Halifax hosts national CheerExpo

Cheerleaders and dancers from across Canada came to Halifax this past weekend to partake in the CheerExpo National Championships, the only event of its kind in the world.

By Catharina de Waal

Cheerleaders and dancers from across Canada came to Halifax this past weekend to partake in the CheerExpo National Championships, the only event of its kind in the world.

“It’s a conference and it’s a competition,” says Laura Mar, the president of CheerExpo Cheerleading and Dance Events Inc. “Nobody else does this. This is the only event in the world that does the classes with the competition.”

“There are some that do classes after the competition, but that requires people to stay an extra day and spend extra money. It’s just not affordable for teams to do it, so they don’t take advantage of it,” says Mar. “With this one, they are already here.”

The classes are aimed at teaching cheerleaders safety, new techniques, and better ways to do moves, says Mar. In addition, coaches also learn how to run, expand and advertise  their own cheer program.

CheerExpo a driving force

Mar says that CheerExpo has been a driving force behind the recent expansion of cheerleading in Canada.

“People can come out and learn what it is and realize that it is not just pompoms and cheers. It’s a lot more than that. It’s a sport,” says Mar. “More kids want to join cheerleading now. Coaches are more responsible and more knowledgeable.”

“Cheer is definitely something that has expanded. A lot of the teams are getting their own facilities, like their own gyms, and buying their own spring floors and equipment. Some of the coaches now host their own events after they come and see how I’m doing stuff,” says Mar.

CheerExpo was founded in Halifax in 2001 and Mar has also hosted CheerExpo in Montreal. Mar says she starts planning CheerExpo a year in advance and she hires judges and instructors from all over North America.

Any cheer and dance team in Canada can enter the competition. Mar says that roughly 20 per cent of the teams competing this year are from Halifax, but teams came from Ontario. One of the Ontario teams is Niagara Cheerleading Famous.

Cheerleading expanding

Sarah Macgillivray, 14, who has been on Niagara Cheerleading Famous for two years now, says, “Cheerleading has expanded a lot. In the U.S.A. it’s huge and in Canada it’s not really that big. In the last few years that I have been cheerleading there has been a huge increase.”

Teams at CheerExpo compete for bids to go to the cheerleading world championships in Disney World. This year was the first time that Niagara Cheerleading Famous competed for a bid to go to the world championships and also the first time the team attended CheerExpo. The team won their bid and will be competing at Disney World at the end of April.

“I love being on the team. Our team is like a family. We always stick together. It has been a really good experience over all,” says Macgillivray. “There are obviously times when it is stressful.  Sometimes you doubt yourself, but it’s overall one of the best things in the world to do.”

Injury prevention

Alison Fitzpatrick, one of the many cheer/dance wear vendors from across Canada who comes to CheerExpo, has also seen a huge increase in the cheer culture.

“My perception of cheer from about four years ago was you would see them in the parade with their pompoms walking and cheering or whatever. Not like this,” says Fitzpatrick. “These guys are athletes. They train and they do stuff that is dangerous. They could die if somebody dropped them.”

Disease can’t stop teen skier

Sit-skier Tanner Fandrey hopes to qualify for the national para-alpine race team after being diagnosed with a disease that kills his bones.

By Catharina de Waal

Keeping up with Tanner Fandrey is virtually impossible when he skies down the mountain at 110 kilometres per hour. He never hesitates catching air on a jump and he carves so tightly that snow clouds form when his elbows brush against the slope. This he does all on one ski, while sitting down.

Sixteen-year-old Fandrey, one of the youngest Canadians ever to be diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease called avascular necrosis, hopes to qualify for the Canadian national para-alpine race team this year. This is his third season skiing with a sit-skiing, also known as a bucket, and his second season skiing on the Alberta disabled race team.

“Luckily going really fast is my favourite thing,” says Fandrey. “When you go as fast as 110 km/hr you feel in control and completely out of control at the same time.  It’s amazing. I love it.”

“To make the national team you have to work your balls off,” says Fandrey, who is the only sit-skier on the Alberta disabled race team. “I still have three more races this year, so if I get under 200 points this year then I will train with the prospect team. That is what I’m working towards so I can make the national team.”

In para-alpine skiing, a skier receives 1,000 points at the start of the season. Depending on how a skier ranks in the race, points are subtracted from 1,000.  A first place finish will have more points subtracted than a second place finish. If a skier is unable to make it under 200 points in a season, they start back at 1,000 points the following year.


Fandrey says, “Skiing is a big part of my family culture. As soon as I could walk I was put on skies. So when I couldn’t ski standing up anymore because of my disease, I knew I had to figure out something to do. That is how I found the race team and I started skiing with a bucket.”

