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

Ontario sent out $210-million in COVID-19 relief to ineligible businesses, Auditor-General says

Ontario sent out $210-million in COVID-19 relief to ineligible businesses and made no attempt to retrieve it, the province’s Auditor-General says.

In her annual report on Wednesday, Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk said the province’s COVID-19 relief program for small businesses, which offered two payments of $10,000 to $20,000 each to eligible companies with fewer than 100 employees, has handed out more than $210-million to firms that did not qualify.

To be eligible, companies had to have been required to shutter and suffered a revenue decline of more than 20 per cent. The province has made no attempt to recoup the money, the audit found.

Canada’s timeline to start on-arrival COVID-19 testing for most travellers remains unclear

The federal government is not yet saying when its new requirement for COVID-19 testing for all travellers arriving in Canada from countries other than the United States will take effect.

On Tuesday, Ottawa expanded its travel ban on foreign nationals to 10 countries and announced that Canadians arriving from those countries will need to be tested in a third country for COVID-19 before being granted entry to Canada. It also said it will require most travellers arriving in Canada to get tested on arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result.

Those first two rules have already taken effect. But on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino couldn’t say when on-arrival testing would begin, other than to note it will start in the “very short term.”

In the U.S., meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that it identified the country’s first Omicron case in California. The U.S. health agency said the person was a traveller who returned from South Africa and was fully vaccinated.

More COVID-19 coverage:

U.S. Supreme Court conservatives signal support for abortion limits

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday indicated support for upholding a restrictive Mississippi abortion law in a ruling that would undermine – or outright overturn – the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing the procedure nationwide.

The 6-3 conservative majority court heard about two hours of oral arguments in the southern state’s appeal to revive its abortion ban starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy, a Republican-backed law blocked by lower courts. During the hearing, the three liberal justices sternly warned against abandoning important and longstanding legal precedents like Roe.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic, challenged the law and has the support of Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai, imprisoned founder of Apple Daily, wins Golden Pen of Freedom award

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai and the newsroom staff of the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper have been awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom award of the World Association of News Publishers.

Lai, who founded Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s most popular Chinese-language newspapers, is in prison for his involvement in unauthorized pro-democracy protests. The paper closed in June after authorities used a controversial national security law to arrest the editor-and-chief and four other senior executives and freeze the assets of the company and Lai’s. Lai had already been in jail for over seven months.

The national security law was passed in June, 2020, and critics say it severely restricts free speech and the right to protest.

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Women’s Tennis Association suspends tournaments in China over concerns about Peng Shuai: The Women’s Tennis Association cited its concerns over the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai in announcing its decision to suspend tournaments in China. Peng’s whereabouts have been the subject of international concern for nearly three weeks after she posted a message on social media alleging that China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.

Ukrainian President Zelensky had warned of coup plot. Protesters now warn of his political ploy: Hundreds of extra police and soldiers were visible in the centre of the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday, the day on which President Volodymyr Zelensky had warned of a possible Russian-backed “coup d’état” against his government. While the streets were largely quiet, several thousands of anti-Zelensky demonstrators were expected to gather after dusk on the Maidan, Kyiv’s central Independence Square. Organizers of Wednesday’s demonstration say that Zelensky is orchestrating a “coup” of his own, arguing that he has violated Ukraine’s constitution by concentrating power in the president’s office since winning a 2019 election over incumbent Petro Poroshenko.

Alberta outlines new rules forcing industry to pay for abandoned well cleanup: In the first significant overhaul of the province’s liability framework for the oil and gas sector, the industry will now be required to spend $422-million next year and slightly more in 2023 on cleanup and remediation. The new rules, released by the province’s oil and gas regulator, aims to address the growing problem of inactive and abandoned wells in Alberta.

