Archive for The Canadian Press
Timmins, Ont. source may be 2.7-billion-years-old
Deep underground within the Canadian Shield, scientists are probing for life — yes, life.
Their laboratory is found at the bottom of mine shafts in Timmins, Ont., where pockets of water trapped inside crystalline granite rock have existed for at least a billion years, and may be as ancient as the geology itself — 2.7 billion years old.
That chemical-rich water is seeping, at times even pouring, out of mine bore holes and naturally occurring fissures in the rock 2.4 kilometres below the surface. The water has been captured in what are known as “fractures” within the rocks.
And scientists are keen to find out what that water contains.
“These are the oldest waters that have ever been identified,” said Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a geoscientist at the University of Toronto who is part of a research team that will be looking for life forms in samples of water from the site.
“The Canadian Shield is some of the oldest rocks on Earth. These are billions of years old,” she said Wednesday. “And what we’ve shown is despite that, these fractures are still releasing water that are full of energy that could support life.
“We don’t know yet if there’s life in this, but what we’ve been able to show is it is habitable, meaning (having the) potential to support life because of the energy that’s there.”
Instructor had briefly discussed art project with student
The Alberta College of Art and Design has reinstated an instructor fired after one of his students beheaded a chicken.
The college said Wednesday in a statement that it has learned lessons from the incident and hopes to develop clear policies around academic responsibility and artistic freedom.
“While the College’s decision to terminate Mr. Ferguson was never intended to be about academic or artistic freedom, the College acknowledges the perception this action may have created,” it said.
“All parties acknowledge that this incident has raised important issues about the relationship between a teacher and student, and a student’s work.”
The student killed the chicken with a knife, then plucked it and cleaned it in the school’s cafeteria last month as part of a performance art project. Some students were so shocked they called police but no criminal charges were laid.
The teacher in charge of the class, Gord Ferguson, was fired last week. The Canadian Association of University Teachers quickly took up his fight and filed a grievance with the college.
He had been with the school for 32 years.
Ferguson said Wednesday he’s relieved to have his job back. He found it unfair the college punished him for something a student did, adding students should be allowed to be creative at an art school.
“We never tell them what they can’t do or what they can do,” he said. “Any subject is available to be debated and discussed and investigated and you have to feel free and supported to be able to do that.”
He said the student’s chicken project was about commercial food production. He wanted to remind people that meat doesn’t come wrapped in plastic from a grocery store — it has to be killed first.
Ferguson briefly discussed the project with the student beforehand but, in hindsight, wishes they would have spent more time talking about how best to carry it out.
Ferguson said he has been overwhelmed with supportive letters and messages from students, past students, professors and strangers from across the country.
About 1,400 students also signed an online petition supporting Ferguson. Others flocked to Facebook, planning to protest his firing later this week during the school’s graduation art show.
Ferguson said he and the school have agreed to host a symposium when classes resume in September “to air some of these issues arising from this event.”
“I think that the goal here is to not come up with a set of restrictions where people may not do this and not do that, but rather inform people that they are free to explore any topic that they want to explore — but maybe with a bit of framework.”
Student groups demand full public inquiry instead
The Quebec government has named a three-person panel to investigate events related to last year’s student crisis that made international news.
Public Security Minister Stephane Bergeron said the panel will study the actions of students and police during anti-tuition demonstrations that rocked the province.
Bergeron told a news conference Wednesday that he wants to ensure there is never a repeat of clashes like those seen during 2012′s so-called “Maple Spring.”
Protesters accused the police of numerous abuses — including arbitrary mass roundups and fines, indiscriminate pepper-spraying, and violations of mobility rights.
A number had been demanding a full public inquiry into police actions.
There were expressions of disappointment Wednesday from groups that said the new mechanism fell far short of what they had demanded, and would continue to demand.
The investigative body will have no power to subpoena witnesses, will do its work in private, and will be unable to point to offences by individual officers.
