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The Monday news briefing: An at-a-glance survey of some top stories

Last Updated Jan 29, 2018 at 6:20 pm EST

Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu speaks in the House of Commons about Bill-65 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday January 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Highlights from the news file for Monday, Jan. 29

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VICTIMS’ REMAINS FOUND IN PLANTER BOXES, TORONTO POLICE SAY: A self-employed landscaper now facing five counts of first-degree murder allegedly dismembered some of his male victims and buried their remains at the bottom of large planter boxes. Toronto police, calling the accused and alleged serial killer, said Monday that more victims may yet be identified in what they called an unprecedented case in Canada’s largest city. Speaking at a news conference, Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga said officers had found dismembered skeletal remains belonging to at least three people in planter boxes at a home linked to Bruce McArthur, already charged earlier this month with killing two men who had disappeared from the city’s gay village. McArthur, 66, was arrested and charged Jan. 18 in the presumed deaths of Selim Esen, 44, and 49-year-old Andrew Kinsman. He was further charged on Monday in the deaths of two missing men — Majeed Kayhan, 58, and Soroush Mahmudi, 50 — as well as Dean Lisowick, 47, who had never been reported missing.

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NO PLACE IN POLITICS FOR ASSAULT, SCHEER SAYS: Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says if allegations of sexual assault were levelled against candidates for his party today, they wouldn’t be allowed to run. But Scheer says he can’t speak to a decision made by party officials during the 2015 campaign to allow Ontario MP Rick Dykstra to remain on the ballot despite knowing he had been accused of assault. That the party was aware of an allegation of sexual assault against Dykstra came to light in a report by Maclean’s magazine. Scheer says he can’t comment on that decision but if the party was made aware of such an allegation today, the individual would be removed as a candidate until an investigation was completed. Scheer calls the allegations about Dykstra disturbing and says there’s no place for such conduct in the political system. Dykstra has not returned a request for comment on the allegations; he lost his seat in the 2015 election and went on to become president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, a position from which he resigned over the weekend just ahead of the Maclean’s story publication.

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TIME FOR CHANGE ON HARASSMENT, MINISTER SAYS: The time has come to crack down on harassment in federal workplaces, including Parliament Hill, says Employment Minister Patty Hajdu. “Parliament Hill features distinct power imbalances that perpetuate the culture that people with a lot of power and prestige can and have used that power to victimize the people who work so hard for us,” Hajdu said Monday in the House of Commons as she kicked off debate on proposed legislation to support safe workplaces. The legislation, introduced last fall, is aimed at giving workers and employers a clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. Later Monday, MPs agreed with a motion tabled by NDP House leader Ruth Ellen Brosseau to fast-track the legislation, known as Bill C-65, sending it straight to the House of Commons human resources committee for further study. The proposed changes would merge separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence, subjecting them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process, which could mean bringing in an outside investigator to review allegations. They would also — for the first time — bring parliamentary staff under the protection of the Canada Labour Code.

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NEW CANDIDATE JOINS ONTARIO PC LEADERSHIP RACE: A new candidate jumped into the race to lead the Ontario Progressive Conservatives on Monday as the party grappled with the latest accusations of sexual misconduct to hit its ranks. Doug Ford, a former Toronto city councillor and brother to the city’s late former mayor Rob Ford, said he was throwing his hat in the ring to save the party from what he called political “elites.” The party’s executive announced Friday there would be a leadership race to select a permanent replacement for former leader Patrick Brown, who stepped down last week in the face of sexual misconduct allegations, which he vehemently denies. Caucus members had recommended that interim leader Vic Fedeli carry the party through the upcoming provincial election. The party found itself having to fill another vacancy Monday after its president Rick Dykstra resigned abruptly amid a report from Maclean’s magazine on allegations of sexual assault. The allegations have not been verified by The Canadian Press and Dykstra has not responded to requests for comment. Fedeli said he was shocked and disgusted by the reported allegations against Dykstra, adding he is taking them very seriously. He said he will take steps to ensure the workplace is safe for party members and staffers in the wake of the allegations.

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CANADA HINTS AT WTO, LUMBER TRADE-OFF: The Canadian government has suggested it might drop its major international trade case against the U.S., if it gets a softwood lumber deal. Canada has filed a wide-ranging complaint to the World Trade Organization about the way the U.S. applies punitive tariffs, infuriating the Americans. U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer called it a “massive attack” on the American system of international trade. “If it were successful, it would lead to more Chinese imports into the United States and likely fewer Canadian goods being sold in our market,” he said Monday at the end of NAFTA talks in Montreal. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the case is directly tied to softwood lumber, where the U.S. imposed duties. “We are aware that the U.S. is concerned by our litigation. And to those concerns, I have a very clear response and a clear offer, which is: let’s sit down and let’s negotiate a softwood lumber deal,” the minister told reporters following her earlier appearance with Lighthizer and their Mexican counterpart, Ildefonso Guajardo. A big challenge in reaching a softwood deal is that it’s not entirely up to the governments of Canada and the U.S. As part of any deal, the American lumber industry would need to sign off on the right to sue Canada again for punitive duties — and there’s no indication that’s happening.

