‘Liquor mafia’ in India’s Uttar Pradesh: Priyanka Gandhi, Mayawati demand probe into death of reporter

Two Indian senior opposition leaders — Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of Congress and Bahujan Samajwadi Party supremo Mayawati — today demanded probe into the death of a TV journalist who recently reported on the “liquor mafia” in Uttar Pradesh state.

Priyanka wrote a letter to Uttar Pradesh’s BJP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the “mysterious” death of Sulabh Srivastava on Sunday, reports our New Delhi correspondent.

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The Congress General Secretary also demanded that action be taken against the “nexus of liquor mafia and the administration” which she said had taken root across the state. 

Srivastava died under “mysterious circumstances” on the night of June 13 in Pratapgarh district while he was returning home after news coverage, Priyanka Gandhi wrote in the letter.

On the other hand, Mayawati demanded “a swift, impartial and credible probe into the death of the journalist.”

The Uttar Pradesh Police on Monday registered a case of murder after 42-year-old Srivastava died in what appeared to be a road accident.

In a tweet in Hindi, Mayawati said, “The terror of the liquor mafia is known to all. The gruesome murder of a TV news channel reporter for exposing their black deeds is extremely saddening.”

“The government must ensure stringent punishment to the guilty by carrying out a swift, impartial and credible probe,” she said.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav had on Monday demanded a high-level inquiry into the death while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed shock over the incident saying “we are unable to save lives who are working tirelessly towards unfolding the truth”.

Superintendent of Police Akash Tomar had told reporters that “Sulabh Srivastava had gone for news coverage to the Kotwali Lalganj area on Sunday and was returning home late in the night. He was found seriously injured near a brick kiln and was taken to the district hospital where doctors said he was ‘brought dead’.”

His motorcycle had rammed into a pole near the brick kiln under the Kotwali police station area in Pratapgarh district, police said.

The journalist’s wife, Renuka Srivastava, in her police complaint, said her husband was being threatened for doing a story against the liquor mafia and the Prayagraj Additional Director General of Police was informed about it in writing but no effective action was taken.

“Because of this, unknown mafia elements murdered my husband on Sunday night while he was returning from Lalganj after news coverage,” she had alleged in her complaint.


Pak police detain 19 after being denied free burgers

A group of police officers in Pakistan flipped out when a takeaway joint refused to hand over free burgers, detaining all 19 staff at the branch. Workers at the trendy chain Johnny & Jugnu in the eastern city of Lahore were rounded up and held for seven hours overnight on Saturday, leaving behind unattended kitchens and hungry customers. “This is not the first time something like this has happened with our kitchen teams at our restaurant, but we want to make sure this is the last,” the fast food chain said in a statement published on social media. The beef started when staff at the restaurant refused a “request from a very high profile special guest”. Restaurant staff told AFP that most of those arrested were young people, including many university students.

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NZ’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday criticised a planned movie about her response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks as poorly timed and focussed on the wrong subject. The US-backed film “They Are Us” has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims, with community leaders slamming the project for pushing a “white saviour” narrative. Ardern said the attacks — when a white supremacist gunman ran amok at two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and seriously injuring another 40 — remained “very raw” for many New Zealanders. She said filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie, which is set to star Australia’s Rose Byrne as the centre-left leader.

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China slams G7 ‘manipulation’

China yesterday accused the G7 of “political manipulation” after it criticised Beijing over its human rights record in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

In a communique after a three-day summit in England, G7 leaders slammed China over abuses against minorities in the Xinjiang region and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, while US President Joe Biden called for Beijing to “start acting more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights”.

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The Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom responded angrily yesterday, and accused the G7 of “interfering”.

“The Group of Seven (G-7) takes advantage of Xinjiang-related issues to engage in political manipulation and interfere in China’s internal affairs, which we firmly oppose,” an embassy spokesman said in a statement.

The statement accused the G7 of “lies, rumours and baseless accusations”.

