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Bernardo applies for parole

Paul Bernardo has applied for day parole in Toronto.

The lawyer for the families of Bernardo's murder victims, 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French, says Correctional Service Canada sent out a form letter to the families last week advising them of his application.

Tim Danson says it is Bernardo's right to apply for parole three years before he is eligible, but this has left families of both girls devastated, even though they knew this day was coming.

Danson says he has told the families that there is no chance Bernardo will ever see the outside world again.

Bernardo was sentenced to life with no chance for parole for 25 years for raping and murdering Mahaffy and French.

He was also given a dangerous offender status, the most severe designation in Canadian law, for admitting to raping 14 other women.

The Canadian Press

Toonie marks poppy poem

The man who penned one of the most memorable poems in Canadian history is getting not one, but two commemorative coins.

The federal cabinet has approved the creation of commemorative toonies and two 25-cent coins depicting Lt.-Col. John McCrae writing "In Flanders Fields" to mark the poem's 100th anniversary.

"It is one of the First World War's most recognized poems and an integral part of Canadian culture," the Royal Canadian Mint explains in a notice published in the Canada Gazette.

"The poem's striking imagery has served to solidify both the poem and the poppy as enduring and powerful symbols of remembrance for all Canadians."

The coins will feature an image of McCrae writing his poem on the battlefield after the second battle of Ypres in early May 1915, surrounded by the symbols featured in the poem — birds, crosses and poppies.

The word "Remember" will also be inscribed around the edge of each coin.

The Gazette posting says the 25-cent coins will be produced in coloured and non-coloured versions and will prominently feature a "natural-looking poppy."

Public demand for the coins is expected to be high, it notes.

Spokesman Alex Reeves said the mint won't say anything about the coins until they are officially launched, and wouldn't specify when that would be.

The mint has already created limited-edition silver coins to commemorate the poem's anniversary that sell on its website for more than $500 in some cases.

The Canadian Press

New wave of 'hip' mayors

Brian Bowman had barely unpacked his sports memorabilia and family photos in the mayor's office when he was thrust into the national spotlight.

It wasn't for being the first indigenous mayor of a major Canadian city or for being one of the younger municipal leaders in the country.

Winnipeg had just been called "the most racist in Canada" on the cover of Maclean's magazine.

The new mayor was faced with a dilemma — defend his hometown or admit it has a problem.

Within a few short hours in January, Bowman collected dozens of community, business and aboriginal leaders to stand behind him as he fought off his emotions and promised to fight racism.

"I knew when I was running for office that these were some of the challenges that we would have to face," Bowman says now. "I want all Winnipegers to be proud of who they are."

Bowman, 43, is part of a cohort of hip, western big-city mayors — including Naheed Nenshi of Calgary — who have risen to power on plans to rid the cobwebs from city hall and remake the level of government that is closest to the people.

"I think there has been a wave from the West in Canada," he says. "There's a number of mayors that have brought in what I call new-generation leadership. It's really looking at a new way of thinking — long-term, more pragmatic, open and accessible and a little bit more technology literate."

As a lawyer with a background in privacy law and social media, Bowman has hired a social media director and has started live-streaming city hall meetings and news conferences. When a boil-water advisory turned off taps across Winnipeg for two days earlier this year, the announcement that it had ended came first on YouTube and Twitter.

"I use it to listen, first and foremost and I also use it to be open and accessible to Winnipegers," Bowman says of his fondness for social media.

Bowman says he's committed to making long-term changes that help make Winnipeg a more inclusive place.

"I'm not going to solve them alone," he says.

"We're never going to solve racism entirely, but we're going to work really hard to make a difference."

Here's a look at some of the mayor's in major western Canadian cities:

Brian Bowman — Winnipeg

  • Age: 43
  • Family: He and his wife, Tracy, have two children.
  • Elected: Oct. 22, 2014
  • Background: Bowman is Metis and is known for being the first indigenous mayor of a major Canadian city. He beat front-runner Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a former MP. Before being elected he was lawyer with a background in privacy law and social media.
  • Twitter followers: 14,786

Don Iveson — Edmonton

  • Age: 36
  • Family: He and his wife, Sarah Chan, have two young children.
  • Elected: Oct. 21, 2013
  • Background: Iveson was elected to city council in 2007 and took a run at the mayor's job when Stephen Mandel announced he wouldn't seek another term in office. Prior to politics he held positions in the student media with Canadian University Press and the Gateway at the University of Alberta.
  • Twitter followers: 59,891

