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Google Told Stadia Developers They Were Making ‘Great Progress,’ Then Fired Them

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Google’s decision to kill Stadia’s game development and shut down its studio came as a surprise to everyone, especially its employees. A leaked email shows that that the VP of Stadia and general manager Phil Harrison sent an email on January 27 lauding everyone for the ‘great progress’ Stadia had made thus far. Five days later, Harrison announced Google would no longer be developing its own games, effective immediately.

Kotaku reports that Harrison held a contentious conference call with Stadia developers several days later. When pressed to explain the difference in tone between his January 27 email and the Feb 1 announcement, Harrison admitted nothing had changed between those two dates. “We knew,” Harrison said.

Officially, Harrison claims that Google quit the game development business because Microsoft bought Bethesda and because the cost of game development continues to rise. Sources claim Harrison also referenced the difficulties of working during the pandemic as one reason why Google shut down development. These answers strain credulity. Are we to believe that Google launched itself into game development without bothering to read a single article on the difficulty of launching into the console space? The cost of making games is literally always going up. Here’s the data:

Adjusted for inflation, the price of making games goes up roughly 10x every decade and has for the past 26 years. This is not new data.

I found this in under five minutes. The idea that Google launched Stadia without conducting some minimum due diligence is insulting. Furthermore, Stadia only launched 14 months ago. Google’s game development effort is reportedly under two years old. That’s not enough time for any game studio to create a brand-new AAA game. There are reports that developer headcounts were frozen all throughout 2020, indicating someone at Google had misgivings about Stadia from the get-go. It sounds as if Stadia never had Google’s full support, which is exactly the kind of half-baked effort everyone was afraid Stadia would turn out to be.

There is a profound and growing disconnect between Google and the concerns of actual humans who use its products. Google’s customer service has been infamously nonexistent for years, but things came to a head earlier this month when the developer of Terraria, a game with tens of millions of Android customers, announced he’d canceled the Stadia version of his game because he couldn’t get in touch with anyone at Google who could explain the total account ban affecting his company.

Getting locked out of your Google account without any known reason or apparent recourse isn’t just something that happens to little people. It happens to developers who partner with Google to sell software. Now, we know it happens to developers who trust Google as an employer, too. The company makes a lot of noise about wanting ethical AI experts on-staff, only to fire them the first time they raise questions about ongoing projects.

Google is not honest with the public about its own goals, motivations, or priorities. At times, it’s self-evidently not honest with its staff, either. The company repeatedly pledges to support projects like Stadia, then drops the entire concept of developing its own games with zero warning to anyone, even its own employees.

This isn’t just a question of shading the truth in a self-evidently favorable way. Every company does that. Consider: When Apple announces new hardware, speculation revolves around cost. When Microsoft announces a new feature, speculation revolves around how well it’ll work. If Facebook announces a new product, the discussion revolves around privacy.

When Google launches a new product, speculation revolves around how long it’ll be before the company kills it.

It’s unfortunate to learn Google treats at least some of its employees with the same disdain it treats everyone else, but it certainly isn’t surprising. Google used to be known for what it built. Now, it’s mostly noteworthy for what it quits.

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ExtremeTechGaming – ExtremeTech

Trump’s defence begins making the case for acquittal on inciting U.S. Capitol riot

Donald Trump’s defence lawyers will make their case on Friday why the former U.S. president is not guilty of inciting last month’s deadly riot at the Capitol, as the Senate races toward a final vote in his second impeachment trial as soon as Saturday.

Trump’s lawyer, David Schoen, said the defence team would take “three to four hours” on Friday to lay out its arguments against convicting Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 riot, which sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer.

Schoen did not discuss the defence strategy, but Trump’s lawyers have argued his rhetoric was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and that prosecutors had not directly connected the actions of the rioters to Trump.

Democratic prosecutors on Thursday wrapped up two days of arguments for Trump’s conviction, saying the Republican knew what would happen when he exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol as Congress gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s election win, and that he should be held accountable.

WATCH | House prosecutors wrap up impeachment case:

House prosecutors wrapped up their impeachment case against Donald Trump on Thursday insisting the Capitol invaders believed they were acting on ‘the president’s orders’ to stop Joe Biden’s election and warning that he would do it again if not convicted. 2:44

“If he gets back into office and it happens again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves,” lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin told senators.

Senate conviction unlikely

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives charged Trump on Jan. 13 with inciting the insurrection, but Democrats are unlikely to gain a Senate conviction and bar Trump from running for office again.

Conviction requires a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump despite his continued popularity among Republican voters.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted largely along party lines to move ahead with the impeachment trial even though Trump’s term ended on Jan. 20. Six of 50 Republican senators broke with their caucus to side with Democrats.

In their arguments, the Democratic prosecutors provided numerous examples of Trump’s actions prior to the rampage to illustrate what he intended when he told supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” as lawmakers convened for the election certification.

Trump falsely claimed his Nov. 3 election loss was the result of widespread fraud.

“He knew that egged on by his tweets, his lies and his promise of a ‘wild’ time in Washington to guarantee his grip on power, his most extreme followers would show up bright and early, ready to attack, ready to engage in violence, ready to ‘fight like hell’ for their hero,” Raskin said.

