Coal contamination data, and the Netherlands rocked by riots: In The News for Jan. 26

·8 min read

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 Jan. 26 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

A new report on billions of dollars the federal government has sent to provinces to help safely reopen the economy suggests much of the money is sitting unused.

Today's report also suggests that federal efforts to stretch the financial impact of those dollars is falling short as many provinces have bucked cost-matching requests.

The analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says six out of 10 provinces haven't spent all the money the federal government has sent their way, including for things like personal protective equipment.

Author David Macdonald says some of the money may yet be spent, but notes the longer it remains unspent, the less likely it ever will be spent.

Macdonald's analysis is based on a review of provincial and federal spending announcements, reconciling duplications, as well as provincial spending documents.

Federal and provincial governments are allocating hundreds of billions in direct spending and liquidity support to help workers, families, front-line workers and businesses make it through the pandemic.

The federal treasury has managed the lion's share of COVID-19 spending — accounting for about $8 in every $10 of aid, according to the federal Finance Department's math.

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Also this ...

Critics are asking why Alberta Environment has been sitting on years worth of data about pollution from coal mines while the government considers a dramatic expansion of the industry.

"It raises some important questions about our ability to trust what's going on," said New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt. "The fact (Alberta Environment) hasn't reported publicly is extremely concerning."

On Monday, The Canadian Press reported on analysis of coal mine contamination in the Gregg and McLeod Rivers and Luscar Creek near Jasper, Alta., dating back to the 1990s. It found toxic levels of selenium many times over the amount considered safe for aquatic life.

The Gregg and Luscar Creek mines closed in the early 2000s. Selenium levels from both declined, at best, only gradually over more than 15 years of remediation.

In the case of the Cheviot mine on the McLeod River, levels gradually grew between 2005 and 2017. The operation closed last June.

The data also shows the provincial government knew about the levels for at least 15 years and did not report anything after 2006. The information was available in raw form, but Schmidt said it isn't enough to simply collect information.

"There are numbers and then there are the numbers that the stories tell. That's the piece that's missing."

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

Donald Trump is adding another South Carolina attorney to his impeachment legal team, according to a trial lawyer group in the state.

In an email sent to South Carolina members of the American College of Trial Lawyers, group chairman Wallace Lightsey wrote that Deborah Barbier — a former federal prosecutor-turned-defence attorney who specializes in white-collar crime — had been hired to join Butch Bowers in crafting a defence for Trump's unprecedented second impeachment trial, set for the week of Feb. 8.

“Regardless of one's personal view of Mr. Trump, it says a great deal about Debbie's skill and reputation as a trial lawyer that she was chosen for this task,” Lightsey wrote in the email, obtained by The Associated Press. “We know you will acquit yourself well (even though some of us may be hoping that your client is not).”

Neither Lightsey nor Barbier returned messages seeking comment late Monday.

In Barbier, Bowers — an ethics and election lawyer picked last week to lead the team — has a co-counsel who spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor and who now, in private practice, specializes in white-collar defence. Barbier, a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, was an assistant U.S. Attorney in South Carolina for 15 years, working on both criminal and civil cases and ultimately serving as chief of the civil division.

After leaving the office in 2012, Barbier went into private practice. Her clients have included Republican political consultant Richard Quinn, who had at times counted former President Ronald Reagan and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham among his clients. Conspiracy and illegal lobbying charges in connection with a wide-ranging legislative corruption probe were dropped in 2017 when Quinn’s son, then-state Rep. Rick Quinn, agreed to plead guilty to misconduct in office and resign.

Barbier also in 2016 served as defence attorney for a friend of the man convicted of shooting nine Black parishioners to death at a historic Charleston church. Joey Meek, Barbier's client, was later sentenced to more than two years in prison for telling people not to share the shooter's identity with authorities.

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

Groups of youths confronted police in Dutch towns and cities Monday night, defying the country's coronavirus curfew and throwing fireworks. Police in the port city of Rotterdam used a water cannon and tear gas in an attempt to disperse a crowd of rioters who also looted shops.

Police and local media reported trouble in the capital, Amsterdam, where at least eight people were arrested, Haarlem, where vandals set a large fire in a street, The Hague and other towns before and after the 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew began.

It was the second night of unrest in towns and cities across the Netherlands that initially grew out of calls to protest against the country's tough lockdown, but degenerated into vandalism by crowds whipped up by messages swirling on social media.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing the same things as last night,” police chief Willem Woelders told Dutch current affairs show Nieuwsuur. He said around 70 rioters had been arrested and police had used tear gas in the western city of Haarlem as well as Rotterdam.

Rotterdam police said youths took to the streets “seeking a confrontation with police.” Riot officers attempted to break up the violence and made a number of arrests, before firing tear gas. Police warned people to stay away from the area. National broadcaster NOS showed video of police using a water cannon and reported that some shops had been looted.

Police in the southern city of Den Bosch said that a shop was looted there and riot police were attempting to restore order.

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On this day in 1980 ...

Prime Minister Joe Clark said Canada would boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow if Soviet troops were not out of Afghanistan by Feb. 20. Canada skipped the Games.

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In entertainment ...

Dance your cares away, "Fraggle Rock" fans — the fluffy-haired creatures are back in Canada for a new show.

The Jim Henson Company says production has officially started in Calgary on a reboot of the original 1980s children's puppet series, which was filmed in Toronto.

Last April a new U.S.-shot limited series of shorts called "Fraggle Rock: Rock On!" debuted on Apple TV Plus, with guests including Canadian singer Alanis Morissette.

But the Jim Henson Company says that summer, with the pandemic in full swing, they wanted to find a new home where they could produce an entire series of full-length episodes.

A spokesperson says the new series will also stream on Apple TV plus and is shooting at the Calgary Film Centre.

Chris Lytton, chief operating officer of The Jim Henson Company, says Calgary was "the obvious choice" because of Alberta's production rebate structure.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the city also has a talented film sector and a "reputation as a world leader in the art of puppetry."

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ICYMI ...

Officials with the Yukon government have confirmed the identities of a couple from Vancouver who allegedly travelled to a remote community last week to receive doses of COVID-19 vaccine amid media reports that the former president of the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. was one of those charged with breaching the territory’s Civil Emergency Measures Act.

Tickets filed with a court registry in Whitehorse last Thursday show 55-year-old Rodney Baker and Ekaterina Baker, who is 32, were each charged with one count of failing to self-isolate for 14 days and one count of failing to act in a manner consistent with their declarations upon arriving in Yukon.

The tickets were issued on Thursday under Yukon's Civil Emergency Measures Act and both face fines of $1,000, plus fees.

The allegations against them have not been proven in court and the tickets indicate the couple can challenge them.

Great Canadian Gaming Corp. president and chief executive Rodney Baker resigned on Sunday and media reports say he is the same person charged in Whitehorse.

Rodney Baker and Ekaterina Baker could not be reached for comment and The Canadian Press could not independently confirm their identities, including that they are married and that Ekaterina is an actress.

Great Canadian Gaming Corp. spokesman Chuck Keeling says in a statement that the company does not comment on personnel matters.

The statement also says the company complies with guidelines from public health authorities in all the jurisdictions where it operates.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021

The Canadian Press