News briefing: An at-a-glance look at some top stories

0

Highlights from the news file for Monday

———

SARAH POLLEY SIGNS LETTER SUPPORTING WOMEN SUING SOULPEPPER: Sarah Polley, Mia Kirshner and Ann-Marie MacDonald are among the nearly 300 people who have signed a letter supporting the four actresses suing Soulpepper Theatre Company and its founding artistic director Albert Schultz for sexual harassment. The letter, dated Monday, calls on Soulpepper’s board of directors to “acknowledge the harm” allegedly suffered by the women, and adds “we also believe that there are more stories like theirs that have not been told.” Schultz resigned Thursday in the wake of the lawsuits filed by Diana Bentley, Kristin Booth, Patricia Fagan and Hannah Miller. In their four statements of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court, the women allege Schultz groped them, exposed himself, pressed against them, or otherwise behaved inappropriately. None of their allegations have been tested in court and neither Schultz nor Soulpepper have filed a statement of defence. Polley and Kirshner have spoken out about their own experiences with sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. Both have alleged they had uncomfortable encounters with fallen Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

———

SENATOR OUSTED FROM TORY CAUCUS HITS BACK AT SCHEER: Newly independent Sen. Lynn Beyak is refuting Andrew Scheer’s version of the facts surrounding his decision to kick her out of the Conservative caucus — and blasting his inexperienced leadership. Scheer booted Beyak last week, saying she had refused to remove offensive content in letters she posted to her Senate website expressing support for her controversial comments last year in praise of  the residential school system. In a written statement Monday, Beyak effectively accused Scheer of not telling the truth. “Contrary to his statement, that he asked me to remove content and I refused, neither I nor my staff ever spoke with Andrew Scheer or anyone from his office, at any time,” Beyak said. She also disputed his allegation that she “admitted that she intentionally posted racist correspondence about Indigenous Canadians to her parliamentary website.” Scheer’s office has said the two spoke by phone about the letters, but Beyak said she found out about the decision to boot her from caucus through the media. Jake Enwright, a spokesman for Scheer, pointed to the written statement he issued last week, which claimed Scheer found out about the letters on Jan. 2, and removed her from the caucus after she refused to remove the racist content. “The facts outlined in that statement stand,” Enwright said.

———

FIRMS’ OPTIMISM IN POLL BUILDS RATE HIKE CASE: Canadian companies are more upbeat about the future than they were three months ago with firms planning to boost investment and to hire more workers, according to the Bank of Canada’s latest business outlook survey. With a little more than a week before the Bank of Canada’s next interest rate announcement, the results Monday further solidified forecasters’ expectations that governor Stephen Poloz will raise the trend-setting interest rate for a third time since last summer. “The big takeaway from today is that this survey gives the Bank of Canada a green light to hike interest rates again next week,” Manulife Asset Management senior economist Frances Donald said in an interview. The poll results showed firms had begun to focus more on hiring and investment to address capacity pressures that had intensified over the past year — mostly due to labour shortages. They expected this pressure to persist for the next 12 months, the survey said. Overall, the results, which are closely examined by the central bank, found that business sentiment in the country had almost climbed back up to its summertime high. Donald said the outlook survey is one of the few forward-looking indicators available in Canada and she believes that more results like the report Monday would put the central bank on an even more aggressive rate-hiking path.

———

LOBLAW PLACES RESTRICTIONS ON GIFT CARD OFFER: Consumers who receive a $25 Loblaw Companies Ltd. gift card intended as a goodwill gesture in light of the company’s participation in a bread price-fixing scheme may end up with less money from any future court judgement or settlement. Loblaw opened registration for the gift cards Monday and revealed a number of restrictions for redemption and eventual use. Recipients are not prohibited from participating in any class-action lawsuits, according to the registration site, but they will receive $25 less of any possible damages awarded in the future from any class-action judgments or settlements. Registrants must agree to a release that says they discharge Loblaw, its parent company George Weston Ltd. and others from any kind of relief in connection with their involvement in an alleged bread price-fixing arrangement from Jan. 1, 2002 to March 1, 2015 to the extent of $25. The release reads that individuals may want to obtain independent legal advice before accepting and agreeing to this. Loblaw added several other restrictions on the gift card offer Monday. The company also said it reserves the right to limit the number of cards it distributes. The company previously estimated three million to six million consumers would sign up and receive the card, costing Loblaw $75 million to $150 million.

———

CRTC URGED TO PROBE TELECOM SALES TACTICS: The CRTC is being urged to hold a public inquiry into the sales practices of the country’s major telecommunications service providers. The formal request to the federal regulator comes from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based non-profit group that often battles with Canada’s major telecommunications service providers. PIAC executive director John Lawford on Monday called for CRTC chairman Ian Scott to investigate recent media reports about high-pressure sales tactics used by least one major company. “Many of these aggressive sales practices appear to have targeted vulnerable consumers, including older Canadians, grieving spouses and blind customers,” Lawford writes. His letter refers to a CBC news investigation in November that began with allegations by Andrea Rizzo, a Bell call centre employee in Toronto who said she was under intense pressure to make a sale on every call. The CBC reported later that it had received emails from dozens of Bell customers with various complaints and that a “flood” of Bell employees, past and present, had followed Rizzo’s lead in speaking out about the stress they felt from pressure to meet sales targets. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, headquartered in the Ottawa area, acknowledged receiving PIAC’s letter but didn’t comment further Monday.

