Foods prices going up, Canada attends democracy summit : In The News for Dec. 9

·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 Dec. 9 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

A new report says food prices in Canada are expected to rise to record highs next year.

Canada's Food Price Report predicts the average family of four will pay an extra $966 for food in 2022, for a total annual grocery bill of nearly 15-thousand dollars.

That's a seven per cent rise compared to this year, the biggest jump ever predicted by the report.

Sylvain Charlebois, lead author and Dalhousie University professor, says the era of cheap food has ended.

He says prices have been rising steadily since 2010 but the pandemic accelerated that trend.

The report says key drivers pushing up food prices next year include supply chain disruptions, labour market issues and adverse weather events.

It says soaring food prices will contribute to rising food insecurity in Canada, which could leave food banks struggling with higher costs just as demand for their services increases.

The report says the biggest price hikes will be in the dairy aisle and on restaurant menus, which are both expected to see price increases of six to eight per cent.

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Also this ...

It's hard to imagine a more dramatic backdrop as President Joe Biden's virtual Summit for Democracy gets underway today: authoritarianism looming large over Ukraine, Taiwan — and the United States itself.

Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will kick off the proceedings this morning, hosting government officials, civil society advocates and business leaders from more than 110 countries, including Canada.

It comes with the world nervously watching two of the summit's most glaring absences — Russia and China — flex their military muscles at two woefully undermatched neighbours.

Biden has threatened economic sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine, while Blinken has called a Chinese incursion into Taiwan a "potentially disastrous decision."

Then, of course, there's that other elephant in the Zoom room: what happened on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.

For Americans, democracy is under siege at home, with former president Donald Trump widely expected to seek the job again in 2024 — regardless of whether he actually wins the election.

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

NEW YORK _ A former boyfriend of a woman who says she was paid to give sexual favours to Jeffrey Epstein, starting at age 14, corroborated parts of her account Wednesday at the sex trafficking trial of the millionaire's longtime companion, Ghislaine Maxwell.

The man, identified only as Shawn to protect the identity of his ex-girlfriend, said on multiple occasions in the early 2000s he drove three girls he knew to Epstein's estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

He would wait in the car for an hour until the teenagers would emerge with $100 bills.

The girls included a woman who testified on Tuesday only as Carolyn to protect her privacy. She had told the jury she made hundreds of dollars giving sexualized massages to Epstein, and that Maxwell had fondled her and told her she "had a great body.''

Shawn said he and Carolyn used some of the cash to support their drug habit.

The testimony came as the government neared the end of its case against Maxwell, who has denied charges she instructed teenagers to give Epstein sexual messages at the millionaire's residences in Florida, New York and elsewhere.

Maxwell's lawyers have said she's being made a scapegoat for sex crimes committed by Epstein, who briefly went to jail in a child prostitution case in 2008, and then killed himself after he was hit with new charged in 2019.

The last of four key accusers was expected to testify Thursday, before the government rests its case. The defence is set to start its case next week.

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

HONG KONG _ Hong Kong tycoon and prominent pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai and two others were convicted Thursday for their roles in last year's banned Tiananmen candlelight vigil, amid a crackdown on dissent in the city and Beijing's tightening political control.

Lai, together with Chow Hang-tung, a vice chairperson of the now-defunct vigil organizer the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, and activist and former reporter Gwyneth Ho were convicted for either taking part in or inciting others to join the candlelight vigil in 2020.

They are among 24 activists who were charged over their roles in the unauthorized assembly in Victoria Park on June 4 last year, during which thousands of people gathered to light candles and sing songs in the park despite police warnings that they may be breaking the law.

The Hong Kong Alliance previously organized a candlelight vigil in the city's Victoria Park on June 4 each year to mark the bloody crackdown on protesters campaigning for more democracy in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Last year, authorities banned the protest for the first time in three decades, citing social distancing restrictions and public health risks due to the coronavirus. The protest was also banned this year.

Prior to the ban, massive crowds attended the annual candlelight vigil and it was the only large-scale public commemoration on Chinese soil of the 1989 crackdown in Beijing.

Lai was found guilty of inciting others to take part, while Ho was convicted for knowingly participating in the assembly. Chow, a barrister, was convicted for both inciting and participating in the vigil. The trio had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, and will be sentenced at a later date.

Most of the activists who had been charged over the banned vigil had previously pleaded guilty, including outspoken activist Joshua Wong, who was given 10 months in jail for his participation in the vigil. He was already in jail serving time after previously being found guilty of other charges related to his activism.

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On this day in 1755 ...

The first post office in Canada opened in Halifax. A city stationer had begun an informal service the previous year, but in 1755 the British post office, in an attempt to improve military communication between Britain and North America, started a monthly packet run to New York. From there, any available vessel carried mail to Halifax, until 1788, when regular packets called in the port.

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In entertainment ...

LOS ANGELES _ Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings will continue as tag-team hosts of "Jeopardy!'' through the rest of this season

"We're so pleased to have such an excellent and experienced team in front of and behind the camera as we head into 2022!'' producer Sony Pictures Television said Wednesday. Michael Davies will remain the show's executive producer, Sony said.

Last September, Bialik and Jennings were announced as interim hosts after Sony's efforts to replace the late Alex Trebek ran aground. Mike Richards, who'd been the show's executive producer, got the host job and then lost it _ and soon after, his producing role _ when his past questionable podcast comments resurfaced.

Jennings, the record-holder for longest "Jeopardy!'' winning streak, is a consulting producer on the show. Bialik has already been chosen to host "Jeopardy!'' prime-time and spinoff series, including a new college championship.

"Jeopardy!'' used a series of guest hosts, including Richards, for shows filmed after Trebek's death. The beloved host died in November 2020 of cancer.

The show is in its 38th season, with new episodes scheduled to air until July 29, 2022.

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ICYMI ...

IOC President Thomas Bach can't escape repeated questions about Peng Shuai and issues raised by two video calls the IOC has had with her.

The calls were aimed at conveying a message that Peng was safe despite being absent from public view after the three-time Olympic tennis player accused a top Chinese politician of sexual assault almost six weeks ago.

The questions keep coming, even overshadowing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics called by Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, and Lithuania.

Bach has acknowledged that Peng's situation is "fragile.'' He is in the midst of three days of executive board meetings in Switzerland focused on the opening of the Games in Beijing on Feb. 4. But many of the questions at the daily press briefings are about Peng.

"You have to respect this human being,'' Bach said Wednesday. "And in such a fragile situation (that) Peng Shuai is in, you have to make all the efforts to build trust. To engage in a human relationship. And this, as you can appreciate, is not easy in a video call.''

Bach said the IOC initiated both calls with Chinese sports officials. He said the IOC was open to more calls and did not rule out an "independent'' party being involved. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was suggested to Bach.

Bach said Peng's wishes had to be respected, and he said she has asked for privacy.

No transcript of the calls was provided by the IOC, and Bach has never mentioned her sexual assault allegations against former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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