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


Published on April 19, 2017

An asylum claimant claiming to be from the Democratic Republic of Congo is arrested by an RCMP officer after crossing the border into Canada from the United States, Tuesday, March 28, 2017 near Hemmingford, Que. The number of people stopped by the RCMP after illegally entering Canada rose in March.New figures released Wednesday by the federal government show the RCMP intercepted 887 people crossing between official border points, up from 658 in February and 315 in January.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Highlights from the news file for Wednesday, April 19

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RCMP SAY 887 PEOPLE TRIED TO ILLEGALLY ENTER CANADA LAST MONTH: The number of people stopped by the RCMP after illegally entering Canada rose in March. New figures released Wednesday by the federal government show the RCMP intercepted 887 people crossing between official border points, up from 658 in February and 315 in January. Of those stopped in March, 644 were picked up in Quebec, 170 in Manitoba and 71 in B.C., with lone crossers nabbed in Alberta and New Brunswick. While none were picked up in Saskatchewan in the first three months of the year, on Wednesday the RCMP said they charged a woman with human smuggling after intercepting nine refugee claimants crossing the border into that province from the United States last Friday. Some of those coming to Canada in spots like Emerson, Man., have told authorities they were motivated to leave the U.S. because of the new administration, fearful their asylum claims won't be treated fairly or that general anti-immigrant sentiment was rising. Others have been found to have had Canada in their sights all along as their final destination, obtaining U.S. visas solely for the purpose of coming here. The figures also show a general overall increase in asylum claims in Canada, with 3,440 processed in March compared with 2,885 in February.

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AMBASSADOR DOWNPLAYS TALK OF TRADE RIFT: Ottawa's envoy to Washington downplayed talk of growing trade irritants with the U.S., a day after President Donald Trump sharply criticized Canada's well-guarded dairy sector. Ambassador David MacNaughton says despite some U.S. rhetoric — and his own rebuttal letter released Tuesday — he still expects there will be "constructive discussions" between the two countries because so many jobs on both sides of the border depend on trade. After a meeting Wednesday with the Nova Scotia cabinet, MacNaughton said upcoming negotiations around revamping NAFTA won't be easy, but the process will work out "just fine" in the end. He did not address Trump's comments directly, and avoided questions about whether they signal the onset of a cross-border trade war. "All I can tell you is I've had ongoing discussions with the White House ... and all of those discussions have been positive and professional — they've been extremely responsive," said MacNaughton. "Our relationship with the U.S. administration is extremely strong and I think it's going to pay dividends in the long run." In the meantime, MacNaughton said Canada needs to be prepared on every single issue when it comes to cross-border trade and shouldn't isolate any one sector.

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FOX NEWS CUTS TIES WITH O'REILLY AFTER HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS: Fox News Channel's parent company fired Bill O'Reilly on Wednesday following an investigation into harassment allegations, bringing a stunning end to cable television news' most popular program and one that came to define the bravado of the network over 20 years. O'Reilly lost his job on the same day he was photographed in Rome shaking the hand of Pope Francis. The downfall of Fox's most popular — and most lucrative — personality began with an April 2 report in The New York Times that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about unpleasant encounters with O'Reilly, who has denied any wrongdoing. Dozens of his show's advertisers fled within days, even though O'Reilly's viewership increased. O'Reilly's exit came nine months after his former boss, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, was ousted following allegations of sexual harassment. Following the Times story, 21st Century Fox said it had asked the same law firm that investigated Ailes to look into O'Reilly's behaviour . 21st Century Fox leaders Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James said in a memo to Fox staff that their decision to axe O'Reilly came following an "extensive review" of the charges.

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1984 MASSACRE LOOMS OVER SAJJAN'S TRIP TO INDIA: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he hopes the Indian government will do more to find justice for the thousands of Sikhs who were killed in violent riots more than 30 years ago. Sajjan is on a bit of a homecoming to the Asian country, where he was born and lived until coming to Canada with his family when he was five years old. But while the main purpose of the trip is to establish closer ties between the two countries, Sajjan says the deaths that occurred across India in 1984 in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination have figured prominently in his meetings. Sajjan says he shares the concerns raised by some Sikhs in Canada that too little has been done to seek justice for the victims. He says Indian officials had their own strong words for a recent motion that was adopted in the Ontario legislature which labelled the killings a genocide. Sajjan also says he is disappointed with the comments of one Indian political leader who labelled him a Sikh nationalist, but is determined to avoid being sucked into internal Indian politics.

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120 DIED IN B.C. LAST MONTH OF ILLICIT OVERDOSES: Nearly four people died every day last month from illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia. Data from the BC Coroners Service says 120 people died in March, the third-highest death toll for a single month on record in the province. Almost 83 per cent of the victims in the first three months of this year were men, and those between the ages of 30 and 49 accounted for the highest number of dead. Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says the powerful opioid fentanyl appears to account for the large increase in overdose deaths since 2012, because overdoses where fentanyl isn't detected have remained relatively stable. Lapointe says while harm reduction measures are reversing thousands of overdoses, long-term measures to stem the tide must include education at an early age and evidence-based treatment. The coroner is part of the B.C. government's joint task force on overdose response along with other health, community and law enforcement agencies formed after the declaration of a health emergency last year.

