Trudeau, Freeland held 19 high-level international talks with allies on China dispute

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have held 19 high-level discussions with foreign heads of government, ministers and diplomats in an effort to rally support for several Canadians being held by China.

According to the Liberal government, Trudeau held nine calls, including conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk.

Freeland’s diplomatic outreach included 11 conversations with everyone from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to the foreign ministers of Australia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

Those efforts, the Prime Minister’s Office said, have resulted in 11 public statements of support from Australia, the EU, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S., the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Spain.

The federal government’s approach — to gather allies behind its calls to have China back down by putting public pressure on China — is a tactic the Trudeau government has employed since the diplomatic dispute with the superpower broke out last month.

Tensions emerged in early December when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese technology giant Huawei, on an extradition request issued by the United States. The U.S. alleges Meng is guilty of violating international sanctions against Iran through a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom.

Shortly after Meng’s arrest China arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave who is working for a non-governmental organization in China, and Michael Spavor, a business consultant who arranges trips to North Korea.

Earlier this month, a Chinese court retried Canadian Robert Schellenberg for his role in the smuggling of 222 kilograms of methamphetamines from China to Australia in 2014. Schellenberg had previously been found guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced to a 15-year jail term. At the retrial he was sentenced to death.

Following that ruling, Trudeau accused Beijing of arbitrarily using the death penalty and called world leaders to solicit their support. Monday 140 former diplomats and academics penned a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping urging China to release Kovrig and Spavor to avoid harming China’s relations around the world.

Speaking Monday in Ottawa, Trudeau showed no sign he was planning on changing his tactics as he negotiates Canada’s way through this diplomatic dispute.

“Canada will always stand up for the rule of law and we will always encourage friends, allies and thoughtful people around the world to point out that Canada stands up for the rule of law and all countries should stand up for the rule of law,” Trudeau said.

“It’s a very clear principle,” he said. “It has served us well as a planet over the past decades, that we have systems of justice that are independent from political interference and Canada will always defend that.”

But it remains unclear if the tactic of publicly rebuking China through the Canadian government, its allies and others will achieve the kind of result Ottawa wants. 

“I think what would be most effective are the quiet, backdoor channels — not in-your-face big statements,” said Lynette Ong, an associate professor, Department of Political Science and Asian Institute, at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

“The whole point of the Chinese authorities getting into all of these detentions is to look strong, so even though we want them to give in, we don’t want [China] to … lose face, and that is not about capitulating to China, it is about being smart with our strategy,” she said.

Others are unsure taking the dispute behind closed doors is likely to secure the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

‘China is making a big mistake’

“I think that this idea that anything can be solved through backdoor channels, and to be polite in public in the face of extremely rude behaviour of the Chinese, is really ridiculous,” said André Laliberté, a professor with a focus on China and comparative politics in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

“I think that if Germany and other important countries start to also plead for that issue, it would have an effect, I would hope,” he said. “I think that China is losing an enormous amount of soft power in behaving the way it does. It’s actually quite puzzling why the government would behave that way.”

Stephen Saideman, Paterson Chair in International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, told CBC he doesn’t think the letter with its 140 signatures or the public statements by allies are likely to secure the result Canada wants. But, he doesn’t think it will harm Canada’s case either.

“I think China is making a big mistake in all of this. But I am not sure that China is going to respond to whatever pressure it is going to get from the world, in part, because they have these internal processes that we are really not all that sure of,” Saideman said.

What did Canadian mining executives know about possible human rights violations in Eritrea?

For years, Vancouver-based mining firm Nevsun Resources has dismissed allegations that forced labour was used to build its mine in the repressive east African country of Eritrea.

Nevsun executives have denied direct knowledge of human rights violations at their Bisha mine site in a CBC interview and during an appearance before a parliamentary committee.

But company documents filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia last November and reviewed by CBC’s The Fifth Estate show executives at the highest level appear to have been informed of issues of forced labour at their mine site a decade ago.

Former Bisha mine workers are suing Nevsun in B.C. for alleged human rights violations — including forced labour, slavery and torture.

The company denies the allegations and has appealed the matter of whether the case can be heard in B.C. to the Supreme Court of Canada. Nevsun argues that the case should be adjudicated in Eritrea. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the matter on Wednesday.

The court’s decision could have a far-reaching impact on Canadian corporations operating abroad.