The government made it clear that any disciplinary measures against individual police officers would continue to be handled by the regular provincial police ethics committee.
The panel has been asked to analyze circumstances surrounding the protests and identify factors that led to the deterioration of the social climate.
It will cost $400,000.
“The government is interested in learning lessons from the 2012 crisis, a social crisis of such a magnitude that we can never let it happen in Quebec again,” Bergeron said.
Students took to the streets for months, and many shut down their classrooms. They were protesting a planned tuition increase of 77 per cent over five years in Quebec, which has the lowest university rates in Canada.
The protesters won a partial victory when the Parti Quebecois took office, scrapped the initial plan, and introduced a permanent tuition increase of 3 per cent a year.
The new group will examine techniques used by police and protesters, as well as the financial impact of the crisis. There will also be a study of how other jurisdictions deal with similar movements.
The group will deliver a report to the government, including recommendations, by Dec. 20. Bergeron said he plans to make the report public within six weeks of its delivery.
Bergeron appeared to already have drawn some conclusions about what caused the chaos.
He blamed the previous Liberal government for introducing Bill 78, a controversial anti-protest law designed to get students back to class. He also said the crisis would never have happened if the previous “Liberal party government” had not introduced such “excessive tuition hikes.”
The minister said it was the Liberals’ behaviour that brought thousands into the streets for near-nightly protests in Montreal and elsewhere in the province.
Bergeron said the panel will conduct its hearings in private, so that anyone wanting to testify could do so without fear of reprisals. The panel will accept written, audio and video testimony.
He said the panel will not intervene in cases already before the province’s police ethics committee, nor seek out people who might warrant charges.
Bergeron said municipalities and police had to adjust their tactics, given the unprecedented event and the need to maintain social peace and safety.
“The vast majority of Quebec police officers acted with professionalism, given the circumstances,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said he encourages people who feel they were treated unfairly to file a complaint with the ethics committee. Some 200 complaints have already been filed with the body, which has the power to sanction officers.
The committee will be chaired by Serge Menard, a former Parti Quebecois public security minister and federal Bloc Quebecois MP. The other two posts will be held by ex-union boss Claudette Carbonneau and former judge Bernard Grenier.
Opposition parties blasted the plan.
They called it a waste of money. And they also questioned its impartiality, noting that the PQ and union movement had clearly supported and — in the case of the labour groups even funded — the protest movement.
Coalition party member Jacques Duchesneau, a former police officer, said the announcement left a “bitter taste” in his mouth.
He said there had been 711 student protests recorded in Quebec last year and there had only been arrests at one-third of them.
“Is it the police’s fault that people threw smoke bombs on the metro?” Duchesneau told a news conference. He was once chief of the Montreal police force.
“Is it the police’s fault that people threw bags of bricks on the tracks to stop the metro? Is it the police’s fault that people wanted to take over the (Montreal Formula 1) Grand Prix?”
He said he was fine with the idea of a study — but said it should have been done in a public forum, like a parliamentary committee, and been more neutral.
The government drew entirely different criticism from student protesters. They wanted a more muscular mechanism.
The more hardline student group, ASSE, said it would continue to demand a real public inquiry as well as an abandonment of all charges or fines levied against 3,500 people during the crisis.
“This is a far cry from the independent public inquiry on police behaviour, demanded by 91 Quebec civil-society groups,” said a statement from the group.
“We’re not asking Mr. Bergeron to share his reflections on social movements. This special committee should instead be weighing in on the actions of those who are supposed to be protecting us.”
-With files by Sidhartha Banerjee
21-year-old Sydney Taylor falls from balcony
A Canadian tourist has died in the Mexican resort of Cancun.
Local media reports say the 21-year-old, identified as Sydney Taylor, died early Tuesday after apparently falling about 10 metres from the balcony of her second-floor hotel room.
They say the victim was identified by her Canadian roommate.
There was no immediate word on the woman‘s hometown, but a spokesman for Acadia University in Nova Scotia says the victim graduated from the school last month.
