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Crews still at Brandon fire

Firefighters are still at the scene of a massive blaze in Brandon, Man., that damaged or destroyed several buildings in the city's downtown.

Fears that the flames could continue spreading to other nearby buildings diminished by late yesterday afternoon, but the city tweeted this morning that crews were still at one of the affected buildings.

There were no reported injuries in the fire, but among the structures worst hit by damage is a 58-unit apartment building, where many of the suites were managed by community groups.

The city says that as of Sunday morning, 93 adults and 57 children had registered at an evacuation centre.

Residents have been placed by the Red Cross at a local hotel.

Manitoba's minister of municipal affairs, Jeff Wharton, tweeted late Saturday night that he had spoken with Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest about the devastating fire to offer provincial support.



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How to fix 'Alert Ready'

The technology exists to fix some of the design flaws in Canada's mobile emergency alert system that was tested last week for an Amber Alert issued in Ontario, some experts say.

The "Alert Ready" program — which sounds an alarm on LTE-connected smart phones during a crisis — could be more effective at alerting people to emergencies, they said.

"The approach we're taking with mobile devices is the same we had in 1940, when we had sirens installed on buildings," said Cosmin Munteanu, a professor of computer science and information at the University of Toronto.

"There's no nuance involved."

He said that because of smart phone technology, designers had the opportunity to cater details of the alarm — its sound, the colour that pops up on the screen — to the emergency it's alerting people to.

Munteanu said that with the system as it is now, people who hear the blaring alarm associated with these emergency alerts for a missing child but don't have an opportunity to read the text for some reason might believe they're in imminent danger.

And in fact, several police forces in Ontario received complaints from members of the public last week when an alarm sounded on cell phones to announce an Amber Alert triggered by the disappearance of a boy outside of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Half an hour later, the sound rang out again. This time, the text of the alert was displayed in French. It would go off two more times — once in each official language — that day to announce the child was found safe.

Officers in two Ontario cities — Kingston and Guelph — tweeted that it was not appropriate to call 911 about the matter.

The incident left some questioning the inclusion of Amber Alerts in the mobile emergency system, which has no opt-out option in Canada, as mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

"If somebody in Toronto is alerted to an abducted child or a missing child in Thunder Bay, they can't help," said John Rainford, director of The Warning Project, founded by a group of experts who help organizations communicate during emergencies.

"But then also, that person in Toronto is like, 'Okay, next time my phone rings in this weird sound, I don't care,'" he said. "And I want them to care."

A similar system exists in the United States, but people can choose not to receive notifications about Amber Alerts or local emergencies by modifying settings on their cell phones. They cannot, however, opt out of receiving directives from the White House.

It becomes a balancing act for authorities, he said.

"You need to strike this careful balance between alerting people to lots of problems — which is a good thing because then they're aware that if that weird sound comes over my smart phone, that means something weird's happening — and doing it too often."

But Rainford said it's a good thing that these kinks are happening now, before the masses need to be informed of a crisis on a larger scale.

"That's actually part of the system," he said. "You want to do that when (more) lives are not at stake."



A 94-year-old gym rat

Like many gym rats, Paul Russell lifts weights and runs obstacle courses.

Here's what makes him different: Russell is 94 — so old he has been retired longer than his personal trainer has been alive.

"I have no intention on stopping. Not until I get too sick or too ... whatever," Russell sajd.

Russell is the oldest member of Max Fitness in St. John's, N.L., where he strength trains twice a week with Dane Woodland, a man 67 years his junior.

He hasn't been going for long, but he said it's changed his life.

He retired from a fish processing company in 1977 and kept healthy by, among other things, shovelling heavy Newfoundland snow every winter.

Then last fall, Russell decided to go to his local gym. His workout gear: designer shoes, khakis and a sweater.

"I thought he was just so silly and very funny," Woodland said.

After his first session with Woodland, Russell said he was hooked.

