As if he couldn’t already open every door in The 6.
Not only was Drake gifted the key to the city on Friday night — “the highest honour” Toronto can bestow, in the words of Mayor John Tory — but after embracing the chief magistrate at Ricoh Coliseum’s centre court, the bearded hip-hop auteur coached a cohort of Canadian and kind-of-Canadian celebrities (former Raptor Tracy McGrady, for instance) to victory in the NBA all-star celebrity game.
It was essentially a coronation to the tune of Hotline Bling.
Final score: Canada 74, United States 64.
“We had a team that was in high spirits,” Drake said. “It was a team effort.”
The game featured some surprisingly good shooting from the likes of Jason Sudeikis, the actor, and the Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott. McGrady, who is six-foot-eight, got some laughs guarding diminutive U.S. coach Kevin Hart after he entered the game to music from the Rocky franchise in the third quarter. Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic, who said post-game that his only basketball experience was “playing pickup” with friends, surprised fans with a dunk, which basically blew the lid off the place.
“Great strategy, great motivator,” McGrady said of Drake. “It was like (legendary NBA coach) Gregg Popovich.”
The game MVP, though, was Win Butler of Arcade Fire fame. “If you guys want to fast-track my Canadian citizenship, maybe this can help,” joked Butler, who is originally from Texas.
“Respect to Drake. Respect to Team Canada.”
It really was, in the end, Drake’s night. The rapper paced the sidelines, channeling his inner Dwane Casey with clipboard in hand. And during the game, it was announced that he will introduce the players before the marquee NBA all-star matchup on Sunday night.
“This is one of the greatest moments of my life, if not the greatest,” said Drake before the game on Friday, when Mayor Tory opened a wooden box and gave him the golden key to the city. “I will never stop loving this city. I will never stop representing this city.”
Of course, Drake, a.k.a. Aubrey Drake Graham, was already one of the focal points of the all-star weekend. The musical staple of millennial Toronto is credited with bringing some cool credibility to the Raptors franchise. Named the team’s global ambassador in 2013 — effectively a living, breathing, rhyming mascot paid for his influence on legions of fans — the rapper is frequently seen lounging in his courtside seat at the Air Canada Centre, just at the end of the home team’s bench.
But on Friday, his status as a civic hero was cemented at the offset of a weekend where the basketball world is centred on “The 6.”
He called Toronto a “cultural mosaic” and said being given the key has inspired him to be a role model for youth in Toronto.
Speaking with the Star after the key presentation, Mayor Tory — whom Drake called “my man J.T.” — said he had a meeting with Drake at his office this week, where the rapper agreed to work to “inspire” the youth of the city.
“I think it’s going to be a very powerful thing for us to have him on our team, actively city building and actively inspiring kids and doing what he does so well,” Tory said.
As for the weekend generally, Tory said he’s looking forward to showing off what Toronto has to offer. “I think they’re going to see that there’s something special about this place in terms of how we embrace diversity and how we have somebody like that (Drake) and how he embraces us . . . even though it’s a little cold.”
All-star weekend in Toronto may have hit its peak Canadian-ness before 11 a.m. on Friday morning.
Andrew Wiggins sat on a chair in the mixed zone at Ricoh Coliseum, where a steel gate separated him from a small but tightly packed group of reporters all tasked with getting the soon-to-be 21-year-old to open up about his role in Friday night’s Rising Stars game.
Wiggins, like fellow Canadians Trey Lyles (Utah Jazz, Saskatoon) and Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks, Toronto) received a huge ovation from the crowd at the Air Canada Centre when he was introduced and quickly went to work. He finished with 29 points, one fewer than New York rookie Kristaps Porzingis, Denver rookie Emmanuel Mudiay and Zach LaVine, the game MVP and Wiggins’ teammate with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The U.S. defeated Wiggins’ Team World 157-154.
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The reigning rookie of the year is the face of the incredibly bright future of basketball in this country and for the Timberwolves, who had Wiggins, defending dunk champ LaVine and this season’s top rookie lock Karl-Anthony Towns taking part in Friday’s game.
The challenge for the group of reporters, who apologized profusely as they drove their elbows and camera equipment into each other as they leaned in to catch what Wiggins was saying, is that he doesn’t say a whole lot. At least not yet, anyway.