“The Supreme Court of Canada will be asked to rule on whether in fact it is possible in our legal system to hold a corporate citizen of Canada to account for decisions made in Canada, by a Canadian corporation, in how it will engage in business in Eritrea,” said law professor Audrey Macklin, counsel for the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program, which has intervener status in the Supreme Court matter.    

Mass exodus

In recent years, there has been a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from Eritrea, a small country of six million in the Horn of Africa. They have fled in part because of the country’s controversial national service program, which the United Nations and human rights groups have charged involves lengthy military conscription and forced labour.

“Eritrea is a human rights pariah and the use of indeterminate conscription and forced labour has been widely reported,” said Macklin. “The question would be what kind of due diligence did Nevsun do prior to its foray into Eritrea?”

Nevsun is partners with the government of Eritrea through the Bisha Mining Share Company (BMSC). The mine is 40 per cent owned by the Eritrean National Mining Corporation (ENAMCO).

The Bisha mine opened in 2011 and has produced hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of gold, copper and zinc. For years, the mine was the only major source of revenue for the regime of President Isaias Afwerki.  

But back in 2009, Nevsun was seeking financing during the construction phase of the mine when the issue of forced labour in Eritrea was raised by potential lenders.

One email filed in court, dated March 4, 2009, and written by then Nevsun CEO Cliff Davis, is headlined “Private and Confidential due to Sensitivity.”

Workers and visitors walk within the processing plant at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea on Feb. 18, 2016. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Davis writes that the lenders “have placed another obstacle in the road to finance. They assert that the country practises involuntary labour (forced labour) and before they can lend to the project, BMSC must demonstrate that the Bisha mine will not be a benefactor in any way of such labour, either directly or via any of its contractors.”

In the same email, Davis notes “we understand there are currently some National Service people working for a key contractor working at site” and that “we are in the process of determining whether the terms of employment would constitute forced labour.” Davis suggests BMSC could hire the workers directly or offer them contracts “where they could leave on their own free will.”

But Davis goes on to say “None of these solutions are palatable to the Eritreans because: 1. another Westerner telling the Eritreans how to run their country; 2. potential disruption to the national development campaign. Politically a very sensitive topic.”

‘Permeates the whole region’

As part of its due diligence, according to the documents filed in court, Nevsun and the lenders brought in U.S. social development expert Kerry Connor to review the operation. Connor is based in Washington, D.C., and has done risk reviews for mining operations around the world.

In a March 25, 2009, email from Connor to then Nevsun vice-president Trevor Moss, she refers to a conversation she had with Stan Rogers, the manager of the mine at the time.

“Just spoke with Stan,” she writes. “He recognizes it’s forced labour and says it permeates the whole country with nearly everyone in some way associated with the “program.”

“Also says no one understands the scope of the issue viz a viz project employment of program people — so we need to concentrate on this before we can determine what can be done.”

Connor later concluded in an April 2009 report, also part of the court filing, that “the project is at risk for contravention of the prohibition on the use of forced labour, as represented by the use of NS workers.”

A truck arrives to ferry excavated gold, copper and zinc ore from the main mining pit at the Bisha Mining Share Company on Feb. 17, 2016. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

The workers in question were provided by an Eritrean state-owned subcontractor called Segen.

Connor also reported that “Segen, the only project sub-contractor, indicates that its project workforce is composed primarily of longtime Segen employees, complemented by some expatriates with special skills, and that no NS workers have been employed on the project.  A rapid assessment by BMSC social staff, however, found evidence of approximately 23 NS workers employed by Segen at various times on the project.”

“[Nevsun] were not avoiding it. They were very much aware of it,” Connor said in a recent interview. “They were somewhat aware of it in the beginning and the initial question was: ‘Well, is it even possible to employ a contractor who isn’t government?’ “

‘No corroborating claims’

While the company documents filed in court would suggest Nevsun had been informed of possible forced labour at their mine site in 2009, company officials have not disclosed this information in the past.

In a 2016 documentary about the Bisha mine by The Fifth Estate, host Mark Kelley asked Todd Romaine, then Nevsun’s vice-president of corporate social responsibility: “You don’t believe there was any conscripted labour that was ever used in the development or operation of your mine?”

“We’ve done extensive investigations to date inside Eritrea and at the Bisha mine,” Romaine said. “There’s no corroborating claims to support any of the allegations being made.”

Todd Romaine, who was vice-president of corporate social responsibility at Nevsun Resources in 2016, told The Fifth Estate at the time that the company had done extensive investigations in Eritrea and at its Bisha mine. (CBC)

Romaine, who is no longer an official at the company since China’s Zijin Mining Group made a successful bid for it in December, declined to comment for this story.