Naheed Nenshi — Calgary

  • Age: 43
  • Family: Single.
  • Elected: Oct. 18, 2010
  • Background: Nenshi was heralded as the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city when he was elected five years ago. Prior to politics he was a professor in the field of non-profit management at Mount Royal University's Bissett School of Business.
  • Twitter followers: 247,957

Gregor Robertson — Vancouver

  • Age: 50
  • Family: He and his wife, Amy, have four children.
  • Elected: Nov. 15, 2008
  • Background: Robertson co-founded Happy Planet, a Vancouver-based socially organic juice and natural foods company, before being elected to the provincial legislature as a New Democrat in 2005.
  • Twitter followers: 53,635
The Canadian Press

Nuisance bears on rise

Nuisance bears: they raid fridges, help themselves to trash and even crash parties.

This year, the hungry mammals have forced trail closures in Alberta, ripped through screen doors to steal food inside Ontario cabins, settled for eating cake out of the garbage near Ottawa, and one cub broke into a parked car in Manitoba.

In the North Okanagan, conservation officers were forced to put down a young black bear last month that was roaming a Coldstream neighbourhood and getting into garbage.

The lumbering beasts wreak havoc every year as they go through their binge to bulk up for the winter.

One expert says the annual ordeal tends to escape people's minds until it starts happening, so many fail to prepare.

Mike McIntosh of the Bear With Us sanctuary in Sprucedale, Ont., said Canada's natural berry season is still a couple of weeks away, so bears are wandering around searching for food left out by humans.

He suggests stowing away obvious attractors such as bird feed, pet food and composters — and shutting doors.

"It just gets forgotten, what it was like the year before," he said.

"I've visited a couple of people's cottages that the bear has broken into and raided the refrigerator and emptied out the cupboards. But in both cases it could have been prevented by having the doors closed...If you have the door closed and it's only a screen door, that's an open door to an animal. They just walk right through the screen."

McIntosh said he has received many bear-related calls this year, totalling about 75 in his Parry Sound-Muskoka district of central Ontario.

In all of Ontario, there have been more than 1,400 calls about bears since April 1, about 500 fewer than last year at the same time.

The province recently finished its final year of a two-year spring bear hunt pilot project for residents in northern areas that have reported high levels of human-bear conflict.

No numbers are yet available for the 2015 hunt, but the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said about 850 people participated last year.

Ministry spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski said those numbers reflect hunters who submitted reports on their kills.

The province has said that it restarted the hunt for public safety reasons.

But McIntosh said people shouldn't worry too much about getting attacked — he has dealt with bears that break into chicken coops and eat the feed while leaving the birds unharmed — and said vigilance is key.

"It's people's habits that start it all," he said.

"And unfortunately, some people don't really seem to give a darn."

The Canadian Press

Threats to flights

The past week has seen several threats made against Canadian airliners. The disruptions to four WestJet flights and one Air Canada plane left passengers scrambling as airlines dealt with halted operations and route diversions. Although each threat proved to be a false alarm, police are investigating them and aviation experts are taking notice.

Here are a few facts about how such situations are handled:

How frequently do airlines have to contend with bomb threats?

Not very often, according to industry observers. Edward McKeogh, President of Canadian Aviation Safety Consultants, says it's not unheard of for airlines to go a full year without fielding a threat of real substance. McKeogh said the major airlines tend to be the most common targets.

How do airlines typically respond when threats do occur?

While individual protocols may vary among airlines, McKeogh said the basic approach is the same — every threat must be taken seriously.

"As soon as they find out about a threat of this nature, they relay it to the flight in question, or sometimes all flights that are airborne, and those flights will then divert to the nearest suitable airport," he said. This wasn't always the case, however.

Jock Williams, a retired flight safety officer with Transport Canada, said 9/11 brought about significant changes in the way even idle threats are handled. Airlines, he said, used to have much more discretion to assess individual situations.

"In the past, they've made an educated guess and maybe said, 'No, we won't do anything about this,'" he said. "I don't think you're going to see much 'No, we won't do anything about it' anymore."

What's the economic impact on the airline?

McKeogh said each diversion is an expensive proposition. By the time an airline reroutes the flight, deplanes the passengers, ensures they're taken care of at the alternate airport, inspects the aircraft and then resumes the original course, he said the bill can easily equal tens of thousands of dollars.

If someone is caught making a threat, what legal consequences can they expect?

Christine Duhaime, a counter-terrorism lawyer with Duhaime Law, said even an unsubstantiated threat can trigger very serious penalties. Even a hoax can result in jail time, she said, since the perpetrator's actions trigger real practical and economic consequences. She said sending threats would be seen as consistent with terrorist efforts and tactics to attack critical infrastructure.

