Western Hockey League considering ‘You Can Play’ project

Takes aim on removing homophobia from league

by Devin R. Heroux

Western Hockey League Commissioner Ron Robison fully supports the recent “You Can Play” project spearheaded by Patrick and Brian Burke. This week, the commissioner said that the league will review the initiative this spring.

The project supported by high profile National Hockey League teams and players aims to ensure equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. It also focuses on producing videos of professional NHL athletes with a simple message: If you can play sports, you can play with us.

Robinson says that’s the same message the WHL shares with its players.

“Homophobia in our league is something we continue to monitor very closely,” says Robison. “We’re in review of our ‘Player’s First’ program right now so the timing is very good for this.”

He adds that Brian Burke is a personal friend and the commissioner applauds him and his family for this initiative and the support that NHL players have provided for it.

Most importantly, Robison highlights the increasing focus on creating a positive atmosphere for the league’s players on and off the ice.

“We’re fully committed to making a difference in the hockey culture of this country,” says Robinson. “We really emphasize to the parents that the environment is positive and if there are any concerns raised we deal with them immediately.”

Perhaps the person most encouraged about the support coming from the WHL is “You Can Play” founder Patrick Burke. The Philadelphia Flyers’ scout and son of Toronto Maple Leaf’s general manager, Brian Burke, has been overwhelmed at the initial popularity of the program. He admits he and the project coordinators weren’t sure how people would respond.

“We had a plan in place – one was if everybody hated us, the other was if we had moderate success and the other was the highly optimistic one,” says Burke. “If everything went right it would be like this. It’s exceeded even our optimistic point of view.”

Not only are the Burke family members respected in the hockey community across North America, they are very close to the fight for gay equality in sports. Patrick is the brother of the late Brendan Burke, the openly gay hockey manager at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who was killed in a car crash in 2010. Prior to his tragic death that sent shockwaves around the league, Brendan talked candidly about his story.

“It shouldn’t have been me doing this,” says Patrick. “I do my best at it but on my best day I’m nowhere near as good at this as Brendan was or would have been.”
Patrick also says that what he’s doing in honour of his brother isn’t anything remarkable or special.

“Whenever it gets tough I just remember that Brendan did it first and if he can do it then I should be able to do it,” says Patrick. “This is what good brothers do. When your little brother has a fight you step in and help as best you can.”

It seems this is a fight Patrick Burke plans on being a part of for a long time. Since the launch of the project on March 4, he has been working to expand the project to other leagues. The ‘You Can Play’ advisory panel has representatives from the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and women’s sports.

In coming months the project plans to produce a playbook for coaches, players, members of the news media and administrators at all age levels to create a non-threatening environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes. Burke says he cannot stress enough the importance of education surrounding the issue.

“I take a lot of pride in how much educating of myself I’ve done,” he says. “It’s one of the few times you’ll hear me saying something nice about myself, but I’ve done my homework. Spreading the word online is important and so is educating yourself on the issues and on why we’re doing this.”

Both Robison and Burke will be looking at ways of incorporating the “You Can Play” project into the Western Hockey League for next year. Burke says the project is open to anyone who wants to get involved.

“Our website is set up to host fan videos so anyone who has a story to share or perspective they might want to share is welcome,” he says. “Or just straight fans who just want to say if you can play, you can play.”

For more information about the project, people can visit the website http://youcanplayproject.org/.

Sask. Party keeping election promises: Delivers balanced budget

By Devin R. Heroux and Nathan Liewicki

Regina, SK – In the first budget since last fall’s election, Saskatchewan Party Finance Minister Ken Krawetz delivered a balanced budget Wednesday in Regina. In the party’s fifth consecutive budget announcement, Krawetz talked about ‘Keeping the Saskatchewan Advantage.’ While the government is focusing on making life more affordable for people living in Saskatchewan, the NDP is questioning the numbers.

“Saskatchewan is the first province to table a balanced budget this year,” Krawetz said. “In the last campaign we made some targeted election promises designed to make life more affordable for Saskatchewan people. Today we are keeping our promise.”

But the NDP Finance Critic, Trent Wotherspoon, says this budget is taking more money out of the pockets of seniors, cutting funding to school boards and asking everyday families to “pay more and get less from their province.”