Human rights groups say China has rounded up an estimated one million Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang into internment camps, which Beijing says is to eradicate Islamic extremism.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” the G7 communique read.

At their first physical summit in nearly two years, leaders of the seven nations announced a number of pledges on Covid-19 vaccinations, climate change, rights and trade.

They also called for a new investigation in China into the origins of Covid-19 — prompting a response from the Chinese embassy that the work needs to be done in a “scientific, objective and fair manner”, without agreeing to a new probe.

“The current epidemic is still raging around the world, and the traceability work should be carried out by global scientists and should not be politicized,” the embassy said.

The coronavirus first emerged in central China in late 2019, and the World Health Organization sent a team of international experts in January to probe its origins.

But their long-delayed report published in March drew no firm conclusions, and the investigation has since faced criticism for lacking transparency and access.

The Chinese embassy statement complained in response that the “accusations against China on economic and trade issues in the communique are inconsistent with the facts and are unreasonable.”


Putin denies Russia cyberattacks on US

President Vladimir Putin dismissed as “farcical” accusations that Russia was behind cyberattacks against the United States in an interview with NBC broadcast yesterday ahead of his summit with President Joe Biden. The Russian leader also said he was open to a prison swap with the United States — the fate of prisoners is set to be on the agenda when the two meet in Geneva on Wednesday — and said jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny would “not be treated any worse than anybody else.” Biden will attend the summit after a week of meeting allies from the G7, European Union and Nato, with tensions between Moscow and Washington at their highest in years over a long list of disputes. Asked if Russia was waging a “cyber war” against the United States, Putin said: “Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical.”

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New wireless spectrum auction launches today against backdrop of Shaw takeover deal

This week marks the beginning of a key event for Canada’s telecom industry as up to 23 bidders compete for federal licences used in 5G wireless networks.

The government is auctioning off the use of the 3,500 megahertz spectrum band to wireless companies starting this week. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

This week marks the beginning of a key event for Canada’s telecom industry as up to 23 bidders compete for federal licences used in 5G wireless networks. 

But a major player will be absent from this auction, as Freedom Mobile sits on the sidelines while its rivals bid for 3,500 megahertz licences starting on Tuesday.

Shaw Communications-owned Freedom is Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, and competes with Rogers, Bell and Telus — the three major national telecom companies.

Shaw, which earlier this year accepted a takeover offer from Rogers, will not participate in the auction.

The $26-billion Rogers-Shaw deal still needs regulator approval and won’t close until 2022, but Freedom’s absence from this auction will likely weaken a key competitor to the Big Three carriers in parts of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Some members of a Commons committee that studied the Rogers-Shaw deal said in April that Freedom’s absence from this auction will affect long-term competition.

“I think with the discussions we’ve had here, there should be some alarm bells sounding as far as Canadians are concerned,” said Earl Dreeshen, a Conservative MP from Alberta, at an April 7 hearing about the Rogers-Shaw deal.

A Competition Bureau official told the committee that a study prepared for an earlier review of the wireless industry concluded that prices are 30 to 40 per cent lower in regions where there were four independent players.

Freedom has Canada’s fourth-largest subscriber base but is still small compared with Rogers, BCE Inc. and Telus Corp., which also operate secondary brands such as Fido, Virgin and Koodo that compete for customers in many markets.

Bidding process could take weeks

The Canadian government’s auction of 3,500 megahertz spectrum licences, which had been were delayed until this year because of the pandemic, are expected continue for weeks.

Winners of the auctions will be eventually announced by the spectrum management division of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Governments around the world carefully plan how to use and licence spectrum, considered to be a valuable but limited natural resource.

WATCH | What is wireless spectrum? And how does it affect your cellphone — and your cellphone bill?

Ever wonder what wireless spectrum is, and why the government auctions it off from time to time? Then check out this, our helpful explainer 1:28

Because 3,500 megahertz spectrum works well in dense urban areas and spacious rural markets, it’s in a sweet spot for 5G networks around the world.

