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


Highlights from the news file for Wednesday, Nov. 15

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CANADA OFFERS TROOPS AND EQUIPMENT TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The Trudeau government is formally offering helicopters, transport aircraft and a 200-strong rapid-response team of soldiers for UN peacekeeping — though it will be months before Canadians know when and where they will go. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the planned contributions at a high-level summit Wednesday in Vancouver, including millions of dollars to increase the role of women in peacekeeping. The moment marks Canada's most tangible step back into peacekeeping — long the country's traditional military role — since the Liberals promised last year to provide the UN with up to 600 troops and 150 police officers. But government officials who briefed reporters on background prior to the announcement say Canada and the UN have only just started what could be six to nine months of discussions about when and where those capabilities are needed.

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LOBLAW CLOSING 22 STORES, LAUNCHING DELIVERY: Loblaw Companies Ltd. is closing 22 stores and launching home delivery in two major Canadian cities, ahead of what it believes will be a challenging new year. The grocery and pharmacy giant has finalized a plan that will result in the closure of 22 unprofitable stores across a range of its banners and formats, said spokeswoman Catherine Thomas in an email, while declining to provide specific store locations. The store closures are expected to be mostly complete by the end of the first quarter next year. "We are excited about our future. But given all of the headwinds, we expect 2018 will be a very difficult year," said Galen G. Weston, Loblaw CEO, during a call with analysts following the company's earnings report. Canadian grocers face increasing pressure from several fronts, including discount and online retailers, and pending minimum wage increases in some provinces.

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APPEAL COURT UPHOLDS PARENTS' CONVICTION IN SON'S DEATH: A couple who treated their toddler son with natural remedies before he died of meningitis can appeal their convictions to the Supreme Court after a split decision from Alberta's Court of Appeal. David and Collet Stephan were found guilty last year of failing to provide the necessaries of life in the 2012 death of 19-month-old Ezekiel. Their trial in Lethbridge, Alta., heard they treated the boy with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than taking him to a doctor. There was testimony from a nurse, who was also a friend, who said she had suggested to the Stephans that Ezekiel could have meningitis. The couple's lawyer argued before the Appeal Court that the trial judge allowed the jury to be overwhelmed by medical evidence and it took almost 39 months from when the Stephans were charged to when they were sentenced. Two of the three Appeal Court judges ruled in support of the conviction. Writing for the majority, Justice Bruce McDonald said the delay in the case was not unreasonable and the judge was not wrong in admitting expert witness evidence. Collet Stephan's testimony showed she did tests for meningitis and ignored the positive results, McDonald wrote.

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POLICE FIND CALIFORNIA GUNMAN'S WIFE DEAD IN THEIR HOME: The wife of a gunman who went on a shooting rampage in a Northern California town was found dead inside their home, authorities announced Wednesday, raising the death toll from the attack to five. Investigators discovered the body of Kevin Janson Neal's wife hidden under the floor with several gunshot wounds. They believe her slaying was the start of the rampage, said Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston. Neal shot and killed four other people and wounded 10 at different locations around the rural community of Rancho Tehama Reserve. Police later shot and killed him. At the time of the attack, the gunman was out on bail after he was charged with stabbing a neighbour. Court records also show that Neal was barred in February from having guns after the assault. Neighbours had complained about him firing hundreds of rounds from his house, and the assistant sheriff acknowledged officers had visited the home on several occasions.

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LAWYER EXPECTS NEW LAWSUITS AGAINST CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NEW BRUNSWICK: A lawyer representing dozens of alleged Catholic sex abuse victims in New Brunswick says he expects hundreds more complainants may emerge. Robert Talach said he believes more people will seek compensation through the courts after a 2012 reconciliation process that saw 80 victims compensated, and that the actual number of victims in the province is in the hundreds. "It's going to be shocking for people," he said Wednesday from his office in London, Ont. "You are talking dozens of victims for each priest. These guys were left in the field operating and abusing for decades." Talach said he believes that one estimate of 56 current lawsuits against the Catholic Church in New Brunswick is on the low side, noting that he's handling about 32 involving the late Camille Leger alone. Leger was a priest in Cap-Pele, N.B., between 1957 and 1980, but no accusers came forward before he died in 1990. Moncton Archbishop Valery Vienneau was not available Wednesday to comment on the number of cases.

