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In The News for Jan. 12: Airline executives to testify on holiday travel disruptions

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. 12 ... What we are watching in Canada ...
Luggage bags are amassed in the bag claim area at Toronto Pearson International Airport, as a major winter storm disrupts flights in and out of the airport in Toronto on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

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. 12 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

From long hours waiting on hold to sleepless nights on airport floors and desperate scrambles to rebook flights and find missing bags, it was a holiday travel season that no one had on their wish list — but that thousands of people got. 

Now, Canadians have a chance to hear top travel executives and the federal transport minister explain what went wrong, and what might be done to avoid a repeat.

Leaders from the country's major airports and airlines are among witnesses set to appear today during an emergency meeting of the House of Commons transportation committee being convened well ahead of Parliament's return later this month.

The meeting is expected to kick off with a panel of representatives from Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing Airlines. 

Sunwing, a vacation-destination airline, has apologized for leaving hundreds stranded in Mexico after cancelling its flights due to a winter storm that swept across parts of Canada in the lead-up to Christmas Day, and then axing trips out of Saskatchewan until early February due to "extenuating circumstances." 

But it's not Mother Nature MPs are taking issue with. Rather, it's the communication — or lack thereof — that companies had with passengers whose plans were upended. 

And while Sunwing Airlines president Len Corrado is scheduled to appear, neither Air Canada nor WestJet will be represented by a president or CEO, with the airlines instead sending vice-presidents to testify. 

"Canadian travellers who were mistreated by airlines deserve an explanation. The very least that these rich CEOs can do is show up, explain what went wrong and show Canadians how they're going to do better," NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

Bloc Québécois transportation critic Julie Vignola echoed that sentiment, saying in a French statement that their absences demonstrate their limited concern for passengers' rights. 

The Opposition Conservatives say that while Canadians deserve answers from airlines, they believe the buck stops with Liberal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who is scheduled for an hour of testimony Thursday afternoon. 


Also this ...

The Department of National Defence has awarded a grant to a University of Alberta professor to conduct a deep dive into the extent of white supremacy in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Andy Knight, a professor of international relations, made a proposal to the department last fall in which he drew attention to racism in the military's ranks.

Over the next year, he is to assess just how entrenched radicalization, antisemitism, xenophobia and anti-Black sentiments are in the Forces and come up with a suggested policy to respond.

Knight says he realizes there will be some pushback and for many soldiers even raising the matter will touch a raw nerve.

He says at this point it's not clear how big a problem white supremacy is in the Forces or if it's limited to a specific region.

Knight expects to complete his report in a year.


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

BOISE, Idaho _ The man accused in the fatal stabbings of four University of Idaho students is expected to appear in court Thursday, a day after classes resumed for undergraduates, many of whom until recent days were stricken by fear over the case.

Bryan Kohberger, the 28-year-old Washington State University graduate student charged in the case, has yet to enter a plea and is waiting to learn whether prosecutors in the high-profile case will pursue the death penalty. Thursday's hearing is a status conference, which often deal with scheduling of court dates.

Nearly two months after the four students were killed near campus _ and two weeks after Kohberger was arrested and charged with the crime _ the picturesque school grounds were starting to feel a little closer to normal.

On Wednesday, the first day of classes after winter break, students were once again striding across the university's frosty sidewalks and crowding the campus food court.

A general feeling of relief was in the air, university spokesperson Jodi Walker said.

"The students are back and enrolments are looking good,'' Walker said. ``I think everybody's happy to be back under the circumstances. They're relieved that an arrest has been made, and ready to focus on the semester.''

The Nov. 13 slayings of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin left the rural community in Moscow, Idaho, grief-stricken and afraid, prompting nearly half of the university's students to leave town for the perceived safety of online courses.

Weeks went by without a named suspect and few details were released, but on Dec. 30 Kohberger, a doctoral student from the university located just 16 kilometre away _ was arrested at his parents' home in eastern Pennsylvania. Kohberger was extradited to Idaho last week.

It's too early to tell exactly how many students decided to return to in-person classes, Walker said. Those numbers are tallied in about two weeks to give students time for any schedule changes.


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

SEOUL, South Korea _ South Korean officials are considering creating a domestic fund to compensate Koreans who were enslaved by Japanese companies before the end of the Second World War, as they desperately try to repair relations with Tokyo that have deteriorated in recent years over historical grievances.

The plan, revealed during a public hearing organized by Seoul's Foreign Ministry on Thursday, was met with fierce criticism by victims and their legal representatives, who have demanded that the reparations come from Japan.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained since South Korea's Supreme Court in 2018 upheld lower court verdicts and ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced labourers.

