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Ore slide at Yukon’s Victoria Gold mine not the first this year: government officials

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WHITEHORSE – A recent slide of ore at a gold mine in central Yukon was the second such failure this year, the territorial government said.

That has one environmental group wondering if the previous problems at the heap-leach facility at Victoria Gold’s Eagle Mine should have been a warning sign, while the government waits to find out if the latest slide released cyanide into nearby creeks.

Work was stopped at the mine north of Mayo on Monday when the company announced the failure of its heap-leach pad, part of the system that uses a cyanide solution to extract gold from ore.

Yukon’s director of mineral resources, Kelly Constable, said Friday that the mine’s ore stockpile was in a series of “benches” and this week’s collapse was a “multi-bench failure, meaning it was significant in size.”

“The company moved quickly following the slide to build dams to hold back contaminated water released from the slide material,” she said.

Constable said a previous failure in January was at a different part of the facility, and that chemicals were not being used at that time. She said the ore in that case was contained.

A statement from the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said it wondered if the January event “should have been a warning sign about the flaws of the heap leach facility.”

“According to a Jan. 17, 2024, mine inspection report, ‘a slope failure occurred at the southeast area of the Heap Leach Facility (HLF),’ sloughing off 14,000 tonnes of crushed ore. The slide was later found to have damaged the heap leach liner,” the statement says.

A technical report on the Victoria Gold website says the primary heap leach pad can hold up to 92 million tonnes of ore and that the cyanide solution can move through the facility at two million litres an hour.

Victoria Gold CEO John McConnell did not respond to requests for comment.

Constable told a media technical briefing that information is still being gathered on how much ore moved in the latest slide, how much cyanide was in the facility at the time, and what caused the collapse.

Health officials have said current information suggested drinking water wells for the Village of Mayo are not affected.

A spokeswoman for the Yukon Workers’ Safety and Compensation Board said at Friday’s briefing there was one reported injury associated with the slide and that two workers at the site had received first aid treatment. However, none of the injuries were considered serious.

— By Ashley Joannou in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Pope Francis calls for Olympic truce for countries at war, prays for peace

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday voiced his hope that the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games will provide an opportunity for countries at war to respect an ancient Greek tradition and establish a truce for the duration of the Games.

“According to ancient tradition, may the Olympics be an opportunity to establish a truce in wars, demonstrating a sincere will for peace,” Francis said during his Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square.

The Pope stressed that sport also has “a great social power, capable of peacefully uniting people from different cultures.”

The opening ceremony of the 33rd Olympic Games will be held in Paris on July 26 with the participation of 205 delegations of athletes, who will parade on more than 80 boats on the Seine.

“I hope that this event can be a sign of the inclusive world we want to build and that the athletes, with their sporting testimony, may be messengers of peace and valuable models for the young,” Francis added.

The pope, as always, asked the faithful to pray for peace, recalling the ongoing conflicts around the world.

“Let us not forget the martyred Ukraine, Palestine, Israel, Myanmar, and many other countries at war. Let us not forget, war is a defeat,” he concluded.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Canadian basketball star Natalie Achonwa preps for her fourth — and final — Olympics

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VICTORIA – Natalie Achonwa had plans for motherhood.

As a professional basketball player and competitive person, she believed she’d quickly figure out feeding and sleep schedules after her son, Maverick, arrived in April 2023.

Babies, Achonwa learned, have little respect for plans.

Balancing parenting with returning to elite sport has been full of challenges, especially as Achonwa prepares for the Paris Olympics with the Canadian women’s basketball team.

“I wouldn’t trade being Maverick’s mom for the world. But I don’t want to glamorize the life of being a professional athlete and being a mom at the same time,” she said.

“I’m not saying you can’t do it. And I’m not saying women aren’t superheroes. I want to be real in the sense that there are plenty of perks, plenty of fun things that I get to experience with him. But it’s hard as hell.”

Achonwa, a 31-year-old forward from Guelph, Ont., joined Team Canada as a teen.

Her first Olympics were the 2012 London Games and she’ll play the tournament for a fourth — and final — time at the Paris 2024 this month.

Selected ninth overall by Indiana Fever in the 2014 draft, Achonwa spent eight seasons playing in the WNBA for Indiana and the Minnesota Lynx, with overseas stints in Italy, France, South Korea and China.

Being a professional athlete made becoming a mom harder in some senses, she said.

“I was so hyper aware of how I should be feeling mentally and physically that when I was going through some postpartum depression, I could see myself but I couldn’t feel it,” she explained at Team Canada’s training camp in Victoria, B.C., last month.

“I’m like ‘This is wrong, but I don’t know what to do about it.’ And thankfully, I’ve created such an amazing group of family and friends that really pulled me through that.”

Achonwa teared up as she described how refreshing it felt to return to the women’s national team.

“Coming back to this group makes me feel whole,” she said. “Canada Basketball has been a part of who I am since I was 14, 16 years old. And now, adding my son, coming back from maternity leave and being a mother has changed my mindset and pushed me deeper into this Canada Basketball family and life.”

Paris will mark the fourth consecutive time Canada’s women’s national team has made it to the Olympics. Achonwa has been on all four squads. This time around, the Canadians head into the tournament ranked fifth in the world.

The team has a different feel, Achonwa said.

“This group is different because I don’t feel like I’m pushing them to be somewhere. I feel like I’m opening the door for them to be there,” she said.

Canada finished ninth in women’s basketball at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021. Expectations were high for the team heading in, with thoughts they would bring home a medal.

