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Omicron arrives in Canada and B.C.'s flood forecast: In The News for Nov. 29

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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 Nov. 29 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

TORONTO — Ontario's chief medical officer of health is set to speak to the media this morning, after Canada's first two cases of a new COVID-19 variant of concern were detected in the province.

Dr. Kieran Moore is expected to speak about the cases of the Omicron variant, which were found in patients in Ottawa who had recently been in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization has cautioned that the variant could be more contagious than others.

It was first detected in South Africa, and has been linked to a spike in cases there.

The federal government on Friday barred visitors from seven southern African countries in an effort to prevent the variant from crossing into Canada, but Nigeria was not among them.

The province has called on Ottawa to implement point-of-arrival COVID-19 testing for everyone entering Canada regardless of where they came from, instead of just requiring them to get tested before leaving for Canada.

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Also this ...

ABBOTSFORD — Residents of another handful of properties in Abbotsford, B.C., were ordered to evacuate late Sunday night while some others were placed on evacuation of alert due to the ongoing flood threat.

Meanwhile, crews in the city, including members of the Canadian military, worked through the night to pump water into so called tiger dams that have been set up in a desperate effort to try to hold back floodwaters from the Sumas River. 

The second in a trio of intense rainfalls subsided in many areas Sunday, however Environment Canada warned that associated warming had pushed freezing levels well above mountain tops. That means snowmelt is flowing into runoff, causing rivers to rise and increasing the risk of flooding. 

The District of Hope declared a state of emergency yesterday while new evacuation orders were issued in parts of Abbotsford and west of Merritt.

A third storm in the series of devastating atmospheric rivers is forecast to arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday and officials have warned that it could be the worst one yet. 

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the province is prepared to use Alert Ready, a system that pushes emergency notifications directly to cell phones, if local authorities believe the next storm poses a threat to life or public safety. 

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And this ... 

OTTAWA — The federal government is preparing to table a new, tougher bill today in its latest effort to ban conversion therapy in Canada.

The legislation, if passed, would make practices designed to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. 

The latest bill is widely expected to close some loopholes present in the last piece of legislation to tackle the issue, which fell short of becoming law during the last parliamentary session.

The last bill failed to get through the Senate before the federal election in September and died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved ahead of the vote. 

It banned conversion therapy for children and those adults who did not consent to it, but the latest version of the bill is expected to bar the practice outright.

Justice Minister David Lametti and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien are expected to explain their intention to change the law today alongside survivors of conversion therapy. 

The bill is likely to win support from the NDP, the Bloc Québecois, the Green Party and many Conservative MPs, including party leader Erin O'Toole. More than half of the Tory caucus opposed the government's previous attempt to clamp down on the practice. 

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

WASHINGTON — Both sides are telling the U.S. Supreme Court there's no middle ground in Wednesday's showdown over abortion. 

The justices can either reaffirm the constitutional right to an abortion or
wipe it away altogether.

Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that declared a nationwide right to abortion, is facing its most serious challenge in 30 years in front of a court with a 6-3 conservative majority that has been remade by three appointees of President Donald Trump.

“There are no half measures here,” said Sherif Girgis, a Notre Dame law professor who once served as a law clerk for Justice Samuel Alito.

A ruling that overturned Roe and the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey would lead to outright bans or severe restrictions on abortion in 26 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The case being heard Wednesday comes from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. 

The Supreme Court has never allowed states to ban abortion before the point at roughly 24 weeks when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

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

JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization is urging countries not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant. 

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions. 

WHO praised South Africa for following international health regulations and informing WHO as soon as its national laboratory identified the omicron variant. 

Cases of the omicron variant popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world Sunday and many governments rushed to close their borders. 

Many countries, including Canada, have announced plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries.

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Also this ...

GENEVA — The World Health Organization is opening a long-planned special session of member states to discuss ways to strengthen the global fight against pandemics like the coronavirus, just as the worrying new omicron variant has sparked immediate concerns worldwide. 

In the wake of diplomatic wrangling, a draft resolution for the special World Health Assembly stops short of calling for work toward establishing a “pandemic treaty” that could beef up the international response when — not if — the next pandemic erupts.

European Union member states and others had sought language calling for work toward a treaty, but the United States and a few other countries countered that the substance of any accord should be worked out first before any such document is given a name. 

A “treaty” would suggest a legally binding agreement that would require ratification — and would likely incur domestic political haggling in some countries.

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In entertainment ...

LONDON — Cowboy boots are hitting the southern Ontario streets of London as the Canadian Country Music Association kicks off its annual awards show tonight — this time in person.

The country music celebration returns to the live-event sphere for the first time since Calgary hosted in 2019. 

Brett Kissel from Flat Lake, Alta., heads into the bash already having won best video for "Make A Life, Not A Living," at a ceremony last night that handed out the bulk of the awards. He also won best country music program or special for "Brett Kissel: Live At The Drive-In," and a new award for live innovation.

Tonight, Kissel competes for entertainer of the year against Dean Brody of Smithers, B.C.; MacKenzie Porter of Medicine Hat, Alta.; the Reklaws from Cambridge, Ont.; and Dallas Smith of Langley, B.C. 

The CCMAs say they will return to Calgary for next year's bash in 2022, when a weeks' worth of country music events are set to culminate with an awards show at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Tonight's bash is hosted by Lindsay Ell of Calgary and "Canada's Drag Race" winner Priyanka, known out of drag as Mark Suknanan of Toronto. The show streams live Nov. 29 on the Global TV app and Amazon Prime Video, and an encore presentation airs Friday on Global TV.

The ceremony is expected to take place in front of a fully vaccinated crowd at the downtown Budweiser Gardens.

Last year's show was a modified virtual event due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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Also this ...

MIAMI — He has expressed himself through his music for more than a half century. 

Bob Dylan has also shared his talent in a series of paintings. And the most comprehensive exhibition of his visual art will be on display starting tomorrow. 

It will be at the Patricia & Philip Frost Art Museum in Miami. 

There will be 40 new pieces of Dylan's being showcased for the first time.

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ICYMI ...

NEW YORK — It's an omnipresent truth: Merriam-Webster has declared vaccine its 2021 word of the year. 

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for the dictionary company, says lookups for the word vaccine increased 601per cent  over 2020. 

Even more telling, searches on the Merriam-Webster website increased by 1,048 per cent over 2019, before the COVID pandemic took hold. 

The selection follows “vax” as word of the year from the folks who publish the Oxford English Dictionary. 

And it comes after Merriam-Webster chose “pandemic” as tops in lookups last year on its online site.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021

The Canadian Press