The companies have refused to carry out the orders and the plaintiffs have responded by pursuing legal steps aimed at forcing the companies to sell off their local assets to provide compensation, a process South Korean officials fear would cause further rupture between Seoul and Tokyo. Victims have also demanded the Japanese companies issue an apology over their ordeals.

Ties between the U.S. Asian allies have long been complicated by grievances related to Japan's brutal rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, when hundreds of thousands of Koreans were mobilized as forced labourers for Japanese companies or sex slaves at Tokyo's wartime brothels.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who took office in May, has been eager to improve ties with Japan as they pursue stronger trilateral security co-operation with Washington in the face of the growing North Korean nuclear threat.

He met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Cambodia in November in the first bilateral summit between the countries in three years, where they expressed commitment to swiftly resolve "pending'' bilateral issues, which clearly referred to the forced labour dispute.

During Thursday's public hearing at the National Assembly, South Korean Foreign Ministry official Seo Min-jung said her government's priority is to arrange the payments as quickly as possible, noting that many forced labour victims are already dead and most known survivors are in their 90s.

She said it would be "impossible'' to make the Japanese companies apologize on behalf of the broader forced labour issue, which for decades has been a major cause of the diplomatic impasse.

"It would be important that Japan sincerely maintains and inherits the poignant expressions of apology and remorse that it already expressed in the past,'' said Seo, the ministry's director of Asia and Pacific Affairs.

Seo said the payments could possibly be handled by the Seoul-based Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan. Shim Kyu-sun, the foundation's chairman, said the payments could be funded by South Korean firms that benefited from Japanese economic assistance when the companies normalized their ties in the 1960s, including steel giant POSCO.

She said government officials planned to meet the victims and their family members in person to explain the payment plans and seek their consent.


On this day in 2000 ...

Justice Beverley McLachlin was sworn in as the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Born in Alberta in 1943, McLachlin was a provincial court justice in British Columbia before being named to Canada's highest court in 1989.


In entertainment ...

NEW YORK _ Jeff Beck, a guitar virtuoso who pushed the boundaries of blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll, influencing generations of shredders along the way and becoming known as the guitar player's guitar player, has died. He was 78.

Beck died Tuesday after "suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis,'' his representatives said in a statement released Wednesday. The location was not immediately known.

"Jeff was such a nice person and an outstanding iconic, genius guitar player _ there will never be another Jeff Beck,'' Tony Iommi, guitarist for Black Sabbath wrote on Twitter.

Beck first came to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds and then went out on his own in a solo career that incorporated hard rock, jazz, funky blues and even opera. He was known for his improvising, love of harmonics and the whammy bar on his preferred guitar, the Fender Stratocaster.

"Jeff Beck is the best guitar player on the planet,'' Joe Perry, the lead guitarist of Aerosmith, told The New York Times in 2010. "He is head, hands and feet above all the rest of us, with the kind of talent that appears only once every generation or two.''

Beck was among the rock-guitarist pantheon from the late '60s that included Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Beck won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice _ once with the Yardbirds in 1992 and again as a solo artist in 2009. He was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.''

Beck played guitar with vocalists as varied as Luciano Pavarotti, Macy Gray, Chrissie Hynde, Joss Stone, Imelda May, Cyndi Lauper, Wynonna Judd, Buddy Guy and Johnny Depp. He made two records with Rod Stewart _ 1968's "Truth'' and 1969's "Beck-Ola'' _ and one with a 64-piece orchestra, "Emotion & Commotion.''

Beck is survived by his wife, Sandra.


Did you see this?

OTTAWA _ The Canadian Armed Forces airlifted more armoured vehicles to Haiti as police in Port-au-Prince struggle to contain a gang crisis.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said Wednesday that Canada is working with countries in the region to plan possible responses if the situation further deteriorates.

Port-au-Prince has been held hostage for months by violent, feuding gangs who have shut down roads and essential services, leading to a resurgence of cholera.

The armoured vehicles were purchased by the Haitian government. It is the second such shipment since October, when both Canada and the U.S. sent some armoured vehicles to Haiti.

The federal government release on the second shipment did not say which companies made the armoured vehicles, how much they cost or how many were sent.

However, a government official, who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said there were three armoured vehicles, including two of the same model.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Defence Minister Anita Anand said in a statement that the equipment will help the Haitian National Police.

Haiti's unelected Prime Minster Ariel Henry has previously requested an international military intervention to regain control of the capital, a move controversial among Haitians.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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