Canada’s government hasn’t said how much it expects to receive from this auction, but a previous bid for less desirable licences raised a total of $3.47 billion in 2019.

The United States held a similar auction last year, raising $4.5 billion US in net proceeds — the equivalent of about $5.5 billion at current exchange rates.


How a worldwide subscription scam network was traced back to Montreal

A Montreal-based marketing firm is at the heart of a scheme involving a massive network of streaming websites that has scammed thousands of internet users out small amounts totalling hundreds of millions of dollars with promises of free unlimited access to premium content that they do not offer, a Radio-Canada investigation has found.

This signup page, which appears on more than 1,000 nearly identical websites run by Hyuna International, promises free content, but can quickly lead to a $60 monthly subscription. (Slashstar)

A Montreal-based marketing firm is at the heart of a scheme involving a massive network of streaming websites that has scammed thousands of internet users out small amounts totalling hundreds of millions of dollars with promises of free unlimited access to premium content that they do not offer, a Radio-Canada investigation has found.

The websites are run by a Barbados company called Hyuna International and offer users access to movies, books and music.

Users were lured to those sites through false promises and misleading advertising set up by subcontractors collecting commissions from AdCenter, a web marketing company run out of sleek and modern offices in downtown Montreal, the investigation by the disinformation-busting program Décrypteurs found.

The investigation revealed that both AdCenter and Hyuna International are linked to a Canadian businessman, Philip Keezer. This network uses a complicated web of hundreds of nearly identical websites and offshore shell companies to evade scrutiny, according to sources and experts cited in the report.

AdCenter is an affiliate marketing company, a legal and widespread practice. In this type of marketing, partners called affiliates promote goods and services and receive a commission every time a client they refer makes a purchase. Affiliates are not employees, but rather subcontractors.

Unlike other affiliate marketing companies, AdCenter has only one client: Hyuna International. Its affiliates are only paid when they convince someone to use their credit card information to sign up to one of Hyuna’s sites.

AdCenter’s headquarters is at 2000 Peel St. in downtown Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Automatic billing begins after 5-day trial period

The misleading ads published by AdCenter’s affiliates mostly appeared in Google results when people searched for free movies, live sports or e-books. 

These sites contained bogus video players or download buttons that fooled users into thinking they were getting what they wanted, but instead led them to a signup page, the investigation found. All users had to do — or so they were made to think — was provide their credit card information to begin a free trial to access all the content they could ever want.

Buried in the fine print, though, is a catch: after the five-day trial period, if users forget to unsubscribe, they are automatically billed $49.95 US per month. Although most rescind their membership upon noticing that the site’s library is actually filled with B movies and public domain works, some forget to cancel and are billed for months or even years, according to former employees. 

WATCH | A misleading ad sends a user to a site that does not have the content: 

In this example of a misleading ad set up by an AdCenter affiliate, a fake player seems to begin playing the movie Wonder Woman 1984, but asks the user to create an account to continue watching, and then sends them to a site run by Hyuna International, which does not have this film. 0:19

They say these forgotten subscriptions are at the heart of the network’s business model, which nets it tens of millions of dollars per year at the very least. 

“Basically, [we were] just making money off people who don’t notice,” said one of more than 15 former employees Radio-Canada spoke to and who asked not to be identified because they fear getting sued by their former employer for talking to journalists.

“There’s no way people are paying a monthly fee for that content. Just picture a really shitty Netflix … but the movies are things you’ve never heard of, things you wouldn’t even find at the back of a Blockbuster, like really weird things.”

LinkedIn posts by multiple former executives within the network’s various companies flaunt annual revenue of $100 million, a figure confirmed by a number of ex-employees.

“A lot of people just pay their credit card bills and don’t really look at them,” said Steve Baker, the Better Business Bureau’s international investigations specialist. “Sometimes, it’s months and months before they go: ‘What the hell is this? I didn’t even realize I’ve been paying this.'”

