NATO and can a judge be a feminist?; In-The-News gets existential on Dec. 3

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. 3.

What we are watching in Canada ...

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will seek to deflect questions about Canadian defence spending when he meets with fellow NATO leaders starting Tuesday by pointing to Canada's numerous other contributions to the military alliance.

Leaders from all 29 NATO member states have started to gather in London to celebrate the 70th birthday of the alliance, which was created at the start of the Cold War to defend North America and Western Europe from the Soviet Union.

More recently, the alliance has fought in Afghanistan, ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, patrolled for pirates off the Horn of Africa and established a line of defence in Eastern Europe against Russian aggression.

Canada has been involved in all those efforts and more, including leading a NATO training mission in Iraq and contributing fighter jets to patrol Romanian airspace and frigates to patrol the Mediterranean and Black seas.

The prime minister will repeatedly highlight those contributions starting with a roundtable discussion with his Dutch counterpart on Tuesday, before leaders formally meet behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss NATO's future.

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Also this ...

An Alberta government panel looking at ways to make the province more independent is holding its first town hall meeting in Edmonton.

United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney announced last month that the Fair Deal Panel is to come up with recommendations on how to best advance Alberta's economic interests.

Ideas include withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan in favour of a new provincial agency, creating a separate police service and establishing a formalized provincial constitution.

The government says any bold proposals would need to be approved by Albertans through a referendum.

The panel, which includes former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, has until Jan. 30 to hold town hall meetings across the province, gather online feedback and consult with experts.

It is to submit a final report with recommendations to the government by March 31.

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ICYMI (In case you missed it) ...

MONTREAL — Quebec's chief justice declared herself a feminist in court last week and then suggested opposition to the province's secularism law resulted from "visual allergies" to seeing women in a hijab.

Now Nicole Duval Hesler is facing accusations of bias as well as calls to withdraw from hearing a legal challenge to Bill 21.

The Canadian Judicial Council says it has received correspondence from about 30 people expressing concern that she is presiding over the appeal.

The chief justice's actions have also drawn divided reactions from academics, with some defending her and others saying she went too far.

History teacher Frederic Bastien of Montreal's Dawson College says Duval Hesler should withdraw from the case.

"It's not acceptable for a judge to say 'I'm a feminist,' or 'I'm a masculinist,' or a socialist, or a communist," Bastien says. "Whatever 'ist' or 'ism' you're talking about, you should keep to yourself about your personal views about the case."

But Robert Leckey, dean of McGill University's law faculty, says the Canadian judicial system seeks out diverse judges and being a feminist isn't a partisan position.

"The idea that it is problematic or it's partial for a judge to declare herself a feminist ... that they shouldn't hear a case is a deeply troubling notion," Leckey says.

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

The House is plunging into a landmark impeachment week, with Democrats who once hoped to sway Republicans now facing the prospect of an ever-hardening partisan split over the question of removing President Donald Trump from office.

Lawmakers were getting their first look at the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment report Monday night behind closed doors. The findings are expected to forcefully make the Democrats' case that Trump engaged in what Chairman Adam Schiff calls impeachable "wrongdoing and misconduct" in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden while withholding military aid to the ally.

For Republicans offering an early rebuttal ahead of the report's public release, the proceedings are simply a "hoax," with Trump insisting he did nothing wrong and his GOP allies in line behind him. Trump tweeted his daily complaints about it all and then added a suggestive, if impractical, question: "Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?"

With the Judiciary Committee set to launch its first hearing Wednesday, the impeachment proceedings are presenting a historic test of political judgment in a case that is dividing Congress and the country.

Departing for a NATO meeting in London, Trump criticized the House for pushing forward Monday with proceedings while he was heading overseas, a breach of political decorum that traditionally leaves partisan differences at the water's edge.

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

Crying foul over timing, President Donald Trump accused Democrats of scheduling this week's impeachment hearing to undercut him during his trip abroad for a NATO leaders' meeting playing out at a crucial moment for the 70-year-old military alliance.

Trump, who arrived in London late Monday for two days of meetings, called the trip "one of the most important journeys that we make as president" before departing Washington and noted Democrats had long known about the meeting.

The president lashed out at Democrats again soon after arriving in the U.K. He said on Twitter that he had read the Republican report designed to counter Democrats' impeachment case on his flight. The report, which was obtained by The Associated Press, called Trump's hesitation to provide military aid to Ukraine "entirely prudent."

"Prior to landing I read the Republicans Report on the Impeachment Hoaxe. Great job! Radical Left has NO CASE. Read the Transcripts," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Shouldn't even be allowed. Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?"

It was not immediately clear under what legal grounds Trump was calling for the high court's involvement.

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Weird and wild ...

GUELPH, Ont. — Science has confirmed what many pet owners already know.

"Cats are quite hard to read," says Georgia Mason, a behavioural biologist whose recently published paper digs into the age-old question: What is my cat thinking?

"We thought maybe it's because they are a bit tougher to read, so let's see what's going on with their faces," she says.

Mason and her colleagues at the University of Guelph found abundant research material among the uncounted thousands of cat videos on YouTube. They chose videos in which it was clear whether the cat was having a positive or negative experience. They edited each video down to a few seconds and cropped almost everything else out except for the cat's face.

The team put the 20 clips on the Internet, with a question beneath asking if the cat was happy, unhappy, or simply inscrutable.

In the end, 6,300 responses were analyzed. The average score was less than 12 out of 20 — not much better than chance.

There were, however, a select few — about 13 per cent — who consistently scored upwards of 15 out of 20. They tended to be either female, young, or both — or were professional veterinarians.

Mason theorizes that women, for whatever reason, tend to be better at reading facial expressions. Vets simply see a lot of cats and learn to figure them out.

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On this day in 1979 …

Eleven young people either were asphyxiated or trampled to death in a rush for general admission seats at a Who concert at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The victims died when the crowd stampeded through two doors into the stadium. The tragedy caused controversy about the use of general or festival seating for rock concerts.

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Celebrity news ...

TORONTO — Canadian rocker Alanis Morissette is set to go on a world tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of her breakthrough album "Jagged Little Pill."

The pre-sale for the tour begins Dec. 10 and the general sale will start Dec. 13.

Live Nation says the Ottawa-born singer-songwriter will start the 31-date tour June 2 in Portland, Ore., and wrap July 25 in Nashville, Tenn. The only Canadian stop listed is Toronto on July 11.

"Jagged Little Pill" was released on June 13, 1995 and went on to win several Grammy Awards, including album of the year.

The U.S. rockers Garbage will be a special guest on the tour, which will also include an appearance by singer-songwriter Liz Phair.

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Fun with words ...

NEW YORK — Climate change, gun violence, the very nature of democracy and an angsty little movie star called Forky helped propel "existential" to Dictionary.com's word of the year.

The choice reflects months of high-stakes threats and crises, real and pondered, across the news, the world and throughout 2019.

"In our data, it speaks to this sense of grappling with our survival, both literally and figuratively, that defined so much of the discourse," says John Kelly, senior research editor for the site, ahead of Monday's announcement.

The word earned top of mind awareness in sustained searches at Dictionary.com in the aftermath of wildfires and Hurricane Dorian, and mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas. It also reared itself in presidential politics and pop culture, including Forky the white plastic spork who was the breakout star of "Toy Story 4."

The soiled utensil is convinced his destiny is in the trash, until he embraces his purpose as a treasured toy of kindergartener Bonnie.

Oxford Dictionaries picked "climate emergency" as its word of the year, noting usage evidence that reflects the "ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year," the company said in a statement.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2019.

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