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The Trudeau government determined that there was no “actionable evidence” after it received a CSIS transcript of an early 2021 conversation between Liberal MP Han Dong and China’s top diplomat in Toronto, according to a senior government source – saying conclusions could not be drawn that Mr. Dong asked Beijing to keep two Canadians in prison for political reasons.

But when the allegations against Dong surfaced in a Global News report on Wednesday, the MP left the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent.

On Thursday, he told The Globe and Mail that he intends to launch a defamation lawsuit against Global News, which, citing two unnamed national-security sources, reported the assertions related to Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. Dong said he would never advocate that the two Canadians should be kept in jail to benefit the Liberals.

The Prime Minister’s Office and its National Security Office reached out to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to provide a copy of the transcript after the PMO was first approached by The Globe on the matter 2½ weeks ago, the source said.

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Ottawa close to deal with U.S. on irregular border crossings

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U.S. President Joe Biden stands next to Governor-General Mary Simon, as he and first lady Jill Biden are greeted upon arrival at Ottawa International Airport on March 23.Andrew Harnik

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to finalize a landmark deal with President Joe Biden in Ottawa on Friday, which would close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement and bring thousands more Central American migrants to Canada through legal pathways.

Government sources cautioned that while the two countries are on track to finalize the deal during Biden’s trip to Ottawa, the fine print is still being hammered out and confirmation will only come Friday.

As it stands, they said the two countries expect to extend the agreement to cover the entire border, including land and waterways. The change will mean that each country can turn away asylum seekers no matter where they cross on the border. Currently, migrants crossing at unofficial points are allowed to make refugee claims.

Read more:

Ontario budget 2023 signals province bracing for economic slowdown

The Ontario government has unveiled what the province’s Finance Minister calls a “prudent” budget – one that assumes next to no economic growth this year, but still pledges to balance the books by the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Thursday’s budget features no new marquee initiatives. Instead, it promises to speed up already-planned spending on home medical care for seniors, and new funding for supportive housing and mental health treatment. The fiscal document also ends the province’s three subsidized sick days for workers, introduced during the height of the pandemic. Read the highlights.

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Also on our radar

White Helmets arrive in Canada: Members of the volunteer search-and-rescue force credited with saving lives in Syria are now in Canada with their families, nearly five years after the federal government promised to get them out of a Jordanian refugee camp they were unable to leave.

Trump created false expectation of arrest: Manhattan prosecutors said the former U.S. president misled people to expect he would be indicted this week and prompted fellow congressional Republicans to interfere with a probe under way into his hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Allowing abuse damages in divorce cases would harm children, Ontario appeal court hears: A lawyer for a Toronto-area man argued it would create an onslaught of high-conflict cases and would swamp overburdened judges.

Porter cancels flights: The Toronto-based airline’s aggressive expansion with new routes and larger passenger jets hit a bumpy patch, as it made extensive cuts to its March schedule, including the cancellation of 22 per cent of flights departing Pearson international.

Morning markets

Bank worries continue to weigh: Global stocks were pressured on Friday and safe-haven buying supported government bonds as concerns about the stability of the banking system lingered. Around 5:30 a.m. ET, Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 1.42 per cent. Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 were off 1.32 per cent and 1.35 per cent, respectively. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei ended down 0.13 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.67 per cent. New York futures were negative. The Canadian dollar was lower at 72.72 US cents.

What everyone’s talking about

Putin and Xi’s meeting left them both stuck in the mud of the disastrous Ukraine war

“If Mr. Putin hoped to persuade Mr. Xi to provide him with the arms and money that he needs to even stand a chance of avoiding defeat in his war in Ukraine, he failed. If Mr. Xi hoped to persuade Mr. Putin to join him in a serious attempt to negotiate a peace that would save them both from humiliation, he failed.” - Roger Garside

Hudson’s Bay Co.’s big bet on Zellers nostalgia will not be easy to pull off

“But relaunching a nostalgia-driven brand is very different from managing one. Hudson’s Bay is taking a digital-first approach with the Zellers revamp. This means that they are going to have to figure out how to make the brand work online, where it is stripped from millennials’ experiences of going to the store in the nineties and oughts – and directly competing with the online businesses that pushed the chain to bankruptcy in the first place.” - Dan Guadagnolo

Today’s editorial cartoon

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Illustration by Brian Gable

Living better

Five things to watch this weekend

From Swarm, a horror-comedy skewering social-media-driven fandom that takes particular aim at Beyoncé and her Bey Hive, to Therapy Dogs, a scrappy film about youth in revolt, Barry Hertz shares his picks for the weekend.

Moment in time: March 24, 1853

Anti-slavery paper the Provincial Freeman is first published

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Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was a writer, an educator, a lawyer, an abolitionist and the first African-American woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper. Studio portrait taken, c. 1855-1860. Born to free parents in Delaware, a slave state, Mary Ann Shadd was the eldest of 13 children. She was educated by Quakers and later taught throughout the northeastern United States, including New York City. Following in the footsteps of her activist parents, whose home was a safe house (or “station”) on the Underground Railroad, Shadd pursued community activism upon settling in Canada in 1850. In 1856, she married Thomas F. Cary, a Toronto barber who was also involved with the Provincial Freeman, the anti-slavery newspaper she had founded. The couple had a daughter named Sarah and a son named Linton. After spending the first few years of the American Civil War as a schoolteacher in Chatham, Ontario, Mary Ann Shadd, now a widow, returned to the United States and began work as a recruitment agent for the Union Army. Later, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked as a teacher. Years after, Shadd pursued law studies at Howard University and in 1883 became one of the first Black women to complete a law degree. Credit: Library and Archives Canada,

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a writer, an educator, a lawyer, an abolitionist and the first African-American woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper.Library and Archives Canada

For the run of the Provincial Freeman – first printed on this day in 1853 – the founder of the new paper was never listed on the masthead. Samuel Ringgold Ward, a celebrated speaker and escaped slave, was named as the editor, but it was Mary Ann Shadd who spearheaded the weekly – making her the first Black woman to publish a newspaper in North America. While she kept her role hidden so as not to deter readers who might disapprove of a woman-led publication, she was a vocal advocate for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights in other parts of her life. The Provincial Freeman – motto, “Self-reliance is the true road to independence” – encouraged African-American immigration to Canada and worked to strengthen the Black-Canadian community. Alongside local and international news reports, it promoted integration into the economy and political life, published job opportunities for newcomers, and provided a forum for readers to express their views. After launching in Windsor, Ont., and moving to Toronto, the publication ended up in Chatham, then part of Canada West. After many Black businesses closed in the area, its readership decreased significantly and it struggled financially, closing after a few years. Catriona Koenig

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