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

By The Canadian Press
March 20, 2017 - 3:45pm

Highlights from the news file for Monday, March 20

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FBI INVESTIGATING RUSSIAN TIES TO TRUMP TEAM: A political bombshell landed Monday in Washington as law enforcement confirmed an ongoing investigation into contacts between associates of President Donald Trump's campaign and the Russian government last year and into whether crimes were committed. FBI director James Comey informed a congressional committee that he had received permission from the Justice Department to finally make the revelation public after months of rumours swirling around the capital. Late last July, Comey said, the agency began investigating contacts between Trump's associates and the Russian government, which is believed to have stolen Democratic party emails and leaked them through intermediaries Wikileaks and Guccifer. Comey resisted being pressed on what Russia would have gained from such an arrangement. He also tiptoed around questions about ties between Russian officials and Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and their common friend Roger Stone. But he did say that Russian President Vladimir Putin harboured a personal hatred of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He also agreed when asked whether there were some affinities with Trump's campaign on issues like the breakup of the European Union.

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POLICE SEEK ONTARIO MAN IN DEATH OF STEPSON: A search for an Ontario man accused of fatally injuring his stepson moments before attempting to kill a bank employee stretched into its third day on Monday as police conceded the fugitive could be just about anywhere. Niagara regional police said they had issued a Canada-wide warrant for the arrest of 43-year-old Justin Kuijer of St. Catharines, Ont. The former owner of a roofing company is wanted on charges of second-degree murder in the death of seven-year-old Nathan Dumas, as well as in the attempted murder of a woman working at a local RBC branch. Const. Phil Gavin said Kuijer has been on the run in his ex-girlfriend's van ever since the two grisly scenes unfolded on Friday and police have few leads as to his whereabouts. Police had originally indicated that they would be seeking a charge of first-degree murder in Nathan's death, but Gavin did not explain why the second-degree murder charge was listed on the warrant. Kuijer fled in what police describe as a dark-grey van with a distinctive pink floral missing person's decal on the back window.

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TORY LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE CALLS FOR CHEATERS TO BE BOOTED: Conservative leadership candidate Lisa Raitt is demanding cheaters be booted from the party's leadership race as questions continue to swirl around bogus membership sales. Raitt's call follows the party removing more than 1,300 people from its membership rolls after a review found they hadn't paid for the memberships themselves. In its review, the Conservative party said it wasn't possible to determine which campaign or campaigns were involved, since the memberships were purchased anonymously. Finger-pointing among the campaigns has suggested Maxime Bernier and Kevin O'Leary's campaigns could be implicated, a charge both teams deny. Raitt says cheaters and rule-breakers who engage in this kind of activity ought to be punished and she wants any candidate found to have broken the rules expelled and their campaigns fined. Each candidate is required to pay a $50,000 deposit that's docked at the end of the campaign if they're found to be in violation of any rules.

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LIBERALS BANKING ON NEW INFRASTRUCTURE SCHEME: A new infrastructure bank could free up billions in new money for social services Canadians regularly use, internal government documents say. That's provided the experimental new institution meets its lofty financing goals. The presentation, prepared for the economic growth council that's advising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet, shows transit and water projects going through the bank could lead to more federal dollars for social infrastructure such as child care, recreational facilities and seniors centres. Funding for social infrastructure projects, which tend to be less attractive to private investors, could increase by one-third if the bank meets its target of leveraging $4 in private investment for every $1 from the federal government, the documents indicate. The documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, demonstrate the Liberal government's thinking on how money from its long-term infrastructure program could help meet economic and political goals. The program's three streams — social, transit and so-called "green" infrastructure — are worth almost $69.1 billion in new funding over the next 10 years.

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DOCUMENTS SAY CANADIAN ACCUSED IN YAHOO HACK POSED 'FLIGHT RISK': An application for the arrest of a Canadian man accused in an extensive hack of Yahoo emails alleges he posed an "extremely high flight risk" in part due to his purported ties to Russian intelligence officials. A request from U.S. authorities for the arrest of Karim Baratov describes the 22-year-old Hamilton resident as a "hacker-for-hire" allegedly paid by members of the Russian Federal Security Service, known as the FSB. Law enforcement officials argue in the documents that Baratov had the money to leave Canada and the ability to destroy evidence related to his alleged activities while on the run. Baratov was arrested in the community of Ancaster last Tuesday. American authorities announced on Wednesday that a grand jury in California had indicted him and three others for computer hacking, economic espionage and other criminal offences. Baratov was arrested under the extradition act and appeared in court by video link on Friday. A bail hearing has been scheduled for April 5. Baratov's lawyer, Amedeo Dicarlo, has said the allegations against his client are unfounded and he'll seek to have Baratov released.

