In The News for March 23: Liberal MP quits caucus amid Chinese interference claims


Published March 23, 2023 at 10:07 am

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 March 23 …

What we are watching in Canada …

Han Dong, the member of Parliament at the centre of allegations of Chinese meddling in Canadian affairs, has resigned from the Liberal caucus and will sit as an Independent.

“I’m taking this extraordinary step because sitting in the government caucus is a privilege,” Dong told the House of Commons Wednesday night. “And my presence there may be seen by some as a conflict of duty and the wrong place to be as an independent investigation pursues the facts in this matter.”

Global News, citing unnamed security sources, published a report Wednesday night alleging that Dong advised a Chinese diplomat in Toronto in February 2021 on the cases of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

At the time, the two Canadian men had been detained in China for just over two years in apparent retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Global News reported that Dong told the Chinese consul general that releasing the men would benefit the Opposition Conservatives, but also that showing some “progress” in the case would help the Liberals.

The Canadian Press has not independently verified the allegations.

Dong, the MP for Don Valley North since 2019, told Global News that he did meet with China’s consul general but disputed how the conversation about the men known as the “two Michaels” was characterized, calling the reports false.

In his speech, which ended in tears, Dong also addressed Kovrig, Spavor and their families.

“I did nothing to cause them any harm,” he said. “Like everyone in this House, I worked hard and advocated for their interest as a parliamentarian,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s Office was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday night.

Also this …

He’s hell-bent on restoring blue-collar American manufacturing to its former glory, considers free trade a dirty word and wants Canada to wade voluntarily into a failed, gang-ravaged state that’s a quagmire waiting to happen.

To be sure, Joe Biden is no Donald Trump. But he doesn’t always make it obvious.

The U.S. president arrives in Ottawa tonight on a whirlwind 24-hour visit — a significantly less elaborate itinerary than first envisioned in the Prime Minister’s Office — two full years since becoming commander-in-chief.

“This will be the first true, in-person bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Canada since 2009,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

The first year of Biden’s term focused on rebuilding Canada-U.S. relations following Trump’s divisive term in office. The second focused on meeting obligations, “including prioritizing orderly and safe migration through regular pathways,” Kirby said.

“Now, heading into the third, this visit is about taking stock of what we’ve done, where we are and what we need to prioritize for the future.”

While he’s far less undiplomatic and publicly combative than his both-barrels predecessor, Biden’s first two years in the Oval Office produced more than enough political headaches for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Friday’s meetings may not offer much remedy.

High on Canada’s wish list will be frank talk on Buy American, the age-old protectionist doctrine resurrected by every 21st-century president short of George W. Bush and one of Biden’s favourite domestic political messages.

“The president is very committed to policies that create jobs in the United States, and we don’t take issue with that policy,” said Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.

“What we say is … when you apply it to Canada and deeply integrated Canada supply chains, it does not serve your policy purpose. It does the exact opposite.”

And this too …

A family member of residential school survivors says the minimum $55-million price tag for Pope’ visit to Canada last year feels like another slap in the face for Indigenous people.

“Think of all the money that could have gone to survivors, all of the money that could have gone to healing, all of the money that was rightfully supposed to be given to folks who survived genocide,” Michelle Robinson, who is Sahtu Dene, said from Calgary.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under freedom of information laws show the federal government spent a minimum of $55,972,683 for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit Canada over six days last July.

Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools during stops in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut.

Indigenous Services Canada earmarked about $30 million. Those funds were to be used for travel, local programs and healing initiatives.

Crown-Indigenous Relations spent $5.1 million, the majority for a $3.9-million contract to broadcast the papal tour’s stops, as well as translation services into Indigenous languages and French.

RCMP said, as of Feb. 24, 2023, it had spent more than $18 million, which included overtime pay, travel expenditures and accommodation costs. Global Affairs Canada spent about $2 million on travel, meetings and accommodations, plus an additional $35,728 on communication and media relations.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools over a century, and the Catholic Church ran about 60 per cent of the institutions.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

A rare tornado touched down in a Los Angeles suburb on Wednesday, ripping roofs off a line of commercial buildings and sending the debris twisting into the sky and across a city block, injuring one person.

The U.S. National Weather Service sent teams to assess damage in Montebello and later confirmed that a tornado had touched down around 11:20 a.m.

The weather service later said that the tornado was an EF1, a measurement on the Enhanced Fujita Scale that indicates it had winds of 138 kph to 177 kph. That made it the strongest tornado to hit the Los Angeles metropolitan area since March 1983, the weather service said.

“It’s definitely not something that’s common for the region,” said meteorologist Rose Schoenfeld with the weather service.

One person was injured and was taken to a hospital in Montebello, said Alex Gillman, a city spokesman. He didn’t know the severity of the injury.

Debris was spread over more than one city block. Inspectors checked 17 buildings in the area, and 11 of them were red-tagged as uninhabitable, according to the fire department. Several cars were also damaged.