Wiggins emerged on the radar of Canadian basketball fans and college scouts alike around the time he was 14 years old. The amount of reporters in front of him has varied over the years, but the exchanges have often been very similar. It’s cordial, but not exactly rewarding.
“It’s great, it’s a good feeling to be back home, playing for my family and friends,” he said of his return to Toronto.
He bristled at the idea of trash talk existing between himself and LaVine and Towns, both of whom were playing for Team USA on Friday night. Pressed on topics like bragging rights, Wiggins, who won the MVP in the event last year with a 22-point effort, smiled a tiny bit.
“I don’t think they’re going to win, but we’ll see,” he said. “Hopefully we’re all (winning). My team wins (on Friday night), Zach wins the dunk contest and it’ll all be all right.”
It’s here, with Wiggins still trying to be inclusive, that things got all maple syrupy.
“You’re so Canadian,” a reporter actually said to Wiggins. “So nice.”
“I try, I try. Thank you,” Wiggins replied.
Had a Mountie passed by on a horse, the exchange could have ventured into Heritage Minutes territory.
Some athletes, especially those who have been under the scrutiny Wiggins has in his development, build up a wall with the media or they find the forced nature of the interaction too much to humour. Wiggins can’t be this quiet all the time, can he?
“He’s not as quiet,” said Powell, who has known Wiggins from the time his star started to rise and who played with him last summer for the national team. “He’s still a funny guy, he’s still one of the guys, especially when you get him around the team, he’ll open up. But he doesn’t waste words.”
Having spent the last 54 games together in Minnesota, Towns thinks highly of Wiggins, who leads the team with 20 points per game.
“He’s the pinnacle of a teammate. He thinks of all of us first before himself,” Towns said. “He’s everything. He’s everything to us. His personality shines with us and it’s one of those things where the aura goes up when he’s in the gym because of his energy, his positivity.”
The chant of Wiggins’ name as the game wound down switched to M-V-P as he shot free-throws in the final minute of the game. He was 13-for-15 from the floor, playing a controlled game when many would have sought the MVP or a 50-point night.
“He doesn’t have a big head, doesn’t have the crazy ego that you might expect from a player of his calibre,” Powell said. “He’s just a nice, humble Canadian kid that is willing to work and loves the game.”
LaVine called Wiggins a rock star after the game and said that Toronto was his teammate’s city.
“You definitely get used to it,” Wiggins said of the attention he has commanded over the last few years. “I see it all the time, get the same questions.”
He’s happy to be back in Toronto, though he admitted Friday morning there was disappointment he’s not playing Sunday. He has improved from last year, and with Towns creating havoc in the paint for the T-Wolves, Wiggins won’t have to carry the load for the team as it grows and moves forward. Both young players could be in the all-star game next year in Charlotte.
“(Not being an all-star is) motivation to try and see myself in the game next year,” Wiggins said.
When is a ceasefire not quite a ceasefire? When it is a “cessation of hostilities,” intended to make the deadliest of the big guns go quiet long enough to enable crucial humanitarian relief, even as small-arms fire continues.
And when is a “cessation” not really even that? When it is timed — time-bombed, some would say — to begin not now but one week down the road. One more hellish week, peppered with enough Russian airstrikes to hand Syrian President Bashar Assad a defining victory against regime rebels after five brutal years of bloodshed.
That is the bluff in play since late Thursday, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry teased a truce pledge from his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, after marathon talks in Munich.
Is such a deeply flawed ceasefire plan worth the paper it’s written on, even, when the morning after brings worse than the night before? When Syrians awaken not just to more Russian airstrikes, but new pronouncements from an emboldened Assad, vowing to press onward and retake the whole of the country?
It is. Barely, perhaps. But signatures come with expectations — and blame for those that fail to deliver. As one senior French diplomat told Reuters, the Russians now “are taking a political risk because they are … committing to a cessation of hostilities. If in a week there is no change because of their bombing, then they will bear responsibility.”
Syria’s map has tilted profoundly in Assad’s favour since Russia engaged fully four months ago, with the regime now positioned to lay siege to Aleppo — the country’s largest city before the war. The greater goal, Assad has made clear, is to sever rebel supply lines from Turkey, completing a chokehold on the fragmented and demoralized antiregime fighters.
The pace of the offensive in the north and its impact on innocent Syrians has frustrated aid groups that are sounding new alarms and demanding humanitarian access starting now, not next week.