Key numbers include a focus on provincial health services with an investment of $4.68 billion – a 4.9 per cent increase over last year. The budget also focuses on First Nations and Metis initiatives by providing $172.4 million, an increase of more than $4.7 million or 2.8 percent. The government’s overall funding to school divisions in 2012-13 will be $1.74 billion, an increase of five per cent which includes an increase of $59 million in operating funding.

While the overall funding to school divisions will increase in this year’s budget, Wotherspoon says that a $10 million education backfill for schools doesn’t cover off the millions that will be taken from a dozen school divisions as a result of the Sask. Party government’s flawed education funding formula.

“Taking funding out of classrooms at a time when the province is growing is not smart growth,” said Wotherspoon. “There is no long-term gain and no long-term vision in asking our students to make sacrifices today.”

Also in this year’s budget the government has identified four new goals for the province including sustaining growth and opportunities for Saskatchewan people, improving the quality of life, making life more affordable and delivering responsive and responsible government. Government expenses to deliver these goals are expected to be $11.2 billion, up by 4.7 per cent compared to last year.

“3.9 per cent of these expenses are in operating spending and the remainder is in capital investments,” Krawetz said. “This allows us to meet our priorities and keep our election promises. It also means responsible spending choices.”

Krawetz also wanted to take time to boast about Saskatchewan’s booming economy. Private forecasters expect Saskatchewan to lead the nation with 3.1 per cent growth in 2012 – and again in 2013 with a 3.3 per cent growth spurt.

“In 2011, the Saskatchewan economy grew by 3.6 per cent, second highest in Canada even with the challenges caused by excess moisture and flooding,” said Krawetz. “Just today we learned that Saskatchewan grew by more than 17,000 people in 2011, the largest population growth in one year since 1953.”

Other highlights of the 2012 provincial budget include:


• $98 million increase, or 3.5 per cent, for Regional Health Authorities;

• $60.5 million for the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative, to perform 8,000 more surgeries and continue reducing surgical wait times;

• $16.9 million more for the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, for 6,000 new patient referrals, almost 30,000 chemotherapy treatments and 39,000 mammograms;

• $4 million to expand the colorectal screening program province-wide, providing early cancer detection and improved survival rates;

• $5.5 million more for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) Helicopter Ambulance;

• $3.5 million for the Senior Personal Care Home benefit, estimated to be $278 a month, rising to $369 per month by 2015-16;

• $24.2 million, a $3.3 million increase to provide Seniors Income Plan benefit increases of up to $50 per month starting July 2012, an increase of up to $10 per month in each of the next three years;

• $113 million, a $17.8 million increase to provide expanded Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability eligibility. The benefit will increase and the number of clients will expand from 3,000 to 10,000;

• $237.4 million in Municipal Revenue Sharing, an increase of $20.6 million, or 9.5 per cent;

• $4.6 million to meet the commitment to establish the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship, that will provide new high school graduates with up to $2,000 toward tuition fees at any Saskatchewan post-secondary institution;

• $3 million increase to expand the Active Families Benefit Program to include all children and youth under 18 years of age;

• A new rental housing construction initiative providing a 10 year rebate of Corporate Income Tax equal to 10 per cent of the expected rental income from the new multi-unit residential rental projects;

• The new Saskatchewan First-Time Homebuyers’ tax credit of up to $1,100 against the Saskatchewan income tax payable;

•$40 million to the Saskatchewan Children and Youth Agenda, an increase of $6 million;

Capital Expenditures

• Capital investment is up $193 million, or 32 per cent from 2011;

•$42.7 million to begin construction of seven previously announced Long Term Care (LTC) facilities under a new co-ownership model with health regions. Construction will also continue on six LTCs already begun;

• $88.7 million for 21 approved major school projects;

• $581.5 million in highways spending, commencing the government’s commitment to spend $2.2 billion over four years;

Spending Cuts

• The Film Employment Tax Credit will be wound down, saving $8 million a year after previously approved productions are completed;

• The province will no longer fund the Enterprise Region Program, saving $4 million this year. The province will be transferring funding and decision-making to municipalities;

Charges under the Seniors’ and Children’s Drug Plan go up by $5 per prescription, which will save $10 million. These charges have not been changed since 2007.

All shook up: Haiti’s humanitarian hiccup

by Devin R. Heroux

On Jan. 12, 2010 Haitians woke up to an unfathomable nightmare. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake left behind a trail of destruction, turning the already depleted country upside down and separating families in the process. In the end, more than 315,000 people perished in the rubble.

