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In The News for Dec. 9: Playing Santa by mail will cost you more this holiday season

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 9... What we are watching in Canada ...
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Idle Canada Post trucks sit in the parking lot of the Saint-Laurent sorting facility in Montreal on Thursday November 15, 2018. Canadians sending parcels this holiday season may be surprised to see a steep surcharge on domestic shipping due to the high price of diesel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 9...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Canadians sending parcels this holiday season may be surprised to see a steep surcharge on domestic shipping due to the high price of diesel.

The Canadian postal service's package surcharge rose to nearly 40 per cent last week on domestic parcels and fell slightly to 37 per cent this week.

Canada Post spokesman Phil Rogers says the fuel-based surcharge has been a standard company practice for more than 20 years and is based on the average price of diesel as measured by Kalibrate Technologies Ltd.

Despite the higher-than-normal prices, Canada Post anticipates a busy holiday season as Rogers says the postal service has hired 4,500 additional staff and 1,550 more vehicles to accommodate the holiday shipping surge.

Deadlines for domestic shipping vary on priority but regular parcels shipped in Canada should be sent between Dec. 9 and 19 to arrive in time for Christmas.

Even sooner is the deadline to ship internationally which varies depending on the country.

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Also this ...

Canada's premiers plan to hold a news conference in Winnipeg today as children's hospitals struggle to deal with a wave of child illnesses. 

Hospitals across the country have been cancelling some surgeries and appointments as they redirect staff amid an increase in pediatric patients.

Admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the health-care system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

In Ottawa, two teams of Canadian Red Cross personnel are working rotating overnight shifts at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in support of its clinical-care team, while some patients have been redirected to adult health-care facilities.

A pediatric hospice in Calgary has been temporarily closed as staff are diverted to a children's hospital.

Members of the Alberta Medical Association have sent a letter to the province's acting chief medical officer of health calling for stronger public health measures to prevent the spread of the illnesses, including increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

MINNEAPOLIS _ The former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd's back while another officer kneeled on the Black man's neck is expected to be sentenced Friday to three and a half years in prison for manslaughter.

J. Alexander Kueng pleaded guilty in October to a state count of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. The plea came on the same day jury selection was set to begin in his trial. His guilty plea _ along with another officer's decision to let a judge decide his fate _ averted what would have been the third long and painful trial over Floyd's killing.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck for nine and a half minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn't breathe and eventually went limp. The killing, which was recorded on video by a bystander, sparked worldwide protests as part of a broader reckoning over racial injustice.

Kueng kneeled on Floyd's back during the restraint. Then-Officer Thomas Lane held Floyd's legs and Tou Thao, also an officer at the time, kept bystanders from intervening. All of the officers were fired and faced state and federal charges.

Kueng, who is already serving a federal sentence for violating Floyd's civil rights, will appear at Friday's sentencing hearing via video from a low-security federal prison in Ohio. Kueng has the right to make a statement, but it's not known if he will.

Floyd's family members also have the right to make victim impact statements.

As part of his plea agreement, Kueng admitted that he held Floyd's torso, that he knew from his experience and training that restraining a handcuffed person in a prone position created a substantial risk, and that the restraint of Floyd was unreasonable under the circumstances.

Kueng's sentencing will bring the cases against all of the former officers a step closer to resolution, though the state case against Thao is still pending.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

BEIJING _ A rash of COVID-19 cases in schools and businesses were reported by social media users Friday in areas across China after the ruling Communist Party loosened antivirus rules as it tries to reverse a deepening economic slump.

Official data showed a fall in new cases, but those no longer cover big parts of the population after the government on Wednesday ended mandatory testing for many people. That was part of dramatic changes aimed at gradually emerging from "zero-COVID'' restrictions that have confined millions of people to their homes and sparked protests and demands for President Xi Jinping to resign.

Social media users in Beijing and other cities said co-workers or classmates were ill and some businesses closed due to lack of staff. It wasn't clear from those accounts, many of which couldn't be independently confirmed, how far above the official figure the total case numbers might be.

"I'm really speechless. Half of the company's people are out sick, but they still won't let us all stay home,'' said a post signed Tunnel Mouth on the popular Sina Weibo platform. The user gave no name and didn't respond to questions sent through the account, which said the user was in Beijing.

