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In The News for March 20 : Is it even worth complaining about airlines in Canada?

Last Updated Mar 20, 2023 at 2:30 am MDT

Passengers arrive at Pearson Airport in Mississauga, Ont. on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. The number of air passenger complaints to Canada's transport regulator is soaring, more than tripling to 42,000 over the past year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

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 March 20 …

What we are watching in Canada …

The number of air passenger complaints to Canada’s transport regulator is soaring, more than tripling to 42,000 over the past year.

The growing backlog means each case now needs more than a year and a half to handle, spurring advocates and politicians to question the entire process.

NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach plans to table a private member’s bill today that aims to close loopholes, increase fines and make compensation automatic for travellers whose flights are delayed or cancelled.

Bachrach and John Lawford, who heads the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, say the passenger rights overhaul promised by the federal government for this spring needs to make compensation automatic in the event of significant delays or short-notice cancellations.

Last week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra pledged $76 million over three years to chip away at the backlog by hiring 200 more employees, 

He also vowed to end a loophole that lets airlines reject compensation claims by citing safety as the reason for a flight disruption.

The complaint backlog shot up after travel chaos erupted over the summer and again during the winter holidays as flight demand surged and weather refused to co-operate.

Also this …

The student union president at Cape Breton University said food insecurity has become a concern for many students and the on-campus food bank cannot keep up with demand.

Damanpreet Singh said the student-run food bank at the university in Sydney, N.S. gives out 50 packages of food daily, but as many as 100 students a day are reaching out to the food bank for help each weekday. 

“We are really struggling with big line-ups for the food bank,” Singh said. “We need more food packages, and in order to make more packages, we need more staff, more space and more money.”

He said the food bank has recently set up a system for students to sign up for a food package on a first-come-first-serve basis online. This means students can book an appointment to pick up the food instead of waiting in long lines, but the demand still far exceeds what they can offer.

The student union president said he believes that the need for food is likely tied to the rising cost of living in Sydney and the scarcity of available work. 

Singh said that since he moved to Sydney in May 2021, the typical rent he and his friends pay has jumped from $350 per month for a room to between $500 and $800 monthly. There are also fewer units available, he added.

The housing crunch coincides with Cape Breton University’s recent population growth. The university has acknowledged the rapid hike in student numbers and said in December it would reduce the number of new student spaces for some of its popular programs.

The increase in student population is due in large part to international student recruitment, and the university has been criticized for accepting more students that it can adequately house.

An October 2021 report from the Association of Atlantic Universities found that this fall, nearly 4,000 international students were enrolled at Cape Breton University out of about 5,900 total students. That is up from about 2,400 international students in 2021, when the school had about 4,200 students. In 2017, the university had fewer than 900 international students out of about 2,600 total students.

International students at Cape Breton University pay between $18,915 and about $19,580 a year in tuition, which is about twice as much as the $9,810 that Canadian residents pay.

A spokesperson for the university said there are currently 7,300 registered students at the school in total, with 1,500 set to graduate in May. 

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON _ Former U.S. president Donald Trump’s calls for protests ahead of his anticipated indictment in New York have generated mostly muted reactions from supporters, with even some of his most ardent loyalists dismissing the idea as a waste of time or a law enforcement trap.

The ambivalence raises questions about whether Trump, though a leading Republican contender in the 2024 presidential race who retains a devoted following, still has the power to mobilize far-right supporters the way he did more than two years ago before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It also suggests that the hundreds of arrests that followed the Capitol riot, not to mention the convictions and long prison sentences, may have dampened the desire for repeat mass unrest.

Still, law enforcement in New York is continuing to closely monitor online chatter warning of protests and violence if Trump is arrested, with threats varying in specificity and credibility, four officials told The Associated Press. Mainly posted online and in chat groups, the messages have included calls for armed protesters to block law enforcement officers and attempt to stop any potential arrest, the officials said.

The New York Young Republicans Club has announced plans for a protest at an undisclosed location in Manhattan on Monday, and incendiary but isolated posts surfaced on fringe social media platforms from supporters calling for an armed confrontation with law enforcement at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

But nearly two days after Trump claimed on his Truth Social platform that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday and exhorted followers to protest, there were few signs his appeal had inspired his supporters to organize and rally around an event like the Jan. 6 gathering. In fact, a prominent organizer of rallies that preceded the Capitol riot posted on Twitter that he intended to remain on the sidelines.

Ali Alexander, who as an organizer of the “Stop the Steal” movement staged rallies to promote Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election from him, warned Trump’s supporters that they would be “jailed or worse” if they protested in New York City.