———

ETHICS COMMISSIONER CLEARS MORNEAU ON 2015 STOCK SALE: The federal ethics commissioner has cleared Finance Minister Bill Morneau of allegations that he and his father benefited from insider information to save half a million dollars on the sale of shares in their family-built company. Political opponents asked ethics commissioner Mary Dawson to look into the sales of millions of dollars worth of shares in Morneau Shepell Inc. in late 2015 by Morneau and his father — a sale that came just days before a major tax announcement that critics say triggered a dip in the stock market. They argued that Morneau’s December 2015 announcement raising income taxes on the highest earners had a wide-reaching market impact, because it encouraged wealthier shareholders to sell off some their stock before the changes came into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. In a letter to Morneau, Dawson says no privileged information was used because the tax increase was first announced publicly as early as Nov. 4, 2015 — “well in advance” of the stock sale. In a separate review, Dawson is also clearing Morneau of allegations that he was involved in the Bank of Canada’s renewal of its contract with Morneau Shepell to manage its employee pension plan.

———

LAC-MEGANTIC ACCUSED NOT PERFECT, LAWYER SAYS: The engineer of the train that derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic didn’t act perfectly the night of the tragedy, but he acted reasonably, his lawyer said in his closing arguments Monday. Lawyer Charles Shearson told the 14 jurors he admits Tom Harding didn’t conduct a proper brake test on the train after he parked the oil-laden convoy outside the small town the night of July 5, 2013. But Harding wasn’t acting outside normal company procedures, Shearson suggested. He added that Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, which owned the train and the tracks, didn’t inform Harding of the latent risks of parking a train in such a location and that his deviation from the rules that night was not a criminal act. The Crown has argued Harding neither applied the required number of brakes on the train nor tested the system properly to ensure the brakes were working before he left for the night. Harding and his two former colleagues, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre, have all pleaded not guilty to one count of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people. Shearson is to finish his arguments Tuesday and Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaetan Dumas is expected to give his instructions to the jury Wednesday. The Crown delivered its closing arguments last week, as did lawyers representing Labrie and Demaitre.

———

CANADIAN TRASH NO LONGER CHINA’S TREASURE: A Chinese ban on most foreign recycling material is leaving some Canadian municipalities with stockpiles of papers and plastics, much of which may eventually end up in the dump. The ban is also driving down the revenues cities make off their recyclables because the competition to find a company able to take the materials is stiff. China used to be the main recipient of the world’s recyclable plastics and papers but has now stopped accepting almost all foreign materials, leaving Canadian cities in the lurch. Although the ban didn’t take full effect until Dec. 31, many Chinese companies stopped accepting foreign recycling materials months ago, leaving some cities with stockpiles of flattened cardboard and crushed plastic without anywhere to send it. Matthew Keliher, manager of solid waste for Halifax, said about 300 tonnes of plastic wraps like grocery bags and food storage bags, will end up in the landfill because the city couldn’t find another taker for it until it was too late. Calgary, which used to send all of its paper recyclables and half of its plastics to China, has amassed 5,000 tonnes of material over the last few months that it can’t find anyone else to take.

———

FATHER OF ALAN THICKE FACES SEX ABUSE ALLEGATIONS: An Ontario doctor identified as the father of the late TV star Alan Thicke will face a disciplinary hearing on allegations that he sexually abused a patient who came to him for a pilot’s medical exam more than two decades ago. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario says Dr. Brian Christopher Thicke will appear before its discipline committee to face allegations that he touched a patient’s breasts in a sexual manner and/or conducted an inappropriate or unnecessary breast exam in 1993 and 1995. A spokeswoman for the college says a date for the hearing has not yet been set because the matter was referred to the committee recently. The college had previously decided not to refer the case to its discipline committee but was ordered to reconsider last year after the complainant, Lisa Fruitman — who is not named in documents but has agreed to be identified — appealed to a medical regulator. At the time, the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board said it found the college’s decision to be “unreasonable.” The allegations have not been proven and Thicke’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Fruitman, who brought her complaint to the college in 2015, said she is relieved to finally have the allegations taken seriously and hopes the case will lift some of the secrecy surrounding complaints made to the college.

———

PROF’S OLD BOOK A NEW BESTSELLER DUE TO TRUMP: A Canadian professor’s 10-year-old book is back on the bestseller list and he has Donald Trump to thank for it. University of Toronto professor Randall Hansen published a book in 2008 titled “Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945.”  Last week, Hansen was at a conference in Washington, D.C., when he joked to colleagues about having the same title as the hottest book on the market — Michael Wolff’s tell-all tome about U.S. President Donald Trump, titled “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Wolff’s book portrays Trump as a leader who doesn’t understand the weight of his office and whose competence is questioned by aides. “I was hearing ‘Fire and Fury’ all over the place and I perked up every time I heard someone use that title,” said Hansen, the interim director of the Munk School of Global Affairs. After a few glasses of wine on Friday, the day when Wolff’s book was released, Hansen said he logged onto Amazon and found his own book had made it onto three bestseller lists. “The book is 10 years out and it had been languishing for years and suddenly it was on three bestseller lists,” Hansen said.

———

The Canadian Press

 

LEAVE A REPLY