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In The News for Feb. 3 : Canada's finance ministers to meet today

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 Feb. 3 ... What we are watching in Canada ...
Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media at the Hamilton Convention Centre, in Hamilton, Ont., during the second day of meetings at the Liberal Cabinet retreat, on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

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 Feb. 3 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is hosting an in-person meeting today with the provincial and territorial finance ministers in Toronto. 

The meeting comes at a tense time for many Canadian consumers, with inflation still running hot and interest rates much higher than they were a year ago.

The Bank of Canada raised its key rate again last week, bringing it to 4.5 per cent, but signalled it's taking a pause to let the impact of its aggressive hiking cycle sink in.

The economy is showing signs of slowing, but inflation is still high at 6.3 per cent in December, with food prices in particular remaining elevated year over year. 

Interest rates have put a damper on the housing market, sending prices and sales downward for months on end even as the cost of renting went up in 2022. 

Meanwhile, the labour market has remained strong, with the unemployment rate nearing record lows in December at five per cent. 


Also this ...

A Russian woman says she has been denied consular services by her country's embassy in Canada over claims her Facebook activity poses a security threat.

"It totally came as a shock to me," said Elena Pushkareva, who left Russia a decade ago.

Pushkareva said the Russian Embassy, which declined to comment to The Canadian Press, denied her access to its consular service in Ottawa, where she had an appointment to update her children's documents.

Pushkareva left Russia a decade ago for political reasons. She lives in Ottawa and had visited the consular office before, as recently as Dec. 28, and booked an appointment in January to process paperwork.

But she says a consular official called her the morning of the appointment, saying he had cancelled it because she's part of a Facebook group that he claimed has called for violence against Russia.

Pushkareva says she went to the consulate anyway to see if the call was a prank, but then officials told her the ambassador had barred her from accessing the building.

She said she recorded the Jan. 18 exchange. In the audio recording, an unnamed official tells her that being part of a specific Facebook page has led the ambassador to verbally ask staff to deny her access to the consulate.

The official says in Russian that the Facebook page included "information with calls for violent actions, to the detriment of the interests of the Russian Federation. For this reason, you're denied admission to the consular department."

In the recording, Pushkareva asks what exactly on Facebook amounted to a threat, but the consulate provides no example. Instead, the official said she could write a letter to the ambassador, which she has done.

The embassy declined to comment, but the Novaya Gazeta news site said a consulate official insisted Pushkareva had not been denied services, only access to the consulate building. Yet the official did not specify how Pushkareva could be helped without entering the building, which they called an institution with security measures.


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

SAN FRANCISCO _ Police in San Francisco are investigating a shooting inside a synagogue during which the unidentified suspect may have fired blanks rather than live rounds Wednesday night in what a synagogue official called an attempt to terrorize Jewish people.

The synagogue did not report the incident until Thursday morning. No injuries or property damage were reported.

Officers responded to a report of threats at the synagogue on Balboa Street around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the San Francisco Police Department said in a statement early Friday.

The person who made the report described an incident around 7:20 p.m. Wednesday in which an unknown man entered the building and "shot several times,'' police said.

"To me, this feels like an act of terrorism. The point was to terrify the Jewish people here,'' Alon Chanukov, the synagogue's vice president, told KRON-TV.

KRON reported the incident Wednesday was captured on video. A man wearing a baseball cap, jacket and sneakers enters a room with more than a dozen people at a table and makes hand gestures before taking out a gun and fires around the room. The man then waves and exits less than a minute after entering the room.

Police did not name the synagogue.

Chanukov said the witnesses did not call police after the suspect fired the rounds believed to be blanks, but he phoned authorities Thursday morning.

The police noted there was another report of a person with a gun at a theatre on the same block of Balboa Street at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. A man brandished a gun at employees and then fled on foot.

Police said the events appeared to be unrelated to the synagogue incident on Wednesday, but the similar descriptions indicate the man in each report is "possibly the same individual.'' Investigators were searching for the suspect on Friday.


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

LONDON _ Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss will join the former leaders of Australia and Belgium at a conference in Tokyo later this month to call for a tougher international approach to China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international group of lawmakers concerned about how democratic countries approach Beijing, said Friday that Truss will speak alongside former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Feb. 17 event in the Japanese Diet. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is also a European Parliament lawmaker, will attend as well.

Conference organizers hope the event would help spur more co-ordinated diplomacy on threats raised by China ahead of the next Group of Seven richest democratic countries' summit, scheduled in May in Hiroshima.

Truss is expected to address growing concerns over Beijing's threats to Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory. Morrison will call for more targeted sanctions against Chinese officials for serious human rights violations, while Verhofstadt will speak about the European Union's role in maintaining international rules under pressure from Beijing.

"The scale of the challenge posed by the People's Republic of China is such that we all need to rise above our differences and come together to defend our fundamental values and interests,'' Verhofstadt said in a statement.

The three former leaders will address about 40 Japanese lawmakers as well as legislators from the U.K., Canada, the European Union and Taiwan. Senior Japanese ministers are also expected to attend.


On this day in 1916 ...

Fire destroyed the centre block of Canada's Parliament Buildings. Seven people were killed in the blaze. The Parliamentary Library and its priceless collection of books was saved because someone had closed the metal doors which separated it from the rest of the Centre Block. Many people initially believed that the fire was a deliberate act of sabotage by the Germans, with whom Canada was at war. Reconstruction of the building, which contains the Commons and Senate chambers, was completed in 1920.


In entertainment ...

TORONTO _ One of the "Paw Patrol'' pups is getting his own spinoff series.

"Rubble & Crew'' debuts this Saturday on Corus Entertainment's Treehouse channel and the streaming platform StackTV.

The show follows the English bulldog and his canine construction crew family.

Spin Master Entertainment said in a press release the storylines dig into "the importance of family'' and feature "fun adventures and messy demolition that preschoolers will love.''

"Rubble & Crew'' features all-Canadian voice-acting cast and is animated by Toronto-based Jam Filled Entertainment.

The "Paw Patrol'' franchise celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and will see its second film, "Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie,'' hit theatres in October.


Did you see this?

OTTAWA _ The Department of National Defence says Canada is working with the United States to protect sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats after a high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected.

The U.S. says it is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a few days.

The Pentagon says it decided not to shoot it down over concerns of hurting people on the ground.

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces issued a joint statement Thursday night that says the balloon's movements were being actively tracked by the North American Aerospace Defence Command.

The statement doesn't mention China or state whether the surveillance balloon flew over Canadian airspace.

It says Canadians are safe and that Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident.

"NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and other partners have been assessing the situation and working in close coordination,'' says the statement.

"Canada's intelligence agencies are working with American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard Canada's sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats.''

A senior U.S. defence official said the U.S. has "very high confidence'' it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon, and said it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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