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Quebec votes, sex workers challenging Criminal Code : In The News for Oct. 3

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People enter a polling station in L'Assomption, Que., Sunday, September 25, 2022. Quebecers are heading to the polls today after a five week campaign dominated by issues such as immigration, the environment and the rising cost of living.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

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 Oct. 3 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Quebecers are heading to the polls today after a five-week provincial election campaign dominated by issues such as immigration, the environment and the rising cost of living.

Polls have suggested Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault is poised to cruise to a second majority, with support more than 20 percentage points higher than that of his closest rival.

Legault is facing off against a crowded field including the Quebec Liberals, Quebec solidaire, the Parti Québécois and the Quebec Conservative Party, all of which are polling in the teens.

The party leaders spent the weekend criss-crossing the province to make a final pitch to undecided voters and ensure their party's supporters make it out to vote in today's general election.

Legault voted in advance polls last week, while the remaining party leaders will cast their ballots and wait for the results to come in after polls close at 8 p.m.

As the legislature broke for the summer, Legault's party had 76 seats, while the Quebec Liberals had 27, Québec solidaire had 10 and the Parti Québécois had seven. The Conservative Party of Quebec held one seat and there were four Independents.

Legault’s win in the 2018 provincial election marked the start of a new era in Quebec politics after nearly 50 years of federalist-versus-separatist two-party rule. 

With tight two and three-way races in several ridings, voter turnout could prove crucial. Turnout for Quebec’s last provincial election in 2018 was 66.45 per cent, a drop of nearly five per cent compared to the previous election.

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Also this ...

An alliance of sex worker rights groups is in Ontario Superior Court today asking for several sections of the Criminal Code to be deemed unconstitutional. 

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform says sections of the law that criminalize advertising sexual services and communicating to buy or sell sexual services violate workers' Charter rights.

Group coordinator Jenn Clamen says it also forces sex workers to work in unsafe, isolated conditions.

She says there shouldn't be any criminal laws specific to sex work, and has dozens of recommendations to create a more regulated industry.

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prohibition on prostitution in 2013, saying the laws were disproportionate and overbroad. 

But advocacy groups maintain the laws that were later put in place by the Harper government have failed to make things better for sex workers. 

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And this too ...

A union representing thousands of education workers in Ontario is expected to announce today whether its members support going on strike amid contract talks with the province.

Members with the Canadian Union of Public Employees have been voting on a potential strike mandate from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2, and the union plans to unveil the results at a news conference this morning.

CUPE has asked the province for annual raises of 11.7 per cent, equal to about $3.25 per hour, arguing workers' wages have been restricted over the last decade and are not enough to keep up with inflation.

It says the Ford government is offering a two- per-cent raise to education workers making less than $40,000 a year and a 1.25- per cent wage hike to everyone else, which it says amounts to between 33 and 53 cents an hour.

CUPE represents 55,000 workers including early childhood educators, school administration workers, bus drivers and custodians.

Labour deals for Ontario's five major education unions expired on Aug. 31, and CUPE is scheduled to resume bargaining talks with the province on Thursday.

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

WASHINGTON _ Federal prosecutors will lay out their case against the founder of the Oath Keepers extremist group and four associates charged in the most serious case to reach trial yet in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack.

Opening statements are expected Monday in Washington's federal court in the trial of Stewart Rhodes and others charged with seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors say was a weekslong plot to stop the transfer of power from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.

Defence attorneys will also get their first chance to address jurors, who were chosen last week after days of questioning over their feelings about the insurrection, Trump supporters and other matters.

The stakes are high for the Justice Department, which last secured a seditious conspiracy conviction at trial nearly 30 years ago.

About 900 people have been charged and hundreds convicted in the Capitol attack. Rioters stormed past police barriers, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with officers, smashed windows and halted the certification of Biden's electoral victory.

But the Oath Keepers are the first to stand trial on seditious conspiracy, a rare Civil War-era charge that carries up to 20 years behind bars. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Prosecutors will tell jurors that the insurrection for the antigovernment group was not a spontaneous outpouring of election-fuelled rage but part of a drawn-out plot to stop Biden from entering the White House.

On trial with Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, are Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group. They face several other charges as well.

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

BIRMINGHAM, England _ The British government has dropped plans to cut income tax for top earners, part of a package of unfunded cuts that sparked turmoil on financial markets and sent the pound to record lows.

In a dramatic about-face, Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng said Monday that he will not scrap the top 45 per cent rate of income tax paid on earnings above 150,000 pounds a year.

