The Wednesday briefing: Top news at-a-glance

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yazidis
A group of Yazidi boys pose for a photo at a camp for internal displaced persons, Wednesday, February 22, 2017 in Dohuk, Iraq. Canada has promised to accept hundreds of Yazidi refugees by the end of the year.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Highlights from news headlines across Canada for this Wednesday, February 22nd…

YAZIDIS WELCOME CANADIAN PROMISE OF HAVEN: Yazidis in Iraq are hailing Canada’s offer of a safe haven from ISIL persecution. Yazidi survivors are considered among the most vulnerable people in Iraq, which is why Canada and other countries are offering to take them in. Women and girls have endured horrific abuse and persecution at the hands of Islamic State fighters. Twenty-three-year-old Saud Khalid, who was kidnapped in August of 2014 and sold as a sex slave three times before escaping, was recently interviewed by UN officials about going to Canada and she’s hoping she and her young son will be among the 1,200 Yazidis and other ISIL survivors accepted by the Liberal government. The government’s plan has also been welcomed by Dr. Luma Alhanabadi, who runs Dohuk Girls and Women Treatment and Support Centre, which is partly funded by Canada. Initially opposed to resettlement for fear survivors would face significant barriers abroad, Alhanabadi says she now supports the idea and recently submitted applications for 15 survivors to go to Canada.

REFUGEE TALK TAKES OVER GOVERNOR GENERAL’S TRIP TO SWEDEN: Gov. Gen. David Johnston found himself talking about Canada’s system of private sponsorship for refugees during a trip to Sweden this week, arriving just as the Scandinavian country found itself in the crosshairs of the new American president over immigration. Johnston said the idea of mobilizing private groups to sponsor refugees and help them out financially when they first arrive is a foreign concept to many countries, including Sweden. He said Swedish officials have shown a keen interest in Canada’s private system as a way to overcome immigration and integration challenges. As of January, more than one-third of the Syrian refugees recently brought to Canada came through the private sponsorship program. In Sweden, the government has enacted stricter border controls along with other measures to curb the number of asylum-seeking refugees, a figure that spiked to about 162,000 in 2015.

PM SAYS CHARTER WILL PROTECT CANADIANS AT U.S. BORDER PRECLEARANCE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s proposed legislation to expand border preclearance at Canadian airports and other crossings Wednesday as the opposition New Democrats pushed to stop the bill in its tracks. The NDP argued the bill doesn’t take into account what it called “the climate of uncertainty at the border” created by the Trump administration’s recently adopted immigration policies. But Trudeau suggested it’s better to be cleared for entry into the U.S. while in Canada, because travellers are protected under the Canadian charter. Bill C-23, the Preclearance Act, came up for second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Under preclearance, travellers don’t have to pass through customs in the U.S., because they’ve already done so before departing Canada. NDP public safety critic Matthew Dube said the bill “does not address Canadians’ concerns about being interrogated, detained and turned back at the border based on race, religion, travel history or birthplace as a result of policies that may contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

CANADA SEEKS NEW ASIAN TRADE DEALS: Canada is searching for a new “coalition of the willing” to forge trade links in Asia following President Donald Trump’s decision to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership, says the new Liberal trade minister. Trump followed through on his promise to pull the U.S. out of the 12-country Pacific Rim pact in the days after his inauguration last month, a decision that has effectively killed the TPP. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been hoping to persuade Trump to change his mind, but that now appears futile. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke by phone with Abe on Wednesday and their conversation suggested the possibility of pursing a separate deal between the two countries. That’s significant, because Japan has steadfastly refused for years to restart bilateral free trade talks with Canada, saying the TPP would serve the same purpose as a country-to-country agreement. International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada’s focus is on carving out free trade deals with Japan, China and India.

NDP LEADERSHIP RACE SET TO INTENSIFY: The federal NDP leadership race will likely get new candidates in coming days, with veteran MP Charlie Angus expected to make an announcement this weekend. Angus is inviting supporters on Facebook to a tavern in Toronto on Sunday afternoon to get involved in a “fantastic and wild ride.” He also says a few speeches will be made during the event that will include musician Jason Collett. Angus, first elected in 2004, is an outspoken advocate for indigenous communities, including Attawapiskat First Nation — a reserve in his riding that garnered international headlines for a series of youth suicides. Quebec MP Guy Caron is also expected to make a decision about running before Tuesday. The economist recently stepped aside as the party’s finance critic to mull a leadership bid. The race to replace Tom Mulcair as NDP leader won’t conclude until fall but the first debate among leadership hopefuls is slated for March 12 in Ottawa. So far, only B.C. MP Peter Julian has entered the race.

