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Canadian Elite Basketball League targeting big cities for possible expansion

Richard Petko went from rebuilding a town to starting a professional basketball league and somehow it seems like a natural progression. 

The Canadian real estate developer and his business partner, Michael Skrtich, were renovating store fronts and constructing an apartment complex as part of a facade improvement incentive program in Thorold, Ont., when they also saw an opportunity to bring a sports team to nearby St. Catharines.

From 2015-18, the Niagara River Lions operated out of the Meridian Centre as a member of the National Basketball League of Canada. Petko, 49, eventually grew frustrated with what he viewed as a poor business model and decided to branch out on his own to form the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

The CEBL head office is part of the new look in Thorold and has established a presence in the community as opposed to being “cocooned off in some ivory tower somewhere” such as downtown Toronto, Petko said.

Petko and CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale — a former CFL player — instituted six teams for the inaugural season in 2019: Fraser Valley, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Guelph, Hamilton and the River Lions, who Petko brought to the CEBL after his three-year commitment to the NBL-C expired.

The Ottawa BlackJacks were added ahead of the 2020 campaign, which ultimately became a tournament played without fans at the Meridian Centre. 

The CEBL has made it known they would like to expand further and are now keen to enter more big markets.

“There was always that kind of idea you could have a league in junior hockey league cities,” Petko said. “I don’t think that can work. To be big-time, to get good players, to get proper media you have to be basically where the CFL is, at least at a minimum.”

To that effect, Petko suggests that locations such as Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, and Quebec City would be ideal. However, he emphasizes that they want to partner with groups with sports and entertainment experience and all the infrastructure in place to run a team.

“Those are the best partners to have. Not just some rich person or five people that want to do it as a fun thing to do,” Petko said. “I’ve come from that when it comes to the NBL-C and I’ve seen that it doesn’t work.

“It took three or four years of running the River Lions to learn how to run a basketball team and we don’t have the time and we don’t need to go through that  — starting something and to have an owner learn for three or four years when there are groups out there ready to run.”

WATCH | Stingers crowned Summer Series champions:

Peter Ruttgaizer and Joe Raso break down Edmonton’s 90-73 win over Fraser Valley in the CEBL Summer Series championship game. 2:03

This past summer, the league was forced to pivot from the format of a season that spans from May to August, played in front of spectators in its regional markets. Instead, the Summer Series featured 26 games over a two-week period, with some of those contests appearing nationally on CBC television.

The league is hoping to return to its regional model next season. A schedule is expected to be released early in the new year, but likely without any additional teams as Petko says groups are “kicking our tires” and waiting a year to see how things play out post-pandemic.

‘This isn’t a charitable organization’

Whille the league is approaching a break-even point, Petko is direct in stating what he set out to achieve.

“If money isn’t made, this league will end up in the dustbin of history,” he said. “This isn’t a charitable organization, this isn’t something that [I’m] going to throw a few million a year into a bucket just so there can be a professional league in Canada for the next 20, 30 years. 

“It has to become part of the sports culture and that doesn’t happen unless you make money. It’s what came first, the chicken or the egg. I guess in this case, the league came before the profits but without profits, there will be no league.”

Following what was widely regarded as a successful tournament, the league remained in the news cycle with the hiring of former Canadian national team members Jevohn Shepherd and Andy Rautins as general manager and assistant general manager, respectively, by the Ottawa franchise.

Shepherd and Rautins, both 34, were each looking for an opportunity to transition from their professional playing days, something Morreale can relate to.

“When I look at Andy or Jevohn, it’s funny because it somewhat mirrors my personal experience which was playing professional sports until I was 36 and then wondering what the heck am I going to do next,” said Morreale, now 49. “My opportunity came with the [CFL] players’ association within a month or two of retiring and that led me on my path to where I am now.

“So part of [our] developmental process is getting people who are willing and able to work hard, have passion, that understand what the CEBL is all about, that put aside their selfish ways and then selflessly do their part to help grow the sport.”

New chapter

This time last year, Rautins was preparing to embark on one of the best opportunities of his career.

A star at Syracuse University and drafted by the New York Knicks in 2010, the shooting guard would likely still be draining three pointers for Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos if it weren’t for the abrupt end to the season and what he described as dangerous conditions as teams continue to travel around Europe on commercial flights. 

