Beating the odds: Amazing stories of survival – National

TORONTO – A seamstress has been pulled from the rubble of the Bangladesh building collapse.

After being buried 17 days in the collapsed garment factory, soldiers at the site say the woman, identified as Reshma Begum,  is in remarkably good condition.

VIDEO: Survivor found in Bangladesh rubble (May 10)

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Rescuers stopped all debris removal and used hand saws to cut the woman Begum out from the debris.

A crowd gathered and erupted into cheers after Begum was freed.

Here’s a look at other recent and remarkable stories of survivors found under rubble.

Naqsha Bibi: Rescued after 63 days (2005)

An astonishing 63 days after an earthquake struck Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on October 8, 2005, killing more than 70,000 people, Naqsha Bibi was found alive in the ruins of what was her believed to be her kitchen.

The 40-year-old woman survived on rotting food and rainwater.

Friends and family said they were shocked Bibi managed to survive for so long.

“We were not even looking for her,” said her cousin Faiz Din in an interview with the BBC. “We thought that Naqsha had either fallen down the hill or had gone to live in some relief camp in the city.”

A Pakistani Kashmiri earthquake survivor, Naqsha lies in the intensive care unit (ICU) ward of a hospital in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, December 12, 2005, following her rescue from the rubble.

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Evans Monsignac: Rescued after 27 days (2010)

On January 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitute earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

Nearly a month after the disaster, the hope of finding survivors was all but diminished until rescuers pulled out Evans Monsignac, a 27-year-old father of two who said he survived under the rubble by sipping sewage that oozed underneath the marketplace where he was buried.

“I was resigned to death. But God gave me life. The fact that I’m alive today isn’t because of me, it’s because of the grace of God. It’s a miracle, I can’t explain it,” said Monsignac in an intensive care bed at Tampa General Hospital, Florida, shortly after his rescue.

4-month-old baby girl: 3 days (2011)

For three days, family members believed they lost their four-month-old girl after a powerful 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan’s northeast coast.

In the town of Ishinomaki, residents heard what they said sounded like a baby’s cry stemming from a pile of debris. Swaddled in a pink woolen bear suit, the girl was reunited with her parents—both of whom survived the disaster.

A soldier smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby who survived the recent tsunami with her family at Ishinomaki city in Miyagi prefecture on March 14, 2011.

Getty Images

Kunio Shiga : 4 weeks later (2011)

More than four weeks after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan in 2011, farmer Kunio Shiga  was found alive—and well—sitting among the rubble of his home.

The 75-year-old was running short on food and had no running water or electricity. His only source of company?  A battery-powered radio that Shiga listened to in hopes that rescuers would find him.

No one ever came.

“The tsunami came right to my doorstep. I don’t know what happened to my wife. She was here, but now she’s gone,” he told the Daily Mail in an interview.

Shiga said his neighbours fled his home city after evacuation orders from authorities but that he was unable to leave due to trouble walking.

– With files from The Associated Press

©2013Shaw Media

Astronauts successfully spacewalk, replace pump outside International Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Astronauts making a rare, hastily planned spacewalk replaced a pump outside the International Space Station on Saturday in hopes of plugging a serious ammonia leak.

The prospects of success grew as the minutes passed and no frozen flecks of ammonia appeared. Mission Control said it appeared as though the leak may have been plugged, although more monitoring was needed before declaring a victory.

“No evidence of any ammonia leakage whatsoever. We have an airtight system – at the moment,” Mission Control reported.

WATCH: NASA officials hold a news conference following a spacewalk outside the International Space Station to replace a broken coolant pump.

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Christopher Cassidy and Thomas Marshburn installed the new pump after removing the old one suspected of spewing flakes of frozen ammonia coolant two days earlier.

The leak was reported by ISS Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency on Thursday.

“[I saw] a very steady stream of flakes or bits coming out…” Hadfield reported.

Listen: Hadfield tells Mission Control that the ISS crew is ready for a space walk.

