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In The News for Dec. 6 : Consumer debt climbing in Canada

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The Equifax Inc., offices in Atlanta are shown on July 21, 2012. Equifax Canada says an increase in borrowers helped push total consumer debt to $2.36 trillion in the third quarter for a 7.3 per cent rise from last year even as mortgage volumes decline. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mike Stewart

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. 6 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Equifax Canada says an increase in borrowers helped push total consumer debt to $2.36 trillion in the third quarter for a 7.3 per cent rise from last year, even as mortgage volumes decline.

It says average non-mortgage debt rose to $21,183 for the highest level since the second quarter of 2020, with early signs of strain starting to show in auto loans and credit cards.

Overall non-mortgage debt came in at $599.9 billion for a 5.3 per cent climb from last year, and up 1.9 per cent from the third quarter of 2019, as the number of borrowers rose by 3.1 per cent.

Rebecca Oakes, Equifax Canada's head of advanced analytics, says the rising debt stems from a combination of growth from immigration, pent-up spending, as well as increased borrowing as consumers feel the strain of higher living costs.

Credit card spending in the quarter was up 17.3 per cent from last year to an all-time high for the time period.

Average spending put on credit cards was almost $2,447, a 21.8 per cent jump from the third quarter of 2019.

The overall rate of more than 90 day delinquencies for non-mortgage debt was 0.93 per cent, up from 0.87 last year, though insolvencies are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

New mortgage volume dropped 22.7 per cent in the quarter compared with last year and by 14.9 per cent compared with the third quarter of 2019. First-time home buyers are paying over $500 more for almost the same loan amounts as first-time buyers last year.

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Also this ...

Canada's auditor general is expected to release two highly anticipated reports on the government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis in 2021, including access to vaccines and pandemic benefits.

Karen Hogan's first report will detail how well the government did getting ahold of COVID-19 vaccine doses and tracking how many people got them.

The Liberal government made headlines in 2021 over concerns the rollout of provincial vaccine campaigns may be jeopardized by delayed shipments of COVID-19 vaccines.

The auditor has also examined the distribution of benefit payments to people who lost income because of public health restrictions.

The report is expected to show whether the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada made sure payments were accurate and paid to eligible applicants, as well as whether efforts were made to recuperate overpayments.

It will also examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the COVID-19 benefit program, and whether the agencies achieved its goals in a cost-effective way.

The reports are expected to be tabled in the House of Commons at 10 a.m. EST.

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And this too ...

The Canadian branch of human rights organization Amnesty International says it was the target of a cyberattack it believes was sponsored by the Chinese state.

In a statement posted on its website, Amnesty International Canada says the digital security breach was first detected on Oct. 5, 2022, when suspicious activity was spotted on Amnesty's IT infrastructure.

An investigation by forensic investigators and cybersecurity experts was immediately launched, and steps were taken to protect the organization's systems.

Amnesty International Canada says preliminary results of the probe suggest tools and techniques associated with specific advanced persistent threat groups were used in the cyberattack.

It says forensic experts with international cybersecurity firm Secureworks later established the likely source of the security breach was a threat group sponsored or tasked by the Chinese state, based on the nature of the targeted information as well as the observed tools and behaviours.

In the statement, Amnesty International Canada says it "has taken swift and robust action to strengthen its digital security and restore systems back online securely.''

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

DENVER _ The suspect accused of entering a Colorado gay nightclub clad in body armour and opening fire with an AR-15-style rifle, killing five people and wounding 17 others, is set to appear in court again Tuesday to learn what charges prosecutors will pursue in the attack, including possible hate crime counts.

Investigators say Anderson Lee Aldrich entered Club Q, a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in the mostly conservative city of Colorado Springs, just before midnight on Nov. 19 and began shooting during a drag queen's birthday celebration. The killing stopped after patrons wrestled the suspect to the ground, beating Aldrich into submission, they said.

Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns according to defence court filings, was arrested at the club by police and held on suspicion of murder and hate crimes while District Attorney Michael Allen determined what charges to pursue against them. Allen has noted that murder charges would carry the harshest penalty _ likely life in prison _ and charging Aldrich with bias-motivated crimes would not lead to a harsher punishment.

But at a Nov. 21 news conference, Allen did say that, if there was evidence to support bias motivated crimes, it was still important to pursue them to send the message "that we support communities that have been maligned, harassed, intimidated and abused.''

According to witnesses, Aldrich fired first at people gathered at the club's bar before spraying bullets across the dance floor during the attack, which came on the eve of an annual day of remembrance for transgender people lost to violence.

More than a year before the shooting, Aldrich was arrested on allegations of making a bomb threat that led to the evacuation of about 10 homes. Aldrich threatened to harm their own family with a homemade bomb, ammunition and multiple weapons, authorities said at the time. Aldrich was booked into jail on suspicion of felony menacing and kidnapping, but the case was apparently later sealed and it's unclear what became of the charges. There are no public indications that the case led to a conviction.