“It was a short-lived experience, but I think ultimately the league made the right decisions. The cases were starting to get a little bit out of control at that point,” said Rautins, who returned home three days after the EuroLeague pressed the pause button in March.

Though he hasn’t ruled out a return to the court, Rautins now turns his attention to the city where he put down his roots with the national team more than a decade ago.

“The fact that it was Ottawa, the [team] president, and that I have the opportunity to work with Jevohn is a no-brainer for me,” said Rautins. “It’s going to be a special thing that we’re going to try to build in Ottawa.”

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Civilians fleeing, dying as UN charges Syria and Russia are deliberately targeting them

Government air strikes have hit hospitals and refugee camps in northwest Syria and killed about 300 civilians as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces press an assault against the last rebel stronghold, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

UN officials said relief agencies were overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis as nearly one million civilians, most of them women and children, had fled toward the Turkish border in bitter winter conditions to escape the onslaught.

“Civilians fleeing the fighting are being squeezed into areas without safe shelter that are shrinking in size by the hour. And still they are bombed. They simply have nowhere to go,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said.

Syrian and Russian warplanes meanwhile kept up raids on the town of Darat Izza in Aleppo province on Tuesday, witnesses said, a day after two hospitals there were badly damaged.

At Al Kinana Hospital, blown-out walls and dust-covered medical cables and supplies were strewn about the hospital after two staff were wounded on Monday, witnesses said.


A baby sleeps outside a tent at a makeshift camp in Qatmah village, West of Azaz, Syria. At least seven children, including a baby, have died in freezing temperatures in recent days. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Ankara said talks with Moscow on Idlib were “not satisfactory” and Turkey would deploy more troops to the region.

Turkish and Russian officials held a second day of talks in Moscow with no apparent agreement on Idlib, where the latest push by Russian-backed Syrian government forces has killed several Turkish troops.

Russia said both sides restated their commitment to existing agreements aimed at reducing tension in Idlib. A statement did not mention Turkey’s demand for Syrian government forces to pull back.

Turkey says it cannot cope with a new refugee influx in addition to the 3.6 million Syrian refugees already stranded inside its borders.

Appearing on national television on Monday, Assad said the rapid military gains presaged the eventual defeat of the nine-year-old insurgency against him although it could still take time. The rebel factions include Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist militants.

Possible war crimes being committed

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville, asked if Syria and Russia were deliberately targeting civilians and protected buildings, said: “The sheer quantity of attacks on hospitals, medical facilities and schools would suggest they cannot all be accidental.”

The attacks could constitute war crimes, Colville told a briefing in Geneva.

The UN human rights office said it had recorded 299 civilian deaths since Jan. 1, about 93 per cent caused by the Syrian government and its allies.


Internally displaced children warm themselves around a fire. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

The swift advance of government troops, backed by Russian air strikes, through northwest Syria has caused the biggest displacement of the war as people flee toward a shrinking pocket near the Turkish frontier where insurgents hold their last strongholds.

7 children dead

A UN spokesperson, David Swanson, said close to 900,000 people have fled conflict zones in Idlib province and western Aleppo since December, more than 80 per cent of them women and children.

Many have been unable to find shelter and are sleeping outside in freezing temperatures, burning plastic to stay warm and at risk of disease and death.

“Only half of all the health facilities in the northwest are still functioning now,” Swanson said.

Hurras Network, a Save the Children partner in Idlib, said seven children, including a seven-month-old baby, had died from freezing temperatures and bleak conditions in displaced persons camps.

About 525,000 children are among those trapped, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

Syrian army claims full control in Aleppo countryside

The Syrian army said on Monday it had taken full control of dozens of towns in the Aleppo countryside.

The M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo, the focus of recent fighting, was re-opened to civilian traffic on Tuesday after government forces recaptured it last week, the Syrian Observatory war monitoring group reported.

The opposition said air strikes in southern areas of Idlib province had left dozens of towns and villages in ruins in what it called a “scorched earth policy.”

The Russian and Turkish delegations meeting in Moscow were trying to reconcile their differences over Idlib, which have raised questions over the durability of their co-operation.

Turkey has sent thousands of troops and convoys of military equipment to reinforce its observation posts in Idlib, established under a 2018 de-escalation agreement with Russia.

Moscow has accused Turkey of flouting their agreements and failing to rein in militants it said were attacking Syrian and Russian forces.