The rare and violent weather came amid a strong late-season Pacific storm that brought damaging winds and more rain and snow to saturated California. Two people died Tuesday as the storm raked the San Francisco Bay Area with powerful gusts and downpours. An on-duty San Francisco police sergeant was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a tree fell on him Tuesday, the department said.

The weather service also sent assessment teams to the Santa Barbara County city of Carpinteria, where it confirmed that a tornado hit a mobile home park on Tuesday, with gusts up to 120 kph that damaged about 25 residences.

That tornado was measured at a relatively weak EF0, with winds of 105 kph to 129 kph.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

French unions on Thursday are holding their first mass demonstrations since President Emmanuel Macron inflamed public anger by forcing a higher retirement age through parliament without a vote. Strikes are upending travel, and blockades are expected at ports, refineries and garbage dumps.

Violence has intensified in recent days at scattered protests against the pension reform and Macron’s leadership.

Macron is stubbornly resisting the growing discontent on the streets of France, saying Wednesday that the pension bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 must be implemented by the end of the year.

Critics attacked Macron for the remarks, describing him as “self-satisfied,” “out of touch” and “offensive.”

The president’s comments Wednesday were his first since the government forced the pension bill through parliament last week for lack of enough support. The government then survived two no-confidence votes in the lower chamber of parliament Monday.

The bill must now pass a review by France’s Constitutional Council before becoming law.

The 45-year-old centrist president, in his second and final term, repeatedly said he was convinced that France’s retirement system needed to be modified to keep it financed. Opponents propose other solutions including higher taxes on the wealthy or companies, which Macron says would hurt the economy.

On this day in 1949 …

Royal assent was given to the North America Bill, passed by the British Parliament, for the union of Canada and Newfoundland. It became Canada’s 10th province eight days later.

In entertainment …

Two daughters of a retired optometrist suing Gwyneth Paltrow are expected to testify on Thursday about the lasting effects of their father and Paltrow’s 2016 ski collision as the trial takes on an increasingly personal note on the third day of proceedings.

Attorneys are expected to call Polly Grasham and Shae Herath to the stand and question them about the broken ribs and lasting brain damage that their father Terry Sanderson claims he sustained after he and Paltrow crashed at one of North America’s most upscale ski resorts seven years ago.

Neurologist Richard Boehme and Paltrow herself could also be called to testify on either Thursday or Friday.

Sanderson is suing Paltrow for $300,000, claiming she recklessly crashed into him while the two were skiing on a beginner run at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. In a counterclaim, Paltrow is seeking $1 and attorney fees. The amount of money at stake for both sides pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multi-year lawsuit and expert witness-heavy trial.

During the first two days of trial, Sanderson’s attorneys and expert medical witnesses have described how injuries were likely caused by someone crashing into him from behind. They attributed noticeable changes in Sanderson’s mental acuity to that day’s injuries.

Paltrow’s attorneys have worked to paint Sanderson as a 76-year-old whose decline followed a normal course of aging rather than resulted from crashing into their celebrity client. They have not yet called witnesses of their own to testify, but in opening statements previewed for jurors that they plan to call Paltrow’s husband Brad Falchuk and her two children, Moses and Apple.

They have thus far attempted to poke holes in testimony from Sanderson’s team of experts and are expected to question his two daughters about their father mentioning Paltrow’s fame and an email alluding to footage recorded on a Go Pro camera that hasn’t been found or included in evidence. Her team has previously accused Sanderson of suing to exploit Paltrow’s wealth and celebrity. She is the Oscar-winning star of “Shakespeare in Love” and founder-CEO of the beauty and wellness company Goop

Did you see this?

New figures released by Statistics Canada show hate crimes reported to police continued to spike across the country in the second year of the pandemic as people were targeted by race, religion and sexual orientation.

The agency says in a news release that all provinces and territories experienced increases in hate crime reports in 2021 except Yukon, where they were unchanged.

Incidents motivated by religion were up 67 per cent across Canada, while reports to police involving sexual orientation rose by 63 per cent, and race-related incidents were up six per cent.

The statistics agency says the pandemic “exacerbated experiences of discrimination,” including hate crimes, and “underscored an increase in discourse” about the issue.

Overall, there were 3,360 hate crimes of all motivations reported to police in 2021, up by 27 per cent, after a 35 per cent increase in 2020.

Reports of hate crime targeting East or Southeast Asians rose 16 per cent to 305 incidents in 2021, a level that is more than four times higher than it was in 2019.

Statistics Canada says community awareness and relations with police can influence whether incidents get reported at all, and just over one in five reported incidents result in charges being laid or recommended. It says the victims and those accused of reported hate crimes are most often men and boys.

In British Columbia, religious hate crime reports more than doubled to 150 in 2021, while in Alberta they tripled to 91 incidents.

In Ontario, hate crimes based on sexual orientation were up 107 per cent.

The Canadian Press

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