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In The News for Feb. 2 : Delay expected for MAID eligibility extension

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. 2 ... What we are watching in Canada ...
Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti speak in Ottawa, on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. The Liberal government is expected to introduce a law today to delay the extension of eligibility for medically assisted dying to people whose sole condition is a mental disorder.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

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. 2 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

The Liberal government is expected to introduce a law today to delay the extension of eligibility for medically assisted dying to people whose sole condition is a mental disorder.

Justice Minister David Lametti has said the delay is needed after the federal government heard concerns that Canada's health-care system might not be prepared for the expansion.

The Liberal government agreed to expand eligibility in its 2021 update to assisted dying law after senators amended the bill to include it, arguing that excluding people with mental illness would violate their rights.

But the bill included a two-year clock to delay the extension, which is set to expire in March unless Parliament passes a new law. 

The federal government’s expert panel on medical assistance in dying and mental illness said last May that further delay wasn't needed. 

Lametti has said he expects agreement among parties and senators to pass the bill in the weeks before the clock runs out, though Conservatives have argued that the system shouldn't expand at all.

Carolyn Bennett, the minister for mental health and addictions, is scheduled to join Lametti at a news conference on Parliament Hill today.


Also this ...

Famed and furry forecasters of spring are set to make their predictions this morning. 

It's Groundhog Day, and as folklore goes, a groundhog will emerge from its burrow and if it does not see its shadow, then spring is just around the corner, while if it does and retreats, then we can expect six more weeks of winter. 

Celebrity groundhog Shubenacadie Sam kicks off Canada's first prediction shortly after sunrise over Nova Scotia, followed later by Ontario's Wiarton Willie. 

Willie's hosts in South Bruce Peninsula say the groundhog is once again white-furred as per local legend, after town spokeswoman Danielle Edwards says it brought in an "understudy" with a more traditional brown hue last year while it searched for a replacement.

Willie was nowhere to be seen on the momentous day in 2021 and the town only later acknowledged the furry forecaster had died, launching a search that ended this past summer when town says it was able to get a white-haired groundhog from Cleveland, Ohio. 

In a playful and peer-reviewed study published by the American Meteorological Society, researchers out of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., say groundhogs are "beyond a shadow of a doubt" no better than chance at prognosticating the arrival of spring. 


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

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. _ Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers proposed legislation making it easier to send convicts to death row by eliminating a unanimous jury requirement in capital punishment sentencing _ a response to anger from victims' families following a verdict sparing a school shooter from execution.

The proposal comes after a divided 9-3 jury spared Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz in November from capital punishment for killing 17 at the school in 2018. The Parkland school shooter instead received a life sentence.

The Cruz decision outraged many and is likely the catalyst for Florida's move to drop its unanimity requirement for capital punishment.

Republican legislators, at the governor's urging, introduced legislation to allow the jury to choose the death penalty with only eight of the 12 jurors in favour, which would make Florida the only state to use that standard.

Only three states out of the 27 that impose the death penalty do not require unanimity. Alabama allows a 10-2 decision and Missouri and Indiana let a judge decide when there is a divided jury.

Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina died in the massacre, said changing the requirement from unanimity to 8-4 would prevent "an activist juror from denying the victims' families justice.''

"The people subject to the death penalty are already convicted murderers, they are not people picked off the street,'' Montalto said.

DeSantis, a Republican expected to launch a 2024 White House bid in the late spring or early summer, has not signed death warrants at the same rate as his predecessors, but said Cruz deserved capital punishment and he would have expedited Cruz's execution if given the chance.

U.S. President Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to work toward abolishing the death penalty but has not taken major action to end the practice. The U.S. Justice Department still presses for the death penalty in certain cases but has a moratorium in place, making federal executions unlikely.


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

HONG KONG _ Hong Kong will give away air tickets and vouchers to woo tourists back to the international financial hub, racing to catch up with other popular travel destinations in a fierce regional competition.

During the pandemic, the city largely aligned itself with mainland China's "zero-COVID'' strategy and has relaxed its entry rules months slower than rivals such as Singapore, Japan and Taiwan. Even after it reopened its border with mainland China in January, tourism recovery was sluggish.

On Wednesday, Chief Executive John Lee launched a tourism campaign "Hello Hong Kong,'' saying the city will offer 500,000 free air tickets to welcome tourists from around the world in what he called "probably the world's biggest welcome ever''.

"Hong Kong is now seamlessly connected to the mainland of China and the whole international world and there will be no isolation, no quarantine,'' he said at a ceremony. "This is the perfect timing for tourists, business travellers, and investors from near and far to come and say, `Hello, Hong Kong.'''

