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The Monday news briefing: An at-a-glance survey of some top stories

Last Updated Jul 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm PST

Volunteers and evacuees are seen outside of the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, B.C. in this undated handout photo. Officials in British Columbia say they are beginning the difficult process of notifying those who have lost homes in the out-of-control wildfires that have prompted a provincial state of emergency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Jeff Putnam *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Highlights from the news file for Monday, July 17

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B.C. OFFICIALS TALLY LOSSES AFTER WILDFIRE FLARE-UPS: Officials in British Columbia have managed to tally some of the losses from out-of-control wildfires that prompted a provincial state of emergency. Cariboo Regional District chairman Al Richmond says their teams have gained access to areas where houses and other buildings have been destroyed northwest of 100 Mile House. He says they’ll be contacting each resident Monday with the news. Further north, Richmond says crews have managed to hold back a blaze near Williams Lake to about five kilometres from the city’s outskirts after it was fanned by strong winds Saturday, forcing the evacuation of the city. Wind this weekend also caused a flare-up of the huge fire that started near the Ashcroft Indian Band reserve, which has charred just over 400-square kilometres west of Kamloops. Near Kelowna, residents on all but 69 properties have been allowed to return to Lake Country after a human-caused fire was sparked Friday, destroying eight homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 300. Lake Country Fire Chief Steve Windsor says the 55-hectare blaze started along the side of a road and is 75 per cent contained, but the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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WILDFIRE SMOKE WAFTS INTO ALBERTA, SASKATCHEWAN: Wildfires burning in British Columbia are causing smoky conditions in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta Health Services has issued air-quality advisories in its north and Calgary zones. It says even healthy people may feel irritation in their eyes and throat, as well as possible shortness of breath. The health agency is advising people to minimize outdoor physical activity and keep windows and doors closed. Environment Canada has also issued special air-quality statements for much of southwestern Saskatchewan. It says children, seniors, and people with cardiovascular or lung diseases are especially at risk. More than a dozen of the more than 160 wildfires in central and southern B.C. are threatening communities.

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B.C. NEW DEMOCRATS TO INHERIT POWER, FIRE EMERGENCY: British Columbia is on the cusp of a change in government for the first time in 16 years, all while the province scrambles to control scores of wildfires that have forced tens of thousands of residents from their homes. The B.C. New Democrats will inherit not only the keys to power from the current Liberal government at tomorrow’s swearing-in ceremony in Victoria, but also responsibility for a provincewide state of emergency. Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley, says the wildfire response on the ground is unlikely to be affected by the a high-level transfer of power. But Telford says premier-designate John Horgan must be careful not to appear too celebratory about making the official switch, given the emergency situation across much of B.C. Both Horgan and departing Premier Christy Clark have emphasized there is no room for partisanship when it comes to the province’s wildfire response.

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NATIONAL HOMES SALES SEE BIGGEST DROP IN 7 YEARS: Home sales in June posted their largest monthly drop in seven years, driven by a plunge in the Greater Toronto market, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday, the latest evidence that a cool-down in the housing sector is taking hold. Transactions last month were down 6.7 per cent compared with May on a national basis, the third consecutive monthly decline, with the Greater Toronto Area registering a 15.1 per cent drop. Home sales are down 14.1 per cent from the record level set in March. “Changes to Ontario housing policy made in late April have clearly prompted many homebuyers in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region to take a step back and assess how the housing market absorbs the changes,” CREA chief economist Gregory Klump said in a statement. Sales were down from the previous month in 70 per cent of all local markets measured by CREA, including the Lower Mainland in B.C., Montreal and Quebec City.

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THREE INDIGENOUS GROUPS SAY THEY WON’T MEET WITH PREMIERS: The leaders of three Indigenous groups say they are pulling out of a meeting with Canada’s premiers over what they consider efforts to limit their participation in intergovernmental talks. The heads of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Metis National Council say they are seeking “full and meaningful inclusion” in the Council of the Federation. Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a Toronto news conference that Canada’s Indigenous peoples are not just another special interest group and won’t allow themselves to be sidelined. Two other Indigenous groups, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, are expected to attend the meeting. The Council of the Federation will meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Edmonton. Cross-border trade and the looming renegotiation of NAFTA are expected to top the agenda.

