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About one year after the ArriveCan app was launched, the head of private IT staffing company GCStrategies invited key federal officials to an “ArriveCan Whisky Tasting” event and also invited officials for meetings at various breweries and restaurants around Ottawa, according to preliminary government records into an investigation of contracting misconduct allegations.

Invitations to the mid-pandemic virtual whisky tasting event were extended to four Canada Border Services Agency officials, including Cameron MacDonald and Antonio Utano, who were suspended without pay this month in connection with the CBSA investigation.

Documents show GCStrategies managing partner Kristian Firth sent an e-mail to the four CBSA officials in April 2021 for an “ArriveCan Whisky Tasting” that would begin at 5 p.m. on the 21st, a Wednesday, organized by a company called Thirst Responder Mobile Bar.

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CBSA President Erin O’Gorman (L) and former president John Ossowski appears before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on Parliament Hill, Jan. 18, 2024 in Ottawa.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

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$7.1-billion in CERB and CRB overpayments still being collected, Globe analysis finds

The federal government has asked Canadians to return $11.2-billion in overpayments it made through the two largest pandemic income-support programs for individuals, an analysis by The Globe and Mail has found.

As of the end of September, according to the analysis, Canadians had paid back $4.1-billion worth of both benefits – the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). Another $7.1-billion in assessed overpayments are still under collection.

The Globe gathered the information from documents tabled in the House of Commons and numbers supplied by the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada.

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The Peace Tower on Parliament Hill is shown from Gatineau, Que., on March 12, 2020.Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Spike in viral infections may be driving pediatric strep cases, doctors say

Four B.C. children under age 10 have died since mid-December as a result of a severe bacterial infection they contracted alongside respiratory viruses, underscoring the seriousness of the recent increase in cases of the rare disease in pediatric patients across the country.

This month, a report from Public Health Ontario indicated a significant rise in invasive group A streptococcal (iGAS) infections, noting that from October to the end of December, there were 540 cases in the province, including six deaths in people under 18.

Medical experts say they believe the growing number could be the result of a spike in influenza and other respiratory illnesses that have been affecting children, which points the need to improve vaccination rates and take other protective steps.

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A child receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children in Brampton, Ont., on Nov. 26, 2021.Baljit Singh/The Globe and Mail

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Also on our radar

Kyiv’s mayor worries Ukraine under Zelensky becoming increasingly autocratic: His country is at war, and he knows everyone is supposed to rally behind the flag and the President. But Vitaly Klitschko says he also has a responsibility to speak out about what he sees as Ukraine’s drift away from the democratic principles it’s supposed to be fighting for.

Eritrea’s strife goes global as diasporas, including those in Canada, clash at cultural festivals: For decades, Eritrea’s authoritarian regime has reaped cash and political support from cultural festivals in cities around the world. But in a recent switch in tactics, opposition groups have begun targeting those gatherings and seeking to disrupt them.

Barrick denies one of its executives recently met with First Quantum in Panama: Barrick Gold Corp. is disputing an account by a Panamanian official about an alleged meeting between one of its executives and First Quantum Minerals Ltd. in Panama to discuss a possible buyout deal.

Bell, Best Buy team up to rebrand and revamp The Source stores: BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada and Best Buy Canada Ltd. have struck a partnership that will rebrand 165 The Source stores – once known as RadioShack – as Best Buy Express.

Massive Manitoba watershed to be designated an Indigenous-protected area in landmark agreement: A coalition of four First Nations has reached an agreement with the federal and provincial governments to establish the massive parcel of land surrounding the Seal River in northern Manitoba – one of the world’s largest remaining ecologically intact watersheds – as an Indigenous-protected area.

Israel’s Netanyahu says he told the U.S. he’s against a postwar Palestinian state: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected U.S. calls to scale back Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip or take steps toward the establishment of a Palestinian state after the war, drawing an immediate scolding from the White House.

Take our biz quiz!

National Bank warned this week that Canada is caught in a “population trap.” What does that mean?

A) Canada is aging rapidly.

B) The Canadian population is too concentrated in Ontario.

C) Young couples aren’t having enough children.

D) Record levels of immigration are overwhelming Canada’s capacity to absorb newcomers.

Morning markets

Global stocks firmed on Friday, underpinned by a rally in computer chipmakers, although investors continued to reconsider their bets on when central banks will start cutting interest rates. Around 7:00 a.m. ET, Britain’s FTSE 100 was up 0.38 per cent. Germany’s DAX was up 0.39 per cent while France’s CAC 40 added 0.21 per cent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei was up 1.40 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 0.54 per cent. New York futures were up. The Canadian dollar was higher at 74.23 US cents.

What everyone’s talking about

The next battle for Quebec could be between the Bloc and the Tories

“While the Conservatives have built up a double-digit lead in the polls in every other region of the country, they remain mired in third place in Quebec, far behind the Bloc Québécois and Liberals. An Abacus Data poll conducted in early January showed that only 33 per cent of Quebeckers think it is time for a change in government and that there is an acceptable alternative to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals; nationally, the figure stands at 53 per cent.” – Konrad Yakabuski

Does Canada dare to Davos (without the hot air)?

“Today, we’re seeing the global economy morphing in some unsettling ways. Climate change, the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence, the role of arts and culture, the promises of life sciences and medicine, the future of democracy – there is no end to the issues that need addressing and solving. Bringing people together to discuss, debate and learn from one another is essential if we have any chance at all.” – Todd Hirsch

In Marvel’s Echo, Hollywood gets representation right

“After more than a century of Hollywood promoting the myth of the ‘noble savage’ – the idea that before contact, Indigenous people were docile folks, hanging around the wilderness, waiting to be saved by the white man – the fact that a First Nations community, a rez-family dynamic and two deaf women, one of whom also has a missing lower leg, are being showcased by the studios that brought us Pocahontas and The Lone Ranger, is big news.” – Tanya Talaga

Today’s editorial cartoon

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Illustration by David Parkins

Living better

Snag your spot at Globe readers’ favourite Parks Canada campgrounds as summer 2024 reservations open

Summer’s warm embrace is five months away, but it’s not too soon to start thinking about the adventures you want to go on, especially if they will include nights of camping under the stars. Reservations for Parks Canada’s campsites open for the 2024 season today: starting with parks in B.C. and ending with Newfoundland and Labrador parks on Feb. 13. To get you inspired, Globe readers shared their favourite parks and campgrounds.

Moment in time: Jan. 19, 1954

Uncle Chichimus puppet is stolen

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John Conway with the puppets Uncle Chichimus and Hollyhock, c. 1952.Robert C. Ragsdale/Courtesy of CBC / Canadian Museum of History

It wasn’t exactly the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, but when Uncle Chichimus vanished it was front-page news. Chichimus was a puppet with his own nightly CBC-TV show. He was about a foot high, green, bald with tufts of hair, and he was devoted to his niece, fellow puppet Hollyhock. The two were national stars. But on this day in 1954, puppeteer John Conway left Chichimus and Hollyhock in a new attaché case in the back seat of his unlocked car, parked in front of Mr. Conway’s studio in Toronto’s financial district. When he realized his mistake hours later, it was too late – the case and the puppets were gone. A reward was offered. Some people thought it was a publicity stunt, but it wasn’t. There was never a ransom demand, and worse, the puppets never reappeared. Eventually, Mr. Conway had to construct a new Chichimus and Hollyhock and the show went on. Years later, he offered his own theory: “Some wino saw the case in the back of the car, snatched it and dumped the contents into a garbage can … then sold the new attaché case for a couple of bucks to get a drink.” Philip King.

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