"Those attacks are either going to be real, or will surface as these did, with threats for which no real physical attack occurs," Duhaime said in an email. "They are attacks nonetheless, because they are intended to cause economic harm to the private sector, debilitate critical infrastructure and drive up costs for counter-terrorism programs in the West."

Williams said the Canadian government's recent introduction of tougher anti-terrorism laws suggests anyone behind such threats shouldn't expect to get off lightly.

"This is a very serious federal, criminal offence and I think will be treated very harshly if and when they catch the individual," he said.

So what do we know about the current string of threats?

Very little. The RCMP did not return calls seeking request for comment. WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer said the rash of threats has triggered "rumours and speculation" that the airline is not willing to comment on.

"We will continue to work closely with law enforcement to find those responsible. Safety remains our top priority and we will continue to be vigilant to keep our guests and our crews safe," he said.

The Canadian Press

How much do you say 'eh?'

A new poll backs up what Canadians know to be true – we say "eh" a lot.

The Historica Canada poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, was released on Canada Day.

Its results show eight of 10 Canadians acknowledge that “eh” is part of their vocabulary, and one in four confess they say it every day.

Half of Canadians (49 per cent) say they use it occasionally, and one in 10 (six per cent) say it only when talking to Americans, eh? The other 19 per cent claim it never crosses their lips.

​Younger Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 are most likely to say “eh” every day.

Other Canadian facts gleaned from the survey:

  • Only 16 per cent of Canadians say they have ever been inside an igloo.
  • Seventy-three per cent have been in a canoe.
  • Sixty-five per cent have ridden a snowmobile.
  • Only 12 per cent have gone dogsledding.
  • Six in ten (58 per cent) say they are hockey fans. Eighteen per cent call hockey the greatest sport on earth, and 13 per cent are “sick to death of hearing about hockey all the time.”

Canadians apparently aren't shy about getting out into nature.

  • Sixty-four per cent have seen a beaver in the wild, while 60 per cent have seen a moose, 59 per cent a loon, and 55 per cent a bear.
  • Back bacon (35 per cent) topped poutine (30 per cent) as the most Canadian food.
  • Asked which musician they are proudest to call Canadian, four in 10 (38 per cent) chose Celine Dion. The Tragically Hip cornered 14 per cent of responses, Nickelback (11 per cent), and Justin Bieber just two per cent.
  • Nothing could beat the toque (50 per cent) for most Canadian clothing item, placing it firmly in the top spot. Two in 10 (18 per cent) chose the plaid shirt.

51 towns evacuated

Emergency officials in Saskatchewan say wildfires have forced at least 5,000 people from their homes in the northern part of the province.

They say one of the fires has destroyed one home southwest of La Ronge as well as some cabins in remote areas.

Duane McKay, commissioner of emergency management, calls the fire situation volatile.

He says flames and smoke have led to the evacuation or partial-evacuation of 51 communities in the north.

The evacuations began late last week around La Ronge and La Loche.

Environment Canada has issued special air quality statements for all of Saskatchewan, as well as parts of Manitoba.

They say people in Saskatchewan should be aware of potential health concerns due to poor air quality.

They also warn that even healthy individuals may experience temporary irritation of eyes and throat, and possibly shortness of breath.

The Canadian Press

Smoke warning widens

Smoke from wildfires is raising air quality concerns across Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba.

Environment Canada has issued special air quality statements for regions in the two provinces.

The statements for Saskatchewan say people should be aware of potential health concerns due to poor air quality.

They warn that even healthy individuals may experience temporary irritation of eyes and throat, and possibly shortness of breath.

The statements for some regions of Manitoba say increasing thick smoke being carried by the wind will result in poor air quality and reduced visibility.

The smoke is coming from wildfires burning in northern Saskatchewan that have forced about 5,000 people from their homes.

The Canadian Press

Canadian dollar drops

The Canadian dollar was trading below 80 cents US as North American stock markets gained ground Thursday morning.

The loonie traded at 79.54 cents US, down 0.52 of a U.S. cent from the pre-holiday close on Tuesday.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index gained 52.90 to 14,606.23, after being closed Wednesday for the Canada Day holiday.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 32.03 points at 17,789.94, the Nasdaq index rose 31 points to 5,013.43, and the S&P 500 advanced 3.71 points to 2,081.13.

