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New details in a Manitoba tragedy and death of a music icon: In The News for Jan. 21

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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. 21 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

WINNIPEG — 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.

The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota said Steve Shand, 47, has been charged with human smuggling after seven Indian nationals were found in the U.S. and the discovery of the bodies.

Court documents filed Wednesday in support of Shand's arrest allege one of the people spent a significant amount of money to come to Canada with a fraudulent student visa.

According to the documents, a U.S. Border Patrol officer in North Dakota stopped a passenger van just south of the border Wednesday. Shand was driving and court documents allege he was with two undocumented Indian nationals.

Around the same time, the documents said five other people were spotted by law enforcement in the snow nearby. The group, who were also Indian nationals, told officers they'd been walking for more than 11 hours in frigid conditions.

One of the men in the group was carrying a backpack that had baby supplies in it. Court documents said he told officers it belonged to a family who had become separated from the group overnight.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a news conference in Winnipeg that once Mounties were notified the family may still be in Manitoba officers immediately began to look in the area.

After a difficult search in nearly impassible terrain, she said officers found three bodies together — a man, a woman and a baby — just 10 metres from the border near Emerson, Man. The search continued and a teen boy was found a short distance away. It is believed they died from exposure.

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Also this ...

Across Canada a blend of optimism and caution is emerging as provinces and territories revise their strategies for riding out the latest wave of the pandemic.

In Saskatchewan where rising hospital admissions and staff shortages due to COVID-19 are a growing concern, the provincial health authority says it is looking at redeploying staff from other government departments to bolster the health-care system.

Next door in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney says there are signs the province has "reached and surpassed" peak COVID-19 cases in the fifth wave. But he is still warning that hospitalizations — currently at record levels — will continue rising and put more pressure on an already overwhelmed health system.

In an effort to cope with that scenario the province says it will create new pandemic response units in Edmonton and Calgary.

More than 2,100 new COVID cases were reported in British Columbia Thursday as the province announced that 200-thousand COVID-19 test kits will be distributed among elementary and high schools to try to keep them open.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week that he's confidant the latest COVID wave powered by the Omicron variant has now crested. However, Doctor Gerald Evan — one of Ontario's COVID advisers — has warned that Ford is acting too soon with his plan to start easing health restrictions at the end of January.

Quebec's Health Department reported a slight dip in COVID hospitalizations Thursday, its first since Dec. 16. But unlike Ontario, Premier François Legault said the situation in his province's hospitals remains too fragile to start loosening restrictions that have kept gyms, bars and entertainment venues closed since December. 

In Atlantic Canada there are glimmers of optimism, with Newfoundland and Labrador announcing that students in kindergarten to Grade 12 will head back to in-class learning on Tuesday, and Prince Edward Island reporting COVID-19 recoveries are currently outpacing new cases.

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And this ...

OTTAWA — Confusion over whether truckers would remain exempt from the vaccine mandate last week came after bureaucrats misinterpreted policy in more than one federal agency, including the one that co-ordinates Canada's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trucking industry was caught by surprise on January 12th when the Canada Border Services Agency sent a statement to media saying unvaccinated truckers crossing into Canada from the United States would remain exempt from a vaccine mandate due to take effect three days later.

Ottawa reversed itself again the next afternoon, saying the statement on unvaccinated truck drivers had been sent in error and the restrictions would go ahead.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week his government had been consistent on the policy, describing the mix-up as a miscommunication by "an official."

The Canadian Press has learned that the border service agency issued the statement only after consulting with the Public Health Agency of Canada, which had drafted a similar memo saying that unvaccinated Canadian truckers would not need to test and quarantine.

Government sources who spoke to The Canadian Press say the problem stemmed from confusion over federal government rules.

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

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Capitol riot is asking former White House adviser Ivanka Trump, the daughter of ex-president Donald Trump, to voluntarily co-operate with its investigation. 

The committee sent a letter on Thursday requesting a meeting in early February. Lawmakers want to discuss Donald Trump's actions on Jan. 6, 2021, including a telephone call they say Ivanka Trump witnessed as her father tried to pressure then-vice president Mike Pence to reject the election results. 

The riot came after a rally where Donald Trump had urged his supporters to “fight like hell” as Congress convened to certify the 2020 election results. 

A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump notes in a statement that she didn't speak at that rally.

The letter is the committee's first attempt to seek information from inside the Trump family. Earlier this week, it issued subpoenas to lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other members of Trump’s legal team who filed meritless court challenges to the election that fuelled the lie that the race had been stolen from Trump.