WATCH | Several Republicans criticized Trump in immediate riot aftermath:

House manager Joe Neguse used Republicans’ video statements about Trump’s involvement in encouraging the riot to further the Democrats’ argument that he incited violence. 2:08 

Several Republican senators praised the presentation of the Democratic House prosecutors, although they questioned whether it had changed any minds.

“There was a lot of useful information presented today and the Democrats certainly presented an emotionally jarring and powerful argument, but it doesn’t change my opinion that removing a former president from an office he no longer holds is unconstitutional,” Republican Sen. Mike Braun tweeted.

Republican senators met with defence lawyers

Three Republican senators who are sitting as jurors at the trial — Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee — met with the Trump defence team on Thursday night to discuss its legal approach, a source familiar with the meeting said.

“We were discussing their strategy for tomorrow and we were sharing our thoughts in terms of where the argument was and where it should go,” Cruz told reporters.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy told reporters he wanted to hear the defence respond to the timeline laid out by House prosecutors detailing Trump’s inaction as the riot developed and his call to a senator even as lawmakers were being evacuated.

“Now, presumably since we were at that point being evacuated I think … there was some awareness of the events,” Cassidy said. “And so what I hope the defence does is explain that.”

Neither side has so far announced an intention to call witnesses, leaving senators on track for final arguments and a vote as soon as Saturday.

Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.

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CBC | World News

With help from sister, Kyle Alexander making most of time in Spain after 97 days in NBA bubble

Kyle Alexander spent 97 days in the NBA bubble — and didn’t see a single meaningful minute of game action.

A rookie on the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat, Alexander arrived in Disney on July 7, three weeks before the regular season resumed. He left on Oct. 12, one day after the Los Angeles Lakers won the championship.

“It definitely had its moments, but it was awesome,” Alexander said, “to be in that kind of environment with one of the hardest working teams in the league with one of the best cultures, and then go to the Finals, get to experience what it takes to win at that level.”

The NBA’s March shutdown came at an unfortunate time for Alexander. The 24-year-old Canadian suffered a knee injury in January while playing for Miami’s G League team, but was verging on a return when Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus.

Alexander finally made his NBA debut in the bubble, playing garbage time in a pair of Heat blowout losses in August.

“I wasn’t in the best state to compete for [playing time]. That part sucked. But as far as jump starting back into my activities and getting healthy and shaking the rust off and getting my touch back on my jump shot, it was the best place to be,” the Milton, Ont., native said.

Kyle Alexander, centre, dives for a loose ball during a game against the Indiana Pacers in August. (Ashley Landis/Pool/Getty Images)

Now, Alexander starts for Fuenlabrada of Spain’s top league. After the NBA playoffs, he took a month off before moving to Phoenix to ramp up off-season training, under the assumption the NBA might not return until March.

The season began Dec. 22, news of which left Alexander scrambling. He went to a Toronto Raptors minicamp in Los Angeles, but could not secure a deal with his hometown team.

“To have that jersey on my chest and to be representing them, I went in there really motivated. And like I said, I was proud of how I did, but it just didn’t end up working out or making sense at the moment,” Alexander said.

(After waiving Alex Len last week, the Raptors have an open roster spot and a need for a big man. Adding Alexander, a defensively responsible centre with some outside touch, could make some sense.)

When Alexander left Raptors camp without a deal, his agent suggested he look to Europe for an opportunity to get immediate playing time and regain some rhythm. An injury on Fuenlabrada presented such a chance.

Through seven games with the team, he is averaging 7.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just under 20 minutes per game.

Late start to basketball career

Overseas basketball is something in which Alexander’s sister Kayla has plenty of experience. The eight-year WNBA veteran has also played in Australia, France, Poland, Russia, Turkey and Belgium, where she’s currently stationed.

Kayla, 30, missed Kyle throughout their childhood as they passed through high school and college at different times. With both now in Europe, this is the closest their basketball careers have come to overlapping.

“I would hear about my pops telling me that he was playing now or seeing this [coach] and he’s getting better. He grew, but I wasn’t there to witness much of the growth, to be honest, which kind of sucks,” Kayla said.

Kyle didn’t begin playing basketball until 16, despite both parents and older sister spending lots of time with the game.

Before then, his father, Joseph, would drive him and Kayla to school early because Kayla needed to get shots up and there was no point in making two trips back and forth. Kyle would rebound for Kayla and a friend, with some occasional defence.

Kayla Alexander rises up for a shot during an August game in the WNBA bubble. (Mike Carlson/The Associated Press)

One time, Kayla, who had a penchant for flaring her elbows, sent Kyle to class with a bloody nose and lip. One-on-one between the siblings was never particularly close.

“She used to kill me. She really used to kill me. Like, it was bad,” Kyle recalled.

Video games were Kyle’s preference until his father finally brought him to a training camp.

“I went there first day smoking layups off the wrong foot against 12-year-old kids and they’re more skilled than me, it’s embarrassing,” Kyle said.

“So I went home that day, set my sister’s net up and just started going at it. And the next day I went in there, I was able to do different things. And that kind of just showed me that I had a work ethic and that I had a drive to want to get better.”

Now, Kayla says the tables have turned.

“Because back then, I was swatting his shots and now he’s swatting mine.”

‘Take care of yourself’

Kayla’s overseas experience has aided Kyle in his transition from the NBA to Europe. She says the advice she had for her brother wasn’t so different from what she tells her teammates on the Canadian national team.

