There was a time — not so very long ago — when the sounds of war were a daily occurrence at the sprawling airbase in Erbil, in northern Iraq.
That was in the fall of 2014, when a contingent of Canada’s elite special forces troops arrived on the ground and helped Kurdish fighters dig trenches and fill sandbags to repulse what seemed, at the time, to be the unstoppable onslaught of Islamic State extremists.
Both the airbase and the city remained on the knife’s edge for weeks until the Kurdish Peshmerga pushed back ISIS in a long, painfully slow campaign that marked the beginning of the end of the terrorist organization.
The sounds and the fury of battle returned early Wednesday (late Tuesday night, Eastern time) with an Iranian ballistic missile attack — one of two in Iraq — that struck the airbase at Erbil, which has been the hub of Canadian military operations against ISIS for more than five years.
The attack, in retaliation for the targeted killing last week of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike, was aimed at U.S. and coalition forces.
Canada has had about 500 troops in Iraq.
About half of them provide support to the NATO training mission, while other half — mostly based in Erbil — are involved in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition. The base has hosted Canada’s special forces soldiers, intelligence officers and helicopters.
The Canadian military will not say what sort of contingent may have been at the base, but the country’s top military commander moved swiftly to reassure families of those serving in Iraq that there were no casualties.
“I can assure you that all deployed CAF personnel are safe [and] accounted for following missile attacks in Iraq,” Gen. Jonathan Vance said in a tweet. “We remain vigilant.”
CAF families: I can assure you that all deployed CAF personnel are safe & accounted for following missile attacks in Iraq. We remain vigilant.
During those long, hard months, as nearby Mosul was liberated from the grip of ISIS, the Kurds in Erbil formed a special bond with the Canadian troops.
“We believed the Canadian people sent good soldiers,” Peshmerga Maj.-Gen Aziz Weisi told CBC News as the campaign to expel extremists kicked into high gear in late 2016. “Good people build good relations.”
The bonds have reportedly held strong, even after the U.S abandoned Syrian Kurds in the face of a Turkish military incursion in northern Syria last year.
In a year-end interview with CBC News, prior to the killing of Soleimani and the rising tensions with Iran, the Canadian military’s operations commander, Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, said the ties have remained strong.
“I think what we built with the Kurdish partners we had in northern Iraq is something that is deeper than the latest crisis,” said Rouleau, referring to the politics surrounding the strain in relations between the Kurds and the Americans.
At one point during the height of the bloody battle to retake Mosul, wounded Kurdish fighters were brought to a Canadian Role 2 military hospital.
The busy airbase also hosted Canadian surveillance planes which were used to spot targets coalition airstrikes and keep tabs on the movements of retreating ISIS fighters.
The field hospital and the surveillance planes have long since returned home, pieces in the ever-moving chessboard of military assets and personnel that have characterized Canada’s war against the Islamic State.
The defeat of ISIS on the battlefield did not see the end of the presence in Erbil.
Special forces troops, specially trained in counter-terrorism operations, have been advising Iraqi forces troops on how best to hunt down the remaining ISIS holdouts in the barren, semi-mountainous region of northern Iraq and along the border with Syria.
Exclusive-Google aims to improve spotty enforcement of children’s ads policy
Alphabet Inc’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive ad policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, liquor and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked under its efforts to comply with UK regulations.
Britain started enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from being tracked online. Google in response began modifying settings across its services in Europe and elsewhere for users younger than 18 years. Among the measures it had touted in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens.”
Specifically, the search giant began using automated tools to stop ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from being shown to people who are not logged in to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18.
Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and, according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.
The advertisers, who sought anonymity out of fear of retribution from the tech company, said they have been frustrated about significant lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from signed-out users while erroneously allowing their competitors’ ads.
Ads were shown in the UK to signed-out users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol medication, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a vodka product, Reuters found.
“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain age-sensitive ad categories,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and in this instance should have been restricted from serving. We are taking immediate steps to address this issue.”
It declined to elaborate on the adjustments.
Google advertising rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Microsoft Corp either ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or have put the onus on advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.
The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is core to its compliance with the code.
Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulation and reviewed the findings by Reuters, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on how well they are living up to the code and their own policies.
“We must be wary of ‘safety washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with action, and demonstrate how they are complying with regulations, particularly in the early stages of implementation.”
Google did not respond to the comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it had failed to block age-sensitive ads.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had reached out to Google, Apple Inc and other companies in social media, streaming and gaming to review their conformance to the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Kenneth Li, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Matthew Lewis)
Canada, echoing U.S., says it fears armed conflict could erupt in Ukraine
Canada fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any more aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/blinken-says-russian-attack-ukraine-could-come-very-short-notice-2022-01-19 said earlier that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice”. Moscow, which has stationed military equipment and tens of thousands of troops near the border, denies it is planning an invasion and blames the West for rising tensions.
