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Verifying CERB recipients, tracking COVID cases : In The News for Jan. 27

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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 Jan. 27 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

The Canada Revenue Agency is sending out a new round of letters to emergency aid recipients to verify they were eligible for the help.

It's the second time the agency is mailing Canada Emergency Response Benefit recipients as part of a process to verify the eligibility of the millions of Canadians who received the $500-a-week benefit.

The CRA sent out more than 441,000 letters to CERB recipients near the end of 2020 asking them to verify they met eligibility rules for the payments.

Thousands more are going out starting today, this time targeting recipients who may have earned more than the $1,000 a month the Liberals allowed beginning in mid-April 2020.

The agency says the people receiving letters have tax filings that suggest they earned too much income during periods when they received federal benefits.

Marc Lemieux, the C-R-A's assistant commissioner in charge of verifications, says the agency plans to be flexible with anyone who may have to repay some of the aid.

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Also this ...

Canada's top doctor says even though the average daily COVID-19 case count across the country is down 30 per cent compared to last week, it's not an accurate reflection of the state of the pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam says targeted testing policies and reduced testing continue to underestimate the number of true infections, noting severe illness trends are still rising in most jurisdictions and hospitalization rates are increasing across all age groups.

Quebec announced it will begin tracking COVID-19 rapid test results through an online portal, although experts question its usefulness and the accuracy of such data.

Health Minister Christian Dube says the government-run platform will help Quebec better track COVID-19 transmission in the community, given that publicly run PCR testing is reserved for people in high-risk groups.

COVID cases fuelled by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant continue to strain hospitals, with New Brunswick's health minister saying most emergency room patients could be treated outside hospitals.

Alberta recorded its second-highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations with 1,418, one day after an overall record of 1,443.

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And this ...

An immigration lawyer and an investigator say anyone considering illegal channels to get across the border needs to understand the harsh reality of human smuggling.

Jamie Holt, an acting special agent in charge of U.S. Homeland Security investigations into the illegal movement of people, says smugglers only care about their business and money.

His comments come after the deaths of four Indian migrants whose bodies were found in Manitoba just short of the Canada-U.S. border.

RCMP are still working to identify a man, a woman, a teen and a baby who were found frozen.

Police believe they had tried to cross into the United States during a heavy snowstorm.

Deepak Ahluwalia, who is a Canadian immigration lawyer working with asylum seekers in California, says the Emerson crossing is frequented by smugglers and migrants who know its remoteness makes it inaccessible to patrol officers.

He says the smuggler often drops migrants in the middle of nowhere and tells them to walk in a specific direction, regardless of bad weather or lack of food and water.

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

WASHINGTON _ Senate Democrats who have played defence for the last three Supreme Court vacancies plan to move swiftly to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, using the rapid 2020 confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett as a new standard.

Barrett was confirmed exactly a month after President Donald Trump nominated her to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg _ and just five weeks after Ginsburg's death in September of that year. Democrats sharply criticized that timeline then, arguing that most confirmations had taken much longer and that Republicans were trying to jam the nomination through in case Trump lost reelection.

In statements, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., made clear that they would move quickly once President Joe Biden makes his pick. Biden said as a candidate that if he were given the chance to nominate someone to the court, he would make history by choosing a Black woman. The White House has reiterated Biden's campaign pledge since his election.

Schumer said the nominee will ``be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.'' Durbin said he looks forward to moving the nomination ''expeditiously" through the committee.

The nomination offers the chance at a reset for Biden and the Democratic Senate after Barrett's confirmation left the court with a new 6-3 conservative majority and as they have struggled to pass key planks of Biden's policy agenda. Democrats hope to replace the 83-year-old liberal justice without complication, and some Republicans may be willing to support a Biden nominee. But Democratic leaders are keenly aware that the death or illness of just one in their ranks could flip control of the Senate and upend their plans.

The Senate plans to launch the confirmation process as soon as Biden makes the nomination, regardless of when Breyer officially steps away, according to a Senate aide who was not authorized to publicly discuss the planning and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Democrats could quickly hold committee hearings and even a full vote in the Senate before Breyer steps down, the aide said. The Senate would just refrain from sending the president the paperwork on the final confirmation vote until Breyer has retired.

