The Wednesday news briefing: An at-a-glance survey of some top stories


Published on March 22, 2017

Emergency services staff provide medical attention close to the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. London police say they are treating a gun and knife incident at Britain's Parliament "as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise." The Metropolitan Police says in a statement that the incident is ongoing. Officials say a man with a knife attacked a police officer at Parliament and was shot by officers. Nearby, witnesses say a vehicle struck several people on the Westminster Bridge. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Highlights from the news file for Wednesday, March 22

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CANADA OFFERS BRITAIN HELP AFTER TERROR ATTACK: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Wednesday's apparent terrorist incident outside the British Parliament is a "cowardly attack" on  democracy around the world. And he says Canada stands ready to help Britain in any way it can after the attack, which left at least four dead in London. Police say the dead include the attacker and a police officer, and some 20 more have been wounded in the incident, which occurred on the grounds of the Parliament Buildings and the nearby Westminster Bridge. Parliament remains in a lock-down while police continue to search the area to ensure there are no other attackers. In Canada's House of Commons, Trudeau said the scene unfolding in London is "all too familiar" to MPs who were on Parliament Hill in October 2014 when a gun-toting Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed into Centre Block after killing a soldier standing on guard at the nearby National War Memorial. Zehaf-Bibeau was killed outside the Library of Parliament in a shoot-out with police and parliamentary security officers. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he called British Home Secretary Amber Rudd to offer Canada's assistance in the aftermath of Wednesday's carnage.

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EI PREMIUMS, SIN TAXES, TAX CHEAT CRACKDOWN TO FINANCE LIBERAL VISION: The federal government is increasing employment insurance premiums and going after drinkers, smokers and tax cheats to help finance a 2017 budget long on vision — high-tech growth, job retraining, lowering barriers for working mothers — but lean on actual spending. The budget details how $11.2 billion will be meted out to cities and provinces for affordable housing over 10 years, and an "innovation and skills plan" for six sectors: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/bio-sciences and clean resources. It also details $7 billion in spending over 10 years for Canadian families, including 40,000 new subsidized daycare spaces across Canada by 2019, extended parental leave and allowing expectant mothers to claim maternity benefits 12 weeks before their due date. The federal deficit, meanwhile, is projected to be smaller than expected: $25.5 billion for 2017-18, not including a $3 billion contingency fund, before declining to $15.8 billion in 2021-22. EI premiums will climb five cents to $1.68 for every $100 of insurable earnings, as will taxes on alcohol and tobacco products, with annual increases tied to the rate of inflation. A crackdown on tax evaders and avoiders is also planned. The 71-year-old Canada Savings Bonds program, long synonymous with painless, low-interest savings for risk-averse adults and gift-giving grandparents, is also being phased out.

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TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHIEF LINKED TO PUTIN INTERESTS: U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The White House on Wednesday acknowledged the AP's revelations had "started to catch a lot of buzz" but brushed them aside. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10-million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work. Manafort confirmed again Wednesday in a statement that he had worked for Deripaska but denied his work had been pro-Russian in nature.

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GUILTY PLEAS IN NOVA SCOTIA INTIMATE-PHOTO CASE: Six male youths in Nova Scotia have pleaded guilty to sharing intimate images of high school girls without their consent, concluding one of Canada's largest prosecutions involving a relatively untested but high-profile law. The six were charged in July 2016 after police in Bridgewater, N.S., concluded a year-long investigation by alleging the teens — all local high school students — had distributed intimate images of at least 20 girls. At the time, four of the accused were 15 years old, and the other two were 18. The six were also charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, but a Crown prosecutor confirmed those charges will be dismissed when they face sentencing July 31. The case is one of the first in Canada involving legislation introduced in late 2013 after the death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, which captured national attention. The 17-year-old attempted suicide and was taken off life support after a digital photo — of what her family says was a sexual assault — was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.

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MAN WANTED IN BOY'S DEATH FLED 2,000 KM BEFORE ARREST: An Ontario man accused of killing his seven-year-old stepson and badly injuring a banker with whom he'd once had professional dealings managed to flee 2,000 kilometres over four days before being arrested, police said Wednesday. Niagara regional police Chief Jeff McGuire said the nation-wide manhunt for 43-year-old Justin Kuijer, which began in St. Catharines, Ont., came to a peaceful end in the parking lot of a Walmart in Kenora, Ont., at about 5 p.m. on Tuesday. A member of the public who had heard of the search for Kuijer recognized the van in which the man allegedly fled. Six provincial police officers responded to the tip and arrested the former roofing company owner without incident, McGuire said. Kuijer had been the subject of a Canada-wide warrant on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his stepson, Nathan Dumas, but McGuire said the man will in fact be charged with first-degree murder in the boy's death, as well as attempted murder in the attack on the RBC employee. McGuire credited steady media exposure and public vigilance for Kuijer's arrest, saying the end of the manhunt can help a devastated community begin to heal.

