Canada

OTTAWA - Amid a roar of criticism, Employment Minister Jason Kenney took action Thursday against the government's scandal-ridden temporary foreign worker program by banning restaurants from accessing it.

Kenney issued the surprise moratorium hours after the C.D. Howe Institute released a scathing study into the program that concluded it had spurred joblessness in B.C. and Alberta, two treasured Tory strongholds.

ESTEVAN, Sask. - The new police chief in Estevan, Sask., says he used to work alongside the father of a young woman whose slaying his department is now investigating.

Paul Ladouceur has been on the job in Saskatchewan just a few weeks after moving from Brockville, Ont., where he was a detective.

In that capacity, he would sometimes work with Brockville's fire chief, who happens to be the father of Estevan's latest murder victim, Leslie Erin Dwyre.

Dwyre's body was found earlier this week inside a home in Estevan.

VANCOUVER - Revelations of several death threats, including a $500,000 bounty on the life of a former British Columbia gang kingpin, failed to persuade a judge to grant the man extra protections before he resumed testimony against alleged ex-associates.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge dismissed a second application Thursday for a publication ban on the identity of Michael Le, founder of the Red Scorpions gang, who is now a key witness in the trial of two men accused in the drug-related murders of six people near Vancouver.

QUEBEC - Quebec's new Liberal premier promised Thursday to work closely with other provinces and the federal government while at the same time defending his own province's interests.

Philippe Couillard said he intended to take that message to a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper later in the day.

"We want to work together with our fellow Canadians in growing the economy and creating jobs but also we're going to assume our full responsibility of defending and promoting Quebec's interests in the federation," the premier said.

OTTAWA - The country's top military commander has ordered an internal review of programs and policies to combat sexual violence following a published report that says assaults in the Canadian Forces have reached epidemic levels.

Gen. Tom Lawson, Canada's chief of defence staff, describes the allegations in the latest edition of Maclean's magazine as "disturbing."

Lawson says sexual misconduct is not tolerated within the military, a message he intends to reinforce throughout the chain of command.

SASKATOON - Canadians can expect to enjoy relatively cheap borrowing costs for some time to come — even after the economy returns to full capacity and the Bank of Canada starts hiking interest rates, bank governor Stephen Poloz said Thursday.

But the central banker doesn't think sending that message means people will go on spending sprees.

TORONTO - Countries should be on the lookout for cases of MERS in people returning from Middle Eastern countries affected by the virus, the World Health Organization said Thursday in an updated risk assessment of the new coronavirus.

The number of known infections has skyrocketed in recent days, with Saudi Arabia alone reporting 48 cases on Wednesday and Thursday. In the 20 months since the world became aware a new coronavirus was infecting people, there has not been a single month where the total cases from all affected countries was as high as that two-day tally.

WASHINGTON - A visual snapshot of the rowdy American debate over the Keystone XL pipeline played out Thursday on one of the world's most famous stages.

A couple of dozen people noisily protested the pipeline, and an assortment of news cameras followed them around. One or two project supporters heckled them. In the meantime, hundreds wandered past — some of them curious, others indifferent, and many apparently oblivious to the cause of the ruckus.

VANCOUVER - An Alberta-based company has won a $965,000 contract to upgrade two Canadian Coast Guard vessels.

The Fisheries Department says Edmonton-based Finning (Canada) will supply new generators, switchboards and controls to the CCGS Dumit and CCGS Eckaloo.

The ships are based in Hay River, N.W.T., and provide navigational services on the Mackenzie River.

The contracts are part of a $360-million program announced in February 2013 to extend the life of coast guard fleet.

OTTAWA - Suspended senator Pamela Wallin says she regrets paying back money for expense claims that she still doesn't see as dubious.

Wallin told a Toronto radio station (NewsTalk 1010) Thursday that the payback created a perception she was guilty of fudging her expenses.

Wallin, who was co-hosting a three-hour talk show, said she paid back some $38,000 despite her belief that many of the travel expenses in question were legitimate.

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Lack of generation capacity, equipment upkeep and training were factors as lights went out across Newfoundland last winter, says a new report flagging an "unacceptably high risk" of future blackouts.

The interim report Thursday by Pennsylvania-based Liberty Consulting Group was prepared for the provincial Public Utilities Board as it investigates widespread system failures.

Rotating and unplanned outages on the island for six days starting Jan. 2 affected up to 190,000 customers at one point.

OTTAWA - A three-year probe into allegations of fraudulent federal-election robocalls in 2011 has come up empty, with investigators finding no proof of an orchestrated scheme or intent to deceive voters beyond one pocket of southwestern Ontario.

Thursday's long-awaited report from commissioner of elections Yves Cote was immediately cited as vindication by the Harper government, which has long been under suspicion amid reports of non-party supporters being directed to the wrong polling stations in the 2011 vote that vaulted the Conservatives to majority power.

VANCOUVER - The Canadian sailor who died in a Tanzanian hospital while on his way home for scheduled leave has been identified.