Commander Hadfield did not make the EVA. Instead, astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn conducted an investigation.

©2013Shaw Media

Tests confirm Ariel Castro is father of 6-year-old girl found in home: Attorney General – National

Ohio’s attorney general says tests confirm that Ariel Castro is the father of the six-year-old girl who was held captive at his Cleveland home along with Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.

The women and the child emerged from the home Monday, about a decade after the women had disappeared.

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Prosecutors said Thursday they may seek the death penalty against Castro, as police charged that he impregnated one of his captives at least five times and then starved her and punched her in the belly until she miscarried.

The horrific allegations were contained in a police report that also said one of the women, Amanda Berry, was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool.

Castro was arraigned Thursday on charges of rape and kidnapping after the three women missing for about a decade were found alive at his home earlier in the week.

Police say the women were apparently bound by ropes and chains at times and were kept in different rooms. They suffered prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and had miscarriages, according to a city official briefed on the case.

Castro has been charged with four counts of kidnapping – covering the captives and the daughter born to Berry – and three counts of rape, against all three women.

©2013The Associated Press

Animal blood bank receives help from EPS Canine Unit – Edmonton

EDMONTON- There’s a constant need for blood donation in Alberta, but it’s not just human blood that’s needed. There’s a chronic shortage of canine blood supplies in our province.

“Dogs have a lot more diseases that they’re likely going to need blood as a transfusion. It’s for multiple anemic kind of diseases, we use it for surgeries, cancer treatments, that sort of thing,” explained Shauna Lesick, an instructor in NAIT’s Animal Health Technology program.

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Friday morning, NAIT’s Animal Blood Bank received donations from the Edmonton Police Service’s Canine Unit. Three police service dogs each donated one unit of blood.

“It’s something that we can do to give back to the other dogs that may need blood and as well in turn, we might some day require blood to be donated for our dogs. So, it’s just something that we can do as a community,” said Constable Ryan Busby, of the EPS Canine Unit.

“Our goal is to show some leadership and raise awareness in the community, and hopefully other dog owners will step forward as well,” added Constable Murray Burke, of the EPS Canine Unit.

“We are grateful for the support of the Edmonton Police Service,” said Lesick, “Every donation we receive helps save the lives of two other dogs.”

NAIT is the only satellite collection site in Alberta for the Winnipeg-based Canadian Animal Blood Bank, which provides blood products for dogs in need of transfusions. The institute provides approximately 25 per cent of Canada’s canine blood supply.

In order to donate, dogs must be between the ages of one and eight, be healthy, weigh more than 23 kilograms and have their current vaccinations. Dogs accepted into the program are asked to donate every three months.
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Benghazi attack: US State Department pushed for changes in administration’s talking points – National

WASHINGTON – Senior U.S. State Department officials pressed for changes in the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used after the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya last September, with senior officials asking that references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted, according to department emails.

The latest developments are certain to add fuel to the politically charged debate over the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans when insurgents struck the U.S. mission in two nighttime attacks.

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Republicans have complained that in the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign, the Obama administration was trying to conceal that the attack was the work of terrorists and not a protest over an anti-Islamic film that got out of hand. Such revelations just before the election perhaps could have undercut President Barack Obama’s record on fighting terrorism, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, one of his re-election strengths.

Democrats have in turn accused Republicans of trying to capitalize on the attack to score political points. The White House has insisted that it made only a “stylistic” change to the intelligence agency talking points from which Rice suggested on five television talk shows that demonstrations over an anti-Islamic video devolved into the Benghazi attack.

“There’s an ongoing effort to make something political out of this,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday of the disclosure of the emails, which the administration had provided to lawmakers. “The problem with that effort is that it’s never been clear what it is they think they’re accusing the administration of doing.”

A scathing independent report in December found that “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of the State Department meant that security was “inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

The report largely absolved then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen by many as the early Democratic favourite for president in 2016.

The State Department emails and other internal administration deliberations were summarized last month in an interim investigative report by Republicans on five House committees. New details about political concerns and the names of the administration officials who wrote the emails concerning the talking points emerged on Friday.