In one positive note, Turkish and Russian troops have restarted joint patrols near the border that had been halted since October, a Russian defence ministry official said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said WHO was sending essential medicines and supplies across the border, including trauma kits for Idlib.

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Knicks reportedly targeting Raptors’ Masai Ujiri after firing president Steve Mills

The New York Knicks fired team president Steve Mills on Tuesday, shaking up the front office just two days before the NBA’s trade deadline.

General manager Scott Perry will take over control of the basketball operations, with the team announcing that it would begin an immediate search for a new president.

Mills has held a number of titles at Madison Square Garden since 1999, where he came after spending 16 years at the NBA. But this was the first time his role included full control of basketball decisions, and now MSG executive chairman James Dolan will look for someone else to do it.

There was immediate speculation that the next big name that would draw his interest was Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who built Toronto’s NBA championship team.


After the Raptors won the NBA title for the first time in the franchise’s 24-year history with a six-game victory over Golden State, Ujiri said his roots are in Toronto.

Reports also surfaced last June that the Washington Wizards were preparing a lucrative offer to lure Ujiri out of Toronto.

Ujiri’s wife is from Washington, and the Wizards were reportedly offering an ownership stake in the team.


Another losing season

The native of Zaria, Nigeria called other teams expressing interest in him a “blessing,” but said he is happy in Toronto, has been able to grow with the Raptors and his two kids are Canadian.

The Knicks are 15-36 this season, Mills’ third in charge after replacing Phil Jackson. They were 17-65 last season, tying the worst record in franchise history, but believed a big summer could lead to a quick improvement.

However, they couldn’t sign any of the top free agents despite having enough money to afford two of them, watching as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving instead went to Brooklyn. Mills then pivoted to sign veteran players to short-term contracts, later insisting those were the players New York was targeting all along.

But instead the Knicks are headed for a seventh consecutive season with a losing record and no playoff appearance.

Now it will be up to Perry to decide if there are any moves worth making for the Knicks before Thursday. Their big trade from last season appears to be a failure: Kristaps Porzingis has helped spark a turnaround in Dallas after New York traded its former all-star there on Jan. 31, 2019.

Laughingstock

Mills was the Knicks’ general manager from 2013-17 before being elevated to president after Jackson’s departure. He hired Perry and Fizdale, touting a new culture and a plan to rebuild the franchise through youth instead of seeking quick fixes.

But there haven’t been any fixes at all.

Pressure shifted onto Mills after Fizdale was fired following a 4-18 start to his second season. The Knicks have played better under interim coach Mike Miller and won their last two games, but the organization remains one of the league’s laughingstocks.

New York was blown out at home by Memphis last Wednesday in its most recent home game, when point guard Elfrid Payton was suspended and forward Marcus Morris fined for their roles in an altercation late in the game. Fans chanted “Sell the team! Sell the team!” with Dolan sitting in his courtside seat.

Dolan decided on a different change.

The Knicks said it was anticipated that Mills would be nominated to the board of MSG’s standalone sports company.

“Steve and I have come to the decision that it would be best for him to leave his role as president of the New York Knicks,” Dolan said. “We thank Steve for his many years of service to our organization and look forward to continuing our relationship with him as part of our board.”

“I will always be grateful to Jim for giving me the chance to represent this franchise and I’m disappointed we were unable to achieve success for New York,” Mills said. “I would like to thank the staff and the players for their hard work during my tenure. I will always be a Knicks fan.”

Mills’ firing is the second major change for the Knicks this season. They fired coach David Fizdale after just 22 games.

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Iran’s foreign minister says U.S. targeting of cultural sites would be ‘a war crime’

Iranian senior ministers responded Sunday to Donald Trump’s threat to bomb 52 sites in Iran, saying the attacks would be a “war crime” and comparing the U.S. president to Hitler and Genghis Khan.

Trump on Saturday threatened to bomb 52 Iranian sites, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates by attacking Americans.

The comments came after Iran promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on Friday.

Trump wrote on Twitter that the U.S. had already “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

He did not identify the targets but added that they would be “hit very fast and very hard.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that any target the U.S. military may strike in Iran, in the event Iran retaliates, would be legal under the laws of armed conflict.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Sunday morning that the Trump administration had already “committed grave breaches of (international) law” and that “targeting cultural sites is a war crime.”


His colleague, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, replied to Trump’s tweets shortly after, saying that “like ISIS, like Hitler, like Genghis (Khan),” the U.S. president hated culture.

