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Convoy rolls on toward Ottawa and driving on the moon: In The News for Jan. 28

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. 28 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

OTTAWA — The first trucks in a massive national convoy that was organized to protest the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers are due to arrive in Ottawa today.

The convoy has been gaining participants and supporters as it rolls across the country from all directions for a weekend rally in the capital.

In Toronto Thursday crowds of people lined part of the route, waving Canadian flags and holding up signs denouncing the vaccine mandate as they cheered the truckers on.

Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest, which has been condemned by the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

Many truckers have posted on social media they are continuing to do their jobs and that the convoy doesn't speak for them.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has warned people not to dismiss the protesters as simple freedom fighters, saying nobody wants to see the Parliament Hill demonstration descend into anti-government violence.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said Thursday that he would meet with some of the truckers, adding that he and his MP's have long stood against the vaccine mandate they now face. But he also denounced those involved in the convoy who are espousing racist and extremist ideas.

Meanwhile, police in Ottawa stressed they would not tolerate any criminal behaviour as they made plans to deal with as many as 2,000 demonstrators on Saturday.

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Also this ...

A number of provinces are tweaking their public health protocols to ease restrictions as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to show signs of stabilizing.

Saskatchewan's government said Isolation rules would be relaxed today as the province transitions to treating COVID-19's highly communicable Omicron variant like other common respiratory viruses such as influenza.

The changes include no longer requiring close contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus to self-isolate.

In Ontario cinemas, theatres, arenas and concerts will be reopening Monday, with capacity limits, but also with the ability to serve snacks and drinks.

Indoor dining will be back on the menu at restaurants, and Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that some non-urgent surgeries would be resuming.

Indoor dining at restaurants, with capacity limits, will also resume in New Brunswick starting Saturday, and students there are to return to in-person classes on Monday.

In Quebec, officials reported a significant drop in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday, although 56 new deaths were linked to the virus.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau will be working from home for a while after being exposed to COVID 19.

The prime minister said in a tweet Thursday that he learned of the exposure the previous night, adding that despite a subsequent rapid antigen test that was negative, he would follow public health rules and isolate for five days.

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And this ...

It's difficult to forget the tragic scenes that played out in long-term care homes across the country in the early days of the pandemic as residents died in the thousands, isolated from their loved ones.

While vaccines have played a major role in protecting homes from the same deadly toll the first wave of COVID-19 took on residents, the impact has still been profound during the Omicron wave.

"It's staggering when you just look at the number of homes in outbreak," said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the National Institute on Aging.

"It's just so sad when you think that in the last few weeks we've lost over 300 residents and just how unforgiving this pandemic has been, especially to those people living in our long-term care and retirement homes."

More than 34 per cent of Canada's 6,029 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak, the NIA's latest figures show.

That's twice as many homes as the second highest peak in long-term care outbreaks, when 1,000 homes were infected last January, Sinha said.

The number of outbreaks has continued to increase since the Omicron wave first struck in mid-December, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

And just in the last few days Canada marked the 16,000th death in long-term care since the pandemic began.

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

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and its allies are taking an unusually proactive approach to publicizing intelligence findings and trying to defuse influence campaigns by Russia as they raise alarms about a possible new Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. has mounted a concerted campaign to counter disinformation, which has long been a tactic of Moscow to create confusion and sow discord in conflicts.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the administration is taking lessons learned from 2014, when Russia mounted a massive disinformation campaign to build local support for its annexation of Crimea.

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Also this ...

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden is nodding to his most stalwart supporters in promising to nominate a Black woman for the new vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Black women are the most reliable and enthusiastic bloc of Democratic voters. Biden won 93per cent of their votes in 2020.

Black women are more likely to vote than Black men and are the foundation of most Democratic campaigns.

Like women of all races, they have been graduating from college at increasingly high rates.

Biden's historic nomination will also try to compensate for two centuries when the court was overwhelmingly white.

Most Republicans are expected to oppose Biden’s nominee, no matter who it is.

But having changed the rules to prevent a filibuster of Supreme Court picks, Republicans are essentially powerless to stop the Democratic majority from confirming Biden’s choice.

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

CANBERRA — The Australian government has pledged to spend another one billion Australian dollars (US $704 million) over nine years on improving the health of the Great Barrier Reef after stalling a UNESCO decision on downgrading the natural wonder’s World Heritage status.

Critics argue the investment is a bid to improve the ruling conservative coalition’s green credentials ahead of looming elections while doing nothing to change the greatest threat to the coral: rising ocean temperatures.

In July last year, Australia garnered enough international support to defer an attempt by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural organization, to downgrade the reef’s World Heritage status to “in danger“ because of damage caused by climate change.

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Also this ...

CAMEROON — The UN counter-terrorism chief says the attack by Islamic State militants on a Syrian prison holding around 3,000 of its fighters and about 700 children is a predictable tragedy.

Vladimir Voronkov says it spotlights the need for urgent international action to deal with those allegedly linked to the extremist group in prisons and camps in the country’s northeast.

Voronkov told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that the Islamic State group “has been highlighting and calling for jail breaks.”

He said most men, women and children allegedly linked to IS “have never been charged with a crime yet remain in prolonged detention."

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On this day in 1980 ...

Canadian diplomats daringly smuggled six American diplomats out of Tehran. The Americans hid at the Canadians' homes for more than two months after the U.S. embassy was seized by Iranian students. The six escaped Iran using Canadian passports. Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor left a few hours later, after closing the embassy. Taylor received the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honour and thousands of other gifts in an outpouring of American gratitude.

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In entertainment ...

TORONTO — Global has greenlit a scripted series created by Toronto music video artist Director X that reimagines the classic Robin Hood tale.

Producers say "Robyn Hood" will be a one-hour, eight-episode action drama that follows a Gen Z woman who possesses extraordinary abilities.

Robyn fronts her own hip-hop band by day, and fights injustice by night, while holding the powerful to account for their greed in the city of New Nottingham.

Director X, who was born Julien Christian Lutz, is best known for helming some of the most memorable music videos of the past two decades, including DMX's "What's My Name" and Drake's "Hotline Bling."

Global says he will share co-showrunner duties, and direct several episodes.

The filmmaker will also be among those executive producing "Robyn Hood," alongside Chris Roberts of "Orphan Black," who will also write.

Casting is underway with production set to begin this summer in Toronto and Hamilton. The series heads to Global in 2023.

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Also this ...

OKLAHOMA CITY — “Tiger King” Joe Exotic is headed to a federal courtroom today for a resentencing hearing.

His real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, and he's now in federal prison after a jury convicted him in a murder-for-hire plot involving his chief rival, Carole Baskin.

Maldonado-Passage was originally sentenced to 22 years in prison, but an appeals court ruled last year that the proper sentencing range was 17 1/2 years to 22 years in prison.

His attorneys are asking a judge for a downward departure in the hopes that he could be released from prison.

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ICYMI ...

TOKYO — Toyota says it's working with Japan’s space agency on a vehicle to explore the lunar surface, with ambitions to help people live on the moon by 2040 and eventually live on Mars.

The vehicle being developed with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is called Lunar Cruiser, whose name pays homage to the Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicle.

Its launch is set for the late 2020’s.

Takao Sato, who heads the Lunar Cruiser project at Toyota, told The Associated Press the company sees “space as an area for our once-in-a-century transformation."

An executive whose company developed a robotic arm for the cruiser says robots come in handy for working in space, which holds dangers for astronauts.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2022

The Canadian Press