“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government … and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border,” Trudeau told a news conference.
Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a strong line with Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable,” Trudeau said.
“We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage.”
Canadian troops are in Latvia as part of a NATO mission and Trudeau said they would “continue the important work that NATO is doing to protect its eastern front”.
Canada has had a 200-strong training mission in western Ukraine since 2015.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/canada-condemns-russian-troop-movements-near-ukraine-mulls-weapons-supplies-kyiv-2022-01-18 on Tuesday said Ottawa would make a decision at the appropriate time on supplying military hardware to Ukraine.
Trudeau side-stepped a question about sending defensive weapons, saying any decision would “be based on what is best for the people of Ukraine”.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren;Editing by Will Dunham and Philippa Fletcher)
Canada's inflation rate rises to new 30-year high of 4.8% – CBC News
The Consumer Price Index increased at an annual pace of 4.8 per cent in December, as sharply higher prices for food led to the cost of living going up at its fastest rate since 1991.
Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that grocery prices increased by 5.7 per cent, the biggest annual gain since 2011.
The price of fresh produce is being walloped by two things, the data agency said: “Unfavourable weather conditions in growing regions, as well as supply chain disruptions.”
The price of apples has increased by 6.7 per cent in the past year, and oranges by almost as much — 6.6 per cent.
The U.S. is the major supplier of oranges to Canada, and because of bad weather and a plant disease called citrus greening, the major growing region of Florida is on track to produce the smallest number of oranges since 1945.
That’s causing the price of frozen concentrated orange juice to skyrocket on commodities markets.
“If you’re an orange juice drinker, it means your prices are going to be going up at the store,” analyst Phil Flynn, with Chicago-based commodity trading firm Price Group, told CBC News. “The cost of orange juice has almost doubled here in the last few months, and that’s going to be passed down to the consumers.”
Other types of food are going up quickly, too. The price of frozen beef has gone up by almost 12 per cent in the past year, while ham and bacon are up by about 15 per cent.
Kendra Sozinho, a manager at the Fiesta Farms grocery store in Toronto, says costs from suppliers are going up faster than she’s ever seen “We’re seeing almost every single supplier increasing their pricing whech then increases our pricing,” she told CBC News in an interview. “I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen a jump like this.”
WATCH | Grocery store manager explains why prices are going up:
Economist Tu Nguyen with consultancy RSM says food price increases could be set to get even worse in the coming weeks and months because of new rules forbidding unvaccinated truckers from entering the country.
“The current bout of inflation is driven by supply chain disruptions, pent-up demand and inflation expectations,” she said. “While pent-up demand is expected to ease as pandemic spending winds down, supply chain and inflation expectations remain paramount challenges.”
Expect a rate hike soon
Food is far from the only thing becoming more expensive.
Shelter costs have risen by 5.4 per cent in the past year, faster than the overall inflation rate. And unlike the global forces at play pushing up food prices, the factors driving up shelter costs are all Canadian-made, TD Bank economist James Marple said.
“The one exception to the global nature of the current inflationary environment, is housing inflation, which is both domestically driven and, outside of increased incidents of extreme weather driving up insurance prices, directly related to the Bank of Canada’s policy stance,” he said.
Politicians weigh in
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre placed the blame for high inflation squarely at the foot of the federal government, noting that as a country with abundant energy and food resources, Canada should have a built-in advantage when it comes to keeping a lid on prices.
“The biggest increases for consumer products have been those that we source right here at home, not those that depend on foreign supply chains,” he told reporters in Ottawa.
“Home price inflation is a home-grown problem,” he went on, arguing that record government spending under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to blame for inflation. “The more he spends, the more things cost,” Poilievre said.
The Prime Minister, for his part, rejected that claim and said his government has a plan in place to face the inflationary challenges that many countries are facing.
WATCH | Trudeau talks about record high inflation:
Lending rates were slashed to record lows in the early days of the pandemic to stimulate the economy. But two years of rock bottom mortgage rates have proven to be jet fuel for Canada’s housing market, causing many policy makers to suggest the time has come for the Bank of Canada to hike its rate to cool things down.
After Wednesday’s inflation report, investors think there’s about a 75 per cent chance of a rate hike as soon as next week, when the bank is set to meet.
“Inflation is likely to come down over the next year, but getting it there will require tighter financial conditions and rate hikes by the Bank of Canada,” Marple said.
Semiconductor shortage persists
And an ongoing lack of semiconductor microchips continues to drive up the price of just about anything with a microchip in it.
That includes durable goods like washing machines and other household appliances, the price of which have gone up by 5.7 per cent in the past 12 months. New car prices are up by even more — 7.2 per cent.
If there was one area of relief for consumers, it was gas prices, where the price to fill up at the pump fell by 4.1 per cent during the month. That’s the biggest monthly drop since April 2020. But compared to a year ago, gas prices are still 33 per cent higher than they were in December 2020.
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