More humanitarian aid needed for Gaza, minister says during Egypt border visit

More aid needed for Gaza

The flow of humanitarian aid shipments for Palestinians in Gaza is at its lowest ebb since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Canada's international development minister said following a visit to the Egyptian border.

The movement of aid is nowhere near what's needed, Ahmed Hussen said he learned during his recent trip to the Rafah border crossing, where he discussed the crisis with humanitarian workers.

'The feedback they gave me is that the levels of aid are … lower than ever," Hussen said Tuesday in an interview with The Canadian Press from Cairo.

"It's down to a trickle compared to the need out there."

The minister, who was expected to travel to Jordan on Wednesday, called for more food and medical equipment to be sent to Gaza after speaking with representatives from the UN World Food Program, among others.

''I've seen the aid being brought in as well as being stored in different staging points," Hussen said. "But the most important point in addition to that is the access to the people who need it."

Hussen said there were hundreds of trucks parked waiting for authorization to cross the border. Some had been waiting to cross for weeks. He attributed the delay to a combination of factors, including a tedious inspection process on both sides of the border.

"More aid needs to go in and more border crossings need to be opened to allow more aid to go in together," Hussen said.

"(We) are advocating for an immediate ceasefire because that will also help in the distribution of more aid within Gaza."

A resolution backed by Arab countries demanding a ceasefire was blocked Tuesday by a U.S. veto in the UN Security Council. The U.S., which is working on a resolution of its own, justified its opposition by saying it fears the Algeria-sponsored proposal would harm efforts to reach a deal between the warring parties.

Apart from the absence of a ceasefire, Hussen said humanitarian organizations are also concerned about Israel's threat to extend its offensive into the southern Gaza Strip. More than half of the 2.3 million Gazans have taken refuge in Rafah.

"We believe it would have very serious humanitarian consequences," he said. "Unimaginable deaths and injuries will inevitably result."

More than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed according to the local health authorities since Israel began its response to the Oct. 7 attack carried out by Hamas.

That attack led to 1,200 Israelis dead and some 250 taken hostage, of which about 100 are believed still in captivity.

In the fall, Canada committed $100 million for humanitarian aid in Gaza.

At the end of January, Canada suspended additional funding to the UN relief agency known as UNRWA in response to allegations that some staff had played a role in the Oct. 7 attack.

The decision was criticized in the House of Commons by the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois, as well as 20 non-governmental organizations including the Norwegian Refugee Council and Oxfam.

A government official said no payments destined for the UNRWA have been withheld for now, but a $25-million payment was scheduled for the spring.

Asked about the impact of the suspended financing, Hussen said Ottawa is working with the organization and the "broader United Nations family" as the probe continues.

He said Ottawa hopes to "get the confidence necessary to a transparent comprehensive investigation which will allow us to continue to work with them in the future."


Conservative government would require ID to watch porn: Poilievre

Would need ID for porn

Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre says a future Conservative government would change the law to require that porn websites verify the age of users to prevent minors from accessing the content.

The Tories currently back a Senate bill that promises to do just that.

Bill S-210 passed the Senate in the spring and is set to be studied by a House committee, but no meetings have been scheduled yet.

The law would require adult websites to verify users’ ages, but does not specify how that would be done.

Options could include a digital ID system or services that can estimate age based on a webcam scan of a user’s face.

The Liberals are against the bill warning it does too little to protect children, and says its upcoming online harms bill will be centred around children's safety.

Pierre Poilievre against transwomen in female bathrooms, changing rooms, sports

Poilievre's bathroom stance

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says he believes "biological males" have no place in sports or change rooms that are labelled female.

Poilievre was asked at a news conference about his position on whether transgender women should be allowed in spaces that are labelled for women and whether he would introduce any legislation to stop it.

Poilievre told reporters he believes "female spaces should be exclusively for females, not for biological males."

That is in line with a policy resolution Conservative party members voted for at their convention last fall, which says that women should have access to “single-sex spaces” in areas like prisons, bathrooms and sports.

The discussion also mimics the debates across U.S. state legislatures that have prompted lawmakers to ban transgender individuals from using spaces that align with their gender identity.

Poilievre says many of the spaces in question are controlled by provinces and municipalities so it is unclear what role the federal government could play.



