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Via Rail terror case and China’s human rights policies criticized: In The News for Oct. 7

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 Oct. 7 …

What we are watching in Canada … 

Federal lawyers are telling the Supreme Court of Canada it would be a miscarriage of justice to grant a new trial to two men accused of plotting to crash a Via Rail train.

Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier were found guilty in 2015 of terror-related charges arising mainly from an alleged al-Qaida-inspired scheme to derail a passenger train travelling between the United States and Canada.

Both men appealed their convictions, with counsel for Jaser and a court-appointed lawyer for Esseghaier arguing the jury at the trial was improperly constituted.

In August last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a fresh trial for the men on grounds the jury was indeed chosen incorrectly.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to review the appeal court’s decision in a hearing this afternoon.

In a written submission to the court, the Crown argues the convictions should not be overturned on the basis of a highly technical error in the jury selection process that did not cause any prejudice to fair trial rights.

Also this …

The Manitoba government is to lay out its plans for the coming year this afternoon in a throne speech at the legislature, which is reconvening for the first time since May.

Premier Brian Pallister has already said one key item of business will be to expand paid sick leave for people affected by COVID-19.

The government is also expected to reveal more details of its plans for welfare reform, after saying in the spring it would find ways to reduce people’s dependence on the program.

Because of the pandemic, only half the members of the legislature will be inside the legislature chamber, while the rest take part via video conference.

Opposition stalling tactics delayed dozens of bills in the spring on subjects ranging from electricity rates to cannabis consumption.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew says his party is ready to support some measures, but he won’t say whether his party will continue to stall bills the New Democrats oppose.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

Anyone looking for Trump-style fireworks from tonight’s vice-presidential debate is likely to be disappointed.

But it will still likely be one of the most watched presidential undercard debates in recent history.

Vice-President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris will be seated when they face off, at a distance, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

They are also expected to be divided by Plexiglas barriers, although the Pence campaign raised objections to that idea late Tuesday.

Experts expect the prosecutorial Harris, a former California attorney general, to take the fight to Pence, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pence’s job will be to radiate rationality and common sense as a counterpoint to the daily chaos of President Donald Trump.

Voters on both sides of the partisan divide will be paying more attention to the running mates than they have in the past, not least because of the age and health of the presidential candidates themselves.

Democratic challenger Joe Biden is 77, and the Trump campaign has done its best to depict him as a frail old man with neither the stamina nor the smarts to be commander-in-chief.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

Nearly 40 mainly Western countries criticized China’s treatment of minority groups, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet, on Tuesday and expressed grave concern at the impact of its new national security law on human rights in Hong Kong.

The United States, many European countries, Japan and others called on China to allow “unfettered access” to Xinjiang for independent observers including U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, and to urgently refrain from detaining Uighurs and members of other minorities.

The 39 countries also urged China in a joint statement read at a meeting of the General Assembly’s human rights committee, “to uphold autonomy, rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, and to respect the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary.”

Their statement, read by German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, was immediately followed by a statement from Pakistan on behalf of 55 countries opposing interference in China’s affairs when it comes to Hong Kong. It said the territory is part of China, and the national security law ensures China’s “one country, two systems” policy on Hong Kong is enduring.

Cuba followed with a statement on behalf of 45 countries supporting China’s counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang. It said measures taken by China in response to threats of terrorism and extremism were carried out within the law to safeguard the human rights of all ethnic groups in the province.

Among the countries signing both the Pakistani and Cuban statements were Russia, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.

In entertainment …

Eddie Van Halen, the guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rock’s biggest groups and became elevated to the status of rock god, has died. He was 65.

A person close to Van Halen’s family confirmed the rocker died Tuesday due to cancer. The person was not authorized to publicly release details in advance of an official announcement.

“He was the best father I could ask for,” Van Halen’s son Wolfgang wrote in a social media post. “Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift.”

With his distinct solos, Eddie Van Halen fueled the ultimate California party band and helped knock disco off the charts starting in the late 1970s with his band’s self-titled debut album and then with the blockbuster record “1984,” which contains the classics “Jump,” “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher.”

Van Halen is among the top 20 bestselling artists of all time, and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Rolling Stone magazine put Eddie Van Halen at No. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.

Eddie Van Halen was something of a musical contradiction. He was an autodidact who could play almost any instrument, but he couldn’t read music. He was a classically trained pianist who also created some of the most distinctive guitar riffs in rock history. He was a Dutch immigrant who was considered one of the greatest American guitarists of his generation.

ICYMI …

Canadians are divided about whether to let the COVID-19 pandemic disrupt their plans for upcoming holidays and seasonal events, a new poll suggests.

The poll, conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, comes as COVID-19 cases are surging and public health authorities are pleading with Canadians in places with rising case counts to avoid contact with anyone outside their immediate families or at least to stick to small social circles.

The results suggest that message is only partially getting through.

Respondents with children who went door to door for Halloween last year were closely divided on whether to let them go trick-or-treating again this year, with 52 per cent saying they won’t and 48 per cent saying they will.

The poll found sharp regional variations, however. About two-thirds of respondents in Atlantic Canada, which has been relatively untouched by COVID-19’s resurgence, said they will let their kids go out. In harder-hit Ontario and Quebec, two-thirds said they won’t.

Those kids who do go trick-or-treating will find slimmer pickings, with 49 per cent of respondents nationwide saying they won’t open their doors this year to hand out candy.

Again, Atlantic Canadians were more likely to say they’d give out treats; in Ontario and Quebec, trick-or-treaters seem set for sparse pickings. In Ontario, 24 per cent of respondents said they’ll give out treats. In Quebec, just 13 per cent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2020

The Canadian Press

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