While those living in the small Caribbean community frantically raced against time to spare the few lives they could, the international community whipped itself into a humanitarian frenzy unparalleled until that point in history. The support was intense and extreme for the 1,300,000 people lining the streets without homes, food or water. They were wounded and stranded. Skeletons of 30,000 commercial buildings and hundreds of thousands of people’s bones created a graveyard of horrifying circumstance. And two years later not much has changed.

At the time, the outpouring of support through social media was wild.

Social media made caring for those in Haiti sexy. It made the person tweeting about Haiti on Twitter a humanitarian. It made the person clicking the ‘Like’ button on Facebook a loving, compassionate comrade.

As much as the individual wanted to attach him or herself to this cause, so too, did the Canadian government.

A year after the earthquake, Canadian International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda announced that more than $90 million worth of projects focusing on health, education, and culture would be sent to Haiti. For as quickly as one can click a mouse a government can cut a cheque. And at the end of the day, the Canadian government can feel a little bit better about itself.

But the clicking of a mouse and cutting of a cheque fall short of addressing the real needs of the people in Haiti. A report released by Oxfam recently revealed glaring inadequacies in the recovery efforts in the country. Indecision within a questionable and corrupt government has left Haitian residents in rubble; little has changed from the early days after the earthquake. And all the “likes” and money in the world cannot change the biggest problem of all which is a government that cannot get itself together. But nobody wants to Tweet or talk about that.

Regardless of how great our technological advances become and how many people we can organize around Twitter and Facebook, the success of the emergency response in a place like Haiti will always depend first and foremost on the preparedness of the local community and its ability to organize effectively, share information, and act.

The initial international response was remarkable. Unbelievable almost. Then, as fast as the attention came, it was gone. There was no more tweeting or “liking”. No more cheques to be cut. And here we are two years later still wondering what’s going on in Haiti.

Rutherford Rink Rant

By Devin Heroux

Since January 23, 1930 Rutherford Rink has been the home for our hockey Dogs. That’s too long.

Huskies hockey has treated the people of Saskatoon with the utmost respect, yet the rink has fallen short of treating the Dogs the way they deserve. At the time, ‘The Rink’ was built it was the Cadillac of arenas. Now, it’s rusted, rundown and ready to fall apart. We all know it. And this past weekend’s Canada West hockey series proved it.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 900 people crammed into the Doghouse to watch their hometown hockey heroes battle the University of Calgary Dinos in a best-of-three series. It was some of the best hockey I’ve seen in a long time. I think you’d agree.

But that’s it. Only 900 people who had a golden ticket were able to enter the hallowed doors of the Doghouse. It is possible to believe that with the proper facility, upwards of 5,000 or 6,000 people would have flocked to an arena to watch the games. Alas, the Brier occupied the Credit Union Centre. And what’s the other option?

It was Huskies hockey at its greatest and in the end nobody outworked the dogs. Every night for those three nights the atmosphere was electric. It came to a crescendo during Sunday night’s triple overtime thriller. An hour before puck drop everyone with that golden ticket was in the barn. Imagine that. Huskies hockey… and everyone was there an hour before the game. In what other university city in Canada does that happen?

Both the men and women Huskie hockey teams deserve better. The people who have supported the Dogs for years deserve better. It’s time.

All of that said, there is no denying how incredible the scene was when, after 106 minutes and 33 seconds later, Brett Ward won it all for the Huskies. The shot that trickled into the net brought shook the foundation of the barn. The 900 people packed in there high-fived and hugged one another. Off to nationals now. And I believe this team can win it all.

Huskie Athletics need to be commended for their admirable crowd control throughout the weekend. I would not want to be the person turning away all those people.

For the next two years the Huskies host the CIS national championship. Sure, Credit Union Centre will be the perfect venue for it. But only for one weekend in March. For the rest of the season, the Huskies will be forced to venture hide in the Doghouse. And so will the fans.

Every so often the Rutherford Rink debate is sparked in this city. I think it’s time to talk about it again.

Cyberactivism in the Egyptian Revolution: How Civic Engagement and Citizen Journalism Tilted the Balance

Commentary by: Devin R. Heroux

Cyberactivism: the act of using the Internet to advance a political cause that is difficult to advance offline. The goal of such activism is often to create intellectually and emotionally compelling digital artifacts that tell stories of injustice, interpret history, and advocate for particular political outcomes.