Millennials outnumber baby boomers for first time: Statistics Canada

Millennials pass boomers

Statistics Canada says there are now more millennials than baby boomers in the country, ending the 65-year reign of the post-Second World War generation as the largest cohort in the population.

The federal agency noted the change in its population estimate for July 1, 2023, broken down by age and gender released today.

The average age in Canada dropped slightly between July 1, 2022 and July 1, 2023 for the first time since 1958.

However, Statistics Canada says the number and proportion of people aged 65 years and older have continued to rise.

The federal agency says the share of millennials and generation Z is increasing, while the reverse is true for baby boomers and generation X.

Those trends have helped increase the share of the working-age population, which increased in 2023 after steadily declining over the previous 15 years.

Taylor Farms Mexican-style salad kit recalled for possible salmonella contamination

More salad kits recalled

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is recalling Taylor Farms Mexican Style Street Corn chopped salad kits due to possible salmonella contamination.

The recall affects kits with a best-before date of Feb. 21. 

The food inspection agency says the products were sold in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario. 

But the agency says the kits may also have been sold in other provinces and territories. 

Anyone with the recalled kits should throw them out or return them to where they bought them. 

The agency says it has not received any reports of illnesses. 

It says food contaminated with salmonella may not look or smell spoiled but can still make people sick. 

Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. 

Most healthy people have short-term symptoms but young children, pregnant people, seniors and people with weakened immune systems can get seriously ill.


Energy transition stocks get lots of love from investors, TSX Venture list shows

Energy transition stocks hot

Canadian-based mining companies that are betting on the global energy transition saw a surge of investor interest in 2023, according to the latest edition of the TSX Venture 50 list. 

The annual ranking of top performers on Canada's main venture exchange, released by the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday, shows 2023 was a blockbuster year for the mining sector.

Mining dominates this year's list, with companies in that sector posting an average 734 per cent market cap appreciation for the year and a 245 per cent average share price increase, the report said. 

The gains came as investors flocked to small-cap and venture companies exploring opportunities in precious metals, critical minerals and the energy transition, said Loui Anastasopoulos, CEO of the Toronto Stock Exchange, in an interview.

"Critical minerals has been a really strong theme throughout the last year or two," Anastasopoulos said.

"Investors continue to show strong interest in the energy transition and any company connected to critical minerals such as copper, nickel and lithium continues to shine."

The TSX Venture 50 list showcases small-cap issuers across five sectors — energy, mining, clean technology and life sciences, diversified industries, and technology. 

The companies are ranked by their 2022 performance in three areas — market capitalization growth, share price appreciation, and trading volume.

This year’s companies delivered an average financial return of 121 per cent and saw an average market capitalization increase of 248 per cent, a boost from last year's performance. In December 2023, the total market cap of Venture 50 companies was $23.1 billion – an increase of $7.6 billion year-over-year.

One of this year's top performers, Vancouver-based Surge Battery Metals, is looking to develop a lithium deposit in northern Nevada. Lithium is a key component in electric vehicle batteries.

While lithium prices were volatile in 2023, Surge Battery Metals CEO Greg Reimer said he's optimistic they will rebound as he believes the transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles is inevitable.

"What we've had recently is a situation where the growth in electric vehicles has essentially fallen short of what was projected," he said.

"There's a number of things that are contributing to that. But let's keep in mind that year-over-year, there continues to be a record number of electric vehicles sold worldwide."

Other companies with strong performance on this year's list include those involved in clean technology, such as the manufacturing of electric cargo vans or the transformation of organic waste into renewable energy.

The year was a softer one for traditional energy stocks, which saw a decline in investor interest from 2022, when oil and gas prices were soaring. Energy stocks on the TSX Venture Exchange saw an average share price increase of 51 per cent in 2023, compared with 89 per cent the year before.


Manitoba community mourns five people killed by man accused of first-degree murder

Mourning 5 murdered

People in Carman, Manitoba are scheduled to gather today for the funeral of five people killed in what RCMP have called an unimaginable tragedy.

A funeral is being held for Amanda Clearwater, her children -- Bethany, Jayven and Isabella Manoakeesick -- and her teenaged niece Myah-Lee Gratton.

People attending the service, which is closed to the media, have been asked to wear purple.

The bodies were found Feb. 11 at multiple crime scenes in and around Carman, a town of about 3,000 people southwest of Winnipeg.