“Have fun, it’s a privilege we get to play and get paid for it, that’s what we love to do. So that’s first and foremost, having fun with it. Advocate for yourself, speak up. If you don’t like something or if you notice anything, it’s good to be vocal. Take care of yourself. Take care of your body as well.”

A self-proclaimed “picky eater,” Kyle says he’s even started to cook — something which Kayla experienced firsthand.

“I didn’t know he was like ‘Chef Kyle.’ That’s amazing,” she said, before adding that he’d made one meal for her — jerk chicken over the summer — which was good, if too spicy.

Kyle’s first couple weeks in Spain even came with a reminder of home, when the country experienced its first snowfall in nearly 50 years.

Still, the goal remains to get back to the NBA. He was recently contacted by Canada Basketball, for whom he’d be able to contribute at the FIBA AmeriCup qualifier — which contains 2024 Olympic ramifications — in Puerto Rico at the end of February.

“It’s a good opportunity to come out here, find yourself play and make money playing the game you love. And then you keep working on it while you’re out here, kind of isolated from your friends and family, you use that as motivation to get better and try and fight your way back,” he said.

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CBC | Sports News

Health Canada waiting on more data before making a decision on AstraZeneca vaccine

Health Canada says it still needs more information before it can make a decision on the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine — news that came after the United Kingdom became the first country to authorize the vaccine.

In a statement released Wednesday, Canada’s independent regulator said it’s been reviewing the manufacturer’s vaccine information since Oct. 1 and as new data roll in.

“There is still information and data to be provided by AstraZeneca for review,” says the statement.

“Health Canada cannot provide a definite timeline for the completion of the review at this time.”

Earlier Wednesday, the U.K. announced the vaccine’s approval, with the health secretary saying rollout will start Jan. 4 in that country.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been praised for its low cost and ease of use. Unlike other vaccines, it can be stored in refrigerators rather than ultra-cold storage units.

Canada, which has signed agreements to procure a range of vaccine candidates, has a deal with AstraZeneca for 20 million doses.

“Health Canada is working hard to give Canadians access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible without compromising its safety, efficacy and quality standards,” said the Health Canada statement.

“Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is a top priority.”

Health Canada has authorized two vaccines — the messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc.

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CBC | Health News

‘Good riddance,’ China says to German envoy making U.N. pitch to release 2 Michaels

Germany’s U.N. envoy, during his last scheduled U.N. Security Council meeting, appealed to China to free two detained Canadians for Christmas, prompting China’s deputy U.N. envoy to respond: “Out of the bottom of my heart: Good riddance.”

Germany finishes a two-year term on the 15-member council at the end of this month and Ambassador Christoph Heusgen plans to retire after more than 40 years as a diplomat.

“Let me end my tenure on the Security Council by appealing to my Chinese colleagues to ask Beijing for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Christmas is the right moment for such a gesture,” Heusgen told the council session, whose official agenda topic was Iran.

Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who was working as an adviser for the International Crisis Group think tank, and businessman Spavor were detained by Beijing in 2018 shortly after Canadian police picked up Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.

China’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Geng Shuang, accused Heusgen of abusing the Security Council to launch “malicious” attacks on other members “in an attempt to poison the working atmosphere.”

Parting advice to Russia on Navalny

“I wish to say something out of the bottom of my heart: Good riddance, Ambassador Heusgen,” Geng said. “I am hoping that the council in your absence in the year 2021 will be in a better position to fulfill the responsibilities…for maintaining international peace and security.”

Heusgen also used the Security Council meeting to advise Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, to read certain articles about Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who said he had tricked a Russian secret agent into disclosing details of a botched plot to kill him. Russia’s FSB security service dismissed the recording as a fake.

Polyanskiy replied: “It seems he’s developed a certain dependency on the council, there’s never a meeting without criticism of Russia even if that’s not suitable for the subject matter. I hope that after Jan. 1 that Christoph’s symptoms will improve.” 

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CBC | World News

Messi matches Pele goal haul, making good on header in draw with Valencia

Lionel Messi reached another personal scoring milestone in Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday.

Messi’s 643rd career goal for Barcelona since his 2004 debut matched Pele’s tally for Santos accumulated from 1957-74. Messi is Barcelona’s and the Spanish league’s all-time leading scorer.

The latest setback by Barcelona left Ronald Koeman’s team in fifth place and eight points adrift of league leader Atletico Madrid, which got two goals by Luis Suarez to help beat Elche 3-1.

Messi cancelled out Mouctar Diakhaby’s opener for Valencia when he scored in first half injury time moments after Jaume Domenech saved his penalty shot. Jordi Alba recovered the rebound of Domenech’s save and crossed it to the far post where Messi headed it in.

Central defender Ronald Araujo scored his first career goal for Barcelona with an acrobatic kick to put the hosts ahead at Camp Nou in the 53rd.

But Jose Gaya set up Maxi Gomez to hit back for Valencia in the 69th and split the points.

The match featured two young Americans who started for both sides. Sergino Dest, 20, played the full match as Barcelona’s right back, while 18-year-old Yunus Musah had to be substituted in the first half after the Valencia right back appeared to injury a leg. He walked off gingerly.

Suarez strikes after recent bout with virus

Suarez’s goals were his first since he returned to action recently following his coronavirus infection.