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AUDIT FINDS THOUSANDS OF VETERANS’ GRAVES IN DISREPAIR: An audit by Veterans Affairs has found tens of thousands of veterans’ graves in cemeteries across the country are in a state of disrepair. The culprit? A lack of federal funding. Veterans Affairs is responsible for maintaining the graves of more than 200,000 veterans buried by the federal government in Canada. But previous governments slashed the money available for such maintenance from $5 million per year in 2003 to $1.2 million today, which the department’s audit says isn’t nearly enough. There are currently more than 45,000 graves in need of some type of repair, according to the audit, which will take 17 years to completely fix at current funding levels. Veterans Affairs officials say they are looking at ways to be more efficient with the funding they do have, but don’t plan to ask the government for more money until next year at the earliest.

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OTTAWA POLICE ORDERED TO PAY WOMAN $254,000: A woman brutalized by Ottawa police during her wrongful trespassing arrest and left naked for hours in a holding cell nine years ago has been awarded $254,000 in damages. The Superior Court award in favour of Roxanne Carr, one of the highest of its kind in Canada, comes after a nine-day trial that ended more than a year ago. In making the award, Justice Sylvia Corthorn faulted several officers for the disturbing series of events, but aimed much of her judgment at Const. Michael Adlard, the officer who set off a chain of events in August 2008. Adlard had no grounds to arrest Carr without a warrant for what was, at most, a landlord and tenant dispute, Corthorn found. The officer then used excessive force to detain her, leaving her with injuries that included a bone fracture in her wrist, the judge said.

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KHADR PAYOUT STARTS GETTING U.S. MEDIA NOTICE: The federal payout to Omar Khadr had received meagre attention in the U.S. media — until now. The Wall Street Journal has published a scorching op-ed written by opposition MP Peter Kent that’s now gaining traction elsewhere. The former journalist penned a piece titled, “A Terrorist’s Big Payday, Courtesy of Trudeau.” The item began with a description of Khadr killing an American army medic, Christopher Speer, when he was 15 years old and fighting alongside al-Qaida in Afghanistan. It explained how Khadr won a court fight in Canada, was repatriated there, released on bail and then sued the Canadian government for $20 million. The Conservative MP criticized the Trudeau government for settling with Khadr, while the victim’s family got nothing. By Monday afternoon his piece was the No. 1 story on the Fox News website. The Fox News item quotes Kent’s op-ed under the headline: “Gitmo Lottery: Canada makes millionaire out of terrorist who killed U.S. soldier.”

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ASHLEY MADISON SETTLES U.S. LAWSUITS: The Toronto-based parent company of the infidelity dating site Ashley Madison says it has reached a US$11.2-million settlement in American class-action lawsuits stemming from a massive security breach two years ago. Ruby Corp., which was previously known as Avid Life Media, says the proposed settlement must first be approved by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, where the lawsuits have been consolidated. The lawsuits came after a cyberattack that exposed the personal dealings and financial information of millions of purported clients. They allege Ashley Madison misled consumers about its security measures and had inadequate safeguards in place. The company says it denies wrongdoing but agreed to settle to “avoid the uncertainty, expense, and inconvenience associated with continued litigation.” It says more information about the settlement and claims process will be released if the proposed deal is approved.

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BOTANY TOUR CAPTIVATED BY PHALLIC ICEBERG: Jamie Ellison’s botanical tour of northern Newfoundland provided a whole different kind of nature lesson when he looked out to a local bay and saw an iceberg with a distinctly masculine flourish. The Nova Scotia-based horticulture instructor and 10 tour companions stood slack-jawed on the shoreline in Griquet as they took in the impressive ice formation and its clear phallic protuberance. He says their quiet awe quickly turned to giggles, while prompting some “rude comments” as they came up with a name for the soaring structure — “penis-berg.” Ellison grabbed his telephoto lens and snapped a picture of the giant iceberg, which features a long, tubular piece of ice reaching skyward over a larger mass of ice. He says the unique iceberg was gone later in the day, likely pushed by strong winds, to make the rounds further down the coast or out to sea. Ellison, who has seen many icebergs before this, joked that “Mother Nature expresses herself in an interesting manner sometimes.”