Before the presidential election, the administration said Rice’s talking points were based on the best intelligence assessments available in the immediate aftermath of the attack. But the report and the new details Friday suggest a greater degree of White House and State Department involvement.

Following congressional briefings in the days after the attack, members of Congress asked the CIA for talking points to explain the assault, and the CIA under the direction of David Petraeus put together an assessment.

It said Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida took part in the attack, cited reports linking the attack to the group Ansar al-Sharia, mentioned the experience of Libyan fighters and referred to previous warnings of threats in Benghazi.

Numerous agencies had engaged in an email discussion about the talking points that would be provided to members of Congress and to Rice for their public comments. In one email, then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland worried about the effect of openly discussing earlier warnings about the dangers of Islamic extremists in Benghazi.

Nuland’s email said such revelations “could be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying attention to (central intelligence) agency warnings,” according to a congressional official who reviewed the 100 pages of emails.

The final talking points that weekend reflected the work of several government agencies – CIA, FBI, State Department, the office of the Director of National Intelligence – apparently determined to cast themselves in the best light as the investigation was just getting underway.

The reference to al-Sharia was deleted, but Nuland wrote later that night, “these don’t resolve all my issues and those of my building leadership, they are consulting with NSS,” a reference to the National Security staff within the White House.

Senior administration officials met that Saturday morning to finalize the talking points. Deputy CIA Director Mike Morrell worked with the officials to produce a final set of talking points that deleted mentions of al-Qaida, the experience of fighters in Libya and Islamic extremists, according to the congressional official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the emails that still have not been released.

The next day, Sunday, Sept. 16, Rice appeared on the talk shows and said evidence gathered so far showed no indication of a premeditated or co-ordinated strike. She said the attack in Benghazi, powered by mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, appeared to be a copycat of demonstrations that had erupted hours earlier outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, spurred by accounts of a YouTube film attributed to a California man mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

“In fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video,” she said. “People gathered outside the embassy, and then it grew very violent. Those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control.”

Administration officials said Friday they deleted the references to terror groups because it was then unclear – and still is – who was responsible for the attack.

Rice’s depiction of the chain of events contrasted with one offered by Libya’s Interim President Mohammed el-Megarif, who said at the time there was no doubt the perpetrators had predetermined the date of the attack.

“It was planned, definitely. It was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago,” el-Megarif said. “And they were planning this criminal act since their arrival.”

Associated Press writer Donna Cassata and AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

©2013The Associated Press

Nearly 7000 Canadians willing to live and die on Mars – National

TORONTO – An ambitious project that aims to put boots on Mars in 10 years may have fallen short of the expected number of Martian wannabes, but there is no shortage of Canadians willing to live on the red planet – and die there.

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With the Aug. 31 deadline almost here, nearly 7,000 Canucks have applied to join Mars One — a $6-billion project that plans to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023.

Read: Too much radiation for humans to visit Mars, Curiosity finds

They are among more than 165,000 applicants from 140 countries who have paid an application fee ranging between $5 and $75, depending on the country, in hopes of being selected for the one-way trip.

Lex Marion, of Vancouver, is one of them.

“My entire life I have always wanted to be a part of something that really makes a huge difference,” the 26-year-old said in an interview.

“Having my life mean something, for me, is just so important and this is the ultimate expression of that.”

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Mars One – the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Landorp – says the first four settlers would be followed by more groups, every two years.

If the project ever makes it off planet Earth – and many are skeptical it will – it won’t be without risks.

Organizers say there could be an accident during launch, vital components could malfunction during the journey, a number of issues might arise when entering the Mars atmosphere and there could be problems during landing.

Connor Martz, 19, thought about the risks, but they did not stop him from applying to join what some have called a suicide mission.

“That part scares me, obviously, never being able to come back or see my family and dying there,” he said from his home in Waterloo, Ont.

“I think the good outweighs the bad in this case because you have the opportunity to advance mankind in its exploration and colonization of other planets.”