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LAWYER SAYS ACCUSED SMUGGLERS JUST LENDING A HAND: The lawyer for one of four men accused of smuggling dozens of Tamil migrants into Canada says her client was simply an equal player in helping the group get across the Pacific Ocean to reach Canada and claim asylum. Fiona Begg told the B.C. Supreme Court trial in her closing arguments that the 76 migrants on board the MV Ocean Lady were working together and shared a common goal to get to Canada in October 2009. Crown attorney Maggie Loda told the court Tuesday the men were in control of the vessel and were out to make a profit on those who wanted asylum in Canada. But Begg told the judge-alone trial that her client, Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, didn't receive preferential treatment while aboard the dilapidated vessel and his living conditions were equal to the other migrants. The Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for the men after ruling portions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act were unconstitutional and shouldn't automatically brand those who help migrants as human smugglers.

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ONTARIO HOUSING PLAN TACKLES SPECULATION, SUPPLY: Ontario's highly anticipated package of housing measures is set to be announced Thursday and will take aim at speculators, expedite more supply, tackle rental affordability and look at realtor practices. The provincial Liberal government has been facing increasing pressure to cool the market in the Greater Toronto Area, where the average price of detached houses rose to $1.21 million last month, up 33.4 per cent from a year ago. The intention of the package is to "give everyone some breathing space" in a frenzied market, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday. Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa has spoken frequently in recent weeks about going after speculators, who buy houses in the hope of turning a profit rather than to live in. Sousa has been considering a tax on non-resident speculators, but he has declined to clarify what that could look like. The package will also deal with how to expedite the availability of housing supply, Sousa said, as the government has heard complaints from builders that the process is too cumbersome. Sousa discussed vacancy rates that are constraining supply at a meeting this week with the federal finance minister and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has been talking about a vacant homes tax.

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PHARMACY DISTRIBUTORS EYEING POT LANDSCAPE: The federal government's plans for legalizing recreational marijuana has many would-be players looking to carve out a role for themselves in the emerging market, including pharmaceutical distributors who already ship drugs across the country. The Canadian Association for Pharmacy Distribution Management — a supplier of medicine for pharmacies and hospitals — says it has a ready-made system for marijuana distribution that is far superior to mail-order pot. Pharmaceutical distributors offer a more appropriate vehicle for the recreational marijuana market, CEO David Johnston said in an interview Wednesday, noting they already have the infrastructure in place to handle potential recalls, be it in downtown Toronto or remote northern Ontario. The federal government plans to have an established regime for legalized marijuana by July 2018, but will be requiring provincial and territorial governments to play a critical role on issues including licensing, distribution and retail sales.

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BOMBARDIER GETS PROCEDURAL WIN AGAINST METROLINX: Bombardier Transportation scored a procedural victory against an Ontario transit agency Wednesday when a judge ruled that Metrolinx can't cancel a $770-million contract without first going through a dispute resolution process. Glenn Hainey, of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, rejected Metrolinx's argument that an arbitration process spelled out in the contract doesn't apply to its right to terminate the agreement for material default. He ordered Bombardier to take "all reasonable steps" to expedite the dispute process. Metrolinx alleges that Bombardier has repeatedly failed to deliver a prototype vehicle on time for the scheduled 2021 opening of the $5.3-billion Eglinton Crosstown line. The agency has also said Bombardier's request for a court injunction to block the contract termination is a tactic to force months of litigation that would make it impossible for another supplier to provide the vehicles on time. Bombardier has rejected Metrolinx's allegations, saying it will deliver the vehicles on time by November 2018, well before the Eglinton Crosstown tracks are even built. Hainey agreed with Bombardier that there is a meaningful risk that the company will suffer "irreparable harm" if the contract for 182 rail cars is terminated, regardless of Bombardier's ability to secure financial damages.

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FENTANYL CONFIRMED ON NEW BRUNSWICK FIRST NATION: Health Canada has confirmed a pill seized on the Esgenoopetitj First Nation in New Brunswick contained fentanyl. RCMP say five Esgenoopetitj residents have been hospitalized since April 10 from suspected overdoses of the drug, a powerful synthetic opioid that has killed hundreds in western Canada but is relatively new to the East Coast. Police are continuing to investigate the April 11 death of a 35-year-old woman on the First Nation, saying an autopsy determined she died of an overdose, although they are still awaiting toxicology results. Her death has fuelled a growing movement on New Brunswick's First Nations to banish drug dealers. Police say the seized pill is blue, about one centimetre in diameter and inscribed with "Percocet 5." They say there was one other suspected overdose, but that person did not go to hospital. In the case of one man, RCMP administered naloxone spray, which appeared to reverse the drug's effects.

The Canadian Press