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REVIEW FINDS NO LEGAL REASON ALBERTA PARTIES CAN'T MERGE: A legal review of Alberta law suggests there is no reason why the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties cannot legally join to form a new political entity before the next provincial election. The report from five lawyers comes as newly elected PC Leader Jason Kenney and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean hold their first meeting to discuss a possible merger. The review was not commissioned by either political party. Kenney said Sunday he wants to begin talks as soon as possible with the Opposition Wildrose to try to merge before the next vote in 2019. Alberta election rules forbid two parties from merging and dictates that they fold up and surrender their assets. The legal review suggests a corporate merger — although complicated — would avoid any rules or restrictions under Alberta law. The report's authors found no election or finance legislation prohibiting the merger of two non-profit organizations that happen to be registered political parties. The review suggests the new party would have two valid registrations and could decide to terminate or suspend one of them. The report, written by a group calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Legal Review and Strategy Committee, has been forwarded to both political parties.

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OTTAWA URGED TO CURB REAL ESTATE SPECULATION: Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa is urging Ottawa to address speculative investing in the country's housing markets by changing how such profits are taxed. Currently, capital gains tax is charged on 50 per cent of the profits on the sale of a home, unless the property qualifies for the principle residence exemption. In a letter to federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau on Friday, Sousa says that boosting the taxable amount above 50 per cent could reduce the incentive for people to purchase homes on speculation. Speculative investing in the real estate market — buying a home in the hope of turning a profit rather than to live in — is believed to be one of the culprits behind soaring house prices in certain markets, including Toronto and Vancouver and their surrounding areas. Sousa says curbing speculative real estate purchases could help address dwindling housing affordability so that first-time buyers are able to get into the market.

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SISTER OF FORMER SKI COACH TAKES STAND AT HIS SEX ASSAULT TRIAL: The younger sister of former ski coach Bertrand Charest told court Monday that when she was skiing competitively in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was common for coaches to rub the legs and buttocks of ski students to keep them warm. The accused is on trial on 57 charges, including sexual assault and breach of trust, related to 12 alleged victims between the ages of 12 and 19 during the 1990s. Isabelle Charest said she spent time with her brother's ski team between 1995 and 1997 and said the atmosphere within the group was fun and friendly. The defence said it plans to call its final witness by Wednesday and has scheduled to start closing arguments Friday. Defence lawyer Antonio Cabral said he can't confirm yet whether Charest will take the stand.

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HALIFAX CHURCH REMOVES REFERENCE TO CITY'S FOUNDER: An African Baptist church that dates back to the early 1800s is changing its name to scrub it of any reference to Halifax's controversial founder. Rev. Rhonda Britton of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church says a motion was accepted at a recent meeting to remove any connection to Edward Cornwallis, who founded Halifax in 1749 and soon after issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaq men, women and children. Britton says church members accepted the motion because they want to stop perpetuating the "harm that's been done" to the Mi'kmaq, who have long called for removal of tributes to Cornwallis and actions some have deemed to be a genocide. Daniel Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder and author who has led the movement to remove Cornwallis's name from city monuments, says he was pleased with the church's decision. He says he's not worried that history will be forgotten if Cornwallis's name is removed, adding that he will continue to be remembered for founding the city but doesn't need to be celebrated on buildings, parks or streets.

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CANADIAN MUSICAL DUO QUESTION YOUTUBE HIDING LGBTQ VIDEOS: A chorus of Canadian LGBTQ YouTubers, including pop duo Tegan and Sara, is calling for the video service to stop filtering out gay and trans-themed videos for some users. The Calgary-raised sisters took to social media to question why YouTube's "restricted" setting appears to block a wide variety of LGBTQ-friendly content for no clear reason. "If you put YouTube on restricted mode a bunch of our music videos disappear. I checked myself. LGBTQ people shouldn't be restricted. SAD!" Tegan and Sara tweeted. Among the missing clips were music videos from their latest album, including for "That Girl" and "U-turn." They were joined by Halifax singer Ria Mae, who said her video for "Gold," which features the singer in a lesbian relationship, was also being filtered out. At issue is YouTube's "restricted" designation, which lets parents, schools and libraries filter out content that may be considered inappropriate for users under 18. YouTube calls it "an optional feature used by a very small subset of users."

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