The disease

With avascular necrosis, cellular death occurs due to an interruption of the blood supply. This happens when the immune system attacks the body. In Fandrey’s case, it attacked his lower spine causing inflammation. There was no room for the inflammation to go except into both of his hip bones.

“As the inflammation kept building and building in my hips, it put pressure on all the blood vessels in my hips,” says Fandrey. “This is like putting an elastic band around your finger and cutting off your circulation. It did the same thing to my hip bones, killing the bones in both of my hips.”

In December, 2009, Fandrey had exploratory surgery on his right hip after experiencing extreme pain.  Doctors removed excess fluid in his hip but were baffled as to what was the cause of his pain since the hip bone looked normal.

“I couldn’t walk. I dragged my leg around everywhere,” says Fandrey. “When I moved my leg, there was this incredible pain because of all the pressure the inflammation put on the nerves.”

A year to the day later on Dec. 17, 2010, Fandrey’s other hip started to cause pain as well. He was referred to a specialist who did genetic testing and found the gene responsible for avascular necrosis. He was in stage three of a four-stage disease.

“Avascular necrosis usually happens in 70-year-old people.  My specialist had never seen it before in a person my age and to get it in both hips at the same time is unheard of,” says Fandrey. “At least now we can medicate it.”

The disease can’t be reversed, only prevented from getting worse. Fandrey is receiving an injection in his hip called Enbrel. That suppresses his immune system so it doesn’t attack his body. If his immune system is not controlled, the disease will fuse together the vertebrae in his spine to the point where he would no longer be able to turn his neck.

“One of the biggest things with this disease is that since it is in my spine, it actually affects my whole body,” says Fandrey.  “When I am driving down the road and I see bright lights, I will start crying instantly because the inflammation puts pressure on my optic nerves. It also puts pressure on the nerves going through my lungs, so if my spine is inflamed it will hurt when I breath.”

Standing, walking or jumping increases the inflammation in Fandrey’s hips and spine, which puts pressure on his nerves. This is why he must ski with a bucket.

The equipment

Fandrey’s bucket is a molded fibreglass seat attached to a dirt bike shock absorber that snaps into a binding. The binding is set to the maximum din of 20, compared to the 8 to 10 din that an average skier might use. The din determines how tight the binding holds the boot. This is done so that if Fandrey crashes, his ski will not dislodge from his bucket.

“As soon as I got my new bucket, I duct taped the whole thing up. If I crash and I don’t have the sides of the bucket duct taped next to the upper part of my legs, it rips apart the fibreglass,” says Fandrey.

A specific stiffer ski is then attached to the binding. A regular ski is designed to hold around 120 pounds per ski, but Fandrey puts 180 pounds on one ski. This is too much pressure for one edge and so if a regular ski was used, it would break.

To provide balance and pushing power, Fandrey uses two outriggers. These are like poles, but with small ski blades attached at the bottom.

“It took a long time to learn how to ski with a bucket. At first I was just side slipping and not really carving on an edge,” says Fandrey. “It was like that for the first year and then when I joined the racing team they really taught me how to reach out and carve on an edge. Carving probably took that entire next year to learn.”

After perfecting his carving, Fandrey started competing in races around the continent. On his bucket he has the logo sticker of every ski hill where he has skied with the team, making his bucket quite a colorful sight.

The races

The biggest racing event for Fandrey this season will take place in Park City, Utah, at the end of February. He will compete against skiers from across Canada, the U.S.A. and the world. He hopes to place in the top five in both slalom and giant slalom.

“Slalom has the smallest and tightest turns. I like slalom the best because I find that you have to be a lot quicker and a lot more aggressive than in giant slalom,” says Fandrey.

Fandrey races against individuals who have various degrees of disabilities, so he has to try to even out the playing field. Skiers are tested and ranked in different categories depending on how much muscle mass is affected by their specific condition. The less muscle mass a skier has, the higher factor a skier receives. The race time of a higher factor skier is decreased and the race time of a lower factor skier is increased.

The student

Fandrey is not just good at skiing. The grade 11 student is taking all International Baccalaureate courses at his high school in Red Deer, Alberta. He currently has an 86 per cent average even though he misses five weeks of school this year for skiing. After graduation, Fandrey plans to enroll in the engineering program at the University of Calgary.

“When I grow up I want to be a mechanical engineer. I want to build disabled sporting equipment,” says Fandrey. “The biggest benefit of me building disabled sporting equipment is that I can test it. Right now there isn’t one disabled sporting equipment designer out there that I know of that is actually disabled.”