In 2012, testifying in front of the parliamentary subcommittee on international human rights in Ottawa, Davis, then the company’s CEO, was asked by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler: “So you are not aware yourself of any human rights violations in Eritrea?”

Davis responded: “I’m certainly not directly aware at all. All I have is the same access that you have with respect to the internet, and postings on the internet, and articles.”

When Cotler asked again: “So you have received no reports of any human rights violations while you have been in Eritrea?” Davis replied: “No.”

Now retired from Nevsun, Davis did not return calls for comment.

Longstanding skepticism

The Eritrean plaintiffs have made an application to the B.C. Supreme Court to join Davis personally as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Davis’s lawyer, David Schacter, said “the matter is before the court and Mr. Davis will simply advise you that that’s the case. He’s not going to be commenting on a matter before the court.”

In 2013, Human Rights Watch published a report on alleged human rights violations at the Bisha mine.

In a meeting with Human Rights Watch, “Nevsun did not acknowledge that Segen had used conscript labourers at Bisha, but neither did it rule out the possibility,” the report said.

In a January 2013 media release, Nevsun said that the company “expresses regret if certain employees of Segen were conscripts four years ago, in the early part of the Bisha Mine’s construction phase.”

But Human Rights Watch has always been skeptical of Nevsun’s position.

“It defies belief that Nevsun did not know that a state contractor would be using national service labour,” Felix Horne, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a recent interview.

“The Nevsun experience is an important lesson for the other international mining companies that are operating in Eritrea, that unless proper procedures are put in place from the beginning, you will likely be using national service labour for the development of your mine.”

More investigation

Nevsun has maintained that it screens for military conscripts — requiring proof that their workers are no longer in the national service program.

In response to concerns raised by the United Nations, Nevsun also conducted further investigation by another social responsibility expert.

“I am very confident that there’s no forced labour, there’s no national service used either in the direct workforce or in the Eritrean contractors that provide labour or transportation or security guards to the Bisha mine,” Montreal human rights lawyer Lloyd Lipsett told The Fifth Estate in 2016.

But according to the company documents filed in court last November, forced labour at its mine site was not the only possible human rights violation Nevsun executives became aware of early on. Eritrean officials were also arresting workers off their mine site without clear cause.

In a June 28, 2010, email under the subject line “Staff Arrests,” mine manager Stan Rogers writes to Davis: “Cliff, I think that brings the number to seven or eight!! We of course have no idea why they have been taken away.” Rogers signs off on the email: “Great Country…:-)”

A general view shows the sag mill and ball mill within the processing plant at the Bisha Mining Share Company. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

An Aug. 5, 2010, memorandum from a company executive to Nevsun’s audit committee reviewed “allegations of fraud” that the Eritreans apparently provided as the reason for the arrests.

“Over the past three months, five BMSC staff have been arrested by Eritrean authorities,” the memo said. “According to BMSC senior management, the Eritrean state has alleged the employees were involved in various frauds including the theft of food and fuel inventories and kickbacks on purchasing.”

But the memo goes on to report that it “should be emphasized that no evidence of fraud has been uncovered by BMSC management or received from the Eritrean state. However, ENAMCO personnel have confirmed to BMSC management that the employees have confessed to having a role in the frauds.”

At the time of publication, Nevsun had not officially responded to a request for comment.

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Doug Ford is warning of a ‘carbon tax recession.’ Here’s how economists are reacting

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is warning that the federal government’s carbon tax risks triggering a recession, but it’s hard to find economists eager to back up his claim.

Ford used a speech to Economic Club of Canada to predict that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon pricing plan will hurt the economy . 

“A carbon tax will be a total economic disaster,” Ford told the estimated 1,000 paying guests at the lunchtime event in downtown Toronto on Monday.

“There are already economic warning signs on the horizon,” he said. “I’m here today to ring the warning bell that the risk of a carbon tax recession is very, very real.” 

Ford did not offer any details in the speech about how the carbon pricing scheme would lead to recession. He did not take questions from reporters afterward.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford arrives on stage to speak at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Monday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Asked by CBC News for clarification, Ford’s press secretary pointed to a study by the Conference Board of Canada that suggests a federally imposed carbon tax would shrink the nation’s economy by $3 billion. While that sounds like a big number, it is only a fraction of a per cent of the country’s $2.1 trillion GDP.