Stranded Canadian junior women’s field hockey team secures flights home from South Africa: Canada’s junior women’s field hockey team could be back home from South Africa next week. The under-21 team has been waiting to travel home from Potchefstroom since the Junior World Cup there was cancelled because of concern about the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Sandra Oh among those named ‘People of the Year’: People magazine has chosen Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Canadian-born actor Sandra Oh, country icon Dolly Parton and the nation’s teachers as its “2021 People of the Year.” Oh was celebrated for fighting anti-Asian hate and working on “transformative stories,” while Biles was commended for redefining “what it means to win in sports” in the wake of her decision to put her mental health first before competition.

Listen to The Decibel: Why conversion therapy is still legal in Canada: The Globe’s parliamentary reporter Janice Dickson joins the pod to discuss the latest legislative effort to pass a bill that would put conversion therapy in the Criminal Code of Canada. First introduced in March, 2020, the new bill would ban the disgraced practice – which purports to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity – for adults as well as children.

MARKET WATCH

Stocks erase early gains and end lower as Omicron and inflation worry investors: Wall Street closed lower on Wednesday after a morning rally faded as investors fretted about the latest coronavirus variant and the first evidence of its U.S. arrival while they also digested Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s comments on surging inflation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 461.68 points, or 1.34 per cent, to 34,022.04, the S&P 500 lost 53.96 points, or 1.18 per cent, to 4,513.04 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 283.64 points, or 1.83 per cent, to 15,254.05. The TSX also reversed course during the session, ending down nearly 1 per cent.

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TALKING POINTS

Can a master-planned neighbourhood be a place worth visiting? With Toronto’s East Harbour, the signs aren’t good

“... Ask yourself: Have you ever seen a place with 13 million square feet of real estate, planned by one company, that you want to go back to? New ‘master-planned’ neighbourhoods, to use the real estate industry’s unfortunate phrase, tend to deliver bottom-line sameness. The recently completed Hudson Yards development in New York is a grim example. Toronto is already building another one of these glass-skinned brutes, the so-called Union Park.” - Alex Bozikovic

Canada needs to fast-track Afghan resettlement. NGOs and veterans are a crucial part of the solution

“By empowering the NGO network, the government harnesses the capacity of its members and knowledge of their applicant populations to ensure more screening than was the case during the Syrian crisis. This also creates the capacity required to ensure referrals to Canada by Canadians can happen at the needed scale.” - Rachel Pulfer, executive director of Journalists for Human Rights

LIVING BETTER

Stress Test: What you might not know about buy-now, pay-later plans

In the latest Stress Test podcast, hosts Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw delve into how the “buy-now, pay-later” option has surged in popularity during the pandemic. The payment option allows consumers to spread out the cost of a purchase over several increments. It sounds convenient and especially tempting around the holidays, but is it smart personal finance?

TODAY’S LONG READ

The Pope has a rare antique kayak and many more Indigenous artifacts hidden away in the Vatican Museums. Here is a look at some of them

Father Nicola Mapelli, curator of the Vatican's ethnological museum, inspects a rare Inuvialuit kayak with art restorers Catherine Riviere and Martina Brunori. A Western Arctic Catholic bishop sent Pope Pius XI the kayak in 1924 for a Vatican exhibition.Chris Warde-Jones/The Globe and Mail

In 1924, Gabriel Joseph Élie Breynat, the French-born Roman Catholic bishop of the Mackenzie region of Arctic Canada, received an unusual request from his holy handlers at the Vatican: Send artifacts.

The pope at the time, Pius XI, an outward-looking Italian, was planning the church’s first world expo. Missionaries from Australia to Zambia were instructed to collect religious and non-religious objects made by Indigenous peoples and deliver them to Rome.

Bishop Breynat sent a rather bulky, but delicate, object: a sealskin kayak.

The kayak and some 200 other pieces of Indigenous artifacts from Canada were exhibited in 24 temporary pavilions in the Vatican along with 100,000 objects from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. By the time the expo closed in January, 1926, it had attracted a million visitors. After that exhibition, the kayak’s trail gets murky. The records are not precise, but it appears the sleek nautical curiosity has not been on public display for at least two decades, maybe longer. Read the full story by Eric Reguly.

Evening Update is written by Beatrice Paez. If you’d like to receive this newsletter by e-mail every weekday evening, go here to sign up. If you have any feedback, send us a note.