The experience

Each year, if funds allow it, the team goes on a trip to a ski hill where they can train in the summer.

“This summer we are planning on going skiing in either Chile or New Zealand, which would be such a cool experience,” says Fandrey. “Or we might go to Mount Hood, which is in Oregon, where we went this past summer. You get to ski on a glacier. It’s really amazing.”

“Skiing on this team has really given me incredible experiences. I have gotten to see so many places. It really is a cool program and if I make the national team, it will only get better,” says Fandrey.


Demonstrators oppose seal hunt

Halifax demonstrators gathered to voice their disapproval of the Atlantic Canada commercial seal hunt.

By Catharina de Waal

Barry Crozier holds up his protest sign as he takes a stand against the Canadian government spending tax-payer money to subsidize the seal hunt. (Catharina de Waal photo)

Halifax demonstrators gathered on the International Day of Action for Seals to protest against the Atlantic Canada commercial seal hunt.

Bridget Curran, the co-founder and director for the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition, organized the event. It took place at the main gates of the Halifax Public Gardens on March 16.

“Canada’s cruel and unsustainable commercial seal hunt is unacceptable,” says Curran, whose mandate is to educate the public about how harp seal and grey seal pups are clubbed or shot to death in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

“The majority, almost 99 per cent of the harp seals killed in the commercial seal hunt, are younger than three months,” says Curran. “When the pups are killed, they are not even eating solid food yet and they are not able to swim away.

“This is a large slaughter of wildlife on a commercial basis.”

Curran says not only is the seal hunt inhumane, but each year the Canadian government invests millions of taxpayer dollars into an industry with a dying market. This occurs through programs like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, which provides subsidization to Canadian seal processing plants.

Alicia Hodder (left) and Melanie Eisnor are partaking in the International Day of Action for Seals demonstration in Halifax. (Catharina de Waal photo)
On the International Day of Action for Seals, Bridget Curran (far left) leads a group of demonstrators who are opposed to the Atlantic Canada seal hunt. (Catharina de Waal photo)









“The industry is failing. The Canadian government would be better to use that money to help sealers transition out of this unreliable industry,” says Curran. “It is also very good to see demand for seal products dropping and global markets closing.”

Not everyone agrees

Robert Courtney, a spokesman for Hay Island’s seal hunters and the president of the North of Smokey Fishermen’s Association, has been hunting seals for more than 40 years.

“The seal hunt is very important to me,” he says. “Not only is it financially a large part of my livelihood, but it also helps protect the fishing industry by making sure the seals don’t deplete the halibut, cod, lobster and crab populations.

“There is still a large market for seal products. The only problem is that foreign governments, such as Taiwan and the European Union, will not allow the trade of these Canadian products,” says Courtney.

“People want to buy the products but it’s just the lack of access to these markets that gets in the way.”

Courtney says the government subsidizes many industries in Canada, including the automobile industry. Many industries are going through a hard time right now “so why should the seal hunt be treated any different and not be subsidized?”

Numbers support the hunt

Pierre-Yves Daoust, a professor in anatomic and wildlife pathology at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, supports Courtney.

“For several years now, the number of seals harvested has been substantially below the quota established for the seal hunt,” says Daoust.

For example, in 2012 the harp seal quota was 400,000 while only about 70,000 harp seals were culled.

“With such limited harvest relative to the total seal population, it would be doubtful that the hunt could have an affect on the environment,” says Daoust.

Daoust says seal biologists within the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans have actually shown an increase in harp seal and grey seal populations in Canada since the 1970s. Therefore, “it seems clear that the seal hunt has had no negative effect,” says Daoust.

“A lot of effort has been spent to provide information workshops to sealers on best seal harvesting methods from an animal welfare perspective,” says Daoust. “I sincerely believe that the sealing industry has been in full support of these initiatives and a lot of progress has been made in promoting a professional attitude on the part of sealers.”

Related Audio


Link text
Listen to Bridget Curran talk about how the seal markets are closing, resulting in a decreased need for seal products.

Daoust says, “I do not understand the constant emphasis on the seal hunt when there are so many more serious issues affecting the animal world, such as the harvesting of shark fins being among the worst as far as I am concerned.”

“My only explanation is that it is easy for anyone with lots of money to observe the seal hunt and obtain as many graphic images as needed for her own agenda.”

Local Syrians ready to march

Halifax activism group will lead revolution supporters around downtown Saturday as part of the Worldwide March for Syria.

By Mackenzie Scrimshaw

Local Syrian activists will take to the streets of Halifax on Saturday to commemorate the second anniversary of the Syrian Revolution for Freedom.