“Our analysis suggests the economy will shrink marginally in response to the carbon tax,” the authors said. “While the overall economic impact is small, the distribution is not equal across sectors, with some industries bearing notable costs.” 

The report does not say that the carbon tax will cause a recession. Nor do other economists. 

In its most recent monetary policy report, the Bank of Canada lays out what it sees as the major risks to the economy in 2019. The looming carbon tax is not even mentioned as a factor.

CBC News asked economists from four of Canada’s big banks to weigh in on Ford’s statement on Monday, but none agreed to comment. 

There’s no evidence to substantiate Ford’s claim, says Dale Beugin, executive director of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission. It’s a group of economists specializing in economic and environmental policy, led by an advisory board that spans the political spectrum, including the former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. 

According to the Ecofiscal Commission’s analysis, the likely economic impacts of carbon pricing will be modest. It forecasts the Canadian economy to grow slightly more slowly than it would have without a carbon tax but to remain “a very, very far step away from a recession,” said Beugin.

“That money being collected is not being burned, it is being sent back into the economy in different ways,” Beugin said Monday in a phone interview with CBC News. He said the federal backstop model would keep the economy buoyant by sending carbon tax revenue back to households to be spent. 

He points to the experience of jurisdictions that have put carbon pricing in place. 

The British Columbia economy kept ticking along after a carbon tax was imposed in 2007 by the government of then-premier Gordon Campbell (who recently led Ford’s financial commission of inquiry into Ontario’s deficit).  The cap-and- trade system did not tank Ontario’s economy after Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government launched it in 2017. Various carbon pricing schemes did not harm the economies of Quebec, Alberta and California in recent years

“Sweden is another example where we’ve seen a really high carbon price over time and the economy has continued to grow even as emissions have declined,” said Beugin. 

Last week, a list of 45 senior economists from across the U.S. political spectrum published a statement in the Wall Street Journal endorsing a carbon tax, with all revenue given back to citizens. The list includes former White House economic advisers, treasury secretaries, Federal Reserve chairs and Nobel laureates. 

This will not likely be the last time you hear the phrase “carbon tax recession” from Ford. Two conservative strategists told CBC Toronto they expect the Ontario premier will continue to use this messaging in the coming months, as carbon pricing becomes a key issue in the federal election. 

How smart technology gets you to continue paying long after point of sale

A common criticism of virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant is that they are always on, always listening, and always connected to the internet. It’s the only way they work.

For consumers who are rightfully skeptical of how tech companies big and small are collecting, analyzing, and making money off their data — even in anonymized form — the sudden proliferation of these always-connected smart devices is concerning. But there’s a reason that everything from televisions to cars are suddenly getting smarter.

For consumers wondering why it might feel increasingly harder to buy something dumb or disconnected, the reason is partly technical. Some of the products users enjoy today wouldn’t be possible — or, as good — without a connection to the internet.

But it’s also about money. With product margins thinner than ever, more companies are either re-building their old hardware businesses around online subscriptions, or monetizing data from people who are using their products for free.

In other words: giving every dishwasher, thermostat, and SUV an internet connection is one way for companies to keep making money after someone buys their product — whether through regular subscriptions, data collection, or some combination of the two.

As long as people believe they’re getting value — say, the convenience that smart speakers promise — they’re more willing to accept this new reality, according to Adam Wright, a senior analyst at the market research firm IDC who focuses on connected devices for consumers.

“People are increasingly becoming more comfortable with relinquishing a certain degree of privacy in favour of cheaper devices, cheaper services, better services, personalization, recommendations, things like that,” said Wright.

While it’s unlikely that every toaster or doorknob will eventually be smart, given the opportunity to make more money, it’s not hard to understand why companies are giving so many previously dumb products a tiny computer brain and an IP.

Knowledge in the cloud

Smart speakers and virtual assistants are a good example of this dichotomy in action.

Anytime you ask Google Assistant to set a timer, or Amazon Alexa to play one of your favourite songs, a recording of your voice is transmitted to a server in the cloud. The recording is analyzed to determine out what you said, and the assistant figures out how to respond.

It’s technically possible to build a voice assistant that is able to recognize your voice and respond to basic queries offline — or, at the very least, without sending your recordings to a server in the cloud. But Allan Black, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute, said it’s harder to offer a cutting-edge experience this way.

Some smart appliance makers will share information about how you use their products with third party businesses, who might then send you offers for things like detergent. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

For one, a connected voice assistant has access to all of the latest news, sports, weather, and other frequently updated information that would be impractical to store offline.