"I sometimes I tell him, 'What the hell! You're adding more weights, you're making it harder for me. You're trying to kill me, is that what you're doing?' and he just laughs and tells me to lift up the weights and stop talking."

Woodland has been a personal trainer for six years, specializing in clients with chronic pain and physical trauma. His oldest client before meeting Russell was 70 years old.

After his first session, Woodland saw Russell needed to improve his strength and mobility.

He modified Russell's workouts to build strength and sharpen his memory so he can move around more freely in his daily life.

"His recovery periods have diminished greatly and he is a lot stronger than what he was," Woodland said. "His posture has changed dramatically, he's more sharp and his capacity for breadth of movement has increased as well."

It's not all physical. Woodland talks about the importance of a social life for an ageing population, and Russell said he's definitely not lonely at the gym.

"Some people come up and ask me who I am, if I am that Russell they heard about that's 94. And I say well I am 94 and I am a Russell so I may be the same person," Russell said, laughing.

This spring, Russell celebrated his 94th birthday with cake, prosecco, family and friends — Woodland included.

"I got to know him on a different level," Woodland said. "I do genuinely feel that he is my friend."

"He's a nice chap," Russell said of his trainer. "I like him very much."

— By Fadila Chater in Halifax



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'Still beautiful' after fire

Parks Canada officials and businesses in Waterton say there will be a different type of beauty in the national park, which was devastated by a wildfire last September.

The blaze consumed more than 190 square kilometres within the park, including about 80 per cent of its popular hiking trails. The flames made it all the way to the edge of the village.

The park was put under a mandatory evacuation order on Sept. 8 that lasted for two weeks.

The scars from the fire are still visible.

There are stands of blackened trees on the road into town and on the surrounding mountains. A dark stain makes its way up the treeline to just below the Prince of Wales Hotel, which was built in 1927 and is a national historic site.

Many of the roads and popular hiking trails are likely to be closed for the season.

But green is making its way up through the charred landscape.

"I kind of refuse to look at it as sad. It is an opportunity to see what happens after a large fire," said Locke Marshall with Parks Canada.

"This kind of thing has happened in the past. We knew it would happen again. It's happened and now we have the opportunity to see how the place renews."

Even with the fire last year, attendance in Waterton set a record at 538,000. Marshall noted the evacuation occurred after Labour Day, the final big weekend of the year.

He said campgrounds are already booked and visitors just need to wait and see how the landscape recovers.

"People must be patient. Things will renew. Things will be perhaps just as beautiful this year but in a different way."

Bob Cruickshank, who owns BeaverTails Pastry, said it was a strange end to a busy year in 2017.

"The fires started and they were getting closer and closer and we all pretty much knew it was only a matter of time before we got evacuated, so we were preparing for that. It was definitely hard to see what was happening to the park and the trails and animals," Cruickshank said.

"I think it's still beautiful. It's still nature and this is something that happens. Forest fires are a natural thing. It's changed but it won't be long before the trails are open again and it will just be the same as it was before."

The president of the Waterton Chamber of Commerce said businesses were worried about what would happen in 2018, but are now confident it will be another successful year.

Shameer Sulemon, who is the general manager of Bayshore Inn Resort and Spa, said the park is greening up and in many ways it's still the same place it always was.

"The mountains, the water, the valley — nothing's changed. The lakes, the waterfalls, are still there and as the greenery comes up it will just be a different view of the same beauty."

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter



Life and death

Doctors told Jody Littlewolf that her daughter was brain dead and should be taken off life support, but the mother couldn't shake a strange feeling she had about the teenage girl lying in front of her.

Littlewolf repeatedly refused to have the girl whose body had been badly battered in a car crash taken off the machines keeping her alive in a Calgary hospital.

"I just knew something wasn't right."

A two-hour drive south of the city, at a funeral home in Cardston, Alta., Judy Medicine Crane and several relatives had gathered to pick out a casket and flowers for her daughter, who had been in the same collision.