Suarez’s double ensured Atletico bounced back from losing to Real Madrid 2-0, its first defeat in the competition since February.

The Uruguay striker’s seven goals make him joint top scorer of the league along with Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal and Celta Vigo striker Iago Aspas.

Suarez isn’t the dominant scorer he was at Barcelona before changing clubs this summer, but he is still a world-class finisher when his teammates get him the ball in scoring position.

Costa makes impact in injury return

He put the hosts ahead in the 41st minute with a subtle touch to roll a long pass by Kieran Trippier past on-rushing goalkeeper Edgar Badia.

Suarez added the second in the 58th when he slid to sweep home a low ball sent to the far post by Yannick Carrasco.

Lucas Boye got one back for Elche with a header in the 64th and drew a one-handed save from Jan Oblak minutes later.

But substitute Diego Costa put the result beyond doubt when he earned and converted a penalty with 10 minutes remaining. It was Costa’s first appearance after missing seven games due to injury.

The league leaders moved three points clear of Real Sociedad and Real Madrid. Sociedad visits Levante later Saturday, while Madrid visits Eibar on Sunday.

Also later, fourth-placed Villarreal is at Osasuna, while Sevilla faces Valladolid.

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CBC | Soccer News

For Ness Murby, coming out as a trans athlete is about helping others — all while making Paralympic history

Unshackled from societal constructs and speaking with the joy and clarity of someone who understands fully the freedom that exists within self actualization, Canadian Paralympian Ness Murby begins sharing his story.

“I’m blind. I use a guide dog. I’m also genderqueer. Transmasculine. And my pronouns are he and him,” Murby told CBC Sports from his home in Vancouver. 

Then he laughs, a little nervously but also with relief. 

It’s taken 35 years to get this point — not without dark, lonely and searching moments, somewhat all but a distant memory now as Murby basks in this newfound ecstasy of being able to openly and publicly speak about his journey. 

He credits his grandparents, specifically his grandmother Shirley Dawn Murby, for igniting a spark within him at a very young age that for more than two decades was ruminating in his head and heart.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asked me when I was six years old,” Murby said. 

“And without pause I said a husband and a father. You couldn’t have done it better in Hollywood. That actually happened. It’s surreal.”

Murby is happily married to his wife Eva Fejes, who is responsible for getting him to Canada in the first place. The two met years ago in Japan and immediately fell in love. Fejes is a Canadian citizen and the two eventually settled in Vancouver. 

“I’m in awe of how she’s defined her life. I will say it is an honour to be married to her. I love her so dearly,” he said. 

Murby uses a guide dog for competition. (Submitted by Ness Murby.)

Born and raised in Australia

Murby was born and raised in Australia with limited eyesight and is today blind. He competes in the F11 category in discus, that includes athletes who “have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.”

He’s competed for his native country of Australia, Japan and Canada at a number of international events, including the most recent at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, traversing the world not only in pursuit of the podium in a myriad of sports but has also been unrelenting in his search to love and accept himself — the two are inextricably linked. 

“I had the embers of self-concept burning within me my entire life. My grandparents taught me I was enough just being me,” Murby said. 

“I’ve always known who I am but being congruent with that knowing and understanding that knowing has been the journey.”

Murby competes in the F11 category in discus, that includes athletes who “have a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.” (Submitted by Ness Murby)

Destination complete. In a recent interview on the podcast Five Rings to Rule them All, Murby came out publicly as trans for the first time, speaking about the importance of this moment and wanting to be intentional about meeting it. 

“I wanted to be sure that I was able to represent where I’m at with conscious words. Words matter. This being the first time to speak openly about my gender identity in any setting,” he said. 

Despite potentially becoming the first trans athlete to compete at the Paralympics or Olympics, this was never about publicity or drawing attention to Murby — he makes that very clear. 

“It’s my experience that Para athletes don’t get attention. This was entirely about doing this openly and recognizing that it might help someone else,” he said. 

“Not doing this publicly means it’s less likely to be universally observed.”

Or talked about. And Murby wants people to ask questions, get uncomfortable and challenge their own limiting beliefs.

Murby speaks about all of this with the perspective of someone who has spent many waking hours and sleepless nights contemplating the cost of living incongruently and how that shows up in life and sport. 

“There’s never going to be a right time. And there’s never going to be a too late time. Being present and mindful in the moment. It is about who you are right here, right now. Nothing that’s gone before that changes the integrity of who you want to be,” Murby said. 

“I understand that living in limbo and incongruence can really be damaging.”

Weight of the feeling

It has been damaging for Murby, the weight of feeling like he wasn’t living authentically pressing down on him at every turn. But deep down there’s always been a desire to break through that — that time has finally arrived. 

And now as Murby sets his sights on competing in Tokyo in discus at next summer’s Paralympics for Canada, he wants his story to serve an important tale about what it means to not only create space for oneself but also to create space for those around us to show up fully. 

“This has shown me that it does feel better to be open, to be out, to be me. I look forward to competing unquestionably as me, because it will be the very first time. This is the very first time for me where the trade off won’t be my self concept. And that’s huge,” he said. 

Murby understands the universality of his struggle and is imploring people to see the humanity that exists within everyone. (Submitted by Ness Murby)

And while this is just one person’s story about acceptance, resilience and growth, Murby understands the universality of his struggle and is imploring people to see the humanity that exists within everyone. 