His mother, Linda Martz, said she is concerned about the no-return aspect of the mission, but hopes her son will grow out of the idea.

“We are talking ten years from now so he will be 29,” she said. “Things change, I don’t know where he will be ten years form now, maybe he will change his mind.”

For now, Connor is getting ready to start first year of university in September to study physics. He said he’s been hitting the gym to build up body mass, which could prove vital on a long space voyage.

“Every kid wants to be an astronaut at some point and I guess that is where I started,” he said.

The application videos, some of which are posted on the Mars One website, range from the wildly absurd to the surprisingly sincere.

One Canadian applicant – identified only as Madison, 27 – posted a video talking about what drew her to the program.

“A year ago my younger sister died and with that of course came a bunch of questions about why are we here? What is the meaning of all this and what is the purpose in life?” said Madison.

“When I read about this Mars One program I thought: ‘Wow, here is my chance to find some sort of closure or purpose or meaning in space,’ so I couldn’t not apply.”

An artist’s rendition of the Mars One settlement.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Bryan Versteeg / Mars One

Another Canadian applicant – known only as Collin, 26, – chose to show off his rhyming chops in his video, submitting a full poem, which included these verses:

“I am a scientist, adventurer, wizard and explorer/Philosopher, technician and confidant ninja warrior/My brain is sane enough to sustain itself on such a lengthy trip/I will bond in trust and faith with fellow astronauts on the ship.”

Kenneth Flack, 53, from Pointe-Fortune, Que., said he wanted to join the mission because he’s convinced the Earth “will eventually be destroyed and consumed by the sun.”

“We have to colonize the rest of the solar system, and the galaxy for that matter, for us to have long-term longevity,” he said in an interview.

Flack also argues about the need for “old” and “fat” astronauts on his application video, in an effort, he admits, to attract more views.

Mars One had hoped to attract up to a million people from around the world when it first launched the application process in April. After the Aug. 31 deadline, the group will decide who goes on to the next round of the selection process.

The world will likely get to know some of the applicants in an expected television show that will document the selection and training of the final four-member crew.

Paul Romer, co-creator of the popular “Big Brother” reality television show was made a Mars One ambassador in April 2012. He will likely be instrumental in the creation of a television program that will go towards funding the Mars mission.

But Lansdorp, the group’s CEO, said that doesn’t mean that a Mars One show will necessarily be a reality TV show.

“The mission to Mars is one of the most exciting and inspirational stories of all time and we do want to share that with our audience, but more in the way that the moon landing is shared with our audience or the Olympics,” he said.

Read: Are we Martians?

However, many of the contestants know that being popular on television may help them advance through the selection rounds.

“I don’t think it (the Mars One show) will be like “Jersey Shore” or “Survivor” or “Big Brother”, said Andrew Rader, 34, from Ottawa, who was among the first Canadians to apply. “It’s more like the Discovery Channel.”

The spacecraft systems engineer – who recently won Discovery Channel’s competitive reality TV show “Canada’s Greatest Know-it-All’ – hopes his communication skills will help him in the race for a spot on the Mars shuttle.

Rader also thinks the media-centric independent funding model of the Mars One venture is superior to the traditional government funding for space exploration.

“I’m a bit of a libertarian and I think space needs to pay for itself, and if a private company can do things more inexpensively and if it can bring in sources of revenues without taxpayers dollars then I’m all for it,” said Rader.

©2013The Canadian Press

Inmates post prison reviews on Yelp – Edmonton

EDMONTON – Anyone who has spent time behind bars can now rate their experience.

A popular review website used to rate everything from restaurants to cemeteries, called Yelp, is now being used to rate jails and prisons across the globe.

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According to the Washington Post, lawyers, inmates, and their families are using the site to rate prisons and shed light light on poor living conditions and alleged prisoner abuse.

It is unclear how long, or how many times, the website has been used to review prisons, but new reviews are popping up all over the place, including for prisons across Canada.