“Trump is a ‘terrorist’ in a suit’,” he added.


Iranians across all political lines were shocked by the death of Soleimani, a commander widely seen as a pillar of the Islamic Republic.

Retaliation could potentially come through the proxy forces Soleimani oversaw as the head of an elite unit within the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Soleimani’s longtime deputy Esmail Ghaani already has taken over as the Quds Force’s commander.

Late Saturday, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

The 1954 Hague Convention, of which the US is a party, bars any military from “direct hostilities against cultural property.”

However, such sites can be targeted if they have been re-purposed and turned into a legitimate “military objective,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Iran, home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites, has in the past reportedly guarded the sprawling tomb complex of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with surface-to-air missiles.

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New York latest state to sue e-cigarette maker Juul for allegedly targeting minors

New York has joined the ranks of U.S. states suing the biggest U.S. e-cigarette maker, Juul Labs Inc., saying the company used deceptive marketing practices to reel in young users.

Attorney General Letitia James announced the lawsuit Tuesday against San Francisco-based Juul Labs Inc. It alleges the company contributed to a youth vaping epidemic by using misleading sales tactics on popular social media sites. The suit also alleges that Juul advertising touted e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine, as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

In a written statement, Juul Labs said it had yet to review the lawsuit.

“We remain focused on resetting the vapour category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working co-operatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” it said.

The company previously ended the U.S. advertising campaigns and shut down the social media accounts that are the subject of the lawsuit. It also stopped selling most flavours of its e-cigarettes after complaints that they were aimed at attracting young users — not just smokers looking for an alternative to cigarettes.


New York State Attorney General Letitia James announces a lawsuit by her state against Juul on Tuesday. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

New York’s lawsuit comes one day after California also sued the company for its advertising practices, and six months after North Carolina filed a similar suit. California’s suit further alleges Juul failed to adequately verify the age of its consumers in that state.

“We’ve worked too hard, committed our hard-earned money for too long, combating harmful tobacco use to stand idly by as we now lose Californians to vaping and nicotine addiction,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Monday.

Illinois, Massachusetts and several other states are also investigating Juul, which James said represents 70 per cent of the e-cigarette market.

In the latest U.S. government survey, one in four high school students reported using e-cigarettes the previous month, despite a federal law banning sales to those under 18.

“Juul basically took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook,” James told a news conference at her Manhattan office.

The lawsuit was filed in state court in Manhattan. It requires Juul to stop targeting minors and pay fines for various alleged violations.

The suit comes as health officials have been investigating deaths and illnesses tied to some vaping products. Most who got sick said they vaped products containing THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana. Officials believe a thickening agent used in black-market THC vaping products appears to be a culprit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 42 deaths linked to vaping and 2,172 injuries, according to the federal agency’s latest count. 

In Canada, there have been eight confirmed or probable cases of severe lung illness related to vaping.


A woman walks by a Juul advertisement in a Toronto convenience store. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Juul’s products contain nicotine, not THC, but politicians have used the illnesses and deaths to hammer all e-cigarette makers.

James said the death of a 17-year-old boy in the Bronx, linked to vaping, spurred her to file the lawsuit.

“As a result of all of their advertising, a significant number of young people thought that e-cigarettes were safe,” James said.

She said other companies that produce e-cigarettes may be targeted in the future.

“All individuals who are responsible for the destruction that has been caused in the state of New York, you can be assured this office will pursue those individuals and not be limited to any one particular company,” James said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement saying that “it is undeniable that the vaping industry is using flavoured e-cigarettes to get young people hooked on potentially dangerous and deadly products, and the predatory marketing practices used by these companies have no place in New York.”


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Facebook accuses ‘Putin’s chef,’ wanted in U.S., of targeting users in African countries

Facebook said on Wednesday it had suspended three networks of Russian accounts that attempted to interfere in the domestic politics of eight African countries and were tied to a Russian businessman accused of meddling in past U.S. elections.

The campaigns targeted people in Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya, Facebook said. They used almost 200 fake and compromised accounts to reach more than one million followers in the eight African countries.

All the networks were connected to “entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Facebook said. Prigozhin has previously denied wrongdoing. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest Facebook accusations involving African countries.

Prigozhin has been indicted by U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller as a principal figure behind an alleged Russian “troll farm” accused of trying to sway elections in the United States with covert social media campaigns.