“Just because we can’t imagine doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I am just one person but I am not the only person. It’s imperative we don’t assume anyone else’s experience but that we do invite it to the table. There’s enough space for all of us,” he said. 

“Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Allyship is active and it has to be intentional. Assuming it exists as a matter of course, doesn’t make it so. It necessitates our conscious consideration. We need to take on the accountability and carve out spaces for each other, especially when coming from a place of privilege.”

Murby exemplifies the intersectionality between sport and disability, social constructs and breaking through them — and has been unrelenting in first looking at himself critically in determining how to move forward and then also inviting those around him to do the same.

“Our present orthodoxy doesn’t nurture our self concept as being the utmost importance and doesn’t respect the gravity of that. A really important message is that without our personal concept, we cannot self actualize,” he said.

Above all, Murby stresses that none of this is easy and that it requires immense bravery. 

He says he’s been lucky because at the core of who he’s always been, there’ve been embers of self-concept burning within him. 

“I urge everyone to ask the question when we are speaking and when we act, for what purpose and what cost?” Murby said. 

“That should be at the fundamental core.”

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CBC | Sports News

Calls to Kids Help Phone have surged. Now some counsellors are making a distress call of their own

Kids Help Phone, the charity that offers 24/7 counselling services to young Canadians in distress, needs to listen to the concerns of its stressed staff if it truly wants to help callers, say three current and former counsellors.

Demand for Kids Help Phone’s services has been on the rise, with calls and text messages surging since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But the counsellors who spoke with CBC’s Go Public say handling the increased demand is even more difficult because of the micromanagement and unreasonable demands of supervisors, which have taken a toll on counsellors’ ability to do their job properly — and on their own mental health.

They said the service is being run like a corporate call centre, and counsellors are under pressure to account for how every single minute of their workday is spent via a software tracking system.

“It was like a production line,” said one former counsellor. “Like, we need another target, we need to hit three million calls. I mean, we’re not in sales. I’m helping people.”

WATCH | Counsellors speak out about working conditions at Kids Help Phone:

Some current and former staff at the 24/7 national helpline say it is being run like a corporate call centre, not a counselling service for young people in crisis, which is causing high employee turnover because of burnout. 2:09

CBC News has agreed not to publish the names of the current and former counsellors who were interviewed, as they fear that speaking out against the practices of an organization as well-known and important as Kids Help Phone could harm their future employment prospects.

They revealed how Kids Help Phone measures the performance of counsellors based on what it calls key performance indicators (KPIs). Their job performance is tracked, with percentages, for things like how many calls they failed to answer, how often they weren’t ready to answer a call, and what percentage of their time was devoted to self-care.

Supervisors require an explanation from counsellors if their KPIs don’t match the organization’s performance targets.

Time to debrief with colleagues after upsetting calls — something they were able to do in the past in order to recover and get into a proper frame of mind for the next call — is now strictly limited, the counsellors said.

Pressure and burnout

Kids Help Phone has provided assistance to millions of young people in its 30-year history, including counselling victims of abuse and helping to prevent suicides. It also provides a caring listener to young people who just need to speak anonymously to someone about their troubles.

The charity employs 182 professional counsellors in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, with 50 more coming on board by the end of the year, thanks to additional federal funding in response to the pandemic.

This image from a video made by Kids Help Phone shows one of its counsellors taking a call. (Kids Help Phone)

Those who contacted Go Public said the addition of new staff hadn’t done much to reduce stress, as the micromanaging continued. Alerting supervisors, management and their union to the problems didn’t lead to any significant changes either, they said, even though the stressful working conditions counsellors face affect the quality of their work and their ability to help kids in need.

But after Go Public contacted Kids Help Phone to tell them that several counsellors had been in touch, the charity’s chief youth officer said changes will be made.

“Our counsellors are courageous, kind and top professionals,” said Alisa Simon, who described herself as the executive most in touch with workplace issues at the charity. “If we miss something, we will make it right; including changing guidelines to better meet their needs.”

No specific details of how guidelines would be revised, or when, were included in the statement. 

In a previous statement to Go Public, Kids Help Phone said it has added more support for front-line staff over the past eight months and intends to add even more, including mindfulness programs, extra days off in summer and “added time to decompress and debrief.”

The charity also said it surveys staff to hear how they are doing.

However, a current Kids Help Phone counsellor, referred to as Natalie for the purpose of this article, says stress leaves are common and turnover is high.

“We can’t really give the proper support if we’re burning out,” she said.

Three current and former counsellors shared their experiences at Kids Help Phone with Go Public. CBC agreed not to reveal their identities. (CBC News / Charles Contant)

Another former counsellor, who will be referred to as Ashley, said the organization’s intense focus on efficiency metrics, which was introduced in late 2019, is a distraction during crisis calls.

“That’s a lot of pressure to have in the back of your head when you’re trying to be present talking to some of these kids,” she said. “It takes away from the main focus of what we’re trying to do.” 

Natalie said supervisors have even sent messages to counsellors over the company’s internal chat system during lengthy calls to ask what’s taking so long.

“That can bring some anxiousness and nervousness,” Natalie said. 