Medicine Crane hadn't been allowed to see the body — too much trauma, a medical examiner had told her.

When a funeral home employee later handed her a velvet bag with her girl's jewelry inside, she was perplexed. She had never seen the necklace, bracelet, silver tongue stud and pink nose ring. Her daughter didn't have a pierced nose.

Medicine Crane questioned the worker about the nose ring. "He just looked at me and said, 'Oh, it could have been while the vehicle was rolling around and, like, got stuck in her nose.'"

"That was what his answer was. And I was just trying to make sense of it."

The two mothers would struggle with more questions following the crash near Standoff on the Blood Reserve on July 31, 2005. After three days, it would be discovered that the girls, close friends who belonged to the same youth group, had been mistaken for each other.

Littlewolf's daughter, 15-year-old Chantal Many Grey Horses, was not the girl in the hospital bed. She had died in the crash.

And Medicine Crane's daughter, 17-year-old Misty Medicine Crane, was not in the funeral home. She was the one in hospital.

It was a mix-up similar to one last month when two junior hockey players from the Humboldt Broncos were misidentified after a fatal crash between the team's bus and a semi-truck.

Two days later, it was discovered that a player believed to be dead was actually alive in hospital, while a player thought to have been injured was dead in a morgue.

Littlewolf, of the Piikani Nation, says the uneasiness she felt about the girl in the hospital bed turned to certainty when she asked the nurses if she could help wash the body.

Littlewolf and Chantal would often hang out at home and massage each other's feet.

"I was standing at the foot of her bed," she recalls. "Just when I ran my thumb up her foot — I felt the texture. I knew that was (the other girl) Misty right then and there."

At the same time, a nurse told Littlewolf she had the same eyes as the girl in the bed. The mother ran out into the hall and prayed and cried. She told people the girl wasn't her daughter, but they didn't believe her.

"Everyone was telling me I was in shock."

Medicine Crane, who lives in Lethbridge, Alta., says that as she and the family sat in a restaurant, she continued to voice concerns about the girl they were planning to bury. A niece asked if anyone had checked for a tattoo.

Medicine Crane had forgotten about the skin design. A month before the crash, for Misty's birthday, the pair had gone together to get inked. Medicine Crane got a small heart with a zebra on her ankle.

Misty had the words "life" and "death" put on the back of her left shoulder.

Medicine Crane raced back to the funeral home. After arguing with staff, she finally got to see the girl's body.

She had no tattoo.

There were frantic phone calls and the two families switched places at the funeral home and the hospital.

Medicine Crane said her daughter was alive but already gone. When doctors showed her an image of Misty's brain and explained that she had suffered more than 200 strokes, she agreed to have her taken off life support.

She and her family then went back to the same funeral home and continued with the burial plans.

Blood Tribe police said at the time that they had relied on other passengers in the car to identify the girls.

Medicine Crane says one of the witnesses had just met her daughter the day of the crash. And most of them had been drinking and were likely to have been unreliable.

She also doesn't understand why no one asked the families about identifying features such as piercings and tattoos.

Both mothers say they were angry but have since accepted the mistake and moved on.

"I'm sad that it had to be that way," says Medicine Crane, who adds she would have liked to have had more time with her daughter in the hospital.

"But I can deal with it now. I can be stronger about it."

Littlewolf says she's glad she had the time in the hospital, even though her girl was never there. She's sure her daughter's spirit heard her talking and whispering "I love you."

"That's what got me through it without putting blame on people," she says.

"If I kept that anger, I'd never be able to move on."



Don't bait for photos

While some wildlife photographers dream of that perfect shot of a majestic moose or a swooping snowy owl, some observers say more and more people are stooping to unethical practices to get a great photo.