Recordings from millions of users of all different ages, genders, languages, and dialects can be used to make the voice recognition more accurate than from one person’s data alone. And all that data can help the assistant’s maintainers identify popular questions that haven’t been answered yet — or personalize answers to particular users.

Black acknowledged the “non-trivial privacy issue” of sending everyone’s data to the cloud. But “it would be much harder to get that benefit of these improvements if you only have it local and it’s never shared,” he explained.

Of course, doing all that work in the cloud doesn’t just make the experience better for users. It also gives the likes of Amazon and Google valuable insight into their users’ preferences and behaviours — data that can be monetized one way or another. Other companies have realized this, too.

Recurring revenue

U.S. manufacturer Vizio sells inexpensive televisions. How does it afford to do this? By sharing information about how people use their TVs — and what they watch — with other companies, essentially subsidizing the product’s cost.

“It’s not just about data collection,” said the company’s chief technology officer, Bill Baxter, in an interview with The Verge earlier this month. “It’s about post-purchase monetization of the TV.”

Most people don’t upgrade their TVs very often — Baxter said the average lifetime of a Vizio TV is 6.9 years — and Vizio only makes a slim margin on each sale. But those TVs keep getting new features and updates for free. So (opt-in) data collection is one way for Vizio to keep generating revenue in lieu of new sales.

“Margins are getting thinner and thinner, and they have been for a long time. And that’s applicable to, obviously, auto manufacturers, TV manufacturers, and everything in between,” said Wright.

“They don’t make a lot of money off the devices, so they rely on volume and other ways to make their money.”

U.S. TV maker Vizio sells inexpensive products. To make more money, it also collects and sells anonymized data on how people use their TVs and what they watch. Users have to opt-in first, however. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

Already, car companies are collecting data on people’s driving behaviour and location in order to send them special offers and discounts — a market worth up to $750 billion US by 2030, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article citing McKinsey Co. data.

Similarly, appliance maker Whirlpool said in its privacy policy that the company “may send you a notification when your Smart Appliance needs to be replenished with a refill or replacement item and offer to direct you to a third-party business partner from which you can purchase that item.”

Subscriptions are another way companies continue to profit from sales of smart technologies. Wright points to camera companies that now make money selling photo storage in the cloud, and wireless router companies that sell protection against threats like malware — both subscription based, of course.

Increasingly, buying a product seems to come with an ongoing relationship with that product’s manufacturer  — one that sometimes turns our data exhaust into a product of its own — but none of this seems to have phased consumers much, according to Wright.

“Consumers are sort of like frogs in the boiling pot, right?” said Wright. “It’s amazing what we increasingly find comfortable when the initial shock has worn off.”

Not getting enough sleep? Here’s why it could be affecting your memory

It’s time for bed, and in addition to my cozy red pajamas decorated with hockey sticks, I’m wearing electrodes all over my body.

With wires sprouting from my scalp, chest and legs, I feel more like Frankenstein than Sleeping Beauty.

“Have a good night,” sings out Stuart Fogel, as he shuts off the light in my austere bedroom at the Royal Ottawa Institute for Mental Health Research.

Then he’s off to the laboratory — where my brain waves will be documented for the next eight hours — to search for clues about how memory works.

“It’s hard to communicate the benefit that you can get from sleep, and the importance of sleep, when so many other things seem to be of greater importance in our daily lives,” Fogel says.

CBC correspondent Duncan McCue had his brain waves documented as part of a study on sleep and memory. He slept overnight at the Royal Ottawa Institute for Mental Health Research. (Diane Grant/CBC)

Researchers have known for a while that sleep is essential to how we form memories. But Fogel, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Sleep Research Laboratory, is keen to uncover exactly how our brains process and synthesize those memories.

His research comes at a time when about a third of Canadian adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night on average, according to Statistics Canada.

And the consequences of sleep deprivation are far more serious than feeling dozy and worn out.

“What’s intriguing is that sleep loss will have an impact on your ability to retain anything that you learn that’s new,” Fogel says.

The research also aims to shed light on how sleep deprivation may contribute to a condition that’s on the rise in Western societies: dementia.

Sleep spindles

Generally, adults spend one-third of their lives sleeping. It’s only in the past few decades that scientists have begun to understand some of the reasons why.

“The more we study this, the more we find how there’s just so many aspects of sleep that are involved in memory processing,” Fogel says.