Baker, who authored a report on subscription scams in 2018, said many successful scams based on free trial offers rely on this very tactic.

The Montreal connection

Using DomainTools, a web analysis service, Décrypteurs was able to piece together a network of more than 1,100 websites created by Hyuna International. 

According to data from Similarweb, a website that analyzes web traffic, these websites generated on average 32.4 million visits per month in 2020. That’s close to 10 per cent of the 331 million visits to Disney+ in March 2021, according to Similarweb’s estimations. 

Philip Keezer, left, and an associate at the 59th annual Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles in 2017. (Twitter)

Thousands of complaints about these websites have been posted online over the years.

Décrypteurs examined 642 reviews posted on Trustpilot from 2015 to 2021 of five of Hyuna International’s websites: Geeker, Lilplay, Tzarmedia, Iceboxfun and Funmanger. 

Almost half contain variations of the words “scam,” “fraud” or “steal,” and the vast majority of people posting mention they received unwanted charges on their credit cards. More than 95 per cent of them gave a one-star review, the worst rating.

Without referring specifically to the thousands of negative reviews of Hyuna’s streaming sites, Keezer decried the existence of anonymous complaint websites in a blog post about “complaint scams” on his personal website. 

In it, he said that “the abundance of online channels through which consumers and competitors can vent their frustrations have created a breeding ground for fraud” and alleged that competitors and dissatisfied customers sometimes turn to these websites to publish “fraudulent accusations and outright smear campaigns.”

Using open source investigation techniques, Décrypteurs found that the false advertisements sending users to these sites were created by subcontractors for AdCenter called affiliates. These affiliates, operating out of countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan, make a commission every time they convince someone to sign up.

Hyuna International’s headquarters are in Christ Church, Barbados. (Facebook)

In an effort to recruit subscribers, these affiliates also create fake social media accounts to promote contests and events that aim to lure users to Hyuna’s websites. For example, a fake celebrity profile will advertise a contest for a $10,000 jackpot, and users who try to participate will be told they need to register for a free trial on one of Hyuna’s sites in order to be eligible.

In March, CBC reported that dozens of Indigenous artists and businesses in Canada and the U.S. had their identity stolen online by scammers. Décrypteurs found that AdCenter affiliates are behind at least two of these cases. 

A screenshot of the fake Tara Kiwenzie Designs account and message the fraudsters sent to new followers to solicit banking information. (Submitted by Tara Kiwenzie )

Company denies allegations

Over the past years, similar scams run by AdCenter affiliates have been reported in various countries, such as the U.S. and Norway. Celebrities such as talk show host Ellen Degeneres and basketball star Lebron James have been among those impersonated.

On paper, AdCenter prohibits its affiliates from using deceptive practices to drive traffic.

However, Décrypteurs found numerous instances where AdCenter employees tacitly encouraged affiliates to resort to these tactics. 

In fact, our reporters were unable to find a single instance in which affiliates promoting Hyuna platforms did so by promoting films that were actually available in the company’s multimedia library.

In one case, a company representative from Montreal gave affiliates a list of movies still playing in theatres, telling them to “push” these movies to “make sales” in a Facebook live video published in the summer of 2019 on AdCenter’s page. 

In another, an affiliate manager from Indonesia published a Facebook post telling affiliates to promise users they could watch live pro sports events by signing up to Hyuna’s sites — and even included a link to a fake video player and a bogus streaming site template they could use to dupe them.  

Keezer and the various companies linked to him did not answer interview requests from Décrypteurs.

A lawyer representing Action Media, another corporate name for AdCenter, called the allegations in the Décrypteurs story “false and bluntly defamatory.” 

What the law says 

Experts told Décrypteurs that Canada’s Competition Bureau is well-equipped to investigate the companies linked to this scheme on the basis of the Competition Act, which prohibits false and misleading advertising. 