In some of the African countries, the Russian-run networks worked with local citizens to better disguise their origins and target Internet users, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy.

“There’s sort of a joining of forces, if you will, between local actors and actors from Russia,” he told Reuters. “It appears that the local actors who are involved know who is behind the operation.”

Facebook declined to identify which local people or organizations had worked with the accounts or which companies it had connected to the activity and Prigozhin, a catering tycoon nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because of banquets he has organized for the Russian leader.

Ties to Wagner Group alleged

But researchers at Stanford University who worked with Facebook on its investigation said the companies included the Wagner Group — a firm of military contractors that sources have previously told Reuters has carried out clandestine combat missions on the Kremlin’s behalf in Ukraine and Syria.

Reuters reported last year that the group had expanded into economic and diplomatic work in countries including the Central African Republic as part of a push by Russia to increase its influence in Africa.

Russian authorities deny that Wagner contractors carry out their orders and Moscow has repeatedly rejected Western allegations of election meddling. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wagner has no public profile and has never commented about its activities. Prigozhin has denied links to Wagner.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have vowed to step up the fight against political manipulation of their platforms after facing fierce criticism for failing to counter alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Despite the increased scrutiny, U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of the threat posed by Russia and other countries who they say may still attempt to sway the result of next year’s presidential contest.

The campaigns shut down for meddling in Africa had posted about local news and geopolitical issues, as well as sharing content from Russian and local state-controlled media, Facebook said.

Some of the accounts were active as far back as 2014.

They also spent money on advertising, although Facebook estimated the total at less than $ 90,000 US. The paid social media advertising markets in many African countries are still small.

Researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, the research lab at Stanford University, said the networks used a variety of techniques across the different African countries.

Some accounts supported a specific party or candidate, they said, while others backed multiple figures. In other cases, the pages appeared geared towards building support for Wagner activities or Russian deals for natural resources.

In Sudan, said Observatory Research Scholar Shelby Grossman, “the tone has been generally supportive of the government, but not transparently so. It does suggest the strategy is very different across countries.”

The activity marks a shift from the previous alleged efforts by the Internet Research Agency to target U.S. voters, said Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief and now head of the Stanford Internet Observatory.

The “franchise” model of working with local people in target countries makes the activity more difficult to detect, he said, and may have been developed to circumvent a move by Facebook to publish the locations of administrators of some political accounts.

The action over the African countries was Facebook’s second move against groups it linked to Prigozhin in a week. Last week, Facebook said it had suspended a network of 50 Instagram accounts it linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, an organization U.S. prosecutors say was funded by Prigozhin to attempt to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.

Putin has been looking to strengthen economic ties and increase exports of military equipment and weapons to the continent, last week hosting dozens of African leaders at a summit in Sochi.

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Health Canada investigating ads for natural health product targeting anxious teens

A new natural health product aimed at teens may be marketing itself as a treatment for anxiety, counter to Health Canada guidelines.

The federal department is investigating the advertising for Veeva Teen, an herbal supplement it approved for sale in April to treat “nervousness and/or restlessness.” Under Health Canada rules the product cannot be marketed as a treatment for anxiety.

Veeva Teen’s promotional materials claim it is the first product of its kind for teens that’s licensed by Health Canada “for the relief of nervousness and agitation due to mental stress … all without any scary side-effects.”

The product’s website had said, “Veeva Teen has been professionally formulated as a powerful blend of botanicals, minerals and vitamins to help teens suffering from anxiety.” The word “anxiety” was removed some time after 6 ET on Friday, and one day after CBC News spoke with Veeva’s founder.

Mental health advocate Erin Kendal, 16, is concerned about the way the product is being marketed and fears teens could find it confusing.

“If Health Canada is saying that they can’t say it’s an anxiety medication, they need to say it in big [letters] that this is not an anxiety medication — otherwise, you’re going to assume that it is,” said Kendal, who works with Jack.org, a nation-wide youth group that works to tackle the stigma around mental health issues.

A screenshot of a section of Veeva’s product page for its Veeva Teen formula. The word ‘anxiety’ appears four times. (veeva.ca/teenformula)

 

In an email to CBC News, Health Canada said it “approved specific claims for this product, including ‘to help relieve nervousness and/or restlessness’ but not to help relieve anxiety.”

It said it is looking into Veeva Teen and will ask the company to take corrective action if it finds any non-compliance.