“I think it is a good idea because one major purpose that it serves is that it brings to the attention of the public what prison conditions are like,” said Tom Engel, a criminal defense lawyer at Engel-Brubaker in Edmonton.

Users rate the facilities out of five stars, and make comments on food, living conditions, and staff professionalism.

The website has become, some say, a mechanism by which prisoners can speak out against abusive guards or inhumane treatment.

Engel says without a site like Yelp, prisoner complaints are rarely taken seriously.

“If you’ve got a complaint about a guard, and you make a complaint about that guard, then in some twisted way guards think ‘oh you’ve broken the code of silence, you’ve gone outside the closed group,’ and you’ll suffer repercussions,” he says.

“You can make complaints up the ladder to management, but a lot of the times, the process is a joke. Inmates quickly learn that it’s futile to complain, and it will probably just make your situation worse.”

The complaints on the website are unverified; meaning the truth of the accusations has not been confirmed.

However, Engel insists that prisoner abuse is real, and says Alberta facilities, in many cases, do not meet the United Nations’ standards for prisoner treatment.

Prisoner mistreatment may also increase the chances a prisoner will reoffend.

“People don’t go to jail to be punished; people go to jail as punishment,” he says. “You have to treat prisoners in a humane way. Just taking away their freedom is a lot of punishment.

“If you mistreat prisoners while they are in jail, they are going to become angry,” he adds. “They are going to actually disrespect the justice system, which is mistreating them. They will come out of that system worse than when they went in, and they will be more likely to reoffend.”

The Edmonton Remand Centre has a review on Yelp as well. The reviewer gave it out of five stars.

“Not sure about the new Remand Centre but my bet [is] they have the same guards/ and staff as the old Remand Centre. The food [is] very bad… most of the time uncooked, cold,” one user wrote. “The guards are basically out to cause others harm. I hope others use this to report guard abuse in the system.”

With files from Emily Mertz

©2013Global News

Port Mann Bridge contractor mired in problem projects

Watch: Years of concerns preceded Port Mann’s hail of ‘ice bombs’

This has been a rough couple of years for Kiewit Corp’s west-coast bridges.

In the past year, two ambitious bridges it’s working on – one in California, the other in Washington – have become mired in concerns about design and structural integrity.

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And a year before sheets of ice fell from hundreds of Port Mann Bridge cables onto drivers below, plummeting ice bombs closed Seattle’s Kiewit-built Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Kiewit hasn’t been singled out for criticism by authorities in any of these cases, in which it’s often one contractor among many; in Washington’s case, heads rolled at the state’s department of transportation over design errors.

As for last winter’s ice storm in Seattle, “you could probably find any number of bridges around the world that weren’t build by Kiewit that have had similar issues,” said Kiewit spokesman Tom Janssen, “as long as they’re in similar environments in a freak weather event.”

Washington’s SR 520

The SR 520, Washington state says, is the longest floating bridge in the world.

The SR 520 is the world’s biggest floating bridge, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. It’s also aging and in danger of “catastrophic failure” in an earthquake. A new deck, anchor cables and set of pontoons are supposed to fix that, with Kiewit a major contractor on the project.

But just when that will happen is up in the air after a series of setbacks, cracked pontoons and spalling concrete.

“It’s frankly been a painful process for Washington state DoT,” said spokesperson Suanne Pelley.

What was supposed to be a project designed and built by a contractor became one designed by the transportation authority and built by a contractor.

But “there were disagreements within the agency about how the contract should be, whether everything was followed properly or not,” Pelley said.

Among the issues was whether a thermal control plan, designed in cases of extreme weather, was properly followed through.

Internal reviews published over the past several months referred to problems or inconsistencies in fulfilling contract requirements. Pelley could not elaborate on what those were.

But it was a pair of design errors by the transportation department that caused the most trouble: No sooner had pontoons been redesigned to prevent the spalling that dislodged chunks of concrete at one location, then several other pontoons were found to be cracked.