On the commodity markets, the August crude contract was up 34 cents at US$57.30 a barrel and the August gold contract dropped $5.10 to US$1,164.20 an ounce.

The Canadian Press

Old math vs. new

Don't get math teachers started on best teaching practices.

The discussions are emotional, heated and they don't agree on much — except that Canadian kids are falling behind their peers in other countries, and there's no clear solution.

There are generally two camps: those in favour of the old-school method to lecture kids with a "drill-and-kill" format that preaches practice, and another, ever-growing group that believes a more creative approach is needed to engage students.

At a recent event in Toronto, dozens of teachers waited in line to take selfies with math-teaching celebrity Dan Meyer, delaying his keynote talk at the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education conference. He is part of the new-school camp.

His approach is simple, Meyer says on the phone from California, where he's a math education researcher at Stanford University.

He presents a problem at the start of class, and lets the students try to figure it out. Hopefully, he says, the students will struggle.

"That initial moment of struggle prepares them for what they'll learn later," he says.

Meyer cites several studies that back up his ideas, including one from Manu Kapur, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Kapur's study shows students who are given a problem to solve on their own — before instruction from a teacher — outperform students who are given the traditional lecturing style.

The technique is in the early stages of implementation across Ontario, according to Sheena Agius, a math coach who helps teachers with the new method in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

Just like all other boards in Ontario, it is moving away from rote learning to try to get students to understand math at a deeper, more conceptual level.

"Just because we're doing it, doesn't mean we're doing it well yet," she says. "But it's a learning process for teachers and that will come."

Meyer has many acolytes, such as Paul Alves, president of the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education and a high school math teacher at Fletcher's Meadow Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., northwest of Toronto.

"Teachers are really engaged by the way (Meyer) teaches math because when they try it they see the same thing — the excitement students have to do the math — and it changes the classroom. It invigorates it and energizes it, which wasn't the case before," Alves says.

That engagement is priceless, Alves says.

He says a teacher at another school dove headfirst into the new-school method for his Grade 9 applied math class. The class, he says, jumped from 40 per cent on the provincial tests using the old method to 70 per cent after implementing the new one.

Yet both Meyer and Alves say they aren't advocating abandoning the classic "chalk-and-talk" style.

"At some point I need to know that kids can factor a quadratic equation, and sometimes you have to practise that skill to get good at it," Alves says.

On the other side of the dividing line, old-school math teachers are just as vociferous.

Anna Stokke, a math professor at the University of Winnipeg, is a staunch defender of lecturing and practice.

She recently published a report with the C.D. Howe Institute that showed Canadian students' math performance in international exams declined between 2003 and 2012.

Stokke blames the decline on the style promoted by Meyer, which she dubs "discovery-based learning."

"A direct method is a more effective way to teach," she says.

"So guys like Dan Meyer will say, 'We're going to spend the next week building a birdhouse and you'll need to use measurements to figure out dimensions,' and the kids will learn about area and volume and all that. Then a week goes by and what have you learned? How to build a birdhouse."

Meyer fires back, calling Stokke's research simplistic.

"The best teaching is some shade of grey, where before the teacher talks about what to do, the teacher gives students some reason to care and some background on how to care," he says.

"None of this suggests teachers shouldn't explain or lecture."

Stokke does offer Meyer and his disciples an olive branch in her report, saying 20 per cent of math teaching time can be used for these "alternative methods."

"I'm trying to be objective and I don't want to tell teachers they can't use a particular method at all, but I want to be clear on which methods have been shown to work and which haven't."

Having said all that, Stokke admits that her research can't conclusively pinpoint discovery-based learning as the reason for Canada's faltering math scores.

Her research reinforces an assessment by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2012, where 65 countries took part in the Program of International Student Assessment that examined math skills of 15-year-olds. Canada fell in those scores as well.

Her report found every province declined in math scores except for Quebec.

Annie Savard, a math education professor at McGill University, said her research indicates the difference may be rooted in training.

In Quebec, students go to teachers' college for four years, as opposed to a one-year program that follows a bachelor's degree in the rest of the country. Ontario is set to move to two years in the fall.

Cathy Bruce, a math education professor at Trent University, is tired of the so-called "math wars."

"It takes away from figuring out what is happening to Canadian students. The solution is likely somewhere in the middle."

The Canadian Press

Sask. blanketed in smoke

The number of people forced from their homes by Saskatchewan wildfire smoke continues to climb, but a provincial official says the smoke is now so thick that it's actually helping control the fires.

Steve Roberts with Saskatchewan's environment ministry says the layer of smoke that covers the northern part of the province has blocked out direct sunlight.