‘I think it’s confusing’

The founder of B.C.-based Veeva Inc., Alain Roy, said the language on the bottle was approved by Health Canada and that he will follow any recommendations made by the agency.

“What’s on the label is a copy/paste job of what’s on the licence,” Roy said from a natural health store and pharmacy in Vancouver.

But Roy acknowledges some news releases for the product specifically mention anxiety studies. He says he thinks the public will be able to make the distinction.

Alain Roy, founder and president of Veeva, says the company’s adult products sparked demand for a product for teens.

 

“‘Nervousness’ is a term that should be clear to a lot of people, I think, and ‘restlessness’ and ‘agitation’ and ‘mental stress.’ I think people know what these words mean,” said Roy. “Will they think that therefore it’s a product for anxiety? I don’t know, but that’s not what it’s for.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Melanie Badali, of Vancouver, isn’t so sure.

“I think it’s confusing,” Badali said. “This is what I do: I’m a clinician. I do research. And I’ll say I’m nervous when I’m anxious — I will often use those terms interchangeably.”

‘We’re not licensed doctors’

Kendal thinks most teens won’t be able to distinguish between anxiety and the symptoms Veeva Teen says it can help.

“What I don’t love is that it does seem to be promoted as almost like a magic drug fix,” Kendal said.

“Their website, you know, it’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s ‘Hey! This is going to help you. This is gonna make you feel better.’ But I personally don’t like the way that it’s advertised.”

WATCH: Erin Kendal says there isn’t enough information about Veeva Teen

Erin Kendal, 16, says there is not enough information available about Veeva Teen mental health supplement for teenagers 0:45

Kendal has been on prescription medication since she was 13 and says she worries that there haven’t been any clinical trials to support Veeva Teen’s claims — something Health Canada does not require for natural health products.

Kendal is also concerned there isn’t enough information about the scientific basis for the product’s claims, or about how it may interact with other medications.

Roy said he doesn’t have any data on how Veeva Teen might interact with other medications.

“When people ask us those questions, we tell them that they have to check with their health care professional,” he said. “We’re not licensed therapists or licensed doctors.”

Dr. Melanie Badali says anxiety is normal and even necessary at times, and it’s important for teens to develop ways to deal with it.

 

Roy has worked in the natural products industry for decades. He says was inspired to create natural products specifically for mental health after his mother’s suicide in 2012.

His company sells 10 other natural health products that Health Canada has licensed to help with a range of issues, like improving sleep or lowering stress.

Veeva launched the product aimed at teens in late August to coincide with the start of the school year.

Roy said Veeva Teen’s claims are based on Health Canada’s publicly accessible online  “monographs” for ingredients, which outline information on risks and directions of use.

“We developed it with the science that Health Canada gives us,” Roy said.

The company’s adult supplement is permitted to say it helps with anxiety because it has a different formula.

Regulation of natural health products ‘faulty’

The ingredients in Veeva Teen may be on Health Canada’s approved list, but the bigger issue is the agency’s approach to regulating natural health products, says Tim Caulfield, research director at the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute.

“I don’t think that people should take comfort in the fact that Health Canada is merely looking into this, because the entire regulatory regime is faulty,” Caulfield said.

“Just because it’s an herb doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe and effective,” he said. “This is the naturalistic fallacy that is so often associated with these kinds of products.”

Caulfield worries about the message a natural supplement in pill form is sending to nervous teens.

“I kind of have a problem with the general marketing approach because they’re basically saying we should medicate our kids,” he said.

Roy says his product is not meant as a teen stress cure-all but is intended to help supplement other activities.

Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy expert at the University of Alberta, says the bigger issue is how Health Canada regulates natural health products.

 

“We would hope that teens resort to other lifestyle strategies first to deal with their nervousness or restlessness, mental stress,” Roy said.

Badali says anxiety may not necessarily be a bad thing for teens.

“I don’t know that we need to try to relieve anxiety if it’s not causing any problems,” says Badali, who specializes in treating anxiety and depression and is a director of Anxiety Canada.

She says it is important for teens to learn to live with a certain amount of stress and develop coping mechanisms that don’t require pills.

Kendal says she likes to try a variety of activities to cope with stress, and natural supplements isn’t one of them — at least for now.

“I feel like it could be a great idea and it could be very helpful. But, again, it’s not quite there yet,” Kendal said.