In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs confirmed that a Canadian had died in Mexico, but did not provide any details.
It says Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather more information and that consular assistance is being provided both in Mexico and to the woman‘s relatives in Canada.
Facebook is king but Twitter, LinkedIn grow
One in three anglophone Canadians won’t let a single day go by without checking into their social media feeds, suggests a new report by the Media Technology Monitor.
The report is based on telephone surveys with 4,001 anglophone Canadians in the fall and found almost seven in 10 Internet users declared they were regular social media users, logging on at least once a month. That figure was up by about six per cent compared to 2011.
Those growing numbers didn’t surprise Aimée Morrison, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, who researches digital culture.
“It’s becoming a mainstream part of how we get the business of life accomplished and you’re at a disadvantage increasingly if you don’t do it,” says Morrison.
Saskatchewan biochemist has a theory
If you don’t like gross things, this story is snot for you.
An associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan is trying to get more students interested in science by looking at the health benefits of picking your nose and eating it.
Scott Napper says nature pushes us to do different things because it is to our advantage to have certain behaviours, to consume different types of foods.
Napper says mucous traps germs and stops them from getting into our body, but if we consume that mucous, it could help train our immune system by exposing it to the germs.
Ontario offers support
The Ontario government says it has found common ground with the federal government and other partners to keep a world-famous experimental research area open in the northwestern part of the province.
The province says it will provide operating support and work toward an agreement so the “important science” conducted in the Environmental Lakes Area near Kenora can continue.
The remote region of 58 pristine lakes has been used since the late 1960s for groundbreaking freshwater studies.
Chiheb Esseghaier researched at University of Sherbrooke
More details may be revealed today about two men charged in what police are calling the first known al-Qaida directed plot in Canada.
A bail hearing is scheduled in a Toronto court for Montreal resident Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Toronto area resident Raed Jaser, 35.
The two men were arrested and charged yesterday for allegedly planning to attack a Via Rail passenger train.
The plot had “the direction and guidance” from al-Qaida elements in Iran, but there was “no imminent threat” to anyone, police said.
Iran has denied any link to the two suspects.
Simon Fraser researchers part of team
A team of North American scientists has cracked a particularly-complex genetic code that reveals ethnicity may determine how well a person is able to fend off diseases such as HIV or the common flu.
Five scientists from Simon Fraser University were among those who found a link between race and antibodies, the culmination of years of research that may have implications in the way doctors treat patients.
The team found certain ethnicities have missing or added DNA links, a factor that could influence immunity to certain diseases, said Corey Watson, one of the team’s 14 researchers.
Platform also includes ferry rate freeze
British Columbia’s Opposition New Democrats promised Wednesday to freeze ferry rates for two years while conducting an audit of BC Ferries’ operations, targeting a service that coastal residents have made a sport of griping about in the face of increasing fares and reductions in service.
The NDP released its plan for BC Ferries on the second day of the campaign for the May 14 election, including it among a list of platform promises that also pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for skills training programs and post-secondary education grants.
The Liberals immediately attacked the announcements, saying the NDP had already committed to spending $1 billion, which the governing party said was far more than the province can afford.
If elected, an NDP government would launch an audit to determine how BC Ferries can save money or shift resources to keep fares low and ensure the service is meeting the needs of coastal communities, said party Leader Adrian Dix.
Twitter users offended by Justin Bieber’s remark
Justin Bieber raised eyebrows again this weekend with his life off the stage, the latest hiccup to hit his tumultuous worldwide tour.
The Canadian pop star was taking a beating online Sunday for a note that the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam said he left in its guestbook after touring the museum with his entourage for more than an hour on Friday.
On its Facebook page, the museum said Bieber wrote he hoped Frank “would have been a Belieber,” the nickname embraced by his fans.
The comment sparked outrage on Facebook, with many accusing the 19-year-old crooner of being disrespectful and ignorant.