“The issues with the pontoons in Washington led to a thorough internal review and acknowledgement that design changes needed to be made and that, in fact, the department hadn’t followed all of its procedures,” Pelley said.

“That has resulted in the demotion of one person, the termination of another and has launched, in fact, another round of internal reviews.”

California’s Bay Bridge

Construction on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in May, 2012.

A Kiewit-led consortium is constructing parts of the bridge’s concrete foundation – a major player among multitudes of contractors on this project. In June of 2012, the Sacramento Bee reported the consortium initially failed to disclose the results of a seismic safety test on part of the concrete foundation they’re building on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge  – results that indicated a sizable defect (more than five metres long) in the pile. A different type of test conducted later showed the pile to be fine. But, reporter Charles Piller wrote, failure to repeat the initial test means they don’t know whether the problem’s still there.

An op-ed rebuttal from the head of Caltrans, the state transportation authority, slammed Piller’s article as misleading, said subsequent tests found the foundations were safe and demanded a retraction.

Now an expert panel  – the second, convened after a first was deemed to have too many conflicts of interest – is poised to release a technical review of the bridge tower’s foundation. A Caltrans spokesman wouldn’t respond to questions about the Bee article or the bridge’s foundation but said the report would be released “soon.”

Golfers’ year-round dream come true – Saskatoon

SASKATOON – Golf courses around Saskatoon are finally open after a cold April, so it may take a while for players to get into the swing of things.

A new revolutionary instruction program aimed at helping duffers turn their games around has also opened in Saskatoon.

The program, GolfTec, officially launched in Saskatoon on Friday.

Over 150 tour players use the objective analysis video and motion measurement to help them with their game.

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“Its sequential lessons, it’s fact base diagnosis, it is retention tools where every time you come in here and get a lesson it’s recorded. It’s sent to your own personal webpage, the drills you take that day and whatever your going to work on to improve as you keep coming out because everyone wants to improve,” said Clinton Schmaltz, GolfTec center manager/instruction director.

The new state of the art technology adds to the rounds Saskatoon has to offer.

“It’s a very good way to get more people more instruction, more help and it complements what we do out here on the golf course… It’s a great addition to what we have in Saskatoon,” said Brad Birnie, Moonlake Golf and Country Club/ PGA Canada teaching professional.

GolfTec could help more enthusiasts start their season on a good note and is available year-round.

Plan to develop Victoria waterfront path, pave lawn angers society – BC

A bold, multi-million dollar proposal to transform the waterfront  of Victoria’s Inner Harbour is causing controversy in B.C.’s capital city.

Victoria is a beautiful destination for locals and tourists alike, but access to the city’s water is extremely limited.

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A couple weeks ago, the City of Victoria unveiled a plan to dramatically change that by giving the waterfront a $40-million, five-kilometre continuous walkway that would wind from Ogden Point to Rock Bay.

The pathway includes a number of shoreline access points that will open up the water to more recreation while preserving natural areas.

The plan will require partnerships with private landowners, agencies and various levels of government. It will be named after recording artist David Foster, who has donated $50,000 toward the project.

“Honestly, it’s such a big honour for me to know this will be called the David Foster Way,” he said. “But if you take my name out of the equation completely, this is something that will be so beautiful for the city we love so much.”

The City of Victoria says the project is something the city needs to spur development, but there are some who are angry over a part of the proposal.

The Hallmark Heritage Society is up in arms over a plaza that would be built in front of the provincial legislature. The plan would require tearing out a quarter of the lawn along Belleville Street, something the society believes in completely unnecessary.

“The city was made, was created, because of this harbour and we should celebrate it, but this is too great a sacrifice,” said Ken Johnson from the Hallmark Heritage Society.

Johnson said the society is going to protest destroying the portion of lawn.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said the City is listening to the public’s feedback.

“Look, we put these plans out there and we’ll see what happens.”

Blind pole vaulter competing for Texas high school championship – National

AUSTIN, Texas – A legally blind 15-year-old pole vaulter cleared three heights at the Texas state championship but failed to win a medal.