Fogel has spent several years examining the relationship between memory and “sleep spindles,” the brief bursts of brain activity which occur during deep sleep. These one- to two-second electrical pulses happen up to 1,000 times a night, and can be measured on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

Stuart Fogel is studying healthy adults for insights into how sleep affects motor memory skills. He hopes to determine if sleep therapy could help slow the onset of dementia. (Christian Patry/CBC)

Researchers believe these spindles show our brain taking what we learn each day and shifting it from the hippocampus, a limited space where we store recent memories, to the prefrontal cortex. That’s the brain’s “hard drive,” where we store important memories for future reference — whether that’s tomorrow, next week, or next year.

Sleep effectively cleans up the hippocampus, leaving us ready to take in fresh data.

“Memory centres that are recruited during learning are reactivated during sleep … that’s actually enhancing that memory trace and strengthening it, so that the next day we’re better at the task,” Fogel says.

What does that mean for a teenager who’s up all night texting, or an adult working into the wee hours?

You may not learn as much.

More specifically, if you sleep six hours or less you’ll have fewer spindles — and that means you may not permanently retain as much of what what you experienced that day.

Early warning signs

Fogel’s current research focuses on how sleep affects newly formed motor skills, such as learning to play a musical instrument or taking a slapshot.

Which explains why I’m lying in a massive MRI scanner before bedtime, madly tapping my fingers on buttons that move brightly-coloured blocks from one side of a screen to another.

To demonstrate his current research, Fogel has invited me to sleep overnight at the Royal Ottawa, along with two other test subjects —  Nick Vanderberg, 23, and Tom Patterson, 60.

Patterson is what Fogel describes as an “optimum aging adult,” a person with a good diet and no major health issues. During his working years, though, Patterson says he didn’t sleep so well.

Since retiring, he’s rediscovered the gym, which has improved his rest. But he also finds himself forgetting stuff.

Tom Patterson, 60, is what scientists describe as an ‘optimum aging adult,’ a person with a good diet and no major health issues. However, he worries about his memory. (Christian Patry/CBC)

“I talk about it a lot [with people my age]. Going into a room and saying, ‘Hey, why did I come into this room again? What am I looking for?’ That happens. It really does happen,” Patterson says.

Fogel is studying healthy adults for insights into how sleep affects their motor memory skills. He hopes to determine if sleep therapy could help slow the onset of dementia.

“What we’re hoping is that’s going to give us a good sense of some important bio-markers for the early warning signs … that could be possible ways of staving off dementia, or mitigating the consequences, or perhaps finding novel treatments,” Fogel says.

He enlisted Vanderberg, a doctoral student, to show how differently a young brain deals with memory and sleep.

Nick Vanderberg, a 23-year-old doctoral student, was part of the test to show how differently a young brain deals with memory and sleep. (Diane Grant/CBC)

In addition to the MRI scan, which allows his team to take pictures of brain activity, Fogel explains that the three of us will take a motor-skills test that involves repeatedly finger-tapping a specific sequence of numbers into a small keypad.

He asks us to enter the numbers – 4 1 3 2 4 – over and over, as quickly as we can. The computer measures our speed and accuracy as we tap furiously for 10 minutes.

“When you really accelerate your performance is when you actually start to chunk the numbers to make the execution of the sequence more efficient,” Fogel tells us.

I feel as if I’m getting faster until, by the end, my fingers are numb.

Once all three of us brush our teeth and head to separate bedrooms, research assistants glue electrodes to specific spots on our bodies.

The novel part of Fogel’s research is the combined use of the Royal’s state-of-the-art MRI and the EEG. The electrodes, along with other equipment, measure our brain traces, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate, leg movements and breathing.

After making sure the electrodes are on tight, it’s time for us to nod off – and for Fogel to discover whether his lab rats learned anything.

The sleep boost

Fogel bursts into my room at 6:30 a.m.

“Good morning! Ready for your test?”

I rub my eyes. I slept about eight hours, waking once to use the washroom. I recall it took a while to doze off again.

I groggily sit down at the computer. I hear Patterson and Vanderberg do the same in their bedrooms.

I clutch the keypad, tapping the sequence from the night before – 4 1 3 2 4. I feel faster, but I’m relieved when the student assistant tells me to stop so she can calculate our results.

These scans show brain areas that are activated when learning a new task. The warmer the colour, the stronger the activation. Ottawa researchers are exploring how reduced activation in older adults might explain age-related cognitive deficits. (Royal Ottawa Institute for Mental Health Research)

As we wait, Fogel shows me what the EEG measured during my sleep.