Access Copyright takes York University to court
There’s a battle brewing in the world of Canadian academia.
On one side stands Access Copyright, a collective which has provided institutions access to a pool of protected intellectual work for more than two decades while distributing royalties to the writers, artists and publishers it represents.
On the other is a group of universities who no longer feel the need to pay for the services offered by the collective, opting instead to navigate the world of intellectual property rights without a middle agent.
Simmering tensions are now threatening to boil over as Access Copyright takes one of Canada’s largest universities to court — a move some see as a warning to others who’ve ended relations with the agency.
PM Harper: Don’t call this bullying
The cousin of a young woman who committed suicide after an alleged assault and months of bullying issued an emotional appeal to people Thursday not to use violence to avenge her death.
Angella Parsons stood before a sombre crowd of about 300 people in a Halifax park to reflect on the short life of Rehtaeh Parsons and the lessons that should be learned from her loss.
“My family asks people not to respond with violence and aggression to this terrible tragedy,” she told the crowd through tears.
“We’re all angry. … Rehtaeh was angry, however, feeling angry and responding in anger and aggression are two very different things.”
The gathering came after Rehtaeh’s family said she hanged herself last week and was taken off life-support Sunday, following months of bullying linked to an alleged sexual assault by four boys at a house party in 2011.
University of Toronto researcher analyzes Chinese fossils
Dinosaur embryos recently discovered by a Canadian-led team are giving scientists what’s considered their best glimpse yet into how the ancient creatures developed.
The 190-million-year-old fossils unearthed in China on an “embryonic bone bed” belonged to Lufengosaurus, a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur known for its gigantic size, with adults growing up to nine metres long.
An international team working in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunan was able to analyze what are now the oldest known embryos of any land-dwelling animal to study how the creatures developed.
“This is the only case that we’ve been able to do this,” team leader and University of Toronto paleontologist Robert Reisz told The Canadian Press.
“Usually what you get is a single glimpse…here we have an extended range of size so we can actually track how particular bones changed through time in the embryonic life.”
A detailed look at more than 200 bones and fragmented egg shells from 20 individual animals at various stages of development revealed the creatures grew much more rapidly inside the egg than other dinosaurs and flexed their muscles in much the same way as birds and humans.
Nova Scotia may review handling of Rehtaeh Parsons case
Nova Scotia’s Justice Department is looking for ways to review a grieving mother’s questions about the RCMP’s handling of her daughter’s allegations of sexual assault, an incident the girl’s mother says led to the teenager’s suicide.
After initially saying there would not be a review, Justice Minister Ross Landry changed his position late Tuesday night, asking his department to present him with options for a review.
Leah Parsons spoke out Tuesday about the case of her 17-year-old daughter, Rehtaeh, who was pulled off life-support Sunday night after she hanged herself last week.
Parsons said she is dissatisfied that the RCMP concluded there were no grounds to charge four boys over allegations they sexually assaulted Rehtaeh about 18 months ago.
In a statement, Landry says he hopes to meet with Rehtaeh’s mother to discuss her experience with the justice system.
“This situation is tragic, I am deeply saddened — as I think are all Nova Scotians — by the death of this young woman,” he said in the statement.
Ships vanished in the Arctic in 1845
A long-standing Arctic mystery has become even more baffling with research that appears to debunk a common theory about the demise of the Franklin expedition.
Chemists at the University of Western Ontario used an array of the latest analytic techniques to conclude that poorly made cans of food were probably not responsible for the lead that poisoned the officers and crew of the doomed 19th-century voyage to explore the Arctic.
“We’ll probably never know what happened to the crew of the Franklin (expedition), so it will remain one of the great mysteries of Canadian history,” said Prof. Ron Martin.
“Our resources fail to support the hypothesis that the lead in the bones came from tins, and I certainly believe it didn’t.”
The Franklin expedition headed north, never to return, in 1845. Although some remains of the 129 crew have been discovered, along with ghastly evidence of cannibalism, the two ships Erebus and Terror have never been found despite a century and a half of searching.