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

GENEVA — The top diplomats of Russia and the United States are holding crucial talks as Western powers strive to use diplomacy to avert a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The talks are continuing amid Moscow’s demands for concessions from NATO over its relationship with the former Soviet republic. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were meeting in Geneva as a weeks-long standoff teetered on the cusp of a pivotal and potentially violent phase. 

Blinken has played down any prospects of an immediate fix in the Geneva talks, which were set to run about two hours.

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Also this ...

The U.S. State Department says it is looking forward to a productive meeting today when Central American leaders gather online with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to talk about the future of Haiti.

The embattled, poverty-racked Caribbean nation has been roiled by unrest since the summer, when President Jovenel Moïse was killed in a shooting at his house that also injured his wife. 

Joly is convening the virtual summit while she is in the midst of a three-country European trip to talk with leaders there about the Russian military buildup on the Ukraine border.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden said Los Angeles would play host this June to the Summit of the Americas, where leaders from across the two continents and the Caribbean gather every three years to talk about shared priorities. 

The causes of — and potential solutions to — irregular migration will be a priority item on the agenda. 

Migrants from Haiti and a number of Central American countries have been regularly moving northward, putting pressure on the southern border of the United States and creating widespread instability in the Western Hemisphere.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry are scheduled to speak at today's meeting.

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And this ... 

NEW YORK — U.S. prosecutors charged four Belarusian government officials on Thursday with aircraft piracy for diverting a Ryanair flight last year to arrest an opposition journalist. 

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams alleged in a news release that the defendants corrupted standards followed by countries around the world to keep passenger airplanes safe by using a false bomb threat as an excuse to divert the flight. He says the indictment provides a prompt and public explanation of what happened to Flight  4978 on May 23 as it travelled between Athens and Vilnius in Lithuania.

Partially in response to the diversion last May, President Joe Biden levied sanctions against Belarus. 

Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the pilots there was a bomb threat against the jetliner and ordered it to land in Minsk. The Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet in an apparent attempt to encourage the crew to comply with the flight controllers' orders.

The journalist and activist who was arrested, Raman Pratasevich, ran a popular messaging app that helped organize mass demonstrations against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The 26-year-old Pratasevich left Belarus in 2019 and faced charges there of inciting riots.

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On this day in 1975 ...

Firefighters called to a blaze at a Montreal bar discovered the bodies of 13 people in a closet. Police described the deaths as underworld grudge killings.

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In entertainment ...

NEW YORK — Meat Loaf, the heavyweight rock superstar loved by millions for his “Bat Out of Hell” album and for such theatrical, dark-hearted anthems as “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” has died. He was 74.

The singer born Marvin Lee Aday died Thursday, according to a family statement posted on his official Facebook page.

“Our hearts are broken to announce that the incomparable Meat Loaf passed away tonight,” the statement said. “We know how much he meant to so many of you and we truly appreciate all of the love and support as we move through this time of grief in losing such an inspiring artist and beautiful man... From his heart to your souls…don’t ever stop rocking!”

No cause or other details were given, but Aday had numerous health scares over the years.

“Bat Out of a Hell,” his mega-selling collaboration with songwriter Jim Steinman and producer Todd Rundgren, came out in 1977 and made him one of the most recognizable performers in rock. 

After a slow start and mixed reviews, “Bat Out of a Hell” became one of the top-selling albums in history, with worldwide sales of more than 40 million copies. 

His biggest musical success after “Bat Out of Hell” was “Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell,” a 1993 reunion with Steinman that sold more than 15 million copies and featured the Grammy-winning single “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

Aday's other albums included “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose,” “Hell in a Handbasket” and “Braver Than We Are.”

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ICYMI ...

TORONTO—A Canadian study suggests the antiviral drug remdesivir could have a "modest but significant effect" on hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

It found the drug cut the need for mechanical ventilation by approximately 50 per cent among study participants.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto recruited more than 12 hundred patients between August 2020 and April 2021.

Roughly half received remdesivir while the other half got the usual level of care.

Eight per cent of the remdesivir group went on to require a ventilator compared to 15 per cent who received standard care. 

The findings are part of a larger study by the World Health Organization involving patients in several countries.

Evidence has been mixed on the effect of remdesivir in people with COVID-19. The WHO recommended against using it to treat the virus in November 2020.

Sunnybrook scientist Robert Fowler says that's because earlier data that didn't show a significant impact.

But he says the Canadian trial results could reverse opinions on the treatment.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2022.

The Canadian Press