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Nova Scotia sets up expert advisory panel on school sports safety


Citadel Phoenix’s Emma MacDougall works the ball upfield during action against Halifax West during a metro high school game on the Mainland Common in Halifax on May 16, 2019. - Tim Krochak
Citadel Phoenix’s Emma MacDougall works the ball upfield during action against Halifax West during a metro high school game on the Mainland Common in Halifax on May 16, 2019. - Tim Krochak

An expert panel has been struck to advise Education Minister Zach Churchill about safety in school sports across the province.

The panel will provide advice on ways to prevent and reduce injuries, including head injuries, in school sports, along with looking at strategies to promote safety and prevent injury.

"When it comes to inter-school sport, we need the highest possible standards of safety," Churchill said in a news release. "At the same time, we want conditions that allow as many students as possible to take part and access opportunities to participate."

The panel will report back to the minister by Aug. 31.

The panel was struck in response to the high school rugby controversy that made headlines this spring. The Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation cancelled public school rugby games because of safety concerns on May 2. A public outcry ensued and Churchill reinstated high school rugby across the province a day later.

The minister said he made his reinstatement decision because the federation had neglected to consult school communities about the move and did not inform the Education Department it intended to make the decision public, in contravention of its agreement with the province.

Churchill also referred to arguments by Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer and one of the 17 panelists, and other physicians who publicly urged the NSSAF to reverse the decision.

The panel will review practices and policies in coaching and training, and protocols on preventing injuries. They will also examine legislation, policies and practices from other jurisdictions related to injuries, including concussions.

The panel includes government, provincial and national sport organizations, medical experts and athlete representatives.

Along with Strang, the Inter-School Sport Safety Review Panel consists of:

  • Sue Taylor-Foley, executive director, education innovation, programs and services, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
  • Michelle Aucoin, director, provincial services, Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage
  • Jamie Ferguson, CEO, Sport Nova Scotia
  • Karen Furneaux, athlete representative
  • Dr. John Gillis, emergency physician
  • Jennifer Heatley, project executive, health promotion, Department of Health and Wellness
  • Paul Hunter, director of development, Rugby Canada
  • Dave Jones, regional executive director, Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education
  • Stephen MacNeil, chair, board of governors, Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF)
  • David Napier, president, Basketball Nova Scotia
  • Gerry Post, executive director, Accessibility Directorate
  • Jennifer Russell, executive director, Atlantic Collaborative on Injury Prevention
  • Lori Sigfridson, Tri-County Regional Centre for Education and president, Physical and Health Education Canada
  • Shaquille Smith, athlete representative
  • Carolyn Townsend, director, communications and strategic relations, Sport Nova Scotia
  • Amy Walsh, executive director, Hockey Nova Scotia

The panel met for two days last week and will meet twice more this summer.

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