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Wildfires across Canada; Ont. legislature resumes : In The News for Aug. 8

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 Aug. 8 ... What we are watching in Canada ...

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 Aug. 8 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Wildfires are raging throughout Canada, with a long-burning forest fire in central Newfoundland prompting a state of emergency, a so-called "zombie fire" flaring up in the Northwest Territories and fire crews conducting controlled burns in an effort to control a raging wildfire in B.C.'s southern Okanagan region.

Newfoundland's state of emergency initially covered the areas of Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls and the Connaigre Peninsula, but was extended to the area of Botwood on Sunday afternoon, and an outdoor fire ban prohibiting the setting of fires on or within 300 metres of forestland was also expanded provincewide.

Premier Andrew Furey said the current predictive path of the blaze itself does not directly impact any communities, but changing wind patterns were making the situation difficult to handle. 

The fire has been burning for close to two weeks in central Newfoundland and has prompted road closures, including the Bay d'Espoir Highway, which is the only road connecting the communities of Harbour Breton, Hermitage and Conne River to the Trans-Canada Highway, the main thoroughfare across the province.

The BC Wildfire Service says it is using a combination of tools to control a nearly 60-square-kilometre wildfire about 21 kilometres southwest of Penticton.

Information officer Mikhail Elsay had said controlled burns were scheduled for Sunday in a bid to rein in the large blaze that has been burning for more than a week.

The fire has prompted an evacuation order of more than 500 properties and put more than 1,000 others under orders to be ready to leave at short notice.

Authorities in the Northwest Territories are keeping a close eye on a fire on the west side of Marian Lake that flared back up after being dormant underground for a long time.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says the holdover fire, also known as a "zombie fire," has grown to about 65 square kilometres and is burning about 38 kilometres southeast of Whati. 

It says heavy winds from the south are expected to cause extreme fire behaviour and significant growth, which can result in large amounts of smoke and ash in the Tlicho region, especially in Whati, but no cabins, communities or infrastructure is at risk because of this blaze.

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Also this ...

Provincial politicians are heading back to the Ontario legislature today for the start of a new session.

It's the first time they are sitting since the Progressive Conservatives won a second majority government in early June.

The first order of business is electing a Speaker, and two Tories are vying for the job – Ted Arnott, who has held the role for the past four years, and Nina Tangri, who served as associate minister of small business and red tape reduction.

On Tuesday, there will be a throne speech, which outlines a government's new agenda, followed by the budget, which is expected to be largely unchanged from when it was introduced but not passed in the spring before the election.

But it is being reintroduced amid a health-care staffing crisis that has seen emergency rooms across the province close for hours or days at a time, as well as much higher inflation than when it was first introduced.

The throne speech is expected to address those changing circumstances, but it's unclear if any new measures will be added to deal with them.

Nursing groups and opposition politicians have been calling on the government to repeal legislation passed in 2019 that capped wage increases for nurses and other public sector workers for three years, as a way to ease the staffing crunch.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

SAVANNAH, Ga. _ Months after they were sentenced to life in prison for murder, the three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighbourhood faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for federal hate crimes committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who blasted Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbour.

Arbery's killing on Feb. 23, 2020, became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the Justice Department bringing federal charges.

When they return to court Monday in Georgia, McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbour William "Roddie'' Bryan face possible life sentences after a jury convicted them in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery's civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three men were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.

Whatever punishments they receive in federal court could ultimately prove more symbolic than anything. A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery's murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.

All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of U.S. marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery's escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.

The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery had been stealing from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery's family has long insisted he was merely out jogging.

Still, more than two months passed before any charges were filed in Arbery's death. The McMichaels and Bryan were arrested only after the graphic video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

BEIJING _ The capital of China's Hainan province has locked down its residents for 13 hours on Monday as a COVID-19 outbreak grows on the tropical island during the summer school holidays.

The temporary lockdown of Haikou city from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. follows an ongoing and indefinite lockdown of the beach resort of Sanya since Saturday _ which is confining vacationers to their hotels for a week _ and lockdowns that started in four other cities in Hainan on Sunday.

More than 470 new cases were recorded in the province on Sunday, of which 245 did not show symptoms. Overall, China reported more than 760 new daily cases, the National Health Commission said Monday.

Some 80,000 tourists have reportedly been stranded by the lockdown in Sanya. Those wanting to depart have to test negative five times over seven days.