Parks Ontario ecologist David Legros says there has been a spike in the number of people trampling through sensitive habitat, blocking roads, laying down food or chasing wild animals in the quest for a photo — and he believes social media platforms such as Instagram are partly to blame.

"I think a lot of it is driven by increases in the accessibility of digital photography, and social media, because everyone is showing their pictures and everyone else wants to get great pictures too," Legros said in a phone interview.

In a blog post published in April, Parks Ontario highlighted some instances of recent bad behaviour, including chasing moose, cutting down tree branches for a better view or smearing peanut butter on trees to attract pine martens.

The most common problem, Legros said, is "baiting" animals with food, which makes it easier to get a photo but can cause them to become aggressive toward humans or spend more time around roads where they're more likely to be struck and killed.

He added that bad guests are in the minority and most people behave with respect.

The issue also crops up among professional wildlife photographers, where the pressure to get great images can be intense.

In April, London's Natural History Museum disqualified one of the winning entries in its Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest after concluding it was "highly likely" the anteater in the shot was a taxidermy specimen.

The museum said in a press release that five independent scientists all reached the same conclusion, which photographer Marcio Cabral strongly denied.

Canadian Geographic says it is "very much aware" of the problem, and tries to filter out photographers who bait their subjects, or try to pass off captive animals from zoos or game farms as wild.

"We do not publish images where it is obvious that such methods were used, and in instances where we have any suspicion this may be the case, we check with the photographer," editor-in-chief Aaron Kylie said in an email.

In Canada, intense debate has erupted over the practice of owl baiting, which usually entails using live mice to lure birds of prey.

Laura Kaye, an amateur photographer and bird watcher, remembers driving to a spot near Montreal about two years ago in the hopes of spotting a rare great grey owl.

But when she arrived, she was puzzled to see the wild animal swooping down and landing right in front of a large pack of photographers.

"Then I realized they had a cooler that was full of mice, and they threw a mouse onto the snow, and I realized they were feeding the owl with mice," she said.

Kaye said she was troubled by the idea that the owl's natural behaviour was being altered.

"Rather than going out hunting, it's staying in one spot, getting used to humans, and later down the road that could get the owl in danger," said Kaye, who has since started the Instagram account and hashtag #ethicalowlphotos to highlight the work of photographers who don't use such practices.

But even Kaye admits the subject is a controversial one and that photographers and scientists are divided over whether baiting actually does any harm.

Calgary-based nature photographer Robert Berdan says he doesn't bait, simply to avoid the criticism, but doesn't judge those who do so.

"I have found no scientific evidence that feeding the animals harms them, and I have consulted owl and wildlife experts," he said in an email.

Kerri Martin, a Calgary-based photographer who is doing a master's in ethical wildlife photography, says the issue of ethics in photography goes far beyond baiting or snapping shots at zoos or game farms.

Many behaviours can cause stress, including getting too close or causing a bird to fly away and drop a meal, she said in a phone interview.

And while she doesn't personally like baiting or game farm photography, she says she doesn't necessary judge those who use them, as long as the photographers disclose how the photo was obtained and the animal's welfare is considered above all.

"No picture is worth harming or causing stress to an animal, but that balance is hard to achieve," she said.



Two winning tickets

There are two winning tickets for Saturday night's $5 million Lotto 649 jackpot.

Both were purchased in the Prairies, and each is worth $2.5 million.

The draw's guaranteed $1 million prize was claimed by a ticket holder in Ontario.

The jackpot for the next Lotto 649 draw on May 23 will be approximately $5 million.



'Massive' fire in downtown

A blaze that Premier Brian Pallister called "massive" has burned through several buildings in downtown Brandon, Man., including one with dozens of apartments managed by community groups.

"It's just devastating. We're thinking of all the families that live in that building," said Debbie Huntinghawk, president of the Brandon Friendship Centre, which managed one of the five floors in the 58-suite Massey Manor.

