U.S. man charged with human smuggling after four found dead near the Manitoba-U.S. border

Politics Insider for Jan. 21: Ontario prepares to re-open; Quebec prepares for the lockdown longhaul; and Canada braces for Russian cyberattacks

A border marker is shown just outside of Emerson, Man. on Jan. 20, 2022. American investigators believe the deaths of four people, including a baby and a teen, whose bodies were found in Manitoba near the United States border are linked to a larger human smuggling operation. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

A border marker is shown just outside of Emerson, Man. on Jan. 20, 2022. American investigators believe the deaths of four people, including a baby and a teen, whose bodies were found in Manitoba near the United States border are linked to a larger human smuggling operation. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

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Tragic deaths: Minnesota authorities charged a Florida man with human smuggling after four people, including a baby, were found dead near the Manitoba-U.S border, the Globe reports. Steve Shand, 47, was charged after seven Indian nationals were found in the U.S.

Before the bodies were discovered in Manitoba, U.S. Border Patrol officers had stopped a 15-passenger van about one kilometre south of the international border in a rural area between the official ports of entry at Lancaster, Minn., and Pembina, N.D., the release stated. Shand was driving with two passengers determined to be undocumented foreign nationals from India, Acting U.S. Attorney Charles J. Kovats stated in the news release.

Ontario opening: Doug Ford announced Thursday that Ontario’s economy will begin to reopen at the end of the month, the Star reports. Closures of indoor restaurant dining, gyms and cinemas are to end Jan. 31 with a move to 50 per cent customer capacity.

Too slow? Rupa Subramanya, writing in the Post, finds it too slow, pointing out that Ontario has locked down harder and longer that most places in the world.

In other words, in a few days we’re not even going back to the freedoms we enjoyed last fall, but we’re once again under “circuit breaker” conditions, defined by the Ontario Science Table back in December as a reduction in contacts by 50 per cent and an accelerated booster roll out. By mid March, we’ll roughly be back to where we were, but significantly we don’t have an explicit roadmap to a full return to normalcy and the present relaxations could be reversed if the premier doesn’t like where cases are going.

Même plus lentement: François Legault said Thursday it’s still too soon for Quebec to consider reopening because the province’s hospital network remains in too critical a state, the Gazette reports: “I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said, admitting he’s under “a lot of pressure” to loosen restrictions as soon as possible.

Look out: Canada’s cyberspy agency is warning of Moscow-backed cyberattacks as Western countries prepare economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, the Globe reports.

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security joined its counterparts in the United States and United Kingdom on Thursday in urging Canadian companies, such as electrical utilities and energy firms, to watch out for cyberattacks from Russia. The agency said in a statement Thursday that it is aware of foreign cyberthreat activities, including by Russian-backed actors, to target Canadian critical infrastructure network operators and their operational and information technology.

Not afraid: Russia’s Ambassador to Canada, Oleg Stepanov, told CTV  Thursday that Russia isn’t afraid of sanctions: “Sanctions never work and sanctions never will be able to work against such countries, such [a] nation as Russia. The attempts to use sanctions as a threat in order to make Russia do certain steps on the international area is just an illusion.”

Absent Tories: There are no CPC MPs among the newly named slate of parliamentarians to oversee the security-and-intelligence community because Erin O’Toole is boycotting the body, CP reports. O’Toole pulled his party’s MPs from the committee last spring to protest the government’s refusal to hand over documents about the firing of two scientists.

Lithium testimony: Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne will go before a federal committee to answer questions about why the government is allowing a state-owned Chinese firm to buy a Canadian lithium company without a security review, the Globe reports.

All foreign takeovers of Canadian companies are subject to a security screening by Ottawa. If the federal government suspects the transaction could be a threat to national security, the deal undergoes a more thorough review under Section 25.3 of the Investment Canada Act, and could ultimately be blocked. The act also gives the government leeway to block deals if the acquisition in question threatens the economic security of Canada with regards to critical minerals. Over the past decade, China has come to dominate a wide range of critical minerals used in the transition to the low-emissions and high-tech economy. The superpower dominates the lithium industry, with a 60-per-cent share of processing of the mineral. Lithium is widely used in electric-car batteries and energy storage. Canada currently has no lithium mines, no lithium processing plants and no lithium ion battery plants.

Better masks: Canada Post is seeking clarification from the federal government on its mask policy after refusing to let employees wear N95 masks, CTV reports.

Better messages: Stale messaging from the Liberal government on the pandemic could be part of the reason the three leading federal parties are nearly tied in current ballot support, pollster Nik Nanos tells CTV.

Ballot support for the Conservatives and Liberals is down 5.2 per cent and 4.4 per cent respectively since the federal election in 2021. When asked by Nanos Research what issues are at the top of mind, 33.4 per cent of Canadians responded with the pandemic. While there is a lot of media attention on Conservative infighting, Nanos said the Liberals should be concerned about looking like “a tired government.”

Harper’s business: The Financial Post has a long, chatty piece about the Stephen Harper’s latest career move, an activist investing fund with a protégé of Wall Street raider Carl Icahn.

PEI scorned: Competitors on Wednesday’s airing of Jeopardy!  didn’t know where “a Spud Islander” is from, CBC reports.

— Stephen Maher