“Waiting one week to act could result in massive civilian casualties and immense numbers of displaced people with no chance of returning home,” CARE International said in a statement Friday.
“International powers and warring parties must make good on these promises. Otherwise, what appears to be a step towards peace could only intensify suffering.”
As the diplomatic stakes spiral higher in the coming days, the 17-member International Syria Support Group, including Russia and Iran, is expecting to map out the mechanics of aid delivery. World Vision, Canada’s largest international aid agency, is calling for emphasis on aid to children and families, “particularly the 400,000 people living in besieged and hard-to-reach communities.”
Some of the assistance is likely to be dropped by air. But ground delivery to remote areas, though subject to enormously delicate negotiation, is in fact possible, as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent demonstrated recently.
Two weeks ago, the ICRC’s Syria chief, Marianne Gasser, was able to write from the war-starved city of Madaya, where “the only light came from the phones we carried; there had not been electricity for months.”
The convoy’s arrival was a triumph — the result of months of “tortuous negotiations” in which Assad’s forces agreed to lift the siege and allow relief as long as opposition groups answered in kind, simultaneously allowing aid into the rebel-besieged northern towns of Foua and Kefraya.
“This system was so strictly followed that when one truck got stuck in the mud in the north, the trucks in the south could not move until it was freed,” Gasser wrote.
“No food could be delivered to one town until it was shown — via photos on WhatsApp — that the same food was being delivered to the other side. Aid by synchronization. This is not the way to run relief operations.”
Nor is the agreement struck in Munich any way to strike ceasefires. But in the absence of anything better, it’s what we have. A half-step.
A week from now, we’ll know what — if anything — it’s worth.
OTTAWA—The Liberal government should implement prison-based needle and syringe programs to address rates of HIV and hepatitis C estimated to be 10 to 30 times higher than in the general population, proponents say.
Emily van der Meulen of Ryerson University, the lead author of a recent study, said she wants to see the government review evidence on the effectiveness of programs that have operated in countries like Switzerland for more than 20 years.
“I’m hopeful that the government will look to this evidence, as well as to our recent research report,” she said.
The issue is about health and human rights, she noted, adding that prisons where such programs have been implemented have seen substantial benefits, including reduced rates of needle-sharing and overdoses.
It would also be cost-effective, she said.
“The costs associated with HIV and hepatitis C virus are very high in prison — roughly $30,000 per year for HIV treatment and about $60,000 for hepatitis C,” she said.
“Research has shown that needle and syringe programs are among the most cost-effective health measures for people who use drugs, whether in the community or in prison.”
Canada lags behind on implementing such programs, said Sandra Ka Hon Chu of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
“We have the resources in Canada to implement these programs,” she said.
“We have the evidence in Canada to implement these programs. There are many groups across the country who support these programs.”
As the implementation push continues, the issue is playing out in court.
A former prisoner, along with organizations including the HIV/AIDS legal network, filed a lawsuit against the government in September 2012 because it did not make needles and syringes available in prison to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, prison watchdog Howard Sapers said his office has previously recommended that the Correctional Service of Canada explore all harm-reduction options, including needle-exchange programs.
There are particular issues related to incarceration that accelerate the spread of infectious diseases, especially those that are blood-borne, Sapers said.
“You have a high density of people living in fairly confined spaces. You also have contraband drug use, often injectable drug use. You have prison tattooing and you also have sexual contact. All of these activities really increase the chances of spreading disease and we see that manifest in things like HIV rates, which are much higher inside an institution than they are in the community outside the institution, and hepatitis rates.”
In a statement on Friday, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government cannot comment on the prison-based needle exchange and syringe issue due to the ongoing litigation.
The government is committed to implementing evidence-based policies, said press secretary Scott Bardsley.
The minister has also been mandated to address gaps in services to indigenous peoples and those suffering from mental illnesses in the criminal justice system, including the often-interrelated issue of addictions, he said.
Aboriginal women were identified as a particularly high-risk group because they reported the highest rates of HIV and hepatitis C infections, according to a 2007 study by the Correctional Service of Canada.
VANCOUVER—As the Maple Leafs and Canucks held practice here in anticipation of their Saturday night matchup, nobody was pretending there was a classic in the offing.
