France became the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage, following New Zealand last week. The bill passed despite at-times violent opposition by far-right groups. Earlier this week, the speaker of France’s lower house received an envelope filled with gunpowder and a warning to stop the vote. But polls showed the majority of French support same-sex marriage, just as they have in countries across Europe (even strongly Catholic ones such as Portugal) that have approved similar laws. More evidence that the same-sex-marriage debate is, for most, not a religious one, but one of human rights.
It’s official. After nine disappointing, frustrating, insert-adjective-here years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made the playoffs, achieving what every other NHL team has since the 2004 lockout. Vancouver, Montreal and, in all likelihood, Ottawa or Winnipeg, will join them, and while the odds are long that one of them will win the Stanley Cup, a fan can dream. Meanwhile, the NHL is reportedly planning six outdoor games next season—including one in L.A.—suggesting hockey might be in sight of its holy grail: to be cool in both Canada and the U.S.
It was a good week for seeking out new life and new civilizations. The Netherlands-based non-profit Mars One launched its selection program for “would-be Mars settlers” wishing to blast off for the red planet by 2023. Meantime, NASA astronomers identified a pair of planets that appear capable of supporting life. Life on the new planets could be very advanced, researchers say, because their star is older than our sun. But it’s a comfort that they sit about 1,200 light years away: until we know the neighbours, it might be best to keep them at arm’s length.
A healthy, ordinary life
The infant mortality rate fell to a new low in the U.S., dropping a surprising 12 per cent between 2005 and 2011, new health data show. Meanwhile, researchers in Australia have uncovered one way for people to live longer: avoid fame. Their review of 1,000 New York Times obituaries found popular performers and sports stars live much shorter lives than academics and professionals.
Is Washington really considering a border-crossing fee for Canadians entering the U.S. by land? Or is this a late April Fool’s joke? The Department of Homeland Security slipped the item into its budget as a means of paying for more security on our ever-thickening border with the U.S.—to the dismay of New York politicians, who note that it mocks the spirit of NAFTA. Ottawa should make it clear we will not—repeat, not—retaliate with a similar fee. Americans are more than welcome to come here to shop, invest and do business, free of charge.
Nearly half of the 166 prisoners held by the U.S. in Guantánamo Bay are now on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention. Five have been hospitalized and 16 are being force-fed. One prisoner of 11 years told his story in the New York Times. “I have never been charged with any crime,” he said. “I could have been home years ago—no one seriously thinks I am a threat—but I am still here.” No one needs reminding this week that terrorism is a serious threat, but Guantánamo is a troubling chapter in the war on terror, and one that still needs to be resolved.
The death toll from the earthquake in China’s Sichuan province has been raised to at least 192. More than 11,000 are injured and 23 are still missing. Chinese officials recorded the quake at magnitude 7.0, while some aftershocks have been as powerful as 5.0 on the Richter scale. On the other side of the Pacific, authorities have just concluded that last year’s deadly hurricane Sandy was so powerful that waves hitting the eastern seaboard created seismic tremors that registered as magnitude 2.0 earthquakes.
Earth Day downers
Avert your eyes, Mother Earth. An International Energy Agency report said no progress has been made in 20 years of trying to cut carbon content of energy supplies, despite $2 trillion of investment in wind and solar power. Around the same time, Canopy, a key conservationist group, pulled out of the Boreal Forest Agreement to preserve the vast carbon sink of the northern woodlands, citing a lack of progress over the past three years.