“The law says that merchants are not allowed to make false or misleading representations. So if you’re lured by your favourite superhero movie after being told you can watch it by signing up, and that in the end, all that’s given to you is a ton of movies that have nothing to do with what was promised, I think that that is suspicious,” said Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a Quebec-based lawyer for consumer advocacy group Option Consommateur.

Although affiliate marketing is a common and legal practice online, it can sometimes be employed by merchants looking to dissociate themselves from misleading ads. 

However, a spokesperson for the Competition Bureau, which declined to comment on this specific case, told Décrypteurs that companies are ultimately responsible for their marketing campaigns.


U.S. lawmakers planning economic battle with China have some questions — about Canada

A massive bill laying out the long-term U.S. strategy for competing with China is making its way through Congress. There is even a long section in it about Canada. As Alex Panetta explains, the bill presents potential challenges as well as some opportunities for this country.

The U.S. Senate just passed a bill aimed at competing with China on economic and other fronts. It wants clarity on U.S. strategy for working with allies. (Jason Lee/Reuters illustration)

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.

What’s new?

Heads-up, Canada. One of the most consequential political questions of our time is tucked into a major piece of legislation advancing through the U.S. Congress — and it involves you.

The question is: What’s the strategy for dealing with China in an era of increasing international tension?

A bill that just passed the U.S. Senate with strong two-party support would force the Biden administration to lay out plans for working with allies on China-related issues.

And there’s a long section in it about Canada.

It represents one piece of a massive, 1,400-page bill aimed at preparing the U.S. for a long-term era of competition with China.

“[This is] something that looks potentially like a long-lasting new cold war strategy,” said Eric Miller, a Canadian-born trade consultant in Washington. 

“It’s going to set a foundation for years to come about how the U.S. thinks about working with Canada vis à vis strategy.”

The Canada portion of the bill, which is called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, begins by lauding Canada-U.S. ties — applauding Ottawa’s handling of the extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and denouncing the detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China.

Then it raises challenging questions.

If passed by the House of Representatives, the bill will become law, and would force the administration to produce a report on Canada within 90 days.

That report would have to explain where Canada and the U.S. agree on managing relations with China — and where they disagree.

If the bill passes the other chamber of Congress, it will become law. And the White House will have 90 days to publish a strategy explaining where it agrees and disagrees with Canada on China issues. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

It would focus on trade, cybersecurity, Huawei and 5G networks, critical mineral resources, defence, the Arctic, global institutions, organized crime, and the spread of authoritarian government.

The bill would then require this U.S. administration, and perhaps a future one, to report to Congress at least twice a year for five years on how the strategy is going.

The report would be available for public viewing, though it might contain a classified portion. 

The U.S. has previously pressed Canada to take a more hawkish stance on some issues related to China, such as banning Huawei from the eventual 5G network, a decision Canada has yet to make.

The bill calls for similar reports about U.S. relations with other entities, such as NATO and the European Union; and with regions such as the Caribbean; and countries including Australia and Japan.

But that’s not the part of the legislation getting the most attention in the U.S.

The U.S. wants allies to keep Huawei products out of any eventual 5G network. Canada hasn’t announced a policy. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

What’s the context?

The bigger story of the bill is an economic one: That the era of free markets is falling out of fashion, replaced by government-mandated industrial policy.

The trend appears bipartisan.

The shift in attitude began under Donald Trump, whose trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, wrote in an essay that ideal trade policy had to be about more than cheap goods and should prioritize domestic manufacturing and working-class jobs.

A new strategy paper released this week by the White House underscores the extent to which the Biden administration shares this view.

The 250-page paper proposes building up domestic capacity to manufacture key products so the U.S. is less dependent on imports from certain other places (the paper mentions China 458 times).

Those key products include semiconductors, batteries, pharmaceuticals and critical minerals, which the U.S. also hopes to start importing more of from allied nations such as Canada. 