“Your brain was probably pretty tired, I would say,” he laughs.

He traces his finger along the squiggly lines that represent my brain waves. Within minutes of hitting the pillow, I was in Stage Two, a light sleep where spindles start to occur.

“You’ve got really nice, big spindles here … these big bursts of activity,” Fogel says, which sounds encouraging.

“That indicates you’re probably reprocessing that information, reactivating those memory traces, integrating them into long-term memory stores.”

We convene in the lab to hear the results. Patterson, the senior of the group, had a “broken and interrupted sleep.” Vanderberg, the youngster, slept like a rock.

The graph shows all three of us improved our finger speed when our brains began to first process the new task, but our sleep gains were a different story.

The 23-year-old’s fingers were even faster in the morning. Mine, too. But, as expected, the 60-year-old was tapping at the same rate as the night before.

Fogel goes over the test results with McCue, Patterson and Vanderberg. Patterson performed slower on the test and did not get a boost from sleep, showing how brain function naturally changes as people age. (Diane Grant/CBC)

As we age, Fogel explains, we don’t get the same brain boost from sleep as when we were younger. That’s because sleep spindles decrease in both magnitude and frequency.

“That’s what we think is the important ingredient … the age-related changes in sleep are actually not allowing that reactivation and strengthening of the memory traces to take place in the same way as when you’re younger,” Fogel says.

While much remains to be learned about how sleep could be related to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, Fogel says it’s important to emphasize what scientists do know: sleep is critical for everyone to improve their intellectual and physical performance.

Right now, that’s a problem – Canadian adults are getting about an hour less sleep on average than in 2005, according to Statistics Canada.

“Our lives are being filled with more and more information, more and more activities,” Fogel says.

“We really need less and less of that, in order to not compete with our time to get the sleep that we need.”

Germany: Siemens/Alstom deal could increase competitiveness

MUNICH (Reuters) – German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday that the aim of a planned merger of Alstom (ALSO.PA) and Siemens’ (SIEGn.DE) rail businesses was to increase competitiveness, adding that this goal was achievable.

Altmaier said he had already spoken to European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager about the deal and the process on the possible merger was in a decisive phase.

People familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday that Siemens’ and Alstom’s plan to create a European rail champion to take on a Chinese rival had failed to win over EU antitrust regulators, despite German and French backing.

Reporting by Joern Poltz; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Joseph Nasr

IMF fears trade war and weak Europe could trigger sharp global slowdown

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund on Monday cut its world economic growth forecasts for 2019 and 2020 due to weakness in Europe and some emerging markets, and said failure to resolve trade tensions could further destabilize a slowing global economy.

In its second downgrade in three months, the global lender also cited a bigger-than-expected slowdown in China’s economy and a possible “No Deal” Brexit as risks to its outlook, saying these could worsen market turbulence in financial markets.

The IMF predicted the global economy to grow at 3.5 percent in 2019 and 3.6 percent in 2020, down 0.2 and 0.1 percentage point respectively from last October’s forecasts.

The new forecasts, released on the eve of this week’s gathering of world leaders and business executives in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, show that policymakers may need to come up with plans to deal with an end to years of solid global growth.

“After two years of solid expansion, the world economy is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told a briefing.

“Does that mean a global recession is around the corner? No. But the risk of a sharper decline in global growth has certainly increased,” she said, urging policymakers to be ready for a “serious slowdown” by boosting their economies’ resilience to risks.

The downgrades reflected signs of weakness in Europe, with its export powerhouse Germany hurt by new fuel emission standards for cars and with Italy under market pressure due to Rome’s recent budget standoff with the European Union.

Growth in the euro zone is set to moderate from 1.8 percent in 2018 to 1.6 percent in 2019, 0.3 percentage point lower than projected three months ago, the IMF said.

The IMF also cut its 2019 growth forecast for developing countries to 4.5 percent, down 0.2 percentage point from the previous projection and a slowdown from 4.7 percent in 2018.

“Emerging market and developing economies have been tested by difficult external conditions over the past few months amid trade tensions, rising U.S. interest rates, dollar appreciation, capital outflows, and volatile oil prices,” the IMF said.


The IMF maintained its U.S. growth projections of 2.5 percent this year and 1.8 percent in 2020, pointing to continued strength in domestic demand.

It also kept its China growth forecast at 6.2 percent in both 2019 and 2020, but said economic activity could miss expectations if trade tensions persist, even with state efforts to spur growth by boosting fiscal spending and bank lending.