“You think, ‘Oh, the manager is noticing how long I’ve been on the phone,’ and it really takes you out of the call, because now you’re worried that the manager is watching and you’ve been on too long. It can ruin the work you’re doing.”

Union not helping much, say counsellors

Kids Help Phone workers are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, but the counsellors who spoke with CBC News say complaints to the union haven’t led to meaningful action. 

“The union has said for us to keep trying, to keep giving suggestions, to document the problems,” Natalie said. “And that’s not enough. I think that their method is just to wear management down. But we’re worn down.”

Go Public reached out to the union for comment but has yet to receive a response.

Before the focus on time management and efficiency was introduced late last year, Kids Help Phone had been a great place to work, said Jacques, a former counsellor.

“When I first started, I told my friends, ‘I’m going to retire from this place, I love it,'” he said. “The training was fantastic.” 

Ashley said she also used to love the work.

“It was amazing to be able to help some of these kids,” she said.

The counsellors said they didn’t have a problem with the charity using a software program to track their work activities through a system of codes. They could still manage their own workflow and weren’t chastised for missing time-management targets, they said.

But once the new operational guidelines were introduced last December, the charity started to measure counsellors’ performance on a monthly basis, providing percentages to indicate their adherence to a strict schedule that dictated precisely how much time they were to spend on various activities and when they could take breaks.

Bathroom breaks counted as ‘self-care’

On one occasion, before the pandemic hit and counsellors started working from home, Jacques said his supervisor confronted him after returning late from break.

“I got told, ‘You went a minute over your lunch. What are we going to do about it?'” he said.

A Kids Help Phone operational guide, provided to employees, was obtained by CBC News. It says time is allowed for self-care, but that it should amount to no more than five per cent of a counsellor’s “log in time averaged over the course of a month,” or, for example, 30 minutes during a 10-hour shift.

Information taken from an ‘Operational Guidelines’ document that was distributed to Kids Help Phone counsellors in December 2019. (CBC News)

The document also specifies the downtime is intended to promote wellness, and suggests it can be used to get a coffee or tea, or to use the washroom. 

Jacques confirmed this is how it works.

“I can’t even go to the washroom without having to justify to someone why I spent two minutes off the phone?” Jacques said in exasperation.

The counsellors who spoke with CBC News said the unpredictable nature of the calls they receive demands a level of flexibility in their workday, but supervisors don’t seem to appreciate that, insisting instead the schedule be strictly followed.

Danielle van Jaarsveld, who teaches in the organizational behaviour and human resources department at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, and has studied call centres in the U.S., Europe, China and Canada, said it appears Kids Help Phone is compounding the stress of an already stressful job.

“The issue with this type of monitoring is that it really contributes to the employee emotional burnout,” she said. “And when employees are burnt out, they really can’t perform at their best.”

Danielle van Jaarsveld, a professor in the organizational behaviour department at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, says excessive focus on performance metrics in a call centre can contribute to burnout. (CBC News / Manjula Dufresne)

She said employee time-tracking systems like the one used at Kids Help Phone are not uncommon, but are more suited to call centres that deal with “shorter, simpler transactions,” as opposed to lengthy counselling sessions. 

“What I tend to see in call centres where the interaction involves emotions is much more discretion being given to the employees with respect to break time.”

Believe it when they see it

When told that Kids Help Phone said it plans to change the time-management rules, Natalie said she is skeptical about her employer’s motivation.

“They say they have our well-being at the front but they have said that before and nothing changed,” she said. “I do believe that if this time has a different result, it is only because they are worried about their reputation and not us.” 

Nonetheless, she and the other counsellors who spoke with Go Public said they remain hopeful that the problems at the charity will be solved. They said the mental health support Kids Help Phone offers its callers is more important than ever. 

“I think the people that are higher up are not understanding the reality of the front line,” said Jacques. “We need more autonomy to say, ‘These are my limits right now.’ And that is really not that much to change when you think about it.”

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Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories, shed light on wrongdoing, and hold the powers that be accountable.

If you have a story in the public interest, or if you’re an insider with information, contact gopublic@cbc.ca with your name, contact information and a brief summary.

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Driven by hardship and hard work, Canada’s Chase Claypool is making NFL history

In a season already marked by the impact of multiple talented rookie pass-catchers, Chase Claypool of the Pittsburgh Steelers made NFL history on Sunday.

The hulking Abbotsford, B.C., native was instrumental in his team’s 38-29 victory over in-state rival Philadelphia, becoming the first rookie in league history with at least three receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a single game.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger heaped praise on the 6-foot-4, 238-pound wideout following the team’s latest win.

“He has got some God-given abilities that not many people in this world have,” Roethlisberger told ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “He’s big, fast and strong and he’s very, very smart. I’m really proud of the way he’s playing right now.”

Although COVID-19 concerns led the NFL to cancel its pre-season, Claypool has quickly established himself as a key contributor on the Steelers’ offence and earned the trust of his signal caller.

“That last touchdown [in Week 5 against Philadelphia] is a perfect example,” Roethlisberger said of Claypool’s 35-yard catch-and-run score. “[I] changed the play and he makes it happen. I just have to give him a little bit of a cue. It’s awesome.”

The second-round draft choice, who played four years at the University of Notre Dame, has witnessed an increased workload throughout his first pro season, as evidenced by an ascending amount of passing-game targets in each of Pittsburgh’s first four games.