Under the campaign, most of the plane tickets _ worth two billion Hong Kong dollars ($338.4 million CAD) _ will come from three Hong Kong-based airlines through various promotional activities, including lucky draws, "buy one, get one free'' promotions and games. The project will begin in March and last about six months, said Fred Lam, CEO of the Airport Authority.

"We hope those who secure the air tickets can bring two or three more relatives and friends to the city. Although we are just giving away 500,000 air tickets, we believe this can help bring Hong Kong over 1.5 million visitors,'' Lam said.

"The airlines will distribute the tickets in phases, with the Southeast Asian markets set to benefit in the first stage, he said.

An additional 80,000 air tickets will be given away to Hong Kong residents in the summer, Lam said. Those living in the Greater Bay Area will also benefit from the policy that offers over 700,000 tickets in total. The Greater Bay Area is a Chinese government initiative to link Hong Kong with neighbouring mainland cities, including the technology and finance hub of Shenzhen and the manufacturing powerhouses of Dongguan and Foshan.

Visitors can also enjoy special offers and vouchers among other incentives in the city, Lee said.

Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019 _ over seven times its population _ before the pandemic began. But its strict COVID-19 restrictions have been keeping visitors away over the past three years, devastating the tourism sector and its economy. The city's GDP last year fell 3.5 per from 2021, according to the government's provisional data.

In the past few months, it finally dropped its mandatory hotel quarantine rule and PCR tests for incoming travellers, resulting in a slight increase in arrival figures. Still, its 2022 visitor numbers were just 1 per cent of the 2019 level.


On this day in 1942 ...

Ottawa proclaimed western British Columbia a "protected area'' and soon began moving Japanese people inland. The measure was intended to quell fears of Japanese people assisting an invasion during the Second World War. Within weeks, the action was expanded to include all those of Japanese origin. They were treated as aliens and deprived of their property. Decades later, the federal government apologized to Canada's Japanese community.


In entertainment ...

When the opera "La Flambeau" premieres next week in Montreal, Black performers will be front and centre in an artistic medium where they have historically been under-represented.

The work by Haitian-Canadian composer and pianist David Bontemps explores topical themes such as women's rights and the need for social justice and compassion, while criticizing corruption, misogyny and the abuse of power.

Taras Kulish, the executive director of the Orchestre classique de Montréal, said he specifically chose the project because the chamber orchestra is on a mission to prove that the world of classical music consists of more than just "white male composers."

"We are very proud of this world premiere," Kulish said in an interview. "We really want artists from different backgrounds, whether it be from the LGBTQ community, or the Black community or Indigenous communities, to shine."

Bontemps, who was born in Port-au-Prince and moved to Montreal in 2002, composed the chamber opera in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

"For me, it is the story that shines because the text has strong historical references to what the Haitian culture has retained of its African ancestry and its concept of being Creole," he said in an interview. "It's both historical and artistic, which is the link to (Black History Month)."

The opera tells the story of a dysfunctional couple, Monsieur and Madame. Monsieur is an intellectual with political ambitions, and Madame appears to have gone mad as she continues conversing with her deceased mother and uncle. The couple hires Mademoiselle, a young working-class woman from a small village, as their maid.

Monsieur becomes infatuated with Mademoiselle's beauty and betrays his own principles by abusing her psychologically and physically. Mademoiselle flees the home in search of help. Finally, in the middle of the night, Monsieur is visited by a stranger who condemns him to live as a zombie who must serve Mademoiselle and the community.

"La Flambeau" features four prominent Black opera performers: Cameroonian-born soprano Suzanne Taffot, Canadian mezzo-soprano Catherine Daniel, Jamaican-Canadian tenor Paul Williamson and Canadian bass Korin Thomas‑Smith.


Did you see this?

QUEBEC _ A team of preteen Ukrainian refugees has arrived in Quebec City, where they'll get the chance to compete in a renowned hockey tournament.

The team of 11- and 12-year-olds landed in Montreal on Wednesday afternoon before being bused to the provincial capital ahead of next week's Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament.

Coach Evgheniy Pysarenko described the team's presence in Quebec City as "almost a miracle.''

He told reporters at the hockey arena that it will be hard for players to forget the war in Ukraine, but he hopes they'll leave the tournament with lifelong memories and the belief that anything is possible.

The team's improbable journey comes after months of effort by Pysarenko and a Quebec City businessman, who had to sort out visas and arrange travel for players displaced by war and spread across Europe.

Pysarenko says he's prepared for an emotional moment when the team takes the ice at the Videotron Centre on Feb. 11.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

The Canadian Press