Their mystery and legend remain to this day.
Three graves of Franklin crew members discovered on Beechey Island were exhumed in 1984 and their corpses analyzed in an attempt to shed light on the disaster.
While diseases, including pneumonia and tuberculosis, are believed to have been the immediate causes of death, high levels of lead found in the sailors’ bones are thought to have weakened the men and clouded their judgment. Looking for a source of the lead, scientists concluded it probably came from the solder used to seal the cans of food in the ships’ stores.
Martin’s work, published in February in Applied Physics A, re-examined some of the bones using techniques developed since the original analysis. Martin and his colleagues concluded there was so much lead in the bones, and it was distributed so widely, that it couldn’t have accumulated during the few months the men were at sea before they died.
Nor did he find areas where lead was concentrated, as there would be if the potent toxin had only recently been ingested.
“The wide distribution and high concentrations of lead in the measured bones is indicative of long-term exposure before the start of the expedition,” says the paper.
“The lead distribution is essentially uniform as might be expected from lifetime lead ingestion. There is no evidence for a sudden massive increase in lead during the latter part of any individual’s life.”
Martin points out the sailors buried on Beechey Island had died only three months into the voyage. At that point in the expedition, the crew is unlikely to have even dug into the cans.
“They ate everything that was fresh first,” he said. “They wouldn’t have started on the tins yet.”
Martin said evidence — including early results from tests on bones from a pioneer cemetery outside London — suggests that high lead levels were common in those times.
“All the bones we looked at there, the lead levels would have been pretty much the same,” he said.
“In that time period, there was lead everywhere. They had lead coming out their ears.”
Martin’s work would also appear to exonerate other sources of lead that some researchers have proposed as a source, including the ship’s water system. Water pipes on Franklin’s vessels were made of lead.
Lead is toxic to the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys and reproductive and nervous systems. Symptoms of lead poisoning include confusion, which makes it an attractive explanation for some of the decisions made by Franklin and his crew after their ships were stuck in the ice, such as dragging heavy lifeboats over the tundra laden with non-essentials such as silverware.
Martin’s team concludes that if Franklin and his men were poisoned by lead, it probably began long before they set sail for what is now the Canadian Arctic.
The mystery, which has inspired Canadian artists from folksinger Stan Rogers to novelist Mordecai Richler, persists.
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton
Study shows heterosexual women prefer well-endowed men
Science has spoken and, yes, gentlemen, size does matter.
A newly published study by a University of Ottawa researcher has concluded penis length exerts a measurable sway on females evaluating potential sexual partners.
“We found that flaccid penis size had a significant influence on male attractiveness,” concludes the study that was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
“Males with a larger penis were rated relatively more attractive.”
Biologist Brian Mautz said he came to the study through curiosity over the evolution of male genitalia. Compared to other male primates, human endowment is generous.
“This observation has generated suggestions by evolutionary biologists that the comparatively larger human penis evolved under premating sexual selection,” says his paper. “Novels, magazines and popular articles often allude to the existence of a relationship between penis size and sexual attractiveness or masculinity.”
Nor is the effect limited to pop culture.
“Another project I was on, looking at female preferences in genital size in fish, showed that females actually do discriminate in males before copulation even begins,” Mautz said. “That potentially influences genital evolution.”
Previous studies have attempted to discern what women like by, for example, asking them to choose between a series of drawings of men that vary only in the size of the anatomy in question. Mautz believes those conclusions are probably limited by self-censorship.
“When you directly ask someone about a sensitive topic, you’re likely to get some bias in responses,” he said. “Penis size isn’t supposed to matter.”
His study tried to mask its intent by introducing three variations on male appearance: body shape (shoulder-to-hip ratio), height and penis size. Those variables were presented in seven gradients, small to large, and intermixed until there were 343 combinations.