“I think it was almost a hyper-focus of suffocating your dream,” Achonwa said. “And throw in COVID, throw in all the things that kind of derailed our peak, not to make excuses, but it just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”

The result was tough, said forward Kayla Alexander.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted in Tokyo. That was the worst,” she said. “Firstly, we didn’t get the results we wanted and then second, we were stuck there. You couldn’t leave straight away and we had to sit in it. It wasn’t exactly a fun feeling.”

Changes were made. Canada Basketball hired Victor Lapena to coach the team in January 2022. Some players moved on, others moved up from the development program.

Canada finished fourth at the 2022 World Cup, then took bronze at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup in 2023.

In February, though, Canada nearly missed clinching an Olympic berth after going 1-2 in qualifying. The team secured its spot when Spain beat Hungary with a dramatic comeback.

“Between (Tokyo) and how our Olympic qualifiers went? That is all the motivation I need,” Alexander said. “That’s what’s been fuelling me to keep going, just having those memories of how it felt and not wanting to repeat that experience again.”

Competition at the Paris Games will be fierce.

Canada opens the tournament on July 29 against host France, who are ranked seventh in the world. Group play will also pit the Canadians against No. 3 Australia and the 12th-ranked Nigerians.

The composition of Canada’s team is unique, Lapena said.

“Thinking about basketball, we have great athletes. We can do pretty dynamic basketball,” the coach said. “And we have different tools in different positions that make this team very, very difficult to defend. Because we are a little bit unpredictable. And I like that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.



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‘Not OK’: Closing only pool in Ontario town points to growing climate challenge

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CLINTON, Ont. _ Randy Marriage was a regular at his hometown’s only pool when he was growing up, cooling off with friends on summer days. His grandchildren won’t have the same chance.

Despite hotter summers and more intense heat waves, partly induced by man-made climate change, local authorities have decided to close the only pool in the small southern Ontario community of Clinton, citing its high refurbishing and maintenance costs.

“It is a terrible decision to close this pool,” said Marriage, 58, a lifelong Clinton resident, standing by a splash pad next to a now waterless pool.

“Our council is trying to tell us, you know, it is OK,” he added. “It is not OK.”

Clinton is facing the same climate challenges as larger communities, but is suffering more because it isn’t “deep-pocketed,” Marriage said.

Experts broadly agree that smaller communities, which often have few options to raise money, will struggle to adapt to a warmer world.

“Certainly it makes sense that smaller and rural communities with fewer resources, fewer sort of services overall will have a tougher time supporting their most vulnerable residents in the event of extreme heat,” said Ryan Ness, director of adaptation at the Canadian Climate Institute.

Property tax is often the only avenue for small communities to raise new funds. Getting money for new projects, like a major pool renovation or building cooling centres, typically requires a grant from the provincial or federal government.

Rural communities often lack the capacity to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles involved with getting grant money, Ness said.

Salomé Sané, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said the federal government should create a climate adaptation fund specifically for small communities to help them upgrade buildings to make them cooler, improve transportation and improve access to real-time information about incoming heat waves.

“What we actually need is a strong investment … into preparation and adaptation to extreme heat that is very much tailored to the needs of rural communities,” she said.

Clinton, a community of roughly 3,000 people located about 200 kilometres west of Toronto, is part of the municipality of Central Huron.

Jim Ginn, the mayor of Central Huron, said the community does not have enough resources to meet the coming climate challenge.

So far, the splash pad and the community’s cooling centre have proven enough to cope with bouts of extreme heat, Ginn said, but he conceded the municipality isn’t prepared for a future with hotter, more intense summers.

“Until it becomes a higher priority for the senior levels of government that they fund us more, there is not much more we can do,” he said.

Clinton’s only pool was initially closed in 2020 as a temporary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. It reopened in 2021 but closed again 2022 because it needed repairs. Ginn said the decision to close it permanently was made last month by the local council, which determined it could not afford the more than $5 million needed to renovate and re-open the pool.

The mayor said council asked residents to weigh in before making the decision but didn’t get feedback.

“Everything blew up” after the decision was made, he added.

The council vote is reversible if the community secures funding either through public fundraising or government grants to cover part of the expenses, the mayor said.

Stacey Petteplace, who moved to Clinton nearly a decade ago, said the pool’s permanent closure means residents need to drive to neighbouring towns to swim, which is a problem for those who don’t have a vehicle.

“Our kids needed us to give them this safe place, so they have a place to cool down in the summer,” she said. “We failed to do that.”

Angelee Bird, another Clinton resident, said losing the pool means losing one way community residents might have found some relief during hot summers.

When her apartment building lost power during a heat wave in June, Bird said she was lucky to have family members nearby who she could stay with overnight. Others might not have many options, she said.

“Our entire building was outside, sitting on grass because it was the only way to cool down,” the 28-year-old mother of two said.

In Seaforth, Ont., a little north of Clinton, spirits are higher after the town’s first and only splash pad was opened last month.

Dean Wood, who spearheaded the project, said local businesses and residents raised $330,000 to build it.

Wood said he used to drive his children to splash pads in neighbouring towns when they were growing up, trips his relatives and others in Seaforth now don’t have to make.

“It is a wonderful sight to see because every time you pull into the park on a hot summer day, the splash pad is being used,” he said.

Nicole Ward, who visited the splash pad recently with her child and friends, said Seaforth’s residents feel lucky to have a place where they can stop by to cool off.

“We love it, it is very family oriented,” she said.

“We have a nice big pool, a splash pad and our town is more fortunate than other places that don’t have as much funds coming in for them to build facilities to keep cool.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.



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