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

BRUSSELS _ European Union lawmakers will observe a minute's silence Thursday and welcome a centenarian Holocaust survivor as the world remembers Nazi atrocities and commemorates the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Margot Friedlander will address the EU Parliament as part of the commemorations of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2005 establishing the annual commemoration, and chose Jan. 27 _ the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations Thursday will be held online this year again. A small ceremony, however, will take place at the site of the former Auschwitz death camp, where Second World War Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people in occupied Poland. The memorial site was closed earlier in the pandemic but reopened in June.

In all, about 6 million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. Some 1.5 million were children.

The 100-year-old Friedlander was arrested in 1944 while on the run and brought to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. A year before, her mother and brother were deported to Auschwitz, where they were both killed.

Friedlander and her husband immigrated to the U.S. in 1946 and returned to Berlin in 2010. She has since been travelling around Germany to tell the story of her life and promote remembrance.

Charles Michel, the head of the EU Council bringing together leaders of the 27 EU member countries, insisted on the importance of commemorating the Shoah as the number of survivors diminishes every year.

"With each passing year, the Shoah inches towards becoming a historical event,'' Michel said. ``More and more distant, more and more abstract. Especially in the eyes of the younger generations of Europeans. This is why, paradoxically, the more the years go by, the more important the commemoration becomes. The more essential.''

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On this day in 1916 ...

Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote, two years after suffragette leader Nellie McClung staged a mock parliament in which men had to ask women for the right to vote. Saskatchewan followed on March 14 and Alberta on April 17 of the same year. Ottawa gave women the franchise in 1918.

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In entertainment ...

NEW YORK _ Neil Young's music will be removed from Spotify at his request, following the veteran rock star's protest over the streaming service airing a popular podcast that featured a figure criticized for spreading COVID misinformation.

Spotify, in a statement on Wednesday, said that it regretted Young's decision, ``but hope to welcome him back soon.''

It wasn't immediately clear when his music will actually be taken down.

"I realized I could not continue to support Spotify's life-threatening misinformation to the music loving people,'' Young said in a statement.

Young had asked his management and record company publicly on Monday to remove his music from the popular streaming service, where he had more than six million monthly listeners, according to his Spotify home page.

Spotify airs the popular podcast, ``The Joe Rogan Experience,'' where last month the comedian interviewed Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious disease specialist who has become a hero in the anti-vaccine community. Malone has been banned from Twitter for spreading COVID misinformation and has falsely suggested that millions of people have been hypnotized into believing that the vaccines work to prevent serious disease.

Spotify says it has a team of experts that reviews content, and it's removed if the information presented can cause harm or pose a direct threat to public health. False suggestions that injecting bleach could fight the virus, that COVID-19 wasn't real or that vaccines could be deadly were among those removed from the platform. The company would not comment on Rogan's podcast.

Young said he appreciated his record company, Warner Brothers, standing behind him, since Spotify is responsible for 60 per cent of his music being streamed all over the world. He said it was ``a huge loss for my record company to absorb.''

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ICYMI ...

LOS ANGELES _ "Jeopardy!'' champion Amy Schneider's dazzling streak is over, snapped Wednesday by a Chicago librarian after 40 consecutive wins and nearly $1.4 million in prize money.

Schneider's success put her in the ranks of Ken Jennings, who's serving as guest host, and the quiz show's other all-time greats. It also made Schneider, a trans woman, a visible symbol of achievement for often-marginalized people.

"It's still a little hard to believe,'' she said of her impressive run. ``It's something that I'm going to be remembered for, and that's pretty great,''

New champ Rhone Talsma had the correct response to the final ``Jeopardy!'' clue for a winning total of $29,600. Schneider, who found herself in the unusual position of entering the last round short of a runaway, was second with $19,600.

"I'm still in shock,'' Talsma said in a statement. ``I did not expect to be facing a 40-day champion, and I was excited to maybe see someone else slay the giant. I just really didn't think it was going to be me, so I'm thrilled.''

The answer that stumped Schneider was about countries of the world: The only nation whose name in English ends in an ``h'' and which is also one of the 10 most populous. (Cue the ``Jeopardy!'' music _ and the response is, ``What is Bangladesh?'')

Contestants receive their winnings after their final game airs, and Schneider's spending plans include clothes shopping and, especially, travel.

Schneider's prize total of $1,382,800 puts her in fourth place on the regular-season winnings list, behind Jennings ($2,520,700), James Holzhauer ($2,462,216) and Amodio ($1,518,601).

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022

The Canadian Press