Charlotte Brown of rural Emory Rains High School was one of the top qualifiers in girls’ Class 3A with a height of 11 feet, 6 inches. Her best vault of Saturday’s final was 10-6 and she missed on three chances at 11-0 before leaving the track to a standing ovation from several hundred people watching her event.

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Brown was born with normal vision but developed problems while an infant. She has no depth perception, sees no colour and cannot distinguish shapes. Her range of vision is similar to looking through a tiny straw. She reads Braille and will get a seeing eye dog next month.

Also Saturday, 17-year-old legally blind vaulter Aria Ottmueller was scheduled to compete in the Arizona state meet.

Brown is able to vault by using intense concentration on her approach to the pit, counting her steps and listening to coach Derek Smith yell when he tells her to launch. She places an 80-foot strip of dark, artificial turf next to the running lane to create a light/dark contrast she can follow to keep her running in a straight line.

Brown easily cleared her first three jumps at 9-6, 10-0 and 10-6. The problems began when she clipped the bar with her left elbow on her first attempt at 11-0. After missing her next two jumps, Brown ultimately finished eighth among nine competitors.

The winning height was 12-9 by meet favourite Kally Long of Wimberley, last year’s silver medallist .

After bowing out, Brown slightly slumped her shoulders and got a hug from coach Derek Smith, who had been allowed to stand to the lane to bark out the number of Brown’s steps as she approached each jump. Several of her competitors shook her hand or hugged her as she left the track.

Brown shrugged off the defeat as simply not being at her best.

“I’m still happy because there’s a couple of hundred kids who didn’t get to be here. It’s a privilege to even get to come. I’m one of the top nine in the state, so that’s motivation to come back here and win state,” Brown said.

Brown, whose story attracted national attention in the days before the meet, said she woke up Saturday excited about the meet but wasn’t nervous. But she also noted she had never vaulted at the University of Texas track and perhaps wasn’t quite comfortable in her first state meet.

Although she really couldn’t see the crowd of more than 10,000 at the stadium, she could hear them as fans cheered races going on just a few yards away and the announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers.

At one point, the track announcer told the crowd he would be quiet during Brown’s vault attempts to help her concentrate. Each time she prepped to jump, the crowd near the vault would be silent.

“They did a good job of keeping it down and helping me. I’m used to blocking stuff out,” Brown said. “It’s something I’ll have to deal with when I come back here.”

After she was done, Brown’s father, Ian, rolled up the strip of artificial turf and packed up the weights used to hold it down. Ian Brown said his daughter will be disappointed by the loss but motivated.

“She’ll probably want to vault tomorrow and start thinking about the future,” Ian Brown said. “I’m not disappointed in the least. She got here.”

Later Saturday, Brown was scheduled to receive a special spirit award from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Brown said she’s aware people are starting to look at her as an inspiration for athletes with disabilities.

“If I can inspire people by doing what I think is easy, that’s awesome,” she said.

©2013The Associated Press

Couple’s truck given away in valet error – Edmonton

EDMONTON- An Edmonton couple who used the valet service at a downtown Edmonton hotel is speaking out, after their truck was given to someone else.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Trevor Hancock.

Hancock and his fiancee Danielle Sanmartin were meeting their friends at the Westin Hotel in March, and used the hotel’s valet service while they went out for dinner. When they returned for their truck a few hours later, it wasn’t there.

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Nanjing Night Net

“A manager came over and said ‘we gave your truck away,’” said Sanmartin. “We laughed, like where’s the hidden camera?”

“I really thought he was kidding. I laughed out loud and said ‘go get my truck,’” added Hancock.

But it was no joke. The couple was shocked, because they still had their claim ticket. Then they began to worry about more than their truck.

“We were worried that they were coming here to break into the house,” Sanmartin said. “Whoever had the vehicle had the keys. They had all of our stuff, including our registration which is in the glove box in most cars.”

The GPS unit in the truck was programmed to their home, and the truck came with a built-in garage door opener.