Clearwater's common-law partner, Ryan Howard Manoakeesick, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

Clearwater is being remembered in an obituary as someone whose passion in life was her children, and who saw the good in everyone.


Ottawa considering a new ombudsperson to field Canadian concerns about online harms

Online harms scrutiny

The federal government's evolving plan to help protect Canadians from harm online could include a new ombudsperson to field public concerns and a regulator that would oversee the conduct of internet platforms.

The new positions would be established as a part of the forthcoming online-harms legislation, which the government is currently hoping to announce by April, said one senior official with knowledge of the plan.

"It's very nearly ready to go," said the source, who has seen a draft of the legislation. The source spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details that have yet to be made public.

Online safety and technology experts have for months been pressuring the governing Liberals to present their long-promised legislation aimed at protecting Canadians, and in particular minors, from online harms.

Canadian children are currently less protected than kids living in the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia, where such laws currently exist, they warn.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first promised the measure during the 2019 election campaign, but a bill targeting online hate speech died on the order paper when he triggered an early election in 2021.

Justice Minister Arif Virani would be the one to introduce the new bill, which he has vowed would strike the right balance between offering protections to Canadians while upholding the right of freedom of expression.

Privacy experts and civil liberties groups roundly criticized the government's proposal from 2021, which included a requirement that gave online platforms just 24 hours to remove content flagged as harmful.

Such a threshold would have risked encouraging companies to take an overly cautious approach, removing acceptable material pre-emptively for fear of running afoul of the rules, they warned.

Organizations like the National Council of Canadian Muslims also expressed concerns that efforts to target terrorist-related online content — one of the bill's stated goals, according to Trudeau — could disproportionately impact its members.

The government ultimately went back to the drawing board and assembled a new group of experts to advise it on how best to proceed.

That advice included establishing a regulatory role that would hold online platforms accountable for the content they host and impose penalties on services that fail to do so.

The proposed regulator would have a mandate to ensure online giants comply with federal law, the official said.

The government is also planning to establish a new ombudsperson whose job would be to field concerns from ordinary Canadians who encounter problematic material or scenarios online.

In a recent speech to the Canadian Bar Association, Virani said he was confident the government could legislate measures to promote an online world where "users can express themselves without feeling threatened or fuelling hate."

"It also means requiring online services to address and mitigate the risk of such harmful content on their platforms, as well as to give users tools and resources to report harmful content and seek help," he said.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has already signalled his concerns with the idea of a new regulator, because it would raise questions about who the government would appoint to fill such a role.

He has accused the Liberals of promoting censorship through previous laws that sought to regulate social media giants.


Alberta Premier Danielle Smith set to give state-of-the-province TV address

Smith to give TV address

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is set to deliver a television address tonight to update the public on her government's plan ahead of the spring legislature sitting.

The speech is to be aired at 6:30 p.m. on CTV, Global and online.

The government's website says Smith will detail her government's vision and plan for the province centred around the upcoming provincial budget.

Alberta's Opposition NDP says it's bracing for the Feb. 29 budget to be full of broken promises.

It says it also expects the budget will fail to fix crumbling health-care and education systems.

NDP finance critic Samir Kayande says Albertans are falling behind as wages fail to keep up with inflation and unemployment goes up.


NATO secretary-general says Canada must inform alliance when it will raise defence spending

NATO pressures Canada

Canada needs to set a date by which it will fulfill a NATO pledge to increase defence spending to 2 per cent of annual economic output, the military alliance’s secretary-general said Tuesday.

Jens Stoltenberg said Canada has yet to provide this date to the alliance.

“Canada has not conveyed a precise date but I expect Canada to deliver on the pledge to invest 2 per cent of GDP on defence, because this is a promise we all made,” Mr. Stoltenberg told CTV’s Power Play Tuesday.

He noted Canada is a Group of Seven member country with a big economy and the second-biggest land mass in the world and a huge coastline fronting the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Oceans.

“It really matters what Canada does,” he said, noting Ottawa’s commitment to spend billions on upgrading joint North American defences against airborne threats, its plans to buy new F-35 warplanes and its increased presence on NATO’s eastern flank in Latvia.

“All of this is good; all of this matters,” the civilian NATO leader said. “But of course, Canada should, as all other allies, deliver on the pledge to invest 2 per cent, because we need that in a more dangerous world.”