Roberts says that's lowered temperatures and boosted humidity, which means the fires are less volatile.

Officials say they don't have an estimate of the total number of evacuees, but say they're currently housing over 4,000 people in hotels and other evacuation centres in North Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.

There were 110 active fires in Saskatchewan on Wednesday, and of them, only about 10 were contained.

The smoke hampered the operations of firefighting aircraft on Tuesday, and Roberts says air tankers are on standby if smoke clears and visibility is safe for them to fly.

"As much as it's not good for people, because the cloud layer filled with smoke and is so thick, our temperatures are roughly 10 degrees cooler and our humidity is 10 to 15 per cent higher. That combination means the fire activity drops significantly," Roberts explained.

"It's helped us secure, especially, those fires that are close to communities by putting people on the ground and getting some hose lines in place."

Roberts said conditions in Saskatchewan are so susceptible to fires due to an unusually dry winter followed by an early spring. He said evacuations could continue for days to come.

Close to 600 firefighters, 40 helicopters and 19 planes are involved in fighting the fires. Other provinces have contributed firefighters and equipment, and Roberts said a crew from South Dakota was on its way to Saskatchewan on Wednesday.

Karri Kempf, manager of emergency services with social services, said officials are rotating the destinations where evacuees are being sent. She said that allows staff to have time to increase capacity and set up extra facilities before more evacuees arrive.

On Wednesday, Kempf said Prince Albert was full and that Regina was the current destination.

"For the most part, people are quite anxious and nervous of the situation back home but their spirits seem to be good under the circumstances," Kempf said.

The Canadian Press

Another WestJet diverted

WestJet says a bomb threat it believes was a hoax prompted the airline to divert a Vancouver-to-Toronto flight to Calgary on Wednesday night.

WestJet says flight WS722 landed safely and the 30 passengers and five crew members on board exited the aircraft via stairs.

The airline says it diverted the Boeing 737-700 after receiving the threat "out of an abundance of caution."

This was the fourth time a WestJet flight has been the subject of a threat in the last five days and the fifth such incident involving a Canadian airliner in a week.

On Tuesday, a WestJet flight with 113 passengers and five crew members landed on a flight from Toronto to Saskatoon landed at Saskatoon following a threat but police say a search of the aircraft found no bomb.

A WestJet flight en route from Edmonton to Toronto was forced to divert to Winnipeg on Monday night because of an unspecified threat, passengers had to jump down evacuation slides and six people sustained minor injuries.

Last Saturday morning, a WestJet flight from Edmonton to Halifax landed in Saskatoon after police said a call had been made claiming an explosive device was on board.

And last Thursday, St. John's International Airport was temporarily closed because a note was found in the washroom of an Air Canada flight that authorities considered a potential bomb threat.

In all of the cases, searches of the aircraft unearthed nothing suspicious.

Police say the investigation is continuing and there have been no arrests.

The Canadian Press

Canada's the best: Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canadians are "blessed to live in the best country in the world," and in his annual statement marking Canada Day, he says that good fortune is not an accident.

Harper says it is the result of visionary leaders, courageous men and women in uniform, waves of industrious immigrants, decorated athletes who unite us and Canada’s families.

He says there are "moms and dads, sons and daughters who work hard every day, in their own way, to help make Canada a better, stronger, more prosperous country."

The prime minister's statement calls on Canadians to "celebrate the people who make Canada great" and to rededicate themselves to the service of the country.

Harper was set to join Gov. Gen David Johnston and other dignitaries on Parliament Hill for a noon show celebrating the country's 148th birthday.

Thousands of revellers were expected to attend the annual Canada Day show and take in a variety of ceremonial events, shows, activities and fireworks. The festivities were to include a wide range of musical performances from such artists as Kiesza, Magic and Shad on Parliament Hill and at other venues around Ottawa.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was due to attend Canada Day events in southwestern Ontario. He issued a holiday statement that lauded Canada as "a place of fairness and of opportunity; a place where people from every imaginable country and culture, who speak every language, live and work, and build and thrive together."

Trudeau added: "We are stronger not in spite of our differences, but precisely because of them. For much of the world, Canada represents the most hopeful vision of what the future can look like."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, meanwhile, was set to take part in various festivities in Toronto.

The Canadian Press

Canada Day quiz

Pull yourself away from your poutine and back bacon long enough to take our Canada Day quiz. Call yourself a Canadian? Put yourself to the test. Wrap yourself in the maple leaf and find out just how much you really know about our home and native land. Happy Canada Day, eh?



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