Claypool, 22, possesses a tantalizing combination of size and speed, the likes of which has drawn comparisons to former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

During the NFL’s annual pre-draft combine in February he joined Johnson as the only receivers ever to run a sub-4.45 time in the 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4, 235-pounds or larger.

Coupled with a sparkling senior campaign in South Bend where he amassed 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns on 66 receptions, Claypool was still relegated to being the 11th wideout selected in April’s draft.

While lost in the shuffle of a deep rookie receiving class and just one year of elite collegiate production, it was no coincidence that when the instability of Notre Dame’s quarterback situation was resolved in 2019 so too was Claypool’s output.

Thus far, exhibiting lab-created athleticism and an array of highlight-reel plays, he’s outshone many of those chosen ahead of him.

In effort to temper expectations – as most NFL head coaches habitually do – Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin summarized Claypool’s most recent performance by neatly suggesting “he had a good matchup.”

A tough sell considering he also became the first Steelers rookie since 1972 to record a rushing and receiving touchdown in a single game — a feat last achieved by Hall of Famer Franco Harris.

No stranger to setting records, he scored on an 84-yard play during Pittsburgh’s Week 2 win over the Denver Broncos. The first of his career and the longest touchdown from scrimmage in NFL history by a Canadian-born player.

Initially a star AAU basketball player, Claypool shifted his focus to football midway through his time at Abbotsford Senior Secondary where he helped the Panthers to a 2015 AA high school championship appearance.

‘She’s my reason’

Off the field, Claypool’s journey to the NFL hasn’t come without personal hardship. In 2011, his older sister, Ashley, took her own life.

He detailed his experience in 2017, saying the loss of his sister is one of his greatest driving forces in fulfilling his on-field ambitions.

“I actually think about it every day – especially when it comes to playing football … You’ve got to find a reason why you’re doing something,” he said. “She’s my reason.”

As a result of pandemic-related travel restrictions between Canada and the United States, Claypool last saw his family shortly after April’s draft.

“It’s definitely tough because I know they won’t be able to come to any games this year … but I’m used to it.” he said before Pittsburgh’s Week 5 game against Philadelphia. “I just stay in touch and I know they’re supporting me back home.”

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Sidelined: Concordia coach Tenicha Gittens making change happen 1 hire at a time

Tenicha Gittens finally had the opportunity to take matters into her own hands — and she didn’t let the moment pass her by. 

Tired of not having many Black people in coaching positions in the Canadian university ranks, Gittens, after becoming head coach of the Concordia Stingers women’s basketball team in 2015, made the decision to hire a staff composed of people of colour. 

“Representation absolutely matters. We’re just not in those positions. And it’s almost you don’t see a problem with it. And that’s a problem,” Gittens said. “So for me, I was put in a position where I could hire who I want to. And so I’m going to do my best to give Black people an opportunity. Because they don’t get those opportunities.”

A CBC Sports investigation backs up Gittens’ observation. 

A visual audit done by CBC Sports examined hundreds of key positions at all 56 Canadian universities that compete under the U Sports umbrella, including the school’s athletic director and head coaches of football, men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and soccer and track.

(Illustration by Alexis Allison/CBC Sports)

Of the nearly 400 positions examined, only about 10 per cent were held by Black, Indigenous or persons of colour (BIPOC). Only one school in U Sports has a non-white athletic director, the top leadership position in athletics at Canadian universities.

Gittens says she’s seen a few heads turn when opposing teams see the composition of her coaching staff. She recalls a time when an opposing coach made mention of her coaching staff. 

“We’re talking before the game. And we’re talking it up. And he looks over at my bench and says, ‘Oh, you got all the colours over there,'” Gittens said.

“I looked at him and said, ‘If I don’t hire them, who will?'”

In the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec conference where Gittens coaches, nearly 80 per cent of the 48 athletic director and coaching positions are held by white people.

“It’s not surprising to me. You look at these resumes and wonder what the difference is and I see what the difference is. That’s the system. That’s how it is. It’s always made harder for us to get those opportunities,” Gittens said. 

(Illustration by Alexis Allison/CBC Sports)

Gittens grew up in Montreal and enjoyed an all-star career at Dawson College before heading south to the U.S. She went on to play one year at Eastern Arizona Junior College before moving to Hofstra University, a Division 1 program in Hempstead, N.Y. She played one season with the Pride and graduated from Hofstra in 2007 with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Marketing.

While playing in the U.S. it became grossly apparent to Gittens there was a massive lack of BIPOC representation. She wondered about her own future hopes of one day coaching.

WATCH | ‘It’s everybody’s movement’:

Tenicha Gittens, head coach of Concordia University’s women’s basketball team, speaks about how important it is for Black coaches to be given important roles and positions to succeed. 1:21

“I never thought it was possible because, one, I’m Black and two, I’m female,” Gittens said. 

She didn’t have many role models to look up to. And so when it came time to apply for the head coaching position at Concordia, there was some fear and trepidation.

“I couldn’t imagine this for myself. I look back and think they were all white,” Gittens said. 

Gittens once thought she would never get an opportunity to coach at the level she wanted because she says, “One, I’m Black and two, I’m female.” (Courtesy Concordia Athletics)

And Gittens is not alone in that sentiment. 