The bill advancing through Congress gives life to that strategy. 

China is one area where both U.S. parties agree. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought, and won, broad support for the bill. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

The legislation would spend $250 billion for research and manufacturing, with tax credits and subsidies for products such as artificial intelligence, alternative energy, batteries, medical technology and quantum computing.

It’s essentially an American answer to China’s 2025 plan. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged his colleagues to pass the bill, casting it as part of a pivotal contest between great powers.

“Around the globe, authoritarian governments smell blood in the water,” Schumer said.

“They believe that squabbling democracies like ours can’t come together and invest in national priorities the way a top-down, centralized and authoritarian government can.… We cannot — we cannot, we must not — let that happen.”

This week, the bill sailed through the Senate on a vote of 68-32, illustrating that the rivalry with China is one rare political issue these days that unites America’s political parties.

What’s next?

The House of Representatives must pass the legislation for it to become law.

The chances of that seem good. Any bill that passes the Senate with more than a two-thirds majority stands a solid chance in the other chamber.

However, it’s not assured. 

Democrats lead the House and will consider the issue this summer, but some want to make modifications; should the bill change, the Senate would have to pass it again.

The bill has drawn complaints from some progressives and conservatives for what they view as pork-barrel politics in the form of corporate subsidies

The legislation, which passed the U.S. Senate, credits Canada’s handling of the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, seen here in Vancouver in March. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

Some Canadians, however, see the bill as a compelling reason for Canada to consider ramping up its own industrial strategy.

Robert Asselin, a senior vice-president at the Business Council of Canada, said there are things in this bill that Canada could emulate, such as massive research and development investments in priority areas such as agricultural technology, energy and biotechnology.

“Get real on industrial policy,” Asselin said. 

“To me, [this] just shows the U.S. versus China is redefining economic competitiveness, and here we are in Canada, thinking it’s business as usual. We’re still playing in the margins.”

Eric Miller, the Washington-based trade consultant, noted another question mark on Canada-U.S. co-operation.

For all the talk about the U.S. sourcing more of its critical minerals from untapped Canadian mines in order to reduce dependency on China, he said nobody has sorted out the financing.

He suggested governments could provide early funding to get mines open. For example, he said, the Canadian government could fund projects at the outset in exchange for a long-term purchase commitment from the U.S. Defence Logistics Agency with a guaranteed refund.

“Huge opportunity,” Miller said. “But it’s going to take some effort.”


Some Ontario businesses reopening after struggling to survive long-running lockdown

Many Ontario businesses are reopening with some limitations after a frustrating period of ever-changing pandemic restrictions affecting retailers and services that were deemed non-essential.

Debrah Menashy, owner of Loft Cycle Club Inc. in Toronto, will be starting outdoor spin classes as the province moves into the initial phase of its reopening plan on Friday, three days ahead of schedule. (CBC)

Many Ontario businesses are preparing to reopen with some limitations after a frustrating period of ever-changing pandemic restrictions affecting retailers and services that were deemed non-essential.

As the province moves into the first stage of its three-stage reopening plan on Friday, some owners say they’ve had to take an innovative approach to survive and to serve their customers in person again.

Debrah Menashy, owner of Loft Cycle Club Inc. in Toronto will be starting outdoor spin classes, which will be limited to just nine riders and take place in a parking lot near the city’s Broadview and Danforth avenues.

“Every time I go to add it up, we have to buy something else,” she said, including the cost of renting a parking lot and setting up a storage container for the bikes, as well as buying wireless headphones, “I’m just hoping that people show up and it’s worth it.”

“[It’s been] almost 16 months of not being able to operate, we’re just so excited to be outside to do something,” she said as she tested the equipment this week.

Scott MacKillop, owner of Barely Bruised Books in Ottawa, is also ready to reopen and recalled the many sacrifices he made during the lockdowns that were imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The store had to cancel its open-mic poetry night, live music, an Indigenous book club called All Nations and its philosophy group meetings.

