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

Last Updated Oct 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm PST

Gord Downie performs at WE Day in Toronto on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. Downie, the poetic lead singer of the Tragically Hip whose determined fight with brain cancer inspired a nation, has died. He was 53. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Highlights from the news file for Wednesday, Oct. 18

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GORD DOWNIE DEAD AT 53: Gord Downie, the poetic lead singer of the Tragically Hip whose determined fight with brain cancer inspired a nation, has died at the age of 53. The band said in a statement that Downie died on Tuesday night with his family close by. Downie revealed his terminal diagnosis with glioblastoma in May 2016, and became a symbol of perseverance in the face of his mortality. He spent the last chapter of his life raising funds for brain cancer research and advocating for the rights of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

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QUEBEC PASSES FACE-COVERING LAW: The Quebec national assembly has passed a controversial religious neutrality bill that will oblige citizens to uncover their faces while giving and receiving state services — triggering criticism the law targets Muslim women. Quebec’s two main opposition parties opposed the bill because they argued it didn’t go far enough in restricting the presence of conspicuous religious symbols in the public sphere. The new law has two basic components: it bans the wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state and it offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs.

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JUDGE APPROVES REVISED SEARS CANADA BONUS PLAN: An Ontario judge has approved Sears Canada’s request for a revised $2.8 million retention bonus plan for 36 head office staff and store managers who stay through its liquidation process. Those numbers are both down from the retailer’s previous plan. But some of the retailer’s former employees said after Wednesday’s hearing that they think too much money and time are being spent to coax executives to stay. Under the revised plan, the key head office employees can earn their bonuses if they stay with the company until next March or April, depending on the person.

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3 KILLED IN B.C. GAS LEAK WERE DOING MAINTENANCE WORK: Three people who died after a suspected ammonia leak on Tuesday were doing maintenance work on ice-making equipment at an arena in southeastern British Columbia, the city’s mayor says. About 60 people living near the arena have been asked to leave the area in Fernie, B.C., as a precautionary measure. A state of emergency remained in effect following the leak, which was first reported at the Fernie Memorial Arena on Tuesday.

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PROSECUTION SAYS ACCUSED KIDNAPPER IS LYING: A federal prosecutor says a Somalian man is lying about his role in the kidnapping of Amanda Lindhout. Prosecutor Croft Michaelson contends that Ali Omar Ader made up a story about being forced to work for the hostage-takers as a negotiator and translator, saying Ader was actually paid $10,000 as a willing participant. Ader has pleaded not guilty in Ontario Superior Court to a charge of hostage-taking. He has told the court that he too was abducted by the gang of kidnappers, held captive and forced to make ransom-demand calls to Lindhout’s mother, Lorinda Stewart.

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AMAZON HQ IN THE GTA WOULD SAVE COMPANY MONEY, PROVINCE SAYS: Setting up its second headquarters in the Greater Toronto Area would save Amazon $1.5 billion a year, the man heading up Ontario’s bid for the project said Wednesday. Ed Clark, a business adviser to Premier Kathleen Wynne, said the region offers highly trained talent at a savings when compared to most U.S. jurisdictions and corporate taxes in the province are lower than south of the border. The company has said it wants to be near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand that headquarters to more than 740,000 square metres in the next decade.

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LIBERALS ADJUST PASSIVE-INCOME PLAN: Finance Minister Bill Morneau has announced tweaks to his tax proposals on passive income so only about three per cent of the most wealthy privately owned corporations will have to pay higher taxes. Morneau confirmed the changes Wednesday at a stop in New Brunswick, saying the system will now allow a threshold of $50,000 of passive income investment annually. The adjustment to Morneau’s original proposal comes after an onslaught of complaints that warned cracking down on passive investments could adversely affect middle-class entrepreneurs.

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TRUDEAU DEFENDS MORNEAU: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deflected attacks on his finance minister and what the opposition parties describe as a conflict of interest over Bill Morneau’s wealth disclosure. In the Commons Wednesday, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer grilled Trudeau about when he knew Morneau had not placed his assets in a blind trust, as many cabinet ministers do once taking office. Trudeau answered by insisting Morneau has followed all the rules. Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson herself said Tuesday she told Morneau he did not have to put his business in a blind trust.

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ALBERTA FIREMAN DIES FIGHTING WILDFIRE: Wind-whipped wildfires have scorched southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, and taken a human toll. Officials with Cypress County in southeastern Alberta confirmed the death of a firefighter who was battling a fierce grass fire driven by gusting winds near Hilda. James Hargrave of the Walsh fire station died in the line of duty Tuesday night while assisting Saskatchewan crews. He was killed in a crash involving a water truck and a pickup truck south of Burstall, Sask.

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FORMER NHL AGENT CHARGED WITH FRAUD: Winnipeg police have charged an ex-NHL agent with fraud, alleging he bilked former Ottawa Senators Chris Phillips and Dany Heatley out of $12 million. Stacey McAlpine, 54, is charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000, two counts of theft over $5,000 and laundering proceeds of crime. Police say the alleged fraud occurred between January 2004 and June 2011. They say the victims gave the accused money so he could invest it for them, but they allege that he used the money for personal business, disguising its true source.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. It clarifies a reference in the 9th item to a collision in Saskatchewan.