It was one of the most prolific and peaceful revolutions witnessed in history that overthrew long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak on February 2011. While there were no guns or bombs used to unite a nation and mobilize public will, the weapons used could not be seen or heard. Cell phones and computers became the weapons of choice for the people of Egypt, especially those in the ages of 20 to 30. What occurred, was the first notable example ever of social media being an incredible catalyst for change. However, while social media played a huge role in the revolution, it must be noted that it was not the sole purpose. Social media was able to give voice to a large group of people and at the same time mobilized on-the-street public to join forces. Civic activism, combined with social activism, combined with years of suppression and a lingering want of a nation to change, created one of the most fascinating displays of democracy ever realized.

To first understand where this all began, a brief history of TV and Internet in Egypt is required. Prior to 1990, most media ownership in the Arab world was in the hands of governments and functioned under strict government supervision. During the 1990s, however, the Internet and satellite television channels spread throughout the Arab world. In the early days there was a lack of IT information making it difficult to understand these new tools of communication. Most importantly, satellite television and Internet changed the media landscape from a monolithic state-controlled media pattern to a more pluralistic and diverse media landscape. In the past 10 years, technology adoption rates in Arab countries are among the highest of all developing nations.

What we quickly begin to realize is that Egyptians slowly started to understand that through these new means of communication, they could find a collective consciousness and national solidarity. For years, many Egyptians shared their feelings of suppression, however, did not have the means to express their feelings to a larger audience. What this did, in turn, was make the individual fearful of expressing their views due to belief that they didn’t know how others would react. Social networking made it easier to let each individual know that many others shared their view which ultimately lead to the protest.

Before civil unrest came to a head in Egypt, there was much distain broiling under the surface in the country. Previous attempts to organize protests had fallen short of the terrific results realized last February. An example of this can be realized in an April 6, 2008 movement which used cell phones, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to organize meetings and protests. While there was much social engagement online, the engagement was only limited to online and did not translate into the streets. This is when citizen journalism comes into the picture. What citizen journalism did was give the ordinary citizen on the street a voice and ultimately bridged the gap between political activism in the real world and cyberactivism in the virtual world.

People could now blog, tweet, facebook and post pictures in real time; this created a firestorm that swept across the country and ultimately the rest of the world. Instead of foreign journalists trying to get into the middle of everything, they could rely on those in the middle of the protest to send in video, pictures, and comments from the heart of the action. Then it all changed, when, in the middle of the storm, the Egyptian government shut off the Internet and mobile phone services for the entire country for one week.The economic impact of this was estimated at $90 million. While the government thought they would gain control over their people by shutting down social networking tools, quite the opposite occurred. The blackout forced activists to find more innovative solutions like landline dial-up services and international media outlets. The blackout backfired on the government, only inciting the people more, which lead to an outpour into the streets. The shift from the online activism to real world activism was realized in this moment.

So what does it all mean? First off, it’s important to note that since the revolution, more than 2 million Facebook accounts have been created in Egypt. Social media’s non-horizontal and non-hierarchical structure was met with great delight by a people who, for years, were governed by a top-down society. Perhaps the greatest advocates and beneficiaries of social media are women in Egypt, who have now been given a platform for social engagement. Above all, there were no real leaders in this protest, but a wave of people all fighting for democracy. This was a leaderless revolution that produced a somewhat peaceful and productive overthrow.

It must be noted though that this should not be characterized as a strictly social media revolution. Sure, it was a catalyst, however, when you couple social media with the historical and sociological framework of the people in Egypt, it became the perfect time for social media to create change. The broader implications for repressive states in the Arab region because of this incredible rise of social media will only be positive. The implications of the Egyptian revolution will echo throughout the region for years to come. And you can be sure people in those Arab nations will be tweeting about it as it happens.

Question: Why was citizen journalism so effective in this revolution in Egypt, yet shunned in the Western World?

Whispers in the hallways: Regina basketball star recruited by NCAA

Photo by Peter Mills

By Devin R. Heroux

The stakes were higher than normal for Joe De Ciman during this year’s Luther Invitational Tournament.

The Regina high school basketball player was not only hoping to help his team win a LIT championship, he knew there was a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 scout in the crowd.