Scott MacKillop, owner of Barely Bruised Books in Ottawa, is seen here with the store’s resident kitty, Milo. MacKillop says he’s spent tens of thousands of dollars setting up a website to sell his used books online during lockdown. (Brian Morris/CBC)

One of the biggest hassles has been getting a new website up and running to sell the store’s used books online. MacKillop said he’s spent more than $33,000 trying to stay in business, without generating much revenue in return.

“I spent all my savings,” he said.

Bars and restaurants in Toronto and other Ontario hot spots experienced a bit of whiplash in late March when patios were allowed to reopen — only to be forced to close again just days later.

WATCH | Ontario moves to get ahead of COVID-19 variants as more businesses reopen:

More Ontario business owners have reopened after working hard and laying out cash, while the province is moving up second vaccine doses in COVID-19 variant hot spots. 2:05

The first stage in the province’s reopening plan means non-essential retail will be able to reopen at 15 per cent capacity. The plan also comes with other conditions:

  • Only stores with street access can welcome customers inside.
  • Stores inside malls have to stay closed.
  • Outdoor patio service will be allowed for up to four people per table, unless they’re from the same household.
  • Group exercise and day camps for children can also begin again.

Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is calling on people to put pressure on the provincial government to “immediately open other low-risk businesses,” such as hair and nail salons.

Those businesses won’t be allowed to reopen until Step 2 of the plan, which is supposed to go into effect in early July.

In a tweet Thursday, Kelly said the province should also allow shops in malls to open, as other jurisdictions in Canada have done. He also said that “the world’s longest lockdown needs a faster end.”

And let’s all put pressure on @fordnation to immediately open other low-risk businesses, including allowing shops in malls to open (as is in place in the rest of Canada), hair/nail salons and some gym/recreational activities. The world’s longest lockdown needs a faster end.


At least one medical expert says businesses may now be able to escape the trend of one lockdown after another.

“The big difference is that we have vaccines,” said epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite from the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “We don’t have a fully vaccinated population yet, but we do have a lot of people with at least one dose of vaccine.

“And that’s a really important mitigation tool. It helps reduce transmission.”


Keystone XL is cancelled — so now what?

TC Energy’s decision to terminate the Keystone XL pipeline project doesn’t put to rest a couple of key questions still hanging over it.

Pipe ready to be used for the construction of the Canadian leg of the Keystone XL project in Alberta is shown last September. TC Energy terminated the project this week. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The announcement that TC Energy is cancelling the problem-plagued Keystone XL pipeline project wasn’t a big surprise.

It seemed unlikely the Calgary-based company could dig its way out of U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision last January to yank its cross-border permit. 

After evaluating its options, it appears TC Energy reached that same conclusion on Wednesday.

But this week’s decision to pull the plug doesn’t put to rest a couple of key questions that have been hanging over the project — not just for Keystone XL, but for the Alberta government, environmental groups and other pipeline projects.

Can Alberta still get some money back? 

Last year, Alberta invested $1.5 billion, plus loan guarantees, in Keystone XL to help kick-start a project beset by legal disputes and protests in the U.S.

The money was aimed at getting construction started on the Canadian leg of the project, which it did for a time.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Jan. 20, including one that cancelled the permit for Keystone XL. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

On Wednesday, the province said the material cost to the government was $1.3 billion, but that it wasn’t giving up on retrieving what it could.

“As stated, we remain committed to recouping the government’s investment in the project on behalf of Albertans,” a government spokesperson said in an email.

That may mean beginning the liquidation process of pipe and other assets to help offset some of the costs. But as CBC News reported last week, the pipe that is already underground will stay there for now.

There could still be a market for what’s left over, but how far that would go toward recouping Alberta’s investment is another unknown at this point.

Dennis McConaghy, a former TC Energy executive who has authored books on energy issues, thinks there will be a market for the spare parts.

