Ukraine seeks Canadian help to repair damaged railways : In The News for Feb. 21

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 Feb. 21 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Ukraine wants Canada to lend its expertise — and donate crucial railway parts — to keep its embattled passenger and cargo rail system running as landmines and missile strikes threaten to stall the country's lifeline.

The rail system is vital to the war effort, and has been since the first days of the invasion that began one year ago this week.

Millions of people used trains to escape occupied cities and flee to neighbouring countries. Thousands of wounded soldiers and civilians were also transported by rail to hospitals in safer parts of the country.

The railway is also how Ukraine moves aid and soldiers to front-line areas, where the fighting is most intense, and restores residents and supplies to territories returned to Ukrainian control after the Russian occupying forces leave.

Constant attacks on rail and other critical infrastructure has rendered 20 per cent of the system unusable, said Oleksandr Pertsovskyi, the CEO of Ukrainian Railways' passenger company. He added that more than 300 railworkers have also been killed.

The company wants to build a better, more modern system, and it has asked for Canada's help.

Canada's Transport Minister Omar Alghabra helped broker an agreement last fall between Canadian rail companies and Ukrainian Railways in response to a request from the Ukrainian government to support the resiliency and reconstruction of the system, including sourcing parts from Canadian manufacturers.


Also this ...

Statistics Canada is set to release its reading on inflation for January this morning.

The federal agency's consumer price index report will give insight on how high prices were in January compared with a year ago, as well as the month prior.

Canada's annual inflation rate has been slowing since the summer, reaching 6.3 per cent in December, but economists are predicting that higher fuel prices in January may have hindered that trend.

Economists say the cost of groceries, which has been a pain point for many Canadians, likely eased last month as agriculture commodity prices moderated.

RBC is forecasting the annual inflation rate for January to come in at 6.1 per cent and CIBC is forecasting a slight increase to 6.4 per cent.

The Bank of Canada, which is planning to hold interest rates for now, will be monitoring the report ahead of its March 8 interest rate decision.


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

Anchor Don Lemon will return to work Wednesday after he receives formal training for his comments about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on ``CNN This Morning,'' network CEO Chris Licht said in an email to employees Monday night.

Lemon has not been on the air since Thursday, when during a discussion on ``CNN This Morning'' about the ages of politicians he said that the 51-year-old Haley was not ``in her prime.'' A woman, he said, was considered in her prime ``in her 20s, 30s and maybe her 40s.''

Challenged by co-host Poppy Harlow, Lemon added: ``Don't shoot the messenger, I'm just saying what the facts are.''

``I sat down with Don and had a frank and meaningful conversation,'' Licht wrote in a memo. ``He has agreed to participate in formal training, as well as continuing to listen and learn. We take this situation very seriously,'' CNN Business reported.

Lemon has since apologized, but he has been widely condemned, including by Licht. According to The New York Times, Licht chastised Lemon during an editorial call Friday, saying his remarks were ``upsetting, unacceptable and unfair'' and a ``huge distraction.''

``When I make a mistake, I own it,'' Lemon said. ``And I own this one as well.''<


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

Iran's city of Qom is one of the country's most important centers for Shiite Muslim clerics, packed with religious schools and revered shrines. But even here, some are quietly calling for Iran's ruling theocracy to change its ways after months of protests shaking the country.

To be clear: Many here still support the cleric-led ruling system, which marked the 44th anniversary this month of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

This includes support for many of the restrictions that set off the protests, such as the mandatory hjjab, or headscarf, for women in public. They believe the state's claims that Iran's foreign enemies are the ones fomenting the unrest gripping the country.

But they say the government should change how it approaches demonstrators and women's demands to be able to choose whether to wear an Islamic head covering or not.

``The harsh crackdown was a mistake from the beginning,'' said Abuzar Sahebnazaran, a cleric who described himself as an ardent backer of the theocracy, as he visited a former residence of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. ``And the youth should have been treated softly and politely. They should have been enlightened and guided.''

Qom, some 125 kilometres southwest of Iran's capital, Tehran, draws millions of pilgrims each year and is home to half of the country's Shiite clerics. Its religious institutions graduate the country's top clerical minds, making the city a power bastion in the country. The faithful believe the city's dazzling blue-domed Fatima Masumeh Shrine represents a route to heaven or a place to have prayers answered for their woes.


On this day in 2000 ...

Truckers staged Canada-wide protests over high fuel prices.


In entertainment ...

It's Mardi Gras -- or Fat Tuesday in New Orleans -- and the annual, ebullient climax of the city's Carnival season comes this year with some political intrigue. Mild weather is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals to city streets, many of them in costume, to mark the raucous end of Carnival season. Among the revelers will be opponents of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who are gathering last-minute signatures ahead of a Wednesday deadline to force a recall election. There's also an undercurrent of worry about recurring violent crime. One person was killed and four wounded when gunfire broke out during a Sunday night parade.


Did you see this?

Justice Paul Rouleau says the Canada Border Services Agency made a bad situation worse when it mishandled the announcement of a vaccine mandate for truckers early last year, amid rampant anger and false information around the pandemic.

Rouleau pointed out the agency's mistake in his more than 2,000-page report released last Friday, which concluded that the federal Liberal government was justified in invoking the Emergencies Act last winter to respond to ``Freedom Convoy'' protests in downtown Ottawa.

``Public health measures were not the only cause of the Freedom Convoy protests, but they were certainly an important one,'' he wrote.

Rouleau's task included exploring what contributed to the fervour that saw thousands of demonstrators take over the streets around Parliament Hill and block several border crossings with the United States.

He based his findings on hundreds of hours of testimony and thousands of documents submitted as evidence during the Public Order Emergency Commission's hearings last fall.

Rouleau's final report said that although the inquiry was not focused on the government response to COVID-19, Canadians felt confused by some of the messaging from officials.

It singled out an error by the border services agency last January, when it released a statement saying unvaccinated Canadian truckers would not need to quarantine after crossing the border, only to issue a correction reversing that position the next day.

``This back and forth in the government's messaging about how unvaccinated commercial truckers would be treated at the border only exacerbated the negative sentiments surrounding the new border rules,'' Rouleau wrote.

The image of the commercial truck driver proved to be a powerful symbol, the report suggested, conveying a message that everyday Canadians were having their lives turned upside down by COVID-19 health restrictions.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2023.

The Canadian Press