While playing in big games and in front of big crowds is a common occurrence for the Grade 12 athlete, De Ciman admitted to feeling the pressure early on in the tournament.

He knew one wrong pass, shot or dribble could predict the outcome of his playing career. A scout from the University of Utah was in the stands.

“At first it was a little nerve-wracking, but when things get going too fast you just have to slow yourself down and say I don’t need to do anything special,” said De Ciman. “Right now, getting a Division 1 NCAA scholarship is the ultimate goal.”

His 6 foot 4 frame towers above his competitors. He wears white knee-high socks and his yellow and purple jersey hangs off his robust body. Sweat drips off his rippling arm muscles and his eyes shift around the court anticipating the next play before it happens.

De Ciman is hard to miss.

“He’s so much above the other kids, it’s not nice to say but it’s the truth,” said Wade Bartlet, head coach of the LeBoldus Golden Suns. “It’s almost to his detriment because we can’t work on the fundamentals that he needs.”

De Ciman’s gifted abilities on the hard wood have drawn the attention of universities and colleges across North America. While he doesn’t mind the attention, scouts have been walking a fine line when it comes to luring him into their program. Due to NCAA recruiting rules, any face-to-face contact between scout and player before scouting eligibility can lead to punishment as harsh as the scout’s termination from the athletics program at a university.

For this reason, the scout watching De Ciman asked to remain anonymous. However, he did say the young athlete is on their radar.

“We look for talent and character,” said the scout. “We only recruit good students. Academics must be a priority. There is a strong correlation between a good student and a good player.”

De Ciman seems to fit the bill. With close to a 90 per cent average overall in his classes, he is striking a fine balance between academics and athletics.

It hasn’t been easy however, as last year he tore his Achilles tendon and had to miss most of the season. While at the time he struggled to find positives, during his time away from the game he focused on fundamentals. De Ciman admits to being a better player today because of it.

“I got the chance to understand that NBA players get better by slowing the game down and spending time in the gym and working on the fundamentals,” he said. “I’ve been seeing my physiotherapist once a month and he says I have about 20 per cent to go so I’m feeling good about that.”

And his coach agrees.

“He makes our team better and makes the coach look better,” said Bartlet.

There’s still a lot of work ahead for De Ciman if he has NCAA aspirations, Barlet says, but with scouts continuing to phone, email and even make trips from the United States to show their interest, his dream of playing south seems inevitable. But talks between the young player and those scouts continue to be whispers in the hallways until he finishes his high school playing days.

Coke will continue its 14 year monopoly on campus

Devin R. Heroux

It’s a debate that’s been going on for years, two sides locked in eternal battle, steadfast, resolute.

Which beverage tastes better: Coca-Cola or Pepsi?

According to a University of Regina committee, Coca-Cola products are what the school wants served on this Campus.

Today, the university announced a five-year contract renewal of the refreshment juggernaut beginning at the end of the month.

The recent announcement of this exclusive contract means the 14-year reign of Coke products at the U of R will continue.

“At the end of the day, there definitely was a difference between Coke and Pepsi,” said Jim Woytuik, director of supply management at the U of R.

This exclusive beverage contract means Coke products must be sold at university-controlled locations exclusively, including the more than 65 vending machines on campus.

The process of finding a beverage supplier started Dec. 9, when the university prepared and issued a request for proposal for beverage services open to all beverage providers. Three parties came forward with competitive proposals: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Superior Vending.

Part of the process was to provide the campus with a beverage service that would address the varied needs and concerns of students. This included sustainability, choice both in brand and healthier products, and the ability to work as partners in the best interests of the university and community.

“People might get the impression that it’s all about the money,” Woytuik said. “If we brought a contract in that was all about the money, but the service was no good, obviously we would be shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s not all about the money.”

The revised contract, however, allows the federated colleges and the First Nations of University of Canada (FNUniv) to seek a better beverage deal. Places like the Owl, operated by URSU, will be looking for a better deal over the next couple of months.

“The university negotiated a deal with Coke and they gave us the option to opt-into it,” said Mike Staines, URSU general manager. “We have to basically take the terms of that and compare it to Pepsi and decide from there. It could change if Pepsi comes up with a better deal.”
But Staines is quick to admit he doesn’t believe students taste the difference.

“I don’t know that people really care that much differently between Pepsi and Coke,” he said.

A decision on what will be in the glasses of students drinking at the Owl will be reached in six weeks.