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Good evening, let’s start with today’s top stories:

Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig to face separate Chinese trials starting Friday

China is starting trials within days for the two Canadians it locked up in apparent retaliation for the 2018 arrest at Vancouver’s airport of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities.

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Michael Spavor’s trial is set to begin on March 19, while Michael Kovrig’s is slated for March 22. China alleges they are spies. “We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled ...,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement.

The court dates coincide with high-level meetings between the United States and China tomorrow. Ottawa is counting on President Joe Biden’s proposed reset of U.S.-China relations to open the door for the release of the Canadians, senior federal officials told The Globe and Mail.

Separately, B.C. court proceedings in Meng’s extradition case continued today, with her lawyer accusing officials involved in her arrest of negligence, arguing there was a “deliberate and flagrant” disregard for her rights.

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The latest COVID-19 developments in Canada and abroad

Canada’s top public health doctor Theresa Tam says a national decline in severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as hospitalizations and deaths, is starting to level off. She has also warned in recent days that average daily case counts are now on the rise again across the country after plateauing for several weeks.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has given its support to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and urged countries to continue using it. “At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks,” it said in a statement today.

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More than a dozen European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have stopped using the vaccine after reports that 37 people developed blood clots after being vaccinated and at least two have died.

The European Medicines Agency is conducting a review of the blood-clot cases and is expected to announce its findings tomorrow. Yesterday, its executive director said scientists had yet to find any connection between clots and the vaccine.

Opinion: Europeans’ illogical ban of AstraZeneca will prolong the pandemic and cost lives - Robyn Urback

Murdered Maltese journalist’s family shocked by cold-blooded assassination details revealed in court

What struck Matthew Caruana as he sat in a Maltese courtroom listening to the testimony of a man involved in his mother’s assassination was the nonchalant brutality of the plot – the hit was just another job, European bureau chief Eric Reguly reports.

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia died instantly on Oct. 16, 2017, when a bomb placed under the driver’s seat of her leased Peugeot was detonated.

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Caruana and his family have been seeking justice ever since in a case that reverberated across Europe, exposing the forces bent on silencing Malta’s most famous anti-corruption campaigner and ending several high-level government careers.

Read more from the archives: Our mother was killed for being a journalist. There is still no justice for her or her work

Canada’s inflation rate edges higher; U.S. Fed pledges to keep rates steady

The Canadian consumer price index edged up at an annual rate of 1.1 per cent in February, coming in below analysts’ estimates while setting the stage for a jump in inflation in the coming months.

The biggest driver of CPI growth came from gasoline prices, which rose 6.5 per cent compared with January. This was offset by a drop in prices of clothing, travel accommodation and phone services, Statistics Canada has reported.

In the United States, Federal Reserve officials have signalled that they are in no rush to dial back support for an economy still struggling amid the pandemic, releasing a fresh set of projections that showed the central bank’s policy interest rate on hold at near-zero for years to come even as growth is expected to pick up considerably in the near term.

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

A senior female Canadian Forces officer quits: Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor is quitting the military, saying she is “sickened” by investigations into alleged misconduct involving senior leaders – and “disgusted” it took so long for the top brass to come under the microscope.

Atlanta-area massage parlour shootings: A white gunman accused of killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at three Atlanta-area massage parlours has been charged with murder. The attack sent terror through the Asian-American community, which has increasingly been targeted during the coronavirus pandemic. Read more: Anti-Asian violence is on the rise. Here’s what you need to know, and how you can help.

E-mail security warning: Canada’s main cybersecurity watchdog has issued another warning that organizations of all sizes need to protect themselves from a recently discovered vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange e-mail servers.

Two jurors dismissed in George Floyd case: A judge has dismissed two jurors who had been seated for the trial Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused in George Floyd’s death, over concerns they had been tainted by the city’s announcement of a US$27-million settlement with Floyd’s family.

MARKET WATCH

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The Dow, S&P 500 and TSX closed at record highs today after the Fed predicted a fast economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and said it would maintain its interest rate at close to zero.

The S&P/TSX Composite Index rose 109.09 points or 0.58 per cent at 18,983.10, buoyed in part by a strong session for energy stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 189.42 points or 0.58 per cent to end at 33,015.37, the S&P 500 gained 11.41 points or 0.29 per cent to 3,974.12, and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 53.63 points or 0.4 per cent to 13,525.20.

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LIVING BETTER

Thomas Vijayan/World Nature Photography Awards

Two Canadians are among the winners of this year’s World Nature Photography Awards. Thomas Vijayan took top honours as World Nature Photographer of the Year for his image “The world is going upside down,” shot in Borneo. Dale Paul won gold in the category Behaviour - Birds for capturing a great horned owl jumping from its perch near High River, Alta. See all the winning photos here.

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TODAY’S LONG READ

Hok skis helped me get outside, reconnect with nature and beat the pandemic blues

Domini Clark on hok skis.

Brandon Withrow./Handout

I first tried hok skis, a hybrid of cross-country skis and snowshoes, in February last year at L’Auberge le Camp de Base, a charming cabin getaway in Quebec’s Saguenay region.

“Guests just love them and wonder why they ever bought snowshoes,” Pascale Deschamps tells me. She and co-owner Jean-François Tapp rent them out to overnight and day visitors. “What they find really great about them is that it’s fluid, so you can really go in the snow well with less effort.”

Hok skis are the creation of American Nils Larsen and Canadian Francois Sylvain, who drew inspiration from the traditional gear used by Indigenous skiers in the Chinese Altai Mountains. Wider and shorter than traditional skis, the hoks feature a permanent faux-fur skin, which provides extra grip for climbing. Shushing downhill, walking uphill, gliding across flat surfaces – it’s all possible.

In basic terms, this is cross-country skiing for idiots. Read Domini Clark’s full story here.

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