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Cases of rare, polio-like paralysis targeting kids appear in Canada

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported a small surge in cases of a mysterious disease in children. More than 60 cases of the polio-like illness have been confirmed in 22 U.S. states in recent weeks. Now, doctors in Toronto say they're seeing cases appear in Canada.

"I can confirm that since September, we have certainly seen an increase of patients with muscle weakness who also had a preceding viral illness," said Dr. Jeremy Friedman, associate pediatrician-in-chief at the Hospital for Sick Children. "These symptoms are typical of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and increases of similar cases have been reported by many other North American pediatric centres."

Doctors do not know what causes the ailment, nor are they sure why more cases have been reported recently. Children are the victims in the vast majority of cases and doctors are not exactly sure why.

Dr. Friedman would not give an exact figure on the number of new cases in Canada, but did say SickKids has seen "fewer than 20 probable cases of AFP." That is news to Health Canada.

"Fewer than five cases have been reported from January to August 2018, which is the latest data we have available," said Health Canada spokesperson Anna Maddison. "For 2018, the observed number of cases is within the normal range."

In an email sent to hospitals last week, SickKids doctors warned front-line physicians to stay on the lookout for new cases of AFP in Canada.

Children affected 

The ailment, also known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), involves a part of the spinal cord called the anterior horn. It's the part that controls movement. Symptoms include paralysis of one or more limbs, drooping of the face and eyelids, difficulty with eye movement and swallowing, and slurred speech. Children may also have trouble breathing in severe cases and require a ventilator due to muscle weakness.

In the U.S., the CDC said last week that there have been 127 reported cases of AFM this year. One child in the U.S. has died. The average age of the children reported in the U.S. so far this year is 4 years old.

The pattern seen in the U.S. is similar to what doctors are seeing in Canada.

"I can't provide specific patient information but I can tell you that AFP typically affects patients under the age of 15," said Dr. Friedman. Since the CDC started tracking AFM in 2014, 90 per cent of cases have involved kids 18 or younger.

The total annual number of cases has ranged between 22 and 149. That they've reported 127 to date suggests that this will be a record breaking year and much higher than the 33 cases reported in 2017.

Cause unclear

Doctors are uncertain as to why cases are on the rise. There is no geographic clustering of cases in the U.S. The CDC says possible causes under investigation include viruses such as rhinovirus which causes the common cold, and enteroviruses, which cause vomiting and diarrhea. The last major increase in cases several years ago involved an enterovirus called EV-D68.

Media reports in recent weeks have suggested that a virus that resembles polio might be causing the ailment.  The CDC says it has ruled out the polio virus itself. None of the cases have been linked to West Nile virus. The CDC is also looking into other possible causes including environmental toxins. It's possible that the children affected have some genetic susceptibility that causes them to develop AFM when exposed to a toxin or a virus.

In an email sent to front-line doctors last week, doctors at SickKids said the children they've seen have had weakness of the arms or legs. Some have had to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Dr. Friedman did not say how the affected children are doing. "We know from past experience that the prognosis and long-term effects of AFP can vary: Some patients recover fully and others experience a spectrum of long-term and even permanent effects." While AFP remains a rare condition, the current spike in cases has doctors urging parents to be vigilant.

If a child "develops weakness of a limb, especially in the context of cold-like symptoms or other viral symptoms, they should see their health-care provider immediately," wrote Dr. Friedman.

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White House denies that Trump said Russia no longer targeting U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he doesn't believe Russia is still targeting the United States, contradicting U.S. intelligence assessments that Moscow is continuing its attempts to meddle in U.S. elections, but White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders later said his remark was misunderstood by the press.

He also took questions about Russia on Wednesday in an interview with CBS News, saying he was "very strong" on the issue of meddling in his recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The issue of Trump and his views on 2016 election meddling has been under renewed scrutiny since Monday's summit, when the president didn't offer support for U.S. intelligence agencies, which found that Russia interfered in election.

After backlash and criticism from both critics and members of his own party, Trump tried on Tuesday to walk back his summit comments, saying that he had misspoken.

But on Wednesday, the issue surfaced again when a reporter asked Trump if Russia was still targeting the United States. Trump shook his head and said, "No."

U.S. intelligence officials have said Russian election interference efforts are continuing and now target the upcoming congressional elections in November.

"We're doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia," Trump told reporters before a cabinet meeting at the White House.

