details on rules for pot shops that will be allowed to open April 1. The rules include letting stores open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week and restricting entry to patrons aged 19 and over.
Premier Doug Ford’s government has released long-awaited details on rules for pot shops that will be allowed to open April 1. The rules include letting stores open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week and restricting entry to patrons aged 19 and over.  (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The long-awaited details on rules for pot shops that will be allowed to open April 1 came Wednesday evening as the Progressive Conservatives tried to distract attention from a new tell-all book by former party leader Patrick Brown.

“It’s troubling that Doug Ford’s latest back-door decision — this time to allow pot shops to move within a stone’s throw of kids’ schools — was done without any consultation with parents or communities,” said Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh.

Shops will be allowed to serve customers from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, restricting entry to patrons aged 19 and over, unlike liquor and beer stores where children can tag along with their parents.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney insisted the guidelines, including the smaller distance buffer from schools, are in the best interest of the public.

“The purpose of these regulations is to keep kids safe and to ensure all people operating in this tightly-regulated retail system behave with integrity, honesty, and in the public interest,” she said in a statement released over the supper hour.

The hours of opening “are consistent with on-site retail stores for alcohol and will provide retailers with the flexibility to respond to local market conditions and consumer demands,” the statement added, referring to LCBO agency stores that are part of convenience, hardware and other stores in rural and remote areas where there are no liquor stores nearby.

Wynne’s plan to put a pot store so close to a school raised concerns among parents, but an analysis by the Star last April found more than half the city is within 450 metres of a school.

The Liberal government planned to allow only 150 state-run pot stores by 2020, which critics said would not be enough to stem the black market. Ford scrapped that policy in August, opening the opportunity to the private sector to avoid spending taxpayer money on stores and to create more opportunities for the business sector.

Budding entrepreneurs can submit applications for stores to the government starting Dec. 17, but will not be considered if they operated an illegal weed dispensary after the Canada-wide legalization date of Oct. 17, if they have an outstanding tax issues or ties to “organized crime.”

Stores must be stand-alone operations and not tucked into other retailers as a sideline and all employees will be required to complete an “approved” training program for which the government did not provide details.

To avoid any store operators from controlling too much of the market and promote small business, no one company will be allowed to have more than 75 stores across the province.

The government has not set a ceiling on the number of stores that will be allowed to open throughout Ontario.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1


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30 years after Morgentaler ruling, future doctors say medical schools neglect abortion training


Three years into her medical training at McGill University, Charlotte Rosen says she has had just one lecture, so far, on abortions.

« Overall, » Rosen says, « in all Canadian medical schools, there is a lack of education on it. » 

« Medical students, in almost any field, will see patients who have had, or will have, an abortion — and it’s important to know that. » 

In 2011, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that between 1974 and 2005, nearly one in three women in Canada had an abortion in their reproductive years. 

Despite that evidence that it is a common procedure, a recent study confirms just how little training the family doctors — the people who perform most abortions — receive in school.

That study published in June in the online journal BioMed Central concluded family medicine residents need more training on abortions, with existing programs providing little education and exposure to the procedure. 

« After a combined 12 years of undergraduate and post-graduate medical education, we have been exposed to a grand total of one hour of official curricular education on abortion, » said two of the study’s authors, Daniel Myran and Jillian Bardsley, in a commentary in the August issue of Canadian Family Physician.

Family medicine residents when they carried out the study, both are now family doctors.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler celebrates at a news conference in Toronto, after abortion was decriminalised by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988. (Blaise Edwards/The Canadian Press)

« How can this be when January 28, 2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Morgentaler decision decriminalizing abortion in Canada? » they asked, referring to the landmark Supreme Court ruling which struck down Canada’s abortion law as unconstitutional, opening access to the procedure across the country.

Myran and Bardsley, along with Tania El Hindi and Kristine Whitehead, surveyed 1,518 family medicine residents across the country in 2016 to see how abortion care is taught in Canadian medical schools. 

They found that 57 per cent of residents surveyed had received no formal education on abortion.

When respondents had any received training, they reported it was often brief: only 20 per cent reported having more than one hour of instruction on abortion throughout the course of their medical education.

This is despite the fact that family doctors perform the majority of abortions in Canada: 75 per cent of all therapeutic abortions were performed by family doctors in 2014-2015, according to Canadian Institute for Health Information data cited by Myran and Bardsley.

Still a stigmatized subject

Rosen has taken it upon herself to integrate more information about abortion care into her own medical training. She is the co-president of the McGill chapter of Medical Students for Choice (MSFC), a U.S.-based organization which advocates for medical students and post-graduate training in abortion and family planning.

Charlotte Rosen, a third-year medical student at McGill University, wants to see more discussion on abortion counselling in the medical curriculum.

« It’s obviously a stigmatized subject. It’s obviously a controversial subject, » Rosen says. « All trainees and all physicians need to be equipped to cope with that. »

MSFC gives medical students a chance to hear more about the abortion care outside of their formal education, hosting lectures and workshops covering different aspects of care and organizing a tour of Montreal’s Morgentaler clinic.

« It is also important to learn about counselling women on abortion, » Rosen said. 

« Growing up in a post-Morgentaler world, we think that abortion is accessible and no problem. But there are still barriers to accessing abortion. »

Adequate abortion-care training is one of many contemporary issues being discussed at McGill University at a conference now underway, called Abortion Beyond Bounds.

The conference reflects on the Morgentaler decision and takes a close look at some of the issues surrounding abortion today, such as access.

The conference’s co-organizer, Rebekah Lewis, whose doctoral studies focus on residency training in family medicine and obstetrics and gynecology, says access to abortion depends on well-trained physicians.

Abortion pill’s arrival creates training opportunity

The emergence of the abortion pill in Canada, Lewis says, may trigger medical licensing bodies and medical schools to take a second look at how abortion is covered in medical education and training.

Mifepristone, a drug which induces a medical abortion, began rolling out in Canada almost two years ago and is now available in most provinces, including Quebec.

Lewis says with more doctors prescribing the drug as a method to terminate a pregnancy, there is an opportunity for certifying bodies to take a second look at the need to standardize abortion training across Canada.

But the drug’s availability is not enough, Lewis says.

« Availability of abortion is still dependent on physicians trained and willing to provide that service, » she says. « If you don’t have physicians willing and able to provide, you don’t have services. »

In a statement to CBC News, the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), which establishes the professional standards for the training and certification of family physicians, says it is « currently reviewing how education is included in family medicine residency training at each of the Canadian medical schools. »

For Rosen, who has seen increasing interest in the subject matter from her peers, it’s welcome news.

« It’s good to hear that they are reviewing so that perhaps there can be official, formal competencies developed for this subject matter, » she said.


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