The Maple Leafs, after all, are in sole possession of last place in the NHL. They’ve been lit up for nine goals against in two games since trading away captain Dion Phaneuf. And a handful of their most experienced players have been injured, among them centreman Nazem Kadri, who said on Friday he’s “day to day” with an alleged lower-body injury.
“I’m going to wake up (Saturday) morning and see how I feel,” Kadri said.
You get the sense plenty of Leaf fans wouldn’t mind being woken up when it’s time for the draft lottery. And as for the Canucks, well, it can’t be a comfort to hockey-loving patriots that this injury-depleted team still led by the 35-year-old Sedin twins is shaping up to be a nation’s best hope at avoiding a Stanley Cup tournament without a Canadian entry.
Still, the Maple Leafs and Canucks are living in very different circumstances with very little in common. Hardly ancient rivals, they don’t play often enough be hated foes. One would be at pains to spin a storyline of acrimony — except for maybe one.
There is an annual source of resentment in the Terminal City when the Leafs make their lone visit to Rogers Arena. It’s aimed at the start time: 4 p.m. local.
It’s a time clearly geared toward the GTA television audience, and based on pure economics. As the heart of Canada’s largest population base, southern Ontario harbours a vast audience sponsors pay maximum dollars to reach. Yet as sensible as that sounds, it doesn’t stop some West Coasters from harbouring ill feelings. What’s prime time in Toronto, after all, isn’t prime time here.
As Ray Ferraro, the NHL alumnus and Vancouver-area resident, was saying on Toronto-based TSN Radio on Friday: “(Some Vancouver fans) seem to think (the 4 p.m. start time is) a sign of disrespect.”
Chris Tanev, the Canucks defenceman who grew up in Toronto, said he has picked up on the negative vibes that emanate from this issue.
“I know a lot of people from Vancouver don’t really like Toronto,” Tanev said. “So that could be part of it.”
Another part of it, perhaps, is that Maple Leafs games in Vancouver — like Maple Leafs games in a lot of cities — sometimes feel like home games for the visitors. Thanks to their century-old heritage and long-ago hey-day, the Leafs boast a fan-base that’s well-dispersed geographically. Even in their current tattered state, the Leafs drew rousing support in Thursday night’s 5-2 loss in Edmonton, where chants of “Go Leafs Go!” went back and forth with “Let’s Go Oilers!”
Heck, even GTA-bred Oilers star Connor McDavid, on the night he torched the visitors for five points, admitted to getting “chills” seeing the hallowed blue and white crest worn by his childhood heroes warming up on the other side of the red line. Never mind that some of those crests currently are being worn by not-yet legends like Martin Marincin and Mark Arcobello.
For non-Leaf fans, this vein of undeserved veneration — the cheering for laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld pegged it — can get annoying. And there’s always political hay to be made by tapping into the anti-Big Smoke sentiment. It was just last season that Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, trolled Leafs Nation on social media when Toronto’s home ice was pelted with blue and white sweaters and the Leafs made public a threat that jersey-throwing fans could be subject to arrest.
“About time. Most Canadians would rather be arrested than put on that jersey,” read a message posted on Clark’s Twitter account.
Even Leafs goaltender James Reimer, the nicest man on the planet by many estimates, says he has observed the mostly playful antagonism.
“Everybody always mocks that Toronto is the centre of the universe. So it’s things like that — that we have to have a 4 o’clock start so things work out for the Torontonians — that (fuel) it,” said Reimer, who hails from rural Manitoba and summers in Kelowna, B.C. “I don’t know if you want to call it a resentment or a good-natured (rivalry), but if you’re in the West you hate Toronto, and if you’re in Toronto, you hate the West.”
Whether the feeling goes both ways is a point of debate. Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, a Vancouverite by birth, said he regularly absorbs verbal barbs when he comes home for the off-season.
“It usually starts with ‘Toronto stinks,’ or something, and I’ll just ignore it. And then usually it just keeps coming,” said Rielly, who notes nobody in Toronto gives him a hard time about being from Vancouver.
“Maybe Vancouver is Toronto’s little brother,” Rielly said. “I have no problem saying it. I love Toronto. And I love it here.”
What’s not to love? When the teams emerged from practice at Rogers Arena on Friday they found the sun shining and the temperature reaching toward 13C. Someone made reference to it being late afternoon and sub-zero in Toronto. Someone else laughed.
And the hockey people sped off toward a horizon framed by snow-capped mountains and warm daylight.
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