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Ottawa mayor blasts protest support, COVID rules loosening: In The News for Feb. 3

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Feb. 3 ... What we are watching in Canada ...

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Feb. 3 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Ottawa's mayor is calling on several Conservatives MPs and a senator from Saskatchewan to apologize for praising the anti-vaccine mandate protest that has brought the capital's downtown to a standstill for close to a week.

A photo shows MPs Warren Steinley, Kevin Waugh, Andrew Scheer, Fraser Tolmie, Rosemarie Falk and Sen. Denise Batters grinning -- some giving the thumbs-up -- in front of one of the protest trucks, which have been barricading roads and honking horns in the city almost non-stop since Saturday. 

On Twitter, Waugh said a few of Saskatchewan caucus members "went to show their appreciation for the hardworking, patriotic truckers who have kept our supply chains healthy & grocery shelves stocked for the past two years."

He added, "it's great to see Canadians championing freedom on Parliament Hill." 

Mayor Jim Watson responded on Twitter by calling the action an "absolute disgrace," saying residents have been harassed by protesters and businesses have been forced to close.

On Wednesday, Ottawa's police chief said all options are on the table, including calling in the military, to end the ongoing demonstration that was being called an "occupation" by some city councillors.

Police estimate they have already spent more than $3 million to manage the protest and respond to emergencies. In comparison, the Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill in 2017 cost Ottawa police about $1.5 million.

There have been calls for the more than $10 million raised by protest organizers on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe to go toward the costs of policing the demonstrators and reparations for their behaviour.

GoFundMe says it has paused and is reviewing the fundraising campaign to ensure it complies with its terms of service.


Also this ...

Health officials are warning the drop in COVID-related hospitalizations in some provinces could come to an end as public health restrictions are loosened.

Ontario's top doctor is to hold a news conference later today, his first since restrictions began to ease this week and follows modelling from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table that predicts a rise in cases in the coming weeks.

Ontario and Quebec are allowing indoor restaurant dining at 50 per cent capacity.

Manitoba's chief public health officer said yesterday that data shows the province may have passed the peak of the Omicron-fuelled surge and restrictions on gathering sizes and people allowed at sports events will be relaxed beginning on Tuesday.

Alberta and Saskatchewan reported record numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19 this week as both provinces announced they hope to remove vaccine passport requirements by the end of the month.

But the president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, Dr. Eben Strydom, says it is too soon to loosen, or remove, public health measures, warning of further strain on the health-care system, and those who work in it. 


And this ...

Manitoba MP Candice Bergen is waking up with a new job today: unifying the Conservative caucus.

The party's former deputy leader was elected by her colleagues to serve as interim leader after a majority of MPs ousted Erin O'Toole from the top job. 

Bergen faces a caucus that has spent weeks divided and angry over O'Toole's leadership since last year's election loss. 

The party must also start preparing to pick a permanent leader, the third such race in the past five years.

Party president Rob Batherson told members that its national council will be appointing a leadership election organizing committee and will soon meet to discuss the issue.

People are already speculating about who will enter the race.

Tory finance critic and Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre would be considered a strong contender if he decides to run.

Southwestern Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu, who put her name forward to lead the party on the interim basis, told reporters Wednesday she's also considering another leadership bid. 

Rona Ambrose, who was a cabinet minister in former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government and became interim leader after he stepped down, ruled out a run on Wednesday despite many members hoping she would enter the fray.


What we are watching in the U.S. ...

NEW YORK _ Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is due back Thursday in a New York City courtroom more than a week after the start of a trial in her libel lawsuit against The New York Times was postponed because she tested positive for COVID-19.

The trial is to begin in the morning in federal court in Manhattan where Palin will be the star witness. She's seeking unspecified damages based on claims that an editorial in the Times hurt her budding career as a political commentator.

A judge put off the trial last week to give an unvaccinated Palin time to get over any possible symptoms. Away from court, she caused a stir by being sighted dining out at an upscale Manhattan restaurant twice, both shortly before and after her positive test results were made public.