Leading Seaman Brandon South was a sonar operator aboard HMCS Regina, which is based out of Esquimalt, B.C.

The frigate is currently patrolling the Indian Ocean as part of a multinational task force combating terrorism and pirates in the region.

A news release, National Defence says military police and authorities in Dar es Salaam are investigating Monday's death.

TORONTO - Graduates of a planned law school at a Christian university in British Columbia that forbids sexual intimacy outside heterosexual marriage cannot practise in Ontario, that province's law society decided Thursday.

Many members of the Law Society of Upper Canada's board of directors condemned the policy as "abhorrent," though several said they would still vote in favour of allowing graduates to practise in Ontario. Ultimately there were 28 votes against accreditation to 21 in favour.

TORONTO - Ottawa unveiled a third option for pension plans Thursday, touting it as the best way to secure a retirement for more Canadians rather than move towards expanding the national Canada Pension Plan, as some provinces like Ontario have long wanted.

The federal government said the target-benefit plan, also known as the shared-risk plan, can be a middle ground between defined-benefit plans, generally favoured by workers, and defined-contribution plans, which are favoured by employers.

TORONTO - The return to work of a police officer charged in the videotaped gunning down of a teenager on an empty streetcar was denounced Thursday by the victim's family and supporters.

In a statement, they said they would be protesting on Sunday against the police handling of Const. James Forcillo.

"We are extremely disappointed that a police officer charged with second-degree murder — of which there is ample video evidence — is being allowed to return to duty," the statement said.

CALGARY - Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says he was simply doing his job when he supported controversial MP Rob Anders during a hotly contested federal nomination race earlier this month.

Kenney's backing of Anders drew the anger of the man who eventually won the nomination for Calgary Signal Hill, former Alberta cabinet minister Ron Liepert.

After his win, Liepert said Kenney should have stayed out of the race and accused him of monkeying around with the nomination process.

OTTAWA - What's a government to do when a litany of parliamentary watchdogs, academics, aboriginal leaders, editorialists and opposition politicians say your legislation stinks?

If you're Stephen Harper's Conservatives, you seize the opportunity to make the debate over the Fair Elections Act into a political wedge issue — average Canadians versus the Ottawa elites.

VANCOUVER - Mounties say they're appalled by the actions of a Ferrari driver from Langley, B.C., who used area roads as his personal race track.

Cpl. Robert McDonald says not only was the F430 sports car clocked at speeds 101 kilometres above the posted 80-kilometre limit, the 49-year-old was not travelling alone.

McDonald says a young child was in the seat beside him.

Both were OK but had to find another way home after the April 19 incident when the high-end race car was immediately impounded for seven days.

OTTAWA - Five things to know about the robocalls report released Friday by the commissioner of Canada elections:

— Of the more than 40,000 communications about election robocalls sent to Elections Canada, 39,350 came via an online form sponsored by the activist organization Leadnow.

— Elections Canada said 96 per cent of those messages were from people angry about robocalls, but provided no information on a specific complaint.

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Ukrainian counterpart Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Thursday to discuss the latest developments in the region.

Harper's office said the two leaders condemned Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea and its continuing military provocations.

Yatsenyuk expressed appreciation for the efforts Canada has made in support of Ukraine, citing in particular the plan to send up to 500 observers to monitor presidential elections next month.

OSWIECIM, Poland - Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister paid a visit Thursday to the memorial museum at the Second World War Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi death camp.

John Baird and the Canadian ambassador to Poland, Alexandra Bugailiskis, walked through the "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Sets You Free) gate though which inmates were brought into the camp from across Europe to face death either in its gas chambers or from forced labour, starvation and disease.

From 1940-45, the Nazis killed over 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, in Auschwitz and in neighbouring Birkenau.

OTTAWA - A Statistics Canada survey between March 24 and March 31 asked 11,500 farmers in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta about their planting intentions for grains, oilseeds and specialty crops.

Some national figures:

Soybeans: 5.3 million acres — increase of 16.5 per cent from 2013.

Wheat: 24.8 million acres — decrease of 4.8 per cent.

Barley: 6.3 million acres — decrease of 10.9 per cent.

Corn for grain: 3.4 million acres — decrease of 8.7 per cent.

OTTAWA - A Statistics Canada survey of seeding intentions for the upcoming growing season shows soybeans continue to be the crop of choice for many producers.

It also says farmers are cutting back on how much wheat, corn for grain and barley they plant.

The survey between March 24 and March 31 asked 11,500 farmers what grain, oilseeds and specialty crops they plan to sow this season.

Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agriculture Producers in Manitoba, isn't surprised at the results.

OTTAWA - Expensive house calls by plumbers can be nerve-racking for homeowners, but this plumbing job in Canada's high Arctic is one for the record books.

Broken water pumps at CFS Alert triggered an 11,000-kilometre house call this winter by an elite squad of navy divers from Halifax.

The 10-day job in the frozen, permanent darkness of an Arctic winter required arduous drilling through ice more than a metre thick, and then a robot submarine to survey the damage.