“We had to immediately go out and replace the house locks, replace the business locks, car seats. So, a considerable expense has been put into this and time,” Hancock explained.

Twelve days later the couple’s truck was recovered. It required $3,700 worth of repairs. There were also a number of personal items in the truck, including electronics and many of their childrens’ toys, which weren’t there when the truck was located.

The couple is frustrated, because they feel the Westin has ignored their concerns.

“They did say ‘I’m sorry you have to deal with this.’ Well, I shouldn’t have to deal with this,” said Sanmartin. “I have called the Westin numerous times and it’s always ‘I’m sorry you have to deal with it.’”

Officials at the Westin declined an interview. However, they issued a statement saying they’re aware of the matter and are working with police and their insurance provider.

“We are working as quickly as possible, but as the matter is still active, we’re unable to provide further details at this time. The safety and security of our guests and their belongings remains paramount,” Derrick Britt, director of rooms at the Westin Hotel said in an email.

After being contacted by Global News, the insurance company agreed to reimburse the couple for all of their expenses.

But the couple is still frustrated. They want to know how their truck could have been given to someone else in the first place.

“I am angry. I feel that if they ignore us long enough we’ll disappear,” said Sanmartin.

They’ve also got a warning for others considering valet.

“Make sure that your personal items are not in your vehicle. If you have a valet mode, set it,” said Sanmartin.

“Just be warned that you have no control once your vehicle is in someone else’s possession,” added Hancock.

With files from Julie Matthews.
Follow @CaleyRamsay

Time ticking down for Alberta school boards to reach agreement with province

CALGARY- Today marks the deadline for teachers and Alberta’s 62 school boards to agree to new contracts.

The province set a deadline of 3 p.m. on Monday for a unanimous agreement, and while most have voted in favour of the contract some, including the Calgary Board of Education, have rejected the deal.

The education minister says if it isn’t accepted, the province could walk away from the deal, legislate an agreement or even fire school boards that reject it.

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In a news release sent Monday morning, the government says Education Minister Jeff Johnson remains confident a province-wide labour agreement between Alberta’s 62 school boards and their teachers can be reached before Monday afternoon’s ratification deadline.

Six school boards have still not accepted the deal, but all have votes scheduled for today.

“We believe the province-wide Framework Agreement is in the best interests of teachers, school boards and students and their parents and fulfils our commitment to put kids first,” Johnson said in a release. “Albertans in their thousands told us during the Inspiring Education dialogue that they want us to continue to transform the education system to meet the needs of a new generation of students,” he added. “That can only happen in a stable labour environment.”

But, after meeting with the outstanding boards Monday, Johnson is facing the prospect of a labour deal with teachers without the support of the province’s largest school board.

The Calgary Board of Education, representing 108,000 public school students, has voted to affirm its earlier rejection of a tentative province-wide teachers agreement.

The board has said it’s concerned about unforeseen costs and the possibility that the deal gives the teachers union too much authority.

The education minister will provide an update by phone Monday at 4:15 p.m.

The four-year agreement negotiated between government and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) in March would see compensation for 40,000 Alberta teachers frozen for three years. That will be followed by an increase of two per cent in 2015-2016 and a one-time lump sum payment – to be funded by government – in that same year.

The deal also commits the Redford government to review teachers’ workload – a key issue over nearly three years of talks between the government, the ATA and the Alberta School Boards Association.

The premier isn’t making any promises about what could happen if the remaining boards don’t accept the tentative deal.

“Minister [Jeff] Johnson is working very hard with respect to that,”Premier Redford told reporters on Friday. “We’ll see what happens on Monday, and take steps after that.”

In March, Calgary Board of Education trustees voted against the deal, citing “hidden costs” and said it was worried too much power over education was being handed to the teachers’ union.

The St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic School Division was the latest to reject the province-wide deal in a 7-2 vote on Wednesday night. Fort Vermilion, Clearview, and the East Central Francophone Education Region are reportedly the other school boards to vote against the agreement.

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With files from the Canadian Press