5 at 5: Ukraine moves in on separatists, despite Russian warnings

Also: the end of the robocalls investigation, CBC cuts begin, Senate decision coming and Ben Heppner retires

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

The top stories this afternoon.

Ukraine moves in on pro-Russian separatists. Tensions continue in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces moved in on Russian separatists in the city of Sloviansk Thursday. At least two pro-Russian separatists were reportedly killed in shootings as Ukrainian forces worked to clear pro-Russian checkpoints around the city. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow was “forced to react” to Ukraine’s aggression, and Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned Kyiv about the consequences of military action before that. Russia is reportedly stepping up military exercises along its border with Ukraine. Now we wait to see if Russia will make good on its threats.

CBC French-language investigative program that exposed widespread corruption in Quebec has its budget slashed. The cuts CBC announced earlier this month in an effort to get a $130-million budget shortfall under control have begun and one of the casualties is the French-language program Enquête (Investigation). It was instrumental in bringing to light the political corruption in Quebec’s construction industry, with multiple reports beginning in 2009. That investigation prompted the ongoing Charbonneau commission. The program will lose one-fifth of its staff, amounting to three journalists and a producer, The Globe and Mail reports.

Elections Canada abandons robocalls investigation. The investigation into allegedly misleading calls to voters during the 2011 federal election has been halted, Elections Canada said Thursday, noting it found nothing indicating an offence under the Election Act. Some voters who did not support the Conservatives during that election said they said they had received automated phone calls directing them to the wrong polling location. However, this investigation found that there was no apparent coordinated effort to misdirect voters outside of Guelph, Ont., where charges have already been laid. In the Guelph investigation, former Conservative Party staffer Michael Sona faces a charge under the Election Act. It is alleged that he was behind a robocalling campaign to direct voters to the wrong polling stations.

Supreme Court Senate reference decision coming tomorrow. The Supreme Court will issue its decision on the extent to which the Conservative government can reform, or even abolish, the Senate. If the court concludes that the only way to legally reform the Senate is through constitutional amendments, this would require the approval of at least seven provinces—a tedious process that is unlikely to produce any kind of speedy reform. The decision follows a nine-day hearing in November, in which the justices appeared to be rather skeptical of arguments made by government lawyers. For background on the decision, University of Waterloo professor Emmett Macfarlane has a handy guide over here.

Celebrated Canadian opera singer Ben Heppner retires. Canada’s most famous tenor is retiring from the stage. “After much consideration, I’ve decided the time has come for a new era in my life. I’m setting aside my career as an opera and concert singer,” Heppner said in a press release Thursday morning. In recent years, Heppner has had some issues with his voice, and has been forced to cancel engagements. The B.C.-born Heppner, 58, has performed worldwide and is perhaps most famous for his role as Tristan in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

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