Brian Kayes, Brandon's director of risk and emergency management, said the fire broke out in an office and school supplies store across the street from Massey Manor at around noon on Saturday, then spread to the apartment building as well as a bar and beer store.

At the fire's peak Saturday afternoon, city officials warned that embers were drifting "a significant distance" and were threatening to spark more fires. Reinforcements from outside the city, including firefighters from Canadian Forces Base Shilo, arrived to help stop the blaze, which destroyed or severely damaged multiple buildings in the city's core.

Kayes said it did not appear anyone was injured.

"The people that lived in Massey Manor went outside to watch the fire and then unbeknownst to them, their building caught fire. So pretty well everyone had already evacuated from that building to watch the fire," Kayes explained.

Pallister posted a message on Twitter early Saturday afternoon as the fire raged, along with a photo that appeared to show one of the buildings consumed by flames.

"Watching with deep concern as a massive fire devours downtown Brandon landmarks. Thanks to Brandon firefighters and police personnel for keeping Brandonites safe," the premier tweeted.

Massey Manor was originally constructed as an agricultural supply store and warehouse, and was converted to apartments in the past decade through a partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Brandon Friendship Centre and Habitat for Humanity.

The Brandon Friendship Centre provides services to the Indigenous community, and the residents on its floor included single mothers with young children, according to Huntinghawk.

Huntinghawk said she saw the smoke from her house and began walking towards the downtown, immediately fearing for Massey Manor. She said she was relieved at first to learn that the fire was only in the building across the street, but when she reached the roadblocks that were several blocks away, embers were falling on the crowds that had gathered.

Her group's executive director texted Huntinghawk with updates, saying some embers were landing on Massey Manor and it wasn't long before the building was on fire.

According to Lorne Mosionier, a board member with the group, flames burned through the top two floors, while the lower floors have serious water damage.

"You can't live in it now and probably the whole building would be a loss, no doubt," Mosionier said.

Kayes said late Saturday that the danger that the fire would continue spreading to other buildings appeared to have passed. He said firefighters were mostly mopping up, using backhoes to pull down walls to get at the flames that remained. The public was still being kept well back of the area, he said.

The Canadian Red Cross said it would be accepting registrations from people displaced from their homes by the flames.



Mulroney at royal wedding

A Montreal designer says seeing her custom dress on tastemaker Jessica Mulroney at the royal wedding was a wonderful experience, and it's giving her brand an international boost.

Antoinette Di Carlo, the designer and creative director at Di Carlo Couture, said she watched the ceremony from her home in Montreal Saturday morning before heading to work to fit other clients.

"It was a great feeling, that's for sure. Designing and fitting the dress is one thing, but to see it on camera is kind of a reality, so it's a wonderful feeling," Di Carlo said.

Di Carlo said she and Mulroney connected via social media and had begun developing a relationship, after Mulroney asked her to design a high-waisted, wide-leg, silk and crepe pantsuit for her last fall.

"She had loved the fit of the outfit I had originally worked on with her and she wanted to develop a beautiful, classy, elegant look for the upcoming wedding," Di Carlo said.

The result was a royal blue, custom tea-length fit and flare dress with cap sleeve button details. The gown featured an integrated waist and v-back in a striking royal blue colourway.

Di Carlo said she's happy Mulroney chose to work with a designer from her hometown of Montreal, and she has already received international attention for the dress on social media.

Mulroney, who is married to TV personality Ben Mulroney, escorted 10 young pageboys and bridesmaids — including their three children — into St. George's Chapel for the ceremony.

It's been widely reported that Jessica Mulroney became good friends with the American-born Meghan Markle when the actress moved to Toronto to shoot her seven-season run of the Bravo/USA Network series "Suits."

British royalty expert Katie Nicholl told The Canadian Press the two bonded over a shared love of fitness, travel and fashion.

"Jessica has been very important to Meghan; she's been very important behind the scenes in the run-up to the royal wedding," Nicholl said in an interview published earlier this month.