Palin, 57, has publicly said she won't get a shot.

Palin sued the Times in 2017, accusing it of damaging her reputation with an editorial about gun control published after Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, was wounded when a man with a history of anti-GOP activity opened fire on a Congressional baseball team practice in Washington.

In the editorial, the Times wrote that before the 2011 mass shooting in an Arizona supermarket parking lot that severely wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed six others, Palin's political action committee circulated a map of electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

In a correction two days later, The Times said the editorial had ``incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting'' and that it had ``incorrectly described'' the map. 

The disputed wording had been added to the editorial by James Bennet, then the editorial page editor. At trial, a jury would have to decide whether he acted with ``actual malice,'' meaning that he knew what he wrote was false, or with ``reckless disregard'' for the truth.

Bennet has said he believed the editorial was accurate when it was published.


What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

ATMEH, Syria _ U.S. special forces carried out what the Pentagon said was a successful, large-scale counterterrorism raid in northwestern Syria early Thursday. 

First responders at the scene reported 13 people had been killed, including six children and four women.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a brief statement that the mission was a success. "There were no U.S. casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available.''

Residents and activists described witnessing a large ground assault, with U.S. forces using loudspeakers urging women and children to leave the area. Several residents said they saw body parts scattered near the site of the raid, a house in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, and said the raid involved helicopters, explosions and machine-gun fire.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said 13 people were killed in shelling and clashes that ensued after U.S. the commando raid. They included six children and four women, it said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, also said the strike killed 13 people, including four children and two women. Ahmad Rahhal, a citizen journalist who visited the site, reported seeing 12 bodies.

The Pentagon provided no details on who was the target of the raid, or if any combatants or civilians on the ground were killed or injured.


On this day in 1967 ...

Prime minister Lester Pearson announced the formation of a Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Chaired by journalist Florence Bird, it was the first such panel headed by a woman. Its 1970 report made 167 recommendations aimed at ending sexual inequality in Canada, including paid maternity leave.


In entertainment ...

TORONTO _ A two-part documentary about Canadian comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall is headed to Prime Video after debuting next month at the South by Southwest festival.

Amazon's streaming arm says "The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks'' will feature archival footage from the quintet's earliest years, behind-the-scenes clips from their eponymous sketch series and in-depth interviews with members Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson.

The documentary dives into the group's post-punk era origins in the mid-1980s, five seasons of their television series, a controversial feature film and multiple sold-out tours.

It is set to premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin this March before landing on Prime Video later this year.

The look-back joins a Toronto-shot revival of "The Kids in the Hall'' sketch series bound for Prime Video later this year.

The original comedy aired from 1989 to 1995 on CBC, as well as CBS and HBO in the United States.

Produced by Blue Ant Studios, the new documentary is drawn from the biography "The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy'' by Paul Myers, who serves as an executive producer.

Featured interviews include Fred Armisen, Lauren Ash, Jay Baruchel, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard, Mae Martin, Lorne Michaels and Mike Myers.



Newly revealed correspondence between the federal government and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) at the start of the pandemic is raising questions around the regulator's independence.

Unredacted emails show senior officials spoke with the agency's top brass about how airlines could compensate passengers for cancelled trips because of COVID-19.

Section 39 of the CTA's code of conduct says that "members shall not communicate with political actors or officials of other federal departments and agencies ... regarding a matter that is, was, or could be before the agency.''

However, the emails indicate that then-transport minister Marc Garneau's chief of staff spoke with the agency's chairman and the department's top bureaucrat in March 2020 about an upcoming CTA statement that airlines could issue flight credits rather than refunds for cancelled trips.

The correspondence also shows a senior civil servant at Transport Canada reached out to the arm's-length agency to discuss concerns brought up by Air Transat about having to reimburse customers for flights it cancelled.

The CTA's statement in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic that vouchers rather than refunds constitute a "reasonable approach'' toward out-of-pocket passengers sparked public backlash and thousands of complaints to the transportation agency.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2022

The Canadian Press

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