“The pipe will be useful,” he said. “The question about being able to salvage any of the expenditures they may have made on pumps will depend on whether those specific kinds of pumps can find markets somewhere in the world. Eventually, that will probably happen.”

What is not recoverable are the expenses paid out on camps, engineering and the workforce, he said.

McConaghy speculated that the formal termination of the project may help the company with either some of its salvage activities or litigation — if that’s something it pursues.

WATCH | Expert explains why politics played a role in the demise of Keystone XL

University of Calgary’s Richard Masson says politics played a role at the death of the Keystone XL project pipeline. The Alberta government and TC Energy announced today the termination of the pipeline project. 3:38

What about legal action?

In referencing its commitment to recoup its investment, Alberta’s United Conservative government also noted “we continue to examine all our legal options regarding the termination of the Keystone XL project.” 

Using history as a guide, it might try to do this in a couple of ways.

TC Energy filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court in Texas against the Obama administration after it halted the project in 2015, asserting that then-President Barack Obama’s decision to deny construction of Keystone XL exceeded his power under the U.S. Constitution. 

That lawsuit was ultimately suspended after Donald Trump inked the required construction permit to get the project moving again shortly after winning the White House.

James Coleman, an associate professor of energy law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said he’ll be watching to see if Canada and TC Energy are weighing a challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Though that trade agreement was succeeded last year by the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement, Coleman said there’s a three-year window where a claim can be made for an investment made under NAFTA.

“They could bring a claim under NAFTA and say they were treated in a discriminatory fashion,” Coleman said. “With that said, nobody’s ever won a NAFTA suit against the United States. So I think most people would say your odds of success are less than 50-50.”

What does this mean for Jason Kenney’s UCP government?

On the same day the news broke about the cancellation of the Keystone project, Kenney also shared that a $1.3 billion hydrogen project is in the works for Edmonton.

But only one of those stories made news in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and CNN.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney marked the start of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the province, in the town of Oyen, last summer. (Flickr/Alberta Government)

When Kenney made his big bet on Keystone XL last year, it was in keeping with his campaign promise of jobs, pipelines and a better economy. It also came at a time when the oilpatch was hit hard by a deep plunge in crude prices.

The Alberta government stood by that decision on Thursday, as the NDP again called on them to release the full details of the investment agreement.

“There’s full transparency,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage told the legislature. “We supported this pipeline because we believe it would have brought higher prices for Alberta oil, increase oilsands production and brought us $30 billion a year in royalties.”

Regardless, it’s another blow on a government priority.

“It’s just another cumulative thing,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“If you just pull off the energy file — the whole ‘fight back’ strategy, the Allen inquiry, the war room, the investment in Keystone, the carbon tax fight — there is no wins there.”

Setting politics aside, the focus for Alberta’s oilpatch will be seeing completion of the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline to Burnaby, B.C., and Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement pipeline connecting to Superior, Wis.

“That just really hones in the magnifying glass,” said Thomas Kirk-Pearson, a senior research associate with energy data analytics firm Enverus.

“Without those projects, you’re going to have a pretty hard limit on how high production can go in Western Canada.”

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrate on the Dodge Street pedestrian bridge during rush hour in Omaha, Neb., in 2017. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Both projects face some strong opposition over concern around their environmental and climate change impact — and this week’s news is expected to rally support to further protests.

“This is huge for people who’ve been resisting new fossil fuel infrastructure and calling for alternatives, because this was the first really big pipeline battle,” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.

Beyond that, he said, Keystone also informed how current and future environmental campaigns could be done.

“The Keystone fight represented a shift in strategy from the environmental movement and an increasing recognition that we have to work in partnership with, and often behind the leadership of, Indigenous communities.”

No doubt, industry, government and environmental leaders have learned much from Keystone XL’s long odyssey. And the lessons likely won’t have ended after this week.