At a NATO summit last summer in Vilnius, Lithuania, all member countries including Canada signed a pledge to “make an enduring commitment to invest at least 2 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually on defence.”

Canada has not spent 2 per cent on military spending since the late 1980s, including under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. In the summer of 2023, NATO released estimates saying Canada was only spending 1.38 per cent of GDP on defence.

Mr. Stoltenberg said articulating a date for when a country will reach 2 per cent is important. “It matters to have a clear commitment on when to reach the 2-per-cent guideline,” he said.

Eighteen of NATO’s 31 members will reach the 2-per-cent mark in 2024, Mr. Stoltenberg said. Canada is not expected to be among them. Germany, for example, has embarked on a major increase in defence spending, partly because of a special €100-billion ($146-billion) fund established in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Canada falls about $20-billion short in annual military spending when it comes to meeting its 2-per-cent commitment, according to David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI).

“We expect that those who are not yet at 2 per cent should have plans in place to be there as soon as possible,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

How much NATO nations are spending on defence became a flashpoint this month after former U.S. president Donald Trump suggested he would not protect countries that failed to meet the alliance’s spending targets, and would even encourage Russia to attack them.

A leaked Pentagon document obtained by The Washington Post last year said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has told NATO officials privately that Canada will at no time meet the military alliance’s defence spending target. When this was reported last April, the Prime Minister declined to confirm he had made that statement.

Asked for comment on Mr. Stoltenberg’s remarks Tuesday, Defence Minister Bill Blair’s office referred The Globe to comments he made at a Toronto press conference Monday. There he was asked whether the need to help Ukraine defeat Russia could provide the impetus to increase defence spending and hit the 2-per-cent target while also providing more contracts and jobs for Canadians.

“I think it’s an important question and an important conversation for Canadians to have,” Mr. Blair said.

Defence spending has increased under the Liberals and the Department of National Defence’s budget is expected to more than double over 10 years to $39.7-billion in 2026-27 from $18.6-billion in 2016-17. Canada in recent years has committed to numerous major capital projects, including F-35 fighters, P-8 maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as nearly $40-billion over 20 years to modernize North American Aerospace Defense Command.

“Canada recognizes it must do more and I have said clearly and my government has said clearly, we will do more,” the Defence Minister said.

However, Mr. Blair said, “the challenge is not only getting more money from our budget into defence. It’s making sure that we produce good value for Canadians in those investments.”

With a report from Reuters


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Belleville mayor 'disappointed' by province's response so far to local drug crisis

Mayor 'disappointed'

The mayor of Belleville, Ont., says he is disappointed the province has not yet committed to funding a health and social-services hub and a detox centre urgently needed in the community amid an ongoing illicit drug crisis.

The funding request was made after Belleville's emergency crews responded to 17 drug overdoses in just 24 hours earlier this month, prompting the mayor to declare a local state of emergency.

"The answer was basically: 'You have to wait,'" Neil Ellis told a news conference on Tuesday. “If we have to do it by ourselves, that’s what we will do.” 

The city had specifically asked the province for $2 million in funding to help kick-start construction of a new centralized hub that will offer addictions and mental-health services, plus money to open a detox centre.

Premier Doug Ford had promised last week the province would support Belleville, acknowledging "they need an influx of money right away."

Ellis said he met last week with Todd Smith, the region's MPP, and Michael Tibollo, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, but their discussions left him frustrated. 

“I was told we need to formulate a mental-health and addictions strategy," Ellis said. "There was no support, as of now, for our two asks. And it was noted that the capital for the hub would be a tough ask.”

Ellis said the province did provide more than $200,000 in response to an unrelated request from the local Canadian Mental Health Association office, but that was not enough. 

“I'm not in any way disparaging or disrespecting the efforts of our provincial partners in their response to our calls for help in the past weeks," he said. “I do welcome that money, it will be used well in our community. But we need a lot more money.”

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the province is providing more than $216,000 in one-time funding to immediately increase the presence of first responders in Belleville's downtown core, and to increase staffing at local support and outreach services. 

"This funding is in addition to the $35 million our government have invested in mental health and addictions support services in the Belleville area this year," Hannah Jensen wrote in a statement. 

