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

An internal review of the Conservative Party’s 2021 election campaign says the party needs to recruit a wider diversity of candidates and improve its ethnic outreach if it hopes to improve on last year’s results and make gains in Canada’s largest cities, according to a Conservative source.

The report notes that Conservative candidates are still feeling the negative effects of a move by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to ban “barbaric cultural practices,” during the 2015 election campaign, which critics say alienated ethnic communities. Conservatives have also lost support among Chinese Canadians because they failed to distinguish between criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and China broadly as a country, leading some to label the party as anti-Chinese, according to the report’s findings.

The review arrives at a time of increasingly public divisions with the Conservative Party caucus as it debates Erin O’Toole’s position as party leader.

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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole arrives for a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin TangJustin Tang/The Canadian Press

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Britain drops most COVID-19 restrictions, including masks and vaccine passports

The pandemic is still raging across much of the world, but in Britain, COVID-19 restrictions are becoming a thing of the past.

Almost all mandatory measures in England ended today. Masks are no longer required anywhere, and vaccine passports have been dropped – although they were only compulsory in nightclubs and at large events such as soccer games. There is also no longer any work-from-home guidance.

While many other countries, including Canada, have also begun to drop some COVID-19 measures, few have gone as far as Britain. And the British government has made it clear that it doesn’t want the country held back by the virus any longer.

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Crowd gathers north of Toronto to cheer on trucker convoy heading to Ottawa

A large crowd gathered outside a mall north of Toronto today as a group of local truckers prepared to join a convoy to Ottawa in protest of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.

Some in the crowd threw cash and food up to truckers in their vehicles at the Vaughan Mills mall while others hoisted Canadian flags and signs protesting the government as the truckers gradually rolled out.

Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest against the mandate. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Bodies of a family trying to cross into U.S. identified: Officials in Ottawa say they have confirmed the identities of four Indian nationals whose bodies were found frozen in Manitoba near the Canada-U. S. border last week. Investigators believe the family of four was attempting to cross over the border by foot on Jan. 19 during severe winter weather and died from exposure.

Rogers CEO vows ‘necessary changes’ to boost performance: In his first public appearance since taking over at Rogers, Tony Staffieri said his priorities include improving the company’s performance, which he said has lagged its rivals in recent years. The new chief executive officer added that the company’s $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. is on track to close in the second quarter.

Food prices are soaring and it may get worse: Grocery prices have jumped 5.7 per cent over the past year, the sharpest increase in a decade. It’s not generally the sort of thing that gets the Bank of Canada’s attention, but the central bank focused its monetary policy report on the issue yesterday – and the outlook isn’t all that encouraging.

Biden vows to name a Black woman to Supreme Court: U.S. President Joe Biden emphasized his intention today to nominate the first ever Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, something he said was “long overdue.” The retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer gives Biden his first chance to fill a vacancy on the nine-member court but will not change its ideological balance.

Scientists amazed by blinking star’s behaviour: Scientists have detected what appears to be an incredibly dense star behaving unlike anything else ever seen – and suspect it might be a type of exotic astrophysical object whose existence has until now been only hypothesized. The object unleashed huge bursts of energy roughly three times per hour when viewed from Earth during two months in 2018, the researchers said.

Roethlisberger announces retirement: Two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement today. The long-time Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said it was “time to clean out my locker, hang up my cleats” after 18 seasons in the NFL.

MARKET WATCH

On Wall Street, U.S. stocks gyrated wildly, with the S&P 500 once again narrowly avoiding correction territory as investors juggled positive economic news with mixed corporate earnings, geopolitical unrest and the prospect of a more hawkish Federal Reserve. The S&P 500 lost 0.55 per cent to end at 4,326.12 points, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 1.42 per cent to 13,349.76. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.04 per cent to 34,154.78.

The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index ended down 0.25 per cent at 20,544.11 in another roller-coaster session for stocks. Technology stocks, which had soared the past two years thanks in part to very low interest rates, led the fall, ending down 2.2 per cent.

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TALKING POINTS

Hong Kong’s pandemic policies are tearing families apart – including my own

Experts within Hong Kong are slowly recognizing that a zero-COVID policy is unsustainable, but it’s unclear whether the city will be able to pivot in time to maintain its reputation as a livable global hub. In the meantime, people are suffering – less from COVID-19 itself, and more from the city’s increasingly erratic attempts to keep it out. - Nicole Baute

LIVING BETTER

Instead of wishing winter away, lean in to it

Embrace the Canadian weather through exploring some of Canada’s best outdoor experiences. Here are some ideas from sporty to savoury, across the country.

TODAY’S LONG READ

THIS IS NOT A CEREMONY (Cinematic VR Experience). Shown: The Spirit Buffalo approaches the fire at the center of the Arbour. Niitsitapi writer and director Ahnahktsipiitaa (Colin Van Loon) transports us directly into another realm, where past, present and future are one.NFB

At Sundance, Canadian director Ahnahktsipiitaa proves the future of filmmaking is all in your head

It is not a little ironic that the most exciting element of a virtual film festival is its virtual-reality component – doubly so, given that the relative scarcity of at-home VR technology demands that audiences experience the projects at a physical event – say, a live film festival – where headsets and in-person guidance are plentiful.

But such is the artistic paradox facing Indigenous Canadian filmmaker Ahnahktsipiitaa (Colin Van Loon), whose cinematic VR project This Is Not a Ceremony is making its debut at this week’s Sundance Film Festival – an event that was scheduled to run live in Park City, Utah, until Omicron forced a last-minute pivot to, ahem, virtual screenings.

At just over 20 minutes in length, This Is Not a Ceremony deliberately defies easy definition. It is part documentary, part performance art, part memory play and completely intense and unforgettable.

Evening Update is written by Omair Quadri. 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.