Bobby Mitchell is the head coach of the UBC Okanagan women’s basketball team. 

Despite having great success at the high school level as a head coach, Mitchell wasn’t sure it would ever translate into getting a top coaching spot in the university ranks. 

“I didn’t get a call. Nobody was calling me or anything like that. I sent a lot of players off to post-secondary [schools] through our program,” he said. “And when I speak to some of the Black athletes and people of colour, a lot of them just don’t feel like the door’s even gonna be open for them.”

Concrete policies needed

In the U Sports Canada West conference where Mitchell coaches, more than 90 per cent of the 117 athletic director and coaching positions are held by white people. 

Mitchell says if that number is going to change to include BIPOC representation, concrete plans and policies need to be implemented.

“There will have to be some things that are mandated to help increase funding for community organizations at lower levels to include younger players and staff to have the ability to move up,” he said.

Mitchell says in many cases Black people are filling roles below the head coaching position but never have the opportunity to assume the higher ranks. 

(Illustration by Alexis Allison/CBC Sports)

“Generally speaking, assistant coaches, second and third coaches aren’t earning a lot. But we have to find a way to give them a little bit of opportunity, whether it’s through camps or other means, there has to be more financial opportunity to get that foot in the door.” 

In the backdrop of social unrest over the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer and months of protest that followed, Gittens is now more motivated than ever to create tangible deliverables to level the playing field in the coaching ranks within the sports university system in Canada. 

Alongside a limited group of BIPOC coaches in the country, Gittens has helped form the Black Canadian Coaches Association — a volunteer organization committed to providing a platform for Black Canadians in the sport industry. It includes aspiring and current coaches of all sports, formal and informal sport businesses owners, media and marketing individuals, fitness and wellness coaches, and well as those in senior level administrations of sport. 

WATCH | Report on diversity in Canadian sports:

Canadian universities and national sports groups say they have to do more to diversify their coaching staff and leadership, after CBC Sports carried out a visual audit and found the vast majority of those positions are held by people who are white. 2:10

“We need policies. Not just conversation. If it doesn’t lead to action, then we’re just talking,” Gittens said. 

There are four key pillars the organization is focusing on to create meaningful and lasting change, including celebrating and supporting Black Canadians in the sport industry, empowering and advocating for Black Canadians, and having a long-term vision for Black Canadians in the sport industry.

‘Now is the time to do this’

“We’re talking about a charter. We want real change. Now is the time to do this. It’s our moment and it’s a movement,” Gittens said. “We have to do it now. Because two years from now people will forget about this.”

Gittens isn’t the only one pushing for structural change within Canada’s sports framework. 

Asher Hill is a former competitive figure skater for Canada. 

At the beginning of June he spoke exclusively to CBC Sports about the racism he faced as a skater and now as a coach. Hill filed an official misconduct complaint with Skate Canada last June, highlighting a number of instances spanning five years where he says a co-worker at a Brampton, Ont., figure skating club was abusive with racist, homophobic and misogynistic language.

Asher Hill, a former figure skater and now coach, is one of the founders of the Figure Skating Diversity and Inclusion Alliance. (Submitted by Asher Hill)

He says nothing was done about it. Hill says he felt alienated and silenced. And then felt rage when he saw Skate Canada post to social media its support of Black community following George’s death.

“They wanted to sweep it under the rug. It’s shocking they didn’t talk to the people. When they came down with their decision, they threatened to suspend me or take away my license after I spoke out,” he said. 

Skate Canada denies Hill’s allegation that he was reprimanded and says it never threatened to suspend him or revoke his license after speaking out.

There is no BIPOC representation on Skate Canada’s Board — all 12 positions are held by white people. 

In an email to CBC Sports, the national sport organization admitted they “have more work to do to ensure that our organization — including the board of directors — reflects the diversity of our community.”

The organization says it’s proud that half of the board members are female but they know “steps must be taken to improve the racial inclusion of our organization.”

Hill says these words continue to fall short of the mark. 

“They don’t get to leave their Blackness at the door. They can’t leave that space where allies or people who jump in to issue flashy statements can retreat back into their lives.”

Hill, along with dozens of other figure skaters, current and retired, have formed the Figure Skating Diversity and Inclusion Alliance. They’re holding video conference calls twice a week to work through a document they plan on sending to government and sport leaders in Canada, including the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Out of the 18 board member positions at the COC, only one is BIPOC. 

COC changing board election process

“While diverse representation on the COC board has been an area of focus in the past few election cycles, it is clear that there needs to be an enhanced focus and intentional steps towards ensuring better BIPOC representation,” the COC said in an email to CBC Sports. 

The organization says it can no longer rely on the public call for nominations process, but rather it needs to be more intentional and proactive in attracting BIPOC candidates to apply for board positions.

“We know through history, the powers that be will not do anything,” Hill said. “The onus is always on the oppressed to make change.”

Change, Hill says, takes shape through six main focuses in the call to action document the Figure Skating Alliance is working on, including equitable representation of employees and board members, policy change, education, race-based demographic data, a media campaign and an overhaul of program accessibility and funding.

Hill says these sport organizations claim they’re ready to make changes but he remains skeptical.

“We have the receipts. We have all these people and groups saying they want to make changes. They’re using it as political capital but we have them on the record,” Hill said. 

“We will hold their feet to the fire.”

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