TRUMP TO LIFT TRANSGENDER BATHROOM GUIDANCE: The Trump administration will revoke federal guidelines that tell public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker-rooms matching their chosen gender identity, the White House said Wednesday. The decision would be a reversal of an Obama-era directive advising public schools to grant bathroom access to students in line with their expressed gender identity and not necessarily the gender on their birth certificate. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that the previous administration’s guidelines were confusing and hard to implement and that new directives would be issued later in the day. A government official with direct knowledge of the plans told The Associated Press that the Obama-era guidance would be rescinded, though anti-bullying safeguards would not be affected. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the plans and did so on condition of anonymity.

B.C.’S CHIEF DOCTOR: BETTER ADDICTION TREATMENT SYSTEM NEEDED: British Columbia’s chief medical officer says far more needs to be done to bridge the divide between mental-health and addiction treatment in order to tackle Canada’s growing overdose crisis. Speaking at a Canadian Mental Health Association conference in Vancouver, Perry Kendall says too often patients are sent back and forth between the two fields and told to fix their other problem first. Kendall says it is inaccurate to say Canada’s treatment system is broken because that implies there was a system to begin with. B.C. has been ground zero for Canada’s opioid crisis, and more than 900 people died from illicit drug overdoses last year. The province declared a state of emergency last April in response to a sharp spike in overdose rates, but that didn’t stop the growing number of deaths. Kendall says the proportion of overdoses in B.C. where the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected surged from 5 per cent in 2012 to 62 per cent in 2016.

COMMISSIONER LOOKING AT CASH-FOR-ACCESS EVENT: Democracy Watch says Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd is investigating a complaint about a political fundraiser hosted by Apotex chairman Barry Sherman in August 2015 that featured Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Liberal candidate Michael Levitt, now an MP. Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher says pharmaceutical giant Apotex was registered to lobby MPs at the time the fundraiser was held at Sherman’s home and should not have been helping raise money for the Liberals. Sherman himself was a lobbyist under the company registration. The firm now is registered to lobby Trudeau’s office, although ethics rules prohibit such work for five years after a lobbyist helps raise money for a politician or party. The advocacy group complained to Shepherd in November about the $1,500-a-ticket fundraiser.

TEACHER FOUND GUILTY IN ANTI-VACCINE CASE: An Ontario science teacher who scared students and berated a public health nurse while pushing his anti-vaccination views has been found guilty of professional misconduct. An independent disciplinary committee with the Ontario College of Teachers found Timothy C. Sullivan guilty Wednesday of five acts, including abusing students psychologically or emotionally. The college had accused Sullivan, a teacher at a high school in Waterford, Ont., of professional misconduct for his actions on March 9, 2015, when he shouted at a public health nurse administering vaccines at his high school and told students they could die if they take the vaccine. He maintains that the students weren’t given proper information to consent to the vaccine, including information about potentially serious, but rare, side-effects of the shots. He was suspended for one day without pay in April 2015 for his actions the previous month. The college is seeking a penalty that includes a suspension for one month and completing an anger management course.

CANADIAN AMONG FINALISTS FOR TEACHING AWARD: A teacher from northern Quebec is in the running for the prestigious US$1-million Global Teacher Prize. Maggie MacDonnell has been named a top-10 finalist for the award, administered by The Varkey Foundation, a non-profit group that focuses on education issues. The award will be handed out for a third time at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai on March 19. MacDonnell, raised in rural Nova Scotia, was chosen from among 20,000 initial nominations and applications from 179 countries. She has taught for six years in the remote Nunavik region, where she has championed a healthier lifestyle and worked with a municipality to build a fitness centre that is open to adults and local schools. In a video posted on the prize’s website, MacDonnell said she’s seen the impact of physical activity first hand in a community where youths battle substance abuse, isolation and even suicide.