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ENBRIDGE CUTTING 1,000 JOBS AFTER SPECTRA DEAL: The cuts have come swiftly at energy giant Enbridge Inc., which is laying off about 1,000 staff less than a month after closing its blockbuster takeover of Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. Calgary-based Enbridge says the layoffs, amounting to about six per cent of the 17,000 employees of the combined company, stem from the merger that closed Feb. 27. "After a careful evaluation, Enbridge has taken the difficult but necessary step to address the overlap in the combined company's organizational structure," said spokesman Todd Nogier in a statement. He did not provide details about where the cuts are happening, but says they're being done across the merged company. Nogier also confirmed that the company will be moving out of the Enbridge offices in downtown Houston and consolidating operations in the state at Spectra's offices there by the end of the year. Under the terms of the merger, Calgary became the headquarters of the combined company, while the Houston office became the company's gas pipelines business unit centre. When the C$37-billion, all-stock takeover was announced last September, the companies said they expected to achieve C$540 million in annual cost savings from synergies.

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LAWYERS SEEK FEDERAL HELP FOR FAMILIES THAT HELPED SNOWDEN: Canadian lawyers representing three families who sheltered whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong urged Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Wednesday to expedite their applications as refugees to this country. "Our clients are specifically targeted by Hong Kong's immigration authorities, who are actively trying to get our clients out of its territory and back to their home countries where they will be apprehended, tortured, or killed," lawyer Marc-Andre Seguin told a Montreal news conference. The lawyers want Ottawa to accept the families on an exceptional basis while their applications are processed. Snowden fled to Hong Kong to avoid prosecution over the leak of classified material about  U.S. government surveillance programs. A congressional inquiry into the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor concluded the leaks compromised national security. The families in question have been publicly quoted as saying they hid Snowden in their apartments for a few weeks in 2013 before he went to Russia. The lawyers told a news conference March 9 of their intention to bring "Snowden's guardian angels" to Canada. Since then, according to Seguin, support for the seven people has increased but Hong Kong officials have also attempted to expedite their deportations to their home countries of Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

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SENTATE ETHICS BODY MULLS MEREDITH SANCTIONS: The Senate's ethics committee is meeting behind closed doors to determine what sanctions can or should be imposed on  disgraced Sen. Don Meredith for engaging in a sexual relationship with a teenage girl. Options under consideration range from a reprimand to outright expulsion from the upper house. Meredith has rejected near-universal calls from fellow senators for his resignation since Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard issued a damning report earlier this month which concluded Meredith had violated the chamber's code of ethics. Ricard said the 52-year-old, married, Pentecostal pastor, improperly used his Senate position to lure the vulnerable teen, identified only as Ms. M. According to Ricard's report, Meredith's relationship with Ms. M began when she was 16. It progressed from flirtatious online chats to fondling and sexually explicit live videos and, eventually, to sexual intercourse — once shortly before the teen turned 18 and twice after. Meredith has acknowledged the relationship but maintains he had intercourse with the teen only after she turned 18. The Senate, which must sign off on whatever sanction the ethics committee recommends, has never expelled a senator before and it's not clear whether it has the constitutional authority to do so when the senator in question has not been convicted of any crime.

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APPEAL COURT SAYS VICE MEDIA MUST TURN OVER FILES TO RCMP: A Vice Media reporter must give the RCMP the background materials he used for stories on an accused terrorist, Ontario's top court affirmed Wednesday. In a case that pitted freedom of the press against the ability of police and prosecutors to do their work, the Ontario Court of Appeal said it found no errors in an earlier ruling that went against the Canadian media outlet. Reporter Ben Makuch, backed by various media and civil rights groups, had fought the RCMP's production order, arguing police use of journalists to further criminal investigations would make sources reluctant to come forward. However, the Appeal Court said Superior Court Justice lan MacDonnell had been alive to a potential "chilling effect" in this case. Those factors include an absence of a request by Makuch's source for confidentiality — in fact the source was "anxious to tell the world" about his beliefs and conduct, the Appeal Court said. Vice expressed disappointment with the Appeal Court decision but said it might try to continue its legal battle by seeking leave to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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ALBERTA WANTS CHANGES TO 'WOMEN'S STUDIES' COURSE: Alberta's education minister wants a school division to immediately revamp a course entitled "Women Studies" that teaches tween girls about hairstyles, flattering clothing, dinner party etiquette and polite conversation. David Eggen says the NDP government has made gender equity a top priority and understands why concerns are being raised about the course offered by the Pembina Hills School Division to girls in Grades 6 to 9. "Alberta Education and representatives from my office are in contact with the school board and will be seeking changes to this course immediately," he said in an emailed statement. David Garbutt, acting superintendent for the division in central Alberta, was in a board meeting Wednesday and unavailable for an interview. In a statement, he said the course is a "work in progress" and the board is listening to the constructive criticism it has received. "We will be reviewing the curriculum to ensure that it doesn't reinforce stereotypes in the process of encouraging positive self-image and self-esteem," he said.

The Canadian Press