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

By The Canadian Press
August 28, 2017 - 3:00pm

Highlights from the news file for Monday, Aug. 28

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PRIME MINISTER TO DISSOLVE INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS FILE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Indigenous Affairs file is being restructured and will be led by two ministers instead of one as the government works to dissolve its department all together. Carolyn Bennett, who has been in charge of the Indigenous Affairs Department since the fall of 2015, will now work alongside former health minister Jane Philpott. Bennett has been charged with focusing on the Crown's relationship with Indigenous Peoples — a key priority for Trudeau's government since coming to power. Philpott will deal with Indigenous services. Trudeau says the decision recognizes that current government structures are no longer adequate, adding a new approach will allow the government to do more to advance priorities for Indigenous Peoples. The government says dissolving the current Indigenous Affairs Department will require legislation and it is also taking steps toward ending the Indian Act — a widely criticized statute passed in 1876.

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ROOKIES TAPPED FOR TRICKY CABINET ROLES: Two relative newcomers have been tapped to guide some of the federal government's most complex and politically sensitive portfolios: military procurement and veterans affairs. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that Carla Qualtrough was Canada's new minister of public services and procurement minister, while Seamus O'Regan was named minister of veterans affairs. The appointments are big jumps for the two ministers, who will be asked to deal with some difficult and politically charged challenges even before the ink on their swearing-in papers has dried. O'Regan's appointment was the more high-profile move, given his background as a national TV host before being elected to federal office in 2015. The rookie backbencher from St. John's takes over from Calgary MP Kent Hehr, who was demoted to minister for sport and persons with disabilities after a rough tenure in the veterans' portfolio.

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MORE CHAOS IN HOUSTON AS HARVEY FLOODWATERS RISE: Floodwaters reached the roof lines of single-story homes Monday and people could be heard pleading for help from inside as Harvey poured rain on the Houston area for a fourth consecutive day after a chaotic weekend of rising water and rescues. The United State's fourth-largest city was still largely paralyzed, and there was no relief in sight from the storm that spun into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, then parked itself over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 60 more centimetres of rain expected, authorities worried whether the worst was yet to come. The storm has been blamed for at least two confirmed deaths. A Houston television station reported Monday that six family members were believed to have drowned when their van was swept away by floodwaters.

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CANADIAN FORESTRY COMPANY PLEDGES LUMBER FOR TEXAS: Texans forced from their flooded homes by unprecedented water levels may get help rebuilding from a Canadian forestry company. Seth Kursman, a vice president with Resolute Forest Products, has committed to sending a rail car full of lumber to Houston once the storm-battered city begins to recover from the devastation wrought by hurricane Harvey. Watching footage from the storm-drenched city hit close to home for Kursman, who moved to Canada from Houston 15 years ago. "I just can't imagine the devastation," he said, noting he saw images of his old neighbourhood, flooded, on the news. "I was really personally moved." People have been using their personal boats to rescue neighbours trapped by the rising waters, a scene Kursman compared to the recent Hollywood war drama, "Dunkirk." Wanting to help, he called the Montreal-based company's CEO, Richard Garneau, and suggested they prepare to send a truck filled with lumber to the beleaguered city once the flood waters subside. Resolute's main products are paper and pulp, Kursman said, but he thought lumber would be of more use to the struggling communities.

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GASOLINE FUTURE PRICES JUMP IN HARVEY'S WAKE: Canadian gasoline prices are expected to rise this week after widespread flooding from tropical storm Harvey forced many refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast to shut down. Wholesale gasoline prices in the country will likely rise by an average of two to four cents per litre by Thursday, said GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Dan McTeague, but consumers in certain markets could see much higher price increases. McTeague explained that retail operators in markets such as Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa are barely breaking even now and could use the wholesale price increase as an excuse to raise prices by as much as another 10 cents per litre to boost profit margins. U.S. prices are expected to spike over the next week or more as about 10 refineries representing more than 15 per cent of the nation's refining capacity are closed, including ExxonMobil, Shell and Phillips 66 operations.

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UN PANEL CALLS FOR HALT OF SITE C DAM PROJECT: A United Nations panel says the construction of British Columbia's $8.8-billion Site C dam should be halted until there is a full review of how it would affect Indigenous land. The recommendation is contained in a report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which has completed its periodic review of how Canada complies with the world body's treaty to end racial discrimination. The recommendation comes three weeks after British Columbia's NDP government requested a review of what had been a signature megaproject for former premier Christy Clark. The government asked the B.C. Utilities Commission to determine the economic viability of the massive hydroelectric dam on the Peace River and issue a final report by Nov. 1. Site C has become controversial after the previous provincial Liberal government's clean-energy laws allowed some projects to bypass a review by the regulatory agency. The UN panel says a full review should be conducted in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples.

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ONTARIO URGED TO DECLARE OPIOID EMERGENCY: More than 700 doctors, nurses, harm reduction workers and academics are calling on Ontario to declare opioid overdoses and deaths an emergency. They released an open letter today saying limited resources and poor data are preventing them from responding properly to a disturbing and sustained increase in overdoses. They say an emergency declaration will allow for increased funding to front-line harm reduction workers, more overdose prevention sites and opioid programs. The group is delivering the letter to the legislature today and Premier Kathleen Wynne's staff says she will meet with them.  In the first six months of last year, 412 Ontarians died of opioid overdoses — an 11-per-cent increase from the previous year. Health Minister Eric Hoskins has noted Ontario launched a strategy on opioid addiction and overdose last year, has provided funding for new front-line addiction and mental health workers and is distributing more than 6,500 kits with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone each month. Hoskins' office says significant further supports will be announced soon as part of the opioid strategy.

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TICATS ADD SCANDAL-PLAGUED COACH TO STAFF: Art Briles, who was fired last year as the head football coach at Baylor in the wake of a sexual assault scandal within his program, has joined the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats as an assistant offensive head coach. June Jones, who replaced Kent Austin as head coach last week, made the announcement Monday. Austin remains with Hamilton as its vice-president of football operations. Briles, 61, comes to the CFL with over 35 years of coaching experience, including stints as head coach at Houston (2003-07) and Baylor (2008-15). But Baylor's football program came under fire in 2016 when it was revealed university officials failed to take action following alleged sexual assaults. A report found the football program under Briles mishandled multiple allegations of sexual assault against players.  After being fired Briles sued the school, but later dropped the suit.

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SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CAN CAUSE DEATH, LAWYER SAYS: A lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada says solitary confinement violates the charter right to life, liberty and security of the person. Joe Arvay is delivering closing arguments in B.C. Supreme Court in the a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada over the use of indefinite segregation in prisons. He says cases where prisoners have committed suicide in solitary confinement, show clearly that the practice can deprive people of life. Arvay also says that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that placing a prisoner in a cell alone without meaningful human contact can cause serious psychological suffering. He adds United Nations rules for the treatment of prisoners say indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement amounts to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.  The Canadian government is expected to deliver closing arguments later this week.

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HILLARY CLINTON TO VISIT CANADA FOR BOOK TOUR: Hillary Clinton is stopping in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to promote her upcoming book "What Happened." Her publisher Simon and Schuster says the book is Clinton's "most personal memoir yet" with revelations including her thoughts and feelings during last year's failed U.S. presidential bid. The 15-city speaking tour is being billed as a "detailed and surprisingly funny" look at her journey, the process of writing the book, and her plans for the future. Clinton is scheduled to visit Toronto, the second stop on her tour, on Sept. 28 at the Enercare Centre. She is booked for the Palais des Congres de Montreal on Oct. 23 and the Vancouver Convention Centre on Dec. 13. "What Happened" is due Sept. 12.

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