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MORNEAU DELUGED WITH MESSAGES OVER TAXES: Bill Morneau was inundated with more than 10,000 missives last fall following the release of controversial tax-change proposals that infuriated Canada’s small-business community. An internal memo obtained by The Canadian Press says the flood of messages addressed directly to the federal finance minister came in addition to the more than 21,000 email submissions his department received as part of a related public consultation process. The Nov. 15 briefing note to the deputy finance minister also says the department had yet to process all the tax-related submissions at that time — even though more than a month had passed since the end of the consultation period. The document says that, as expected, most submissions came from taxpayers that would be directly affected by the tax proposals. The memo also lists the most common criticisms — including complaints the consultation period was too short, that the changes would have retroactive consequences on retirement plans created under the current rules and that farmers were too busy with their harvests to thoroughly examine the proposals. Morneau has argued the proposals were designed to stop wealthy owners of private corporations from unfairly taking advantage of the system — however, the uproar eventually forced him to back away from some elements of his plan.

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GIRL KILLED BECAUSE OF UNDERAGE SEX, CROWN SAYS: The Crown opened its second-degree murder case against 55-year-old Raymond Cormier, alleging he killed 15-year-old Tina Fontaine when he discovered her age. He was arrested 16 months after Tina’s body, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks, was pulled from the Red River in central Winnipeg in 2014. She had run away from a hotel — where she was being housed by Child and Family Services — and was being sexually exploited. Her death shocked the city and led the Manitoba government to phase out the use of hotels for kids in government care. Crown attorney James Ross said told jurors they will hear evidence from Cormier’s friends, as well as from wiretaps of Cormier’s apartment, that he killed the teenager because he was worried he might be arrested. Cormier had sex with Tina and later was angry upon finding out she was only 15 — one year below the age of consent, Ross said. “Mr. Cormier told associates that Tina Fontaine ‘got killed because we, I, found out she was 15.'” Ross also said Cormier was worried Tina was going to report him for possessing a stolen truck — the same one the Crown believes was used to transport her body to the river.

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MURDER TRAIL BEGINS FOR FARMER IN FATAL SHOOTING: Jury selection has begun at the trial for a Saskatchewan farmer accused in the fatal shooting of an Indigenous man. Gerald Stanley was formally arraigned on a charge of second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty at a community centre in Battleford, Sask. Saskatchewan Chief Justice Martel Popescul must find 12 unbiased jurors in a case that stirred racial tensions in the province. Some 750 potential jurors were summoned — prompting jury selection to be held in a community centre — and about 200 showed up. Colten Boushie was 22 when an SUV that he was a passenger in drove onto a farm near Biggar, Sask., on Aug. 9, 2016. An altercation ensued and Boushie — from the Red Pheasant First Nation — was shot and killed. The trial is expected to last about three weeks.

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AUDITOR GENERAL TO ISSUE NEW FIGHTER JET REPORT: Six years after his explosive report on the F-35 derailed the Harper government’s plan to buy the controversial stealth aircraft, federal auditor general Michael Ferguson is diving back into the fighter-jet file. Ferguson’s staff have been going over internal government records for several months, though the auditor general’s office won’t reveal exactly what aspects of the program are under the microscope. The final report is scheduled for release in the fall. Ferguson’s last report on fighter jets in April 2012 was a bombshell that found senior defence officials twisted rules, downplayed problems and withheld information about the Harper government’s plan to buy 65 F-35s. The report forced the government to suspend the project pending a complete review, which eventually pegged the full cost of buying and operating the F-35s at more than $45 billion. Six years later, Canada still has not chosen a new fighter jet to replace its aging CF-18s. It is unlikely the auditor general will find the kind of serious problems with the government’s efforts to buy fighter jets as the last time, as the overall procurement system has been revamped with a variety of checks and balances.

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ALESSIA CARA DEFENDS BEST NEW ARTIST GRAMMY WIN: Canadian singer Alessia Cara is defending herself against negative comments over her Grammy Award win. Cara won best new artist at Sunday’s show, which some social media users said wasn’t fair since she’s already well-established in the music scene. Some wrote that the award should have gone to R&B singer SZA, who was also nominated in the category alongside Julia Michaels, Khalid, and Lil Uzi Vert. Cara responded to the backlash on her Instagram account, writing that she didn’t ask to be submitted in the category and had “no control over” the outcome. The Brampton, Ont., native said she’s “worked really hard” and was “not going to be upset about something I’ve wanted since I was kid.” The 21-year-old added “there is a big issue in the industry that perpetuates the idea that an artist’s talent and hard work should take a back seat to popularity and numbers.”

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