The reports echo the experience of the United States, Europe and other economies that have struggled with outbreaks while trying to restore business activity. But they are a jarring change for China, where "zero COVID,'' which aims to isolate every case, disrupted daily life and depressed economic activity but kept infection rates low.

Xi's government began to loosen controls Nov. 11 after promising to reduce their cost and disruption. Imports tumbled 10.9 per cent from a year ago in November in a sign of weak demand. Auto sales fell 26.5 per cent in October.

The changes suggest the ruling party is easing off its goal of preventing virus transmission, the basis of "zero COVID,'' but officials say that strategy still is in effect.

Restrictions probably must stay in place at least through mid-2023, public health experts and economists say. They say millions of elderly people need to be vaccinated, which will take months, and hospitals strengthened to cope with a surge in cases. Officials announced a vaccination campaign last week.

On Friday, the government reported 16,797 new cases, including 13,160 without symptoms. That was down about one-fifth from the previous day and less than half of last week's daily peak above 40,000.

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On this day in 1755 ...

The first post office in Canada opened in Halifax. A city stationer had begun an informal service the previous year, but in 1755 the British post office, in an attempt to improve military communication between Britain and North America, started a monthly packet run to New York. From there, any available vessel carried mail to Halifax, until 1788, when regular packets called in the port.

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In entertainment ...

There's scant Canadian content in the first three episodes of Prince Harry and Meghan's Netflix docuseries, "Harry & Meghan,'' but they include brief glimpses of Meghan's one-time home in Toronto and the family's Vancouver Island retreat.

The first half of the docuseries, which debuted Thursday, traces the famous couple's high-profile romance, lambastes the British press and tabloids for their intense coverage of the duo, and documents a litany of racially charged headlines and online comments that began to emerge once they went public with the relationship.

Anyone who watched the Oprah Winfrey interview last year won't find any bombshell revelations about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, says Toronto-based royal expert Patricia Treble.

But Treble was pleasantly surprised to see the inclusion of more casual images that appear to be self-shot videos and selfies, as well as intimate photos of family life with their children Archie and Lilibet.

That includes what appears to be a self-shot image of Meghan early in the first episode in a home on Vancouver Island while Prince Harry is in London. Later, several shots and photos show a happy Meghan in Toronto.

Most of the Canadian content comes in the second episode, where colleagues detail Meghan's acting days with the TV series "Suits.'' She spent seven seasons on the Toronto-shot legal drama, and the Netflix docuseries includes footage of her on set joking with co-stars including Patrick J. Adams. 

The final three episodes are set to drop on Netflix on Dec. 15, with the next episode expected to dive into the May 2018 wedding. That could offer more Canadian content since the children of Jessica and Ben Mulroney figured prominently in the wedding party, with then-four-year-old Ivy serving as a bridesmaid and then-seven-year-old twins John and Brian famously holding the veil's lengthy trail.

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Did you see this?

LOS ANGELES _ A girl named Madeline, with a vivid imagination and remarkable awareness of how bureaucracy can dash dreams, got her wish when she asked Los Angeles animal control authorities for a license to own a unicorn _ if she's able to find one.

The first-of-its-kind permit came with strings attached, however: The mythical creature must be provided ample exposure to sunlight, moonbeams and rainbows and have its horn polished at least once a month with a soft cloth.

Director Marcia Mayeda of the county Department of Animal Care and Control sent the girl a heart-shaped, rose-coloured metal tag with "Permanent Unicorn License'' emblazoned on it, along with a white fuzzy unicorn doll with pink ears, purple hooves and a silver horn.

The department's response came after the girl wrote it a brief letter last month: "Dear LA County, I would like your approval if I can have a unicorn in my backyard if I can find one.''

Mayeda commended the girl for her "sense of responsible pet ownership to seek permission in advance'' and for thoughtfully considering "he requirements of providing a loving home to animals.''

The agency posted images of the correspondence, the license, the medallion and the stuffed toy on its social media accounts, with the girl's last name obscured.

Its five conditions for unicorn ownership also require that any sparkles or glitter sprinkled on the animal be non-toxic and biodegradable, and that it be fed watermelon at least once a week.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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