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Canada Evening Update: Canadians living in China nervous after Kovrig, Spavor detained; May hits roadblocks in bid to modify Brexit deal with EU

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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Canadians living in China worried they could be next to be detained

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The latest: Canadians living in China are worried they could be next, following the confirmation of a second Canadian detained by Beijing. (for subscribers). Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor are being held on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of China, the foreign ministry spokesman said. Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to telephone Chinese President Xi Jinping personally to seek their release.

Background: Their detention follows the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, in Canada on Dec. 1 at the request the United States. Washington is seeking her extradition for allegedly committing fraud by misleading U.S. financial institutions about Huawei’s links to a company doing business in Iran, opening the banks to risk of violating U.S. sanctions.. China threatened “severe consequences” if she was was not immediately released. On Tuesday, a B.C. judge granted Ms. Meng $10-million bail.

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is escorted by a member of her private security detail while arriving at a parole office in Vancouver on Dec. 12. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Opinion and analysis: Lu Shaye, Chinese ambassador to Canada, wonders if this country has lost its sense of justice: “The Canadian government has asserted that it was fulfilling the international obligation to the United States, but did it fulfill the international obligation of protecting the lawful and legitimate rights and interests of a Chinese citizen?”

Brahma Chellaney, geostrategist and author, says Canada must stand up to China: “Deference to China usually invites bullying, while standing up to it draws respect and a readiness to negotiate and shore-up co-operation.”

British PM Theresa May hits roadblocks in bid to modify Brexit deal with EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s effort to modify her Brexit deal with the European Union has run into roadblocks, making it even less likely the pact will get U.K. parliamentary approval, Paul Waldie writes. She travelled to Brussels today for a summit of EU leaders and urged them to change the Brexit agreement to help get it through the House of Commons. Many expressed support for some kind of clarification, but they stopped short of committing to major changes.

While Ms. May survived a non-confidence vote yesterday as leader of the conservative party, she had to promise to step aside before the next election.

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Toronto police investigating two new incidents at St. Michael’s College

Two new alleged incidents connected to St. Michael’s College School are being probed by Toronto police, Victoria Gibson writes. The school is also citing new information about its junior and varsity football teams as reason for cancelling this and next year’s football seasons. Varsity basketball has also been axed for this year, in response to alleged misconduct, but the hockey program will carry on.

Investigations in multiple alleged assaults and alleged sexual assaults among St. Mike’s students started mid-November, when news broke about students allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student with an object in a locker room. Six students have been charged. After more reports, police were investigating a total of six alleged incidents. The tally is now eight.

The school also announced today a four-person independent committee to undertake a “Respect and Culture Review” of the school’s social and cultural practices.

Soaring household debt leaves Vancouver, Toronto homeowners vulnerable to higher rates, CMHC warns

Soaring levels of household debt in Vancouver and Toronto have increased homeowners' vulnerability to higher interest rates, according to Canada’s federal housing agency. (for subscribers)

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The ratio of debt to disposable income in both census metropolitan areas is more than 200 per cent, while the national average is about 170 per cent. “With interest rates on the rise, highly indebted households could see their increased required payments exceed their budgets,” Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp said in a statement.

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MARKET WATCH

Canada’s main stock index finished slightly lower today, as marijuana producers pushed health care stocks lower. The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index dropped 32.71 points to 14,750.35.

On Wall Street, results were mixed. The S&P 500 ended little changed after a volatile session, as investors favored defensive sectors while the biggest drag came from financials and consumer discretionary stocks. Cautious trade optimism faded along with initial gains.

The S&P 500 lost 0.53 points close at 2,650.54. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 70.11 points to 24,597.38 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 27.98 points to 7,070.33.

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed four new senators, filling every seat in the upper chamber: Margaret Dawn Anderson for the Northwest Territories; former Yukon premier Pat Duncan; Stanley Kutcher for Nova Scotia; and Ontario’s Rosemary Moodie.

The latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have been announced and include Stevie Nicks, who becomes the first woman inducted twice (the first time with Fleetwood Mac), Janet Jackson, who joins brothers Michael and the Jackson Five, Radiohead, the Cure and more.

Maria Butina, accused of acting as a Russian agent to infiltrate a powerful gun lobby group and influence U.S. policy toward Moscow, pleaded guilty to conspiracy today in a deal with prosecutors that could give them insight into Russian meddling in American politics.

Two security guards were injured in an explosion that occurred during an overnight armed holdup at a Scotiabank branch in northeast Edmonton.

Bruce McArthur, accused of killing eight men with ties to Toronto’s gay village, will return to court Jan. 16.

TALKING POINTS

This key interest rate is flashing a warning about buying a house

“Real estate agents and mortgage lenders may disagree, but then they only get paid when houses are bought and sold. For everyone else, the falling interest rate on the five-year Government of Canada bond is a reason for caution in making big money decisions.” - Rob Carrick (for subscribers)

Water is priceless, but not free: How much should it cost?

“No Canadian pays for water – not citizens, farmers or industry. Under NAFTA first – and now the USMCA – if the government starts selling water, it becomes an exportable product, which is widely recognized as a very bad idea.” - Denise Balkissoon

LIVING BETTER

Take the stress out of holiday entertaining with these tips on how to perfectly roast a turkey: Start up to two days before cooking with a dry brine of kosher salt (1 tablespoon for every four pounds of bird). Rub salt all over the turkey and put some in the cavity, then store in the fridge uncovered. When it’s time to roast, rub the skin with a flavoured butter. Trussing the turkey will help it cook more evenly. Get more tips and Lucy Waverman’s high-heat method of roasting here. (for subscribers).

LONG READ FOR A LONG COMMUTE

Blood and bureaucracy: Inside Canada’s panicked response to ‘Havana syndrome’

The man woke with a shock. A grating, screeching noise filled his head, all but deafening him. He sat bolt upright, surprised that his wife remained asleep amid the wrenching din. It was just after 3 on what should have been a quiet Thursday morning in Havana.

“That sound lasted 20 to 30 minutes, and I couldn’t find where it was coming from – then it faded, grew slower in pace and lower in frequency, and then I felt like I was going to throw up – I had the most overwhelming nausea,” the middle-aged Canadian official said in an interview this week. He got through it, dozed off briefly and then was awoken again when his wife entered the bedroom carrying their oldest child, who was covered in blood. At around the same time his father had been experiencing what he called the loud noises, the child had suffered a “massive” nose bleed – “there was blood everywhere in his room.”

It was the early morning of June 1, 2017. This family’s terrifying night was the first medically confirmed Canadian incident of what became known as the “Havana syndrome,” mysterious concussion-like brain injuries that had struck officials and intelligence agents at the U.S. embassy in Cuba – and, Ottawa realized that morning, was also causing serious injury to Canadian staff, their spouses and children.

The story of the federal government’s response to the slow unfolding of a disturbing medical emergency at its Cuban embassy has largely been kept secret. Drawing on interviews with half the Canadian diplomats who were diagnosed in 2017 and with former embassy managers, correspondence between government officials and other documents, it is now possible to tell that story. Read the full story by Doug Saunders.

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