Raised in Montreal, Mulroney has also worked as a bridal consultant and fashion expert. Earlier this month, Hudson's Bay Co. announced she is taking on a bigger role at the Canadian retailer, acting as spokeswoman for the new brand CORE Life.

Mulroney first joined Hudson's Bay Co. in 2014 to help launch the Toronto outpost of the New York-based designer boutique Kleinfeld Bridal. She's also a contributing editor at Wedding Vacations magazine from the travel company Sunwing, and regularly outlines style trends on the daytime talk show "Cityline."

The copious amounts of media coverage lavished on royal nuptials — and wedding fashion — is not just a recent fascination.

Weeks before the 1947 wedding of Queen Elizabeth II, royal wedding gown guesses went all the way to Australia, with newspaper The Age reporting she was going to wear a "simple dress" but that the design was being kept secret.



11 Maxmillion prizes won

The $60 million Lotto Max jackpot remains unclaimed after Friday night's draw.

However, 11 of the 30 Maxmillions prizes of $1 million each that were up for grabs were won by ticket holders in Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies and British Columbia.

The winning ticket in B.C. was sold in Courtenay on Vancouver Island.

Two of those prizes will be shared by four ticket holders.

The jackpot for the next Lotto Max draw on May 25 will remain at approximately $60 million, but the number of Maxmillions prizes offered will grow to 46.



'Craft cannabis' in danger?

Craft cannabis growers and sellers in British Columbia want the federal and provincial governments to take immediate steps to protect the future of their businesses ahead of legalization expected this year.

Five groups representing small-scale pot producers delivered an open letter today to federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and her B.C. counterpart David Eby, demanding regulatory changes.

The federal government has signalled it plans to make room for craft cannabis with a proposed micro-cultivation licence, but it hasn't created an application process.

The groups, including the Craft Cannabis Association of B.C., want the government to urgently create a process so they can obtain licences and begin competing with large licensed producers for provincial supply contracts.

The groups also say a proposed space limit on micro-cultivation is too small and that packaging and labelling restrictions should be loosened so craft cannabis can distinguish itself.

Ian Dawkins of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada says federal and provincial plans for legal marijuana will kill B.C.'s community-based craft cannabis.

"If that happens, it will devastate rural economies and take decades to rebuild, so we are asking both levels of government to take action now, before it is too late," he says in a news release.



Bernardo to stand trial

Paul Bernardo, one of Canada's most infamous killers, was ordered Friday to stand trial for allegedly possessing a homemade shank in the maximum-security prison where he's serving a life sentence.

Bernardo appeared briefly via video link in a Napanee, Ont., courthouse for a hearing on a weapon possession charge, with a judge ruling that a trial on the matter would start Oct. 5.

Court documents show the weapon allegedly possessed by Bernardo was a shank comprised of a screw and a pen. The alleged offence took place at a prison in Bath, Ont., on Feb. 9, the documents show.

Bernardo's hearing was delayed Friday morning as court staff dealt with technical issues. When a video link was established, Bernardo appeared from prison dressed in a blue T-shirt and smiled at the judge during a brief exchange about the hour-long delay.

Justice Geoffrey Griffin ordered Bernardo to appear in the Napanee courthouse in person for the start of the trial.

Bernardo was arrested in the 1990s on allegations that he raped and murdered multiple teenage girls at his southern Ontario home.

His 1995 trial for the deaths of 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French horrified Canadians as lawyers presented videotaped evidence of his repeated brutal attacks on the teenagers.

Bernardo was eventually convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, forcible confinement and aggravated sexual assault in both cases and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

He was later convicted of manslaughter in the death of Tammy Homolka, the younger sister of his wife Karla Homolka, who was convicted of having roles in all three killings and served a 12-year prison sentence after striking a deal with prosecutors.

After admitting to raping 14 other women in and around Toronto, Bernardo was labelled a dangerous offender.



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