"We get it, and we have listened,'' he said in a statement. He said "It is clear that the abolition of the 45p tax rate has become a distraction from our overriding mission to tackle the challenges facing our country.''

The U-turn came after a growing number of lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party turned on government tax plans announced 10 days ago.

It also came hours after the Conservatives released advance extracts of a speech Kwarteng is due to give later Monday at the party's annual conference in the central England city of Birmingham. He had been due to say: "We must stay the course. I am confident our plan is the right one.''

Prime Minister Liz Truss defended the measures on Sunday, but said she could have "done a better job laying the ground'' for the announcements.

Truss took office less than a month ago, promising to radically reshape Britain's economy to end years of sluggish growth. But the government's Sept. 23 announcement of a stimulus package that includes 45 billion pounds in tax cuts, to be paid for by government borrowing, sent the pound tumbling to a record low against the dollar.

The Bank of England was forced to intervene to prop up the bond market, and fears that the bank will soon hike interest rates caused mortgage lenders to withdraw their cheapest deals, causing turmoil for homebuyers.

The cuts were unpopular, even among Conservatives. Reducing taxes for top earners and scrapping a cap on bankers' bonuses while millions face a cost-of-living crisis driven by soaring energy bills was widely seen as politically toxic.

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On this day in 2008 ...

Former NFL star O.J. Simpson was convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery and 10 other charges after an incident in which he and five men stormed a Las Vegas hotel room to seize sports-memorabilia at gunpoint from two dealers. Simpson was later sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison. He was released on parole in October 2017.

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In entertainment ...

Movie-going audiences chose the horror movie over the romantic comedy to kick off the month of October. Paramount's "Smile" topped the North American charts with $22 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday, leaving Billy Eichner's rom-com "Bros'' in the dust.

Universal's "Bros" launched with an estimated $4.8 million to take fourth place behind "Don't Worry Darling'' ($7.3 million) and "The Woman King'' ($7 million). But opening weekends likely aren't the final word on either "Bros'' or "Smile.'' Horror movie audiences are generally front-loaded, dropping off steeply after the first weekend, while something like "Bros,'' which got great reviews and an A CinemaScore, suggesting strong word of mouth potential, is a movie that could continue finding audiences through the fall. It is not unusual for R-rated comedies to open modestly and catch on later.

"Everyone who sees it absolutely loves it,'' said Jim Orr, Universal's president of domestic distribution. "Billy Eichner, (director) Nick Stoller and Judd Apatow have created a movie that's heartwarming and hysterically funny.''

"Bros'' is significant for being the first gay rom-com given a wide theatrical release by a major studio, as well as the first studio movie starring and co-written by an openly gay man. Since premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, the film has gotten stellar reviews from critics and also been the target of "review bombs'' on IMDB. The site last week removed hundreds of one-star reviews for "Bros'' that were logged before the film was released.

It's also hard to compete with a new horror movie in October. "Smile,'' written and directed by Parker Finn in his directorial debut, stars Sosie Bacon as a therapist haunted by smiling faces after a traumatic event.

According to exit polls, 52 per cent of the audience was male and 68 per cent were ages 18-34 for the R-rated film. Playing in 3,645 locations, "Smile'' started strong with $2 million from Thursday night previews, too, and had a four per cent uptick Saturday, which is almost unheard of for genre films that usually decline after the first night.

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Did you see this?

EDMONTON _ The Alberta government is providing $20.8 million over the next four years to implement recommendations from a star-led task force on human trafficking.

Country singer Paul Brandt, chair of the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, personally thanked Premier Jason Kenney during the funding announcement Sunday at Edmonton International Airport for his willingness to prioritize the issue, and for putting faith in Brandt to lead the group.

"Premier Kenney's longtime personal dedication and commitment to the issue of human trafficking is authentic and is admirable,'' Brandt said.

"He's the only political leader I've met in my 17 years of advocating for trafficking victims and survivors who took the time and initiative to personally write a plan to address this horrific crime.''

The money will establish an office to combat trafficking as well as a centre of excellence for research and data collection _ recommendations the government accepted when the task force presented its report in March.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the goal is to launch the office by next summer.

Other task force recommendations that will be supported include a new grant for community projects and Indigenous-led and culturally appropriate services. Civilian positions that will focus on supporting victims and survivors throughout human trafficking investigations will also be funded.

The task force was appointed in May 2020 and engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors of trafficking to provide guidance on how to best implement the government's action plan to fight human trafficking.

The government has said human trafficking includes sexual exploitation, forced labour trafficking and trafficking in human organs or tissues.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2022.

The Canadian Press