China has stuck steadfastly to a "zero-COVID'' policy, despite the economic and social costs. It has credited that approach with keeping hospitalization and death rates lower than in other countries that have opened up amid high vaccination rates and more effective treatments.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese city, announced Monday that it would reduce a mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals to three days from the current one week. The new policy takes effect Friday.

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On this day in 1989 ...

The lawyer for Chantal Daigle, who went to the Supreme Court of Canada to argue her right to have an abortion against her boyfriend's wishes, told the court his client had had the procedure despite a court injunction against it. Daniel Bedard apologized to the court but warned there could be legal chaos if courts allowed men to stop women from having abortions.

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In entertainment ...

NEW YORK _ The stylized action romp "Bullet Train,'' starring Brad Pitt, arrived with a $30.1 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, as the last big movie of Hollywood's summer recovery landed in theatres.

The "Bullet Train'' debut for Sony Pictures was solid but unspectacular for a movie that cost $90 million to make and was propelled by Pitt's substantial star power. Even if it holds well in coming weeks, movie theatres have no major studio releases on the horizon for the rest of August, and few sure things to look forward to in early fall.

While late summer is always a quiet period in theatres, it will be especially so this year _ and likely to sap some of the momentum stirred by "Top Gun: Maverick,'' "Jurassic World: Dominion,'' "Minions: The Rise of Gru'' and others. After a comeback season that pushed the box office close to pre-pandemic levels, it's about to get pretty quiet in cinemas.

"It's definitely going to be quieter, like the calm after the storm,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. "But that doesn't mean there's not going to be great movies out there and perhaps the good will generated by some of those films might be enough to buoy the box office until we get into the blockbuster corridor with 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' and 'Avatar 2' down the road. We have to expect that we're not going to be able to keep up the pace we had this summer.''

As the last big summer movie to leave the station, "Bullet Train'' hopes to keep riding for the coming weeks. That would be in line with the playbook of some other original, August-released summer movies like "Free Guy'' and "Crazy Rich Asians.'' Directed by David Leitch ("Atomic Blonde,'' "Deadpool 2''), "Bullet Train'' gathers a number of assassins (co-stars include Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry) together on a speeding train running from Tokyo to Kyoto.

The weekend's other new wide release, "Easter Sunday,'' struggled to catch on. The Universal Pictures comedy, starring comic Jo Koy as an actor attending his family's Easter Sunday celebration, won praise for its Filipino representation but drew even worse reviews than "Bullet Train.'' It opened with $5.3 million in ticket sales.

Instead, "Bullet Train'' was trailed by a number of holdovers, including Warner Bros.' "DC League of Pets.'' The animated release grossed $11.2 million in its second week of release.  

Jordan Peele's "Nope,'' the Universal sci-fi horror release, continued to perform well, earning $8.5 million in its third weekend. With $98 million in tickets sold, "Nope'' will soon surpass $100 million at the domestic box office.

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Did you see this?

OTTAWA _ A parliamentary committee will begin exploring the RCMP's use of spyware on Monday, diving deeper into an issue that's sounded alarms for privacy and civil liberties groups across the country.

The House of Commons ethics and privacy committee called for a summer study after the RCMP revealed its use of tools that covertly obtain data from devices like phones and computers.

In response to a written question tabled in the House of Commons in June, the RCMP disclosed it had obtained warrants to use tools that collect text messages and emails and can remotely turn on cameras and microphones in 10 investigations.

"We are talking about the most intrusive thing that exists,'' said privacy and technology lawyer David Fraser. "This would be like an order allowing the police to kind of put on an invisibility cloak and sit on your living room couch, or on your bedside table.''

As an alternative approach, Fraser said the committee could look to the methods used when the Canadian Security Intelligence Service seeks a warrant for its investigations.

"(CSIS officials) go to a bunker in Ottawa and they meet in what amounts to a secret court,'' he said. "It's designated judges of the Federal Court who, ex parte _ so without anybody on the other side _ review applications for warrants under the CSIS Act that can be incredibly intrusive.''

The committee has the opportunity to decide whether the current laws are sufficient to protect Canadians' privacy. It could decide the RCMP needs to submit annual reports for further transparency.

Witnesses appearing during the scheduled two days of hearings include Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, the current federal privacy commissioner and his deputy, and RCMP officers who oversaw the use of spyware.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022

The Canadian Press