Jensen also said a submission from the Canadian Mental Health Association Hastings Prince Edward, "for a project that will take years to be operational," remains under review.

Belleville's mayor said city council will now have to consider taking the additional $2 million needed for the new hub from the city's operating budget. He said the city is committed to building the hub – where unhoused people can access food, showers, primary health care, substance-use supports and other services – with or without the province's help. 

Ellis urged the province to "step up" and help all communities across the province struggling with addictions and homelessness. 

"The city has only so many tools in our box," he said, noting that Belleville has been asking the province for help since last November, when 90 overdoses were reported in just one week. 

Since the rash of toxic drug poisonings on Feb. 6, Belleville's emergency crews continue to respond to overdose calls every day, officials told Tuesday's press conference. 

An online dashboard with data from Hastings Prince Edward Public Health shows that Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services responded to 371 opioid-related calls in 2023.

There were 252 emergency department visits related to opioid poisonings in that time period and 50 suspected drug-related deaths.

Ellis said the city also needs to work on long-term solutions to the crisis, which include securing transitional and affordable housing for the estimated 200 homeless people in the area – a population he said is expected to grow.

'We're focused on ending this war': PM on long-term plan for Ukrainians in Canada

'Focused on ending this war'

As the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine looms, war-displaced Ukrainians looking to make Canada their permanent home have few answers about what the government will do to allow them to stay.

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began two years ago on Feb. 24, caused a massive refugee crisis as million of Ukrainians fled the country.

Since then, the federal government has granted 958,190 temporary emergency visas to Ukrainians so they can work or study in Canada while they wait out the violence at home.

As of Jan. 27, 221,231 had already made the journey to Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he met with one of those families in Winnipeg recently, and spoke to them about how they are settling in Canada and their long-term prospects in Canada.

"Their middle son was really finding it tough here in Canada, but the older son made a great group of friends," Trudeau told a news conference Tuesday in Vancouver.

But when asked about whether Ottawa is making long-term arrangements for people that have settled in Canada, Trudeau would only say that his Liberal government is "focused on ending this war."

"I think a lot of people are going to be making decisions once this war draws to a close," he said.

"In the meantime, we're going to continue to be there to support people going through unbelievably difficult times because of Vladimir Putin's heinous actions."

Of those recent arrivals, 92 per cent plan to stay and seek permanent residency, according to a survey of emergency visa holders conducted late last year by Operation Ukraine Safe Haven and the federal Immigration Department.

Only 1.4 per cent said they plan to return to Ukraine.

Without a designated program, many won't qualify for regular immigration streams, said Randall Baran-Chong, founder of Pathfinder for Ukraine, a group that has helped war-displaced Ukrainians navigate Canada's immigration system since the invasion.

Some people have applied as refugees and on humanitarian grounds — criteria which are not designed to accommodate such a large group of people who are already in Canada, Baran-Chong said.

"A lot of Ukrainians right now are in a very difficult situation," he said. "We want to give them a dignified pathway to permanent residency, rather than these programs that are befitting other circumstances."

Baran-Chong's organization launched a petition to call for a designated program to offer permanent residency to war-displaced Ukrainians in Canada, and has asked Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi, chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, to table it in the House of Commons.

Once that happens, the government must respond within 45 days.

"We feel like this petition will give us an opportunity for the Ukrainians to hear from government what is their official response on a specified pathway to permanent residency," he said.

The government is allowing people with emergency visas to apply to extend them, and has also created a program that offers permanent status in Canada to people with Canadian family members.

Meanwhile, the government plans to put more than $475,000 toward expanding a legal advice hotline for war-displaced Ukrainians in Canada to help them understand their rights and navigate the immigration system.

"This substantial contribution connects Ukrainians seeking refuge in Canada with lawyers who can help them with issues such as sponsorship, refugee claims, and work permit questions," Justice Minister Arif Virani said Tuesday.

The hotline, run by Pro Bono Ontario, fields questions related to work permits, employment contracts and even landlord and tenant concerns. The new funds will allow the Ontario hotline to serve Ukrainians across the country.

Increasingly, however, the questions it fields are about immigration and options to stay in Canada.

The emergency visas were always intended to offer temporary safe haven for people who are likely to return home, Virani said.

"If some decide to study, stay, perhaps meet a new partner, carve a life here, obviously those options are available, and we'll find a way to make that happen."

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