Omar Isso holds the JFS's weekly pamphlet. (Mackenzie Scrimshaw photo)

The walk is part of  the Worldwide March for Syria, which is scheduled for Mar.15-17 in cities around the globe.

“It’s one of my dreams for people to hit the streets and stand up against the regime,” said Omar Isso, a co-founder of Justice and Freedom for Syria (JFS).

The Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011, has entered into its third year and its effects are felt here in Halifax. The Peninsula is home to a substantial Syrian community, which consists of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and allies of the opposition.

These groups have clashed at previous JFS events, including its weekly public awareness campaigns at Victoria Park. Mohamed Masalmeh, a founder of JFS, says these confrontations have occasionally turned violent and required police intervention.

A fragmented population

Isso immigrated to Canada 19 years ago from the Al-Hasakah province in northeastern Syria, home to a large Kurdish population. He said the current situation in Syria has caused about one million Syrians to flee the country. He encountered roughly 50,000 refugees last week at the Domiz Refugee Camp in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq where he volunteered.

Omar Isso stands on Coburg Road handing out JFS pamphlets to passersby. (Mackenzie Scrimshaw photo)

“That place is not for humans,” says Isso.

About 100,000 Syrians are currently in prison – “a hell” Isso endured for 11 years.

When the previous regime, that of Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad, discovered Isso’s affiliation with a leftist group called the Communist Party for Action, they jailed him from 1981 to 1992. He says he ended up in a political prison in Aleppo, Syria.

Isso was tortured for more than a decade. He says the guards treated the prisoners disgracefully; they defecated on some and sexually assaulted others. Some guards even used the prisoners’ flesh to butt out their cigarettes.

Isso says he would not survive imprisonment in Syria today under Bashar’s rule.

Bashar al-Assad

To Masalmeh, Assad is more of a gang leader than he is a president.

“He’s got no leadership,” says Masalmeh.

Roy Khoury holds a Syrian flag with a photo of the incumbent Bashar al-Assad at its centre. (Mackenzie Scrimshaw photo)

Masalmeh was born in Germany and has never lived in Syria. He did, however, frequent the now war-torn country throughout his childhood and adolescence to visit his extended family. He said Assad’s regime has killed 120 of his family members, who were anywhere from 10 months to 85-years-old.

Assad’s regime has killed about 70,000 Syrians, and according to Masalmeh roughly 5,000 of these were children.

Western media

But Roy Khoury disagrees with these numbers. He moved to Canada 22 years ago from Tartus, a city of 700,000 on the Mediterranean Sea. He says that this death toll has been fabricated – in large part, by western media.

Khoury said Syria is different in reality than it appears in the news.

“All the reporters that go to Syria, they give you the picture they want,” says Khoury. “The media shows only the conflicted areas of the country.”

Khoury insists Assad is not a “bad guy.”

“Why are you asking the government to stop killing? That’s his job. The president, that’s his job: to protect his country.”

Khoury says Assad is protecting civilians. “If you ask any Syrian there, they will tell you, ‘We are happy. We need our country back. We support Bashar al-Assad.”

He says the leader is not at fault. He says the west – that is, the United States and a handful of European countries – are sending al-Qaida into Syria to weaken the country.

“I like him,” says Khoury of Assad. “That doesn’t mean I want him forever.”

Khoury might not want him to hold office forever, but he does want to see Assad’s face when he walks into work every morning.

Mary’s Place Café I and II

Khoury has hung the leader’s portrait at Mary’s Place Café II on Spring Garden Road. Khoury is the restaurant’s owner and chef.

The owner of Mary’s Place Café I and II Roy Khoury stands looking at the photo of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Spring Garden location. (Mackenzie Scrimshaw photo)

He also owns Mary’s Place Café I on Robie Street, where the same photo previously hung. Margueritte Samaha took over the restaurant and asked Khoury two years ago to take the photo down.

Why? “He’s not her president,” said Khoury, explaining Samaha is Lebanese.

It was Khoury’s choice to hang up the photographs. “We support the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” he said, hastening to add that he displayed the images before the conflict began.

Khoury said the picture’s presence has affected his business; local Syrians stopped eating at his restaurants last year.

“They come here to talk to me, but they hate me,” says Khoury.

He says his business no longer depends on local Syrians, but, “they’re welcome all the time.”

Masalmeh says he would never eat at Mary’s Place Café.  The decision to keep Assad’s photo on the wall disgusts him.

If I see his [Assad’s] picture up anywhere I’m taking it down – legally or illegally,” says Masalmeh.

He also says Assad’s followers are encouraging the president and his regime to continue to commit their crimes.

Isso can’t imagine how people continue to respect Assad.

“If I could, I would destroy all photos of Bashar.”