'I'm not reversing it'

Speaking later Wednesday, Sanders told reporters that Trump was saying no to answering questions, not to whether Russia is still targeting the U.S. She said the administration is working to make sure Russia doesn't meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.

When asked whether there were concerns about the president's credibility given Trump's reversal of his remarks about Russia on Tuesday, Sanders was quick to note she wasn't clarifying anything on Wednesday. 

Sarah Sanders says Trump was saying no to questions, not to whether Russia is trying to interfere 1:40

"I'm interpreting what the president said, I'm not reversing it," Sanders said. "I was in the room as well and I didn't take it the way you did."

Cecilia Vega, the ABC News reporter who asked the question, said on Twitter that she believes the president heard her clearly.


U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a congressional committee in February that he already had seen evidence Russia was targeting U.S. elections in November, when Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate are at stake, plus a host of positions in state governments.

In rebutting Trump's dismissive comments about U.S. intelligence on Monday, Coats said in a statement, "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy."

'Total low-life'

In an interview with Jeff Glor of CBS Evening News, which was released in part Wednesday evening, Trump was asked whether he holds Putin personally responsible for election meddling in 2016.

"Well I would, because he's in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So, certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes," Trump said.

The president was asked what he said to Putin, and he replied that he was "very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling."


In the interview, Trump said he has confidence in the intelligence agencies as they are currently constituted — but he had harsh words for several previous senior intelligence officials, including ex-CIA chief John Brennan and James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence.

The president was responding to a question about whether he thought any U.S. intelligence agencies were out to get him.

"Certainly, I can't have any confidence in the past but I can have a lot of confidence in the present and the future because it's getting to be how where we're putting our people in," Trump said. "I have no confidence in a guy like Brennan — I think he's a total low-life."

Brennan, who served as CIA director from 2013 to 2017, issued a scathing tweet after Trump's Helsinki summit. 

When asked about special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe, the president once again said there's been no collusion. He said he has "always" wanted to sit down with Mueller — but that his lawyers are still working on that.

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U.S. imposes tougher sanctions targeting North Korean shipping

The Trump administration hit more than 50 vessels, shipping companies and trade businesses with sanctions Wednesday in its latest bid to pressure North Korea over its nuclear program.

The administration billed it as the largest installment of North Korean economic restrictions to date. President Donald Trump went further, declaring in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that it was “the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before.”

While the number of companies from North Korea and other nations was high, the economic impact is unclear. It was certain to be less than previous U.S. measures that targeted large banks and business networks in China and Russia that deal with the North.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on North Korea in the past year to deprive it of revenue and resources for its nuclear and ballistic missile development. Those weapons pose an emerging threat to the U.S. mainland. Washington is particularly concerned about exports of North Korean coal that are prohibited by the UN sanctions and ship-to-ship transfers of imported oil and petroleum products.

The Treasury Department said it was barring U.S. business transactions with nine international shipping companies from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Panama, and nine of their vessels. It also blacklisted 16 North shipping companies and 19 of their North Korean-flagged vessels.

‘Evasive maritime activities’

Additionally, department designated a Taiwanese citizen, Tsang Yung Yuan, and two companies he owns or controls. Tsang was said to have co-ordinated North Korean coal exports with a Russia-based North Korean broker, and attempted $ 1 million US oil deal with a Russian company sanctioned for dealing with the North.

“This will significantly hinder the Kim regime’s capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. If companies “choose to help fund North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, they will not do business with the United States.”

In his speech, Trump said “hopefully something positive can happen” from the sanctions pressure.

The announcement comes as South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics, an occasion the two Koreas have used as an opportunity to ease tensions and restart talks. Although South Korea is a close U.S. ally, animosity between Washington and Pyongyang still runs high.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, arrived in South Korea on Friday to attend the closing ceremony this weekend. At a dinner with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, she reaffirmed “our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized.”

The U.S. government also issued Friday a global shipping advisory highlighting the sanctions risk to those who enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea. It alerted industries to North Korea’s “deceptive shipping practices,” which includes falsifying the identity of vessels and disabling transponders that track ships’ movements.

The Treasury Department published photos of a U.S.-designated North Korean vessel, Kum Un San 3, which it said used false identifying information and conducted an illicit ship-to-ship transfer, possibly of oil, with a Panama-flagged vessel that was among the ships sanctioned Friday.

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