Each variation was represented in a computer-generated, life-sized picture of a naked male, which could be rotated to allow an examination of the image in profile. A study group of 105 heterosexual women were then asked which picture they found most sexually attractive.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they preferred men who were tall, long and V-shaped. Overall, body shape accounted for about 80 per cent of the variation in attractiveness scores, penis size about six per cent and height about five per cent.
“The finding suggests that selection on penis size is potentially as strong as selection on stature.”
That finding was reinforced by slower response times for some pictures.
“We found a significantly positive, albeit small, correlation between penis size and response time,” the study says. “This finding is consistent with a pattern in adults whereby attractive stimuli are viewed for longer periods.”
That attraction, however, wasn’t a simple formula of bigger is better.
“Attractiveness increases rapidly until you reach around average for each of the three traits,” said Mautz. “Then, although the attractiveness continues to increase, it doesn’t increase as much.”
What was truly interesting was the interaction between the three traits, Mautz said.
“If you look at how penis size interacts with male height, it has a differential effect at the lower height sizes. Take the tall men — you get a really big impact (in attractiveness) of how large your penis is relative to your height.
“An increase in penis size if you’re of average height does influence your attractiveness. It doesn’t do quite as much as it does at the upper end of the height spectrum.
“If you’re short, it doesn’t matter what size your penis is.”
Statistically, 185-cm tall men get about twice the boost in attractiveness that their 165-cm friends do as length increases from six to 10 cm.
If that doesn’t seem fair, Mautz hastens to point out his study only considered three male traits.
Characteristics such as musculature — not to mention a pleasant smile or great hair — were not considered.
Still, he said, his results do suggest that male gentalia factor into sexual selection and are therefore subject to evolutionary pressure.
“It shows that females can exert a choice and influence genital evolution, which is a relatively understudied area.”
His conclusions also have considerable intrinsic interest.
“You’re my first interview,” Mautz told The Canadian Press. “I’m watching emails roll into my account as we speak.”
Student articles contain errors
A recent dust-up between Wikipedia and Canada’s largest university raises questions about how collaborative the popular website that bills itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” truly is.
The online information portal recently took a professor from the University of Toronto to task for one of his classroom assignments.
Steve Joordens urged the 1,900 students in his introductory psychology class to start adding content to relevant Wikipedia pages. The assignment was voluntary, and Joordens hoped the process would both enhance Wikipedia’s body of work on psychology while teaching students about the scientist’s responsibility to share knowledge.
But Joordens’s plan backfired when the relatively small contingent of volunteer editors that curate the website’s content began sounding alarm bells. They raised concerns about the sheer number of contributions pouring in from people who were not necessarily well-versed in the topic or adept at citing their research.
Employment drops in six of 10 provinces
Canada experienced the worst jobs performance in almost four years last month as 54,500 full time, private sector positions disappeared — an unexpectedly big drop that erased a gain in February.
The loss was the biggest since February 2009, and along with a small retreat in the number of Canadians looking for work, helped lift the unemployment rate two-tenths of a point to 7.2 per cent.
Economists had expected a weak March to even out the above-trend gains of February, but few saw such massive bleeding, leaving the country with about 26,000 fewer jobs than at the beginning of the year.
To make matters worse, all the pay-back was in the full-time category.
The losses in the economically important private sector were mammoth — with 85,400 workers joining the ranks of the unemployed.
Adweek calls it “fail of the day”
As billboards go, it’s as bland as they come, featuring only a few lines of text and a photo of three guys in suits.
It’s what the billboard on a major commuter route in Halifax doesn’t show that has some people so riled up.
The advertisement on Barrington Street is for Mount Saint Vincent University’s bid to raise money for its Women’s Wall of Honour, to be erected outside a new research building by December 2014.
The absence of women in the ad has prompted a spirited debate in social media circles and criticism from abroad.
A website headline from New York-based Adweek magazine reads: “Idiotic billboard celebrating women shows three grinning dudes in suits.” The website goes on to describe the advertisement as the “billboard fail of the day.”