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B.C. URGED TO ACT ON ABORIGINAL YOUTH DEATHS: A new report on unexpected deaths says Indigenous youth in British Columbia died at a rate almost two times higher than non-Aboriginal youth over a six-year period ending in 2015. The BC Coroners Service and First Nations Health Authority reviewed the unexpected deaths of 95 Indigenous young people between the ages of 15 and 24 during the period between January 2010 and December 2015. They make a series of broad recommendations including reducing barriers to services for Indigenous youth and promoting connections to family, community and culture. The review says prevention programs for Indigenous youth should consider a focus on cultural diversity and community strengths in their communities. The report found accidental deaths in motor vehicle crashes, drownings and overdoses accounted for 60 per cent of Indigenous youth deaths, while suicide accounted for 32 per cent of the deaths. The report says almost 25 per cent of the Indigenous youth who died were parents of young children.

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ONTARIO PREMIER DIDN'T RECEIVE GRASSY NARROWS REPORT: Ontario's government has had a report in hand about mercury contamination upstream from the Grassy Narrows First Nation for more than a year, but the premier says she didn't see it. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister David Zimmer said this week the report was received by the government in September 2016. But it apparently never made its way to Premier Kathleen Wynne. "We are not sure exactly how that information hadn't made it to my desk, but we're asking that question," Wynne said Wednesday. Zimmer said the report was received by the Ministry of the Environment, though he was unsure of whether it was also received by his ministry. "Ministries do not keep the premier of the day in the dark," Zimmer said. Mercury contamination has plagued the English-Wabigoon River system in northwestern Ontario for half a century, since a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the river systems in the 1960s. Researchers have previously reported that more than 90 per cent of the people in Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nation show signs of mercury poisoning.

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OCTOBER HOME SALES UP FROM SEPTEMBER: Canadian home sales in October ticked higher compared with September, the third consecutive monthly increase. The Canadian Real Estate Association said Wednesday the number of homes sold through its MLS system in October was up 0.9 per cent from the previous month, led by the Toronto region and the Fraser Valley in B.C. TD Bank senior economist Michael Dolega said the report corroborates the notion that the Canadian housing market continues to manoeuvre a soft landing. "Markets in Ontario remain vulnerable given affordability issues and lingering uncertainty regarding policies, but it would appear that the worst is behind the province, with some stability likely in store in the near- to medium-term," Dolega wrote in a note to clients. The increase in sales came as the number of newly listed homes slipped 0.8 per cent in October following a jump of more than five per cent in September. The national average price for a home sold in October was $505,937, up five per cent from a year ago. Excluding Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, the average price was just over $383,000.

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TORONTO OFFICER ARRESTED FOR ALLEGEDLY BREACHING BAIL CONDITIONS: A Toronto police officer convicted of attempted murder in the fatal shooting of a teen on an empty streetcar four years ago was charged Wednesday with breaching his bail conditions. Ontario's police watchdog said Const. James Forcillo — who has been on bail as he appeals his conviction — was accused of breaching the conditions related to his house arrest, but gave no other details about the case. Toronto police said Forcillo was charged with failing to comply with his recognizance. Forcillo's lawyer, Peter Brauti, said a bail hearing on the new charge was put over to Friday. Forcillo had his bail conditions extended in late September, a day before he was set to appeal his conviction in the 2013 death of Sammy Yatim. Yatim's killing set off a wave of public outrage and protests after a video of the shooting went viral. Forcillo was found guilty last year of attempted murder but was acquitted of the more serious charge of second-degree murder for shooting 18-year-old Yatim multiple times. He was sentenced to six years behind bars, a year more than the mandatory minimum.

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HALIFAX EXPLOSION CHRISTMAS TREE BEINGS JOURNEY: A massive Nova Scotia Christmas tree has begun its journey to Boston, part of a tradition that recalls how New England residents helped Halifax after a massive explosion ripped through the provincial capital 100 years ago. Each year the province cuts down a tree and sends it as an act of gratitude for the trainload of volunteers and supplies that was sent to assist thousands of injured and homeless citizens in the city devastated by the Dec. 6, 1917, blast. The 100th anniversary tree is a 45-year-old, 16-metre white spruce that was cut down in a ceremony Wednesday in Blues Mills, about 38 kilometres from Baddeck in Cape Breton.  Bob and Marion Campbell and their family are the donors. "We have been blessed to have a tree worthy of donation in recognition of the speedy and compassionate response by the people of Boston to the Halifax Explosion," Bob Campbell said in a news release. The explosion, the result of a collision between a relief vessel and a munitions ship in Halifax harbour, was the largest human-made blast on record before the first atomic bomb.

The Canadian Press

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