That stands in contrast to the days before the Capitol riot when Trump stoked up supporters when he invited them to Washington for a “`big protest” on a Jan. 6, tweeting, “Be there, will be wild!” Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol that day, busting through windows and violently clashing with officers in an ultimately failed effort to stop the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

BERLIN _ A major new United Nations report being released Monday is expected to provide a sobering reminder that time is running out if humanity wants to avoid passing a dangerous global warming threshold.

The report by hundreds of the world’s top scientists is the capstone on a series that summarizes the research on global warming compiled since the Paris climate accord was agreed in 2015.

It was approved by countries at the end of a weeklong meeting of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in the Swiss town of Interlaken, meaning governments have accepted its findings as authoritative advice on which to base their actions.

At the start of the meeting U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned delegates that the planet is “nearing the point of no return ” and they risk missing the internationally agreed limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming since pre-industrial times.

That’s because global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases keep increasing _ mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and intensive agriculture _ when in fact they need to decline quickly.

Governments agreed in Paris almost eight years ago to try to limit temperature rise to 1.5 C or at least keep it well below 2 C. Since then scientists have increasingly argued that any warming beyond the lower threshold would put humanity at dire risk.

Average global temperatures have already increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century, but Guterres insisted last week that the 1.5 C target limit remains possible “with rapid and deep emissions reductions across all sectors of the global economy.”

On this day in 1995 …

Toxic fumes were released on Tokyo’s crowded subway system, killing 12 commuters and sickening more than 5,500. Members of the doomsday religious cult Aum Shinrikyo were convicted of the crime.

In entertainment …

“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” felt the fury of the marketplace in its theatrical debut this weekend. The New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. superhero movie opened to a disappointing $30.5 million from 4,071 theatres, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The “Shazam!” sequel fell short of its modest expectations ($35 million) as well as the first film in the series ($53.5 million in April 2019), and earned a place on the very low end of modern DC comics movie launches, between “Birds of Prey” ($33 million in February 2020) and “The Suicide Squad” ($26.2 million in August 2021), both of which were R-rated.

Directed by David F. Sandberg, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” brought back Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody and Djimon Hounsou, and added Helen Mirren, Rachel Zegler and Lucy Liu. Critics, many of whom found the first film charming, were largely underwhelmed by this outing. It currently holds a 53 per cent Rotten Tomatoes critic score.

“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” cost a reported $125 million to produce, not factoring in marketing and promotion costs. Internationally, it grossed $35 million from 77 overseas markets including China, bringing its total earnings to $65.5 million.

Second place went to “Scream IV” in its second weekend in theatres. The horror pic, distributed by Paramount, fell 61 per cent from its debut and added $17.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $76 million.

In its third weekend, “Creed III” grossed an additional $15.4 million to land in the No. 3 spot. The film, directed by and starring Michael B. Jordan has now earned $127.7 million in North America. “65” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” rounded out the top five with $5.8 million and $4.1 million, respectively.

Did you see this?

MONTREAL _ One person has been confirmed dead and six people remain missing as police continue to search for victims after a fire swept through a building in Old Montreal on Thursday.

In a news conference Sunday evening, fire and police officials confirmed that the body was recovered at 6:45 p.m., and has been taken to a forensic lab to be identified.

“We are sensitive to what the families of the missing (people) are going through,” said Montreal fire operations chief Martin Guilbault.

“Our goal is, for the investigation, to share light on this tragedy and provide answers for the families.”

Guilbault said fire services began preparations early Sunday to dismantle the second and third floors of the building in order to gain access to the fire scene.

Montreal police spokesman Const. Jean-Pierre Brabant had said earlier Sunday that seven people were still believed to be missing after the fire.

The father of a young woman who remains missing after the fire swept through the building in Montreal’s historic district said he wants the city to ensure all rental units have proper fire escapes.

Charlie Lacroix, 18, lived in the Montreal suburb of Terrebonne, Que., and was staying in an Airbnb in the building with a friend after spending the day in the city.

Her father, Louis-Philippe Lacroix, said he’s been told his daughter called 911 twice within several minutes, unable to get out of the unit they were staying in, which had no window and no fire escape.

“How can someone rent an apartment, whether it’s for a day, or a year, or whatever with no way to exit?” he said in an interview earlier Sunday.

Lacroix said he’s hopeful the fire will lead to action from the city to ensure Airbnbs and apartments have proper fire exits.

“This happened, there’s nothing we can do, now do everything you freaking can to avoid another story like that,” he said.

 The fire department has said the building will be taken apart “brick by brick” to ensure the scene is safe for investigators.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.

The Canadian Press