Ring doorbell video obtained by the AP shows Aldrich arriving at their mother's front door with a big black bag, telling her the police were nearby and adding, "This is where I stand. Today I die.''

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

JAKARTA, Indonesia _ Indonesia's Parliament has passed a long-awaited and controversial revision of its penal code that criminalizes extramarital sex and applies to citizens and visiting foreigners alike. A parliamentary task force finalized the bill in November and lawmakers unanimously approved it Tuesday.

After ratification, the new criminal code must be signed by the president, according to Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights Edward Hiariej. The criminal code will not apply immediately, but takes a maximum of three years to transition from the old code to the new one.

"That (the new Criminal Code) has a lot of implementing regulations that must be worked out, so it's impossible in one year, but remember the maximum (transition period) is three years,'' Hiariej said.

The amended criminal code includes several revised articles that make sex outside marriage punishable by a year in jail and cohabitation by six months, but adultery charges must be based on police reports lodged by their spouse, parents or children.

It also says the promotion of contraception and religious blasphemy are illegal, and it restores a ban on insulting a sitting president and vice president, state institutions and national ideology. Insults to a sitting president must be reported by the president and can lead to up to three years in jail.

The code maintains that abortion is a crime, but it adds exceptions for women with life-threatening medical conditions and for rape, provided that the fetus is less than 12 weeks old, in line with what is already regulated in the 2004 Medical Practice Law.

Rights groups criticized some proposed revisions as overly broad or vague and warned that rushing them into the new criminal code could penalize normal activities and threaten freedom of expression and privacy rights.

However, some advocates hailed it as a victory for the country's LGBTQ minority. Lawmakers during a fierce deliberation session eventually agreed to repeal an article proposed by Islamic groups that would have made gay sex illegal.

The code would also preserve the death penalty within the criminal justice system despite calls from the National Commission on Human Rights and other groups to abolish capital punishment, as dozens of other countries have done.

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On this day in 1989 ...

Marc Lepine, 25, went on a shooting rampage at the University of Montreal, killing 14 women and wounding nine others. He then shot himself. The "Montreal Massacre'' prompted a toughening of Canada's gun control laws.

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In entertainment ...

LOS ANGELES _ Kirstie Alley, a two-time Emmy winner whose roles on the TV megahit "Cheers'' and in the "Look Who's Talking'' films made her one of the biggest stars in American comedy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died Monday. She was 71.

Alley died of cancer that was only recently discovered, her children True and Lillie Parker said in a post on Twitter. Alley's manager Donovan Daughtry confirmed the death in an email to The Associated Press.

"As iconic as she was on screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother,'' her children's statement said.

She starred opposite Ted Danson as Rebecca Howe on "Cheers,'' the beloved NBC sitcom about a Boston bar, from 1987 to 1993. She joined the show at the height of its popularity after the departure of original star Shelley Long.

Alley would win an Emmy for best lead actress in a comedy series for the role in 1991.

She would take a second Emmy for best lead actress in a miniseries or television movie in 1993 for playing the title role in the CBS TV movie "David's Mother.'' She had her own sitcom on the network, "Veronica's Closet,'' from 1997 to 2000.

In the 1989 comedy "Look Who's Talking,'' which gave her a major career boost, she played the mother of a baby who's inner thoughts were voiced by Bruce Willis. She would also appear in a 1990 sequel "Look Who's Talking Too,'' and another in 1993, "Look Who's Talking Now.''

In recent years she appeared on several other reality shows, including a second-place finish on "Dancing With the Stars'' in 2011. She appeared on the competition series "The Masked Singer'' wearing a baby mammoth costume earlier this year, and in the Ryan Murphy black comedy series "Scream Queens'' on Fox in 2015 and 2016.

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Did you see this?

OTTAWA _ Grocery executives are disputing an accusation that grocery giants are taking advantage of inflation to drive up their own profits.

Executives from Loblaw and Empire testified at the House of Commons agriculture committee Monday as part of its study of food inflation.

"Empire does not like inflation,'' said Pierre St-Laurent, chief operating officer of Empire, the parent company of Sobeys.

Jodat Hussain, Loblaw's senior vice-president of retail finance, told MPs Loblaw has been raising prices because suppliers are charging more, and that the company's gross margins on food have remained stable.

The rapidly rising cost of groceries has become a hot-button issue in politics, with food prices up 11 per cent in October compared with a year earlier.

And relief isn't expected to come any time soon.

According to the 13th edition of Canada's Food Price Report released Monday, the total cost of groceries for a family of four is expected to be $1,065 more than it was this year.

As food prices rise for consumers, so do profits for some grocers. Loblaw, for example, saw its profits rise 30 per cent in the third quarter compared to a year ago.

Strong corporate profits amid high inflation have sparked accusations of "greedflation.'' The New Democrats have accused companies like Loblaw of profiting off of inflation by unfairly raising prices on consumers.

The Competition Bureau announced in October it is launching a study to examine whether the highly concentrated grocery sector is contributing to rising food costs.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

The Canadian Press