“As seen in 2015–16, concerns about the health of China’s economy can trigger abrupt, wide-reaching sell-offs in financial and commodity markets that place its trading partners, commodity exporters, and other emerging markets under pressure,” the IMF said in the report.

The report came hours after data showing China’s economy cooled in the fourth quarter on faltering domestic demand and bruising U.S. tariffs, dragging 2018 growth to the lowest in nearly three decades.

“The numbers we saw for China today are completely consistent with our forecasts,” the IMF’s chief economist Gita Gopinath told the briefing, calling on Beijing to continue with efforts to rebalance its economy by reining in excessive credit growth and reforming its financial sector.

Britain is expected to achieve 1.5 percent growth this year though there is uncertainty over the projection, which is based on the assumption of an orderly exit from the EU, the IMF said.

The rare bright spot was Japan, with the IMF revising up its forecast by 0.2 percentage point to 1.1 percent this year due to an expected boost from the government’s spending measures, which aim to offset a scheduled sales-tax hike in October.

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The IMF has been urging policymakers to carry out structural reforms while the global economy enjoys solid growth, with Lagarde telling them to “fix the roof while the sun is shining”. The IMF has stressed the need to address income inequality and reform the financial sector.

However, as growth momentum peaks and risks to the outlook rise, policymakers must now focus on policies to prevent further slowdowns, the IMF said.

“The main shared policy priority is for countries to resolve cooperatively and quickly their trade disagreements and the resulting policy uncertainty, rather than raising harmful barriers further and destabilizing an already slowing global economy,” it added.

Reporting by Leika Kihara and Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Mark Trevelyan

Siemens: Key to have dialogue based on trust with EU about Alstom deal

MUNICH (Reuters) – Siemens (SIEGn.DE) Chief Executive Joe Kaeser said on Monday it was important to have a dialogue based on trust with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager about a planned merger of Siemens’ and Alstom’s (ALSO.PA) rail businesses.

France and Germany on Monday raised pressure on Vestager to approve the merger, warning that thwarting the proposed European champion would be a strategic error.

Reporting by Joern Poltz; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Thomas Seythal

France, Germany step up pressure over Alstom-Siemens deal

PARIS (Reuters) – France and Germany raised pressure on the European Union’s competition chief to approve the merger of Alstom and Siemens’ rail businesses, warning that thwarting the proposed European champion would be a strategic error.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the French and German governments were fully behind the merger, as were Alstom (ALSO.PA) Chief Executive Henri Poupart-Lafarge and his Siemens (SIEGn.DE) counterpart Joe Kaeser.

“Refusing the merger between Alstom and Siemens would be an economic error and a political mistake,” Le Maire told journalists on Monday before a visit by EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to Paris.

“We cannot take an industrial decision for the 21st century with the competition rules from the 20th century,” Le Maire added, reiterating a warning to Vestager about rejecting the merger.

People familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday that Siemens’ and Alstom’s plan to create a European rail champion to take on a Chinese rival had failed to win over EU antitrust regulators, despite German and French backing.

Comments from politicians reflect a frustration that the EU’s competition laws no longer reflect modern-day geopolitical realities, and in particular the threat from China.

“We need international champions in Europe that are able to compete globally”, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Reuters on the sidelines of a technology conference in Munich.

“Talks are in an important phase and we will do everything so that this project has a chance,” he added.

During her visit to Paris, Vestager refused to comment on the possible outcome of the antitrust decision due by Feb. 18, but stressed the importance of defending consumers’ interests rather than building European industrial champions.

“We’re dealing with two European champions, we’re dealing with businesses that are very big in the European marketplace and the global marketplace,” Vestager told journalists.

The French and German government have argued in favor of the merger on the grounds that it would create a European market leader capable of competing with Chinese giant CRRC (601766.SS), which currently dwarves other rivals.

Vestager said the European Commission had looked in-depth at CRRC’s position in the global market.

  • Siemens: Key to have dialogue based on trust with EU about Alstom deal
  • Germany: Siemens/Alstom deal could increase competitiveness

She added that the European antitrust enforcer would review any measures offered by the companies to ease its competition concerns, but warned it was extremely late in the process.

“Of course our phone is open, the mailbox as well, (but) when you’re this late in the procedure, you have to be very blunt in remedying concerns if you want to do that,” she said.

German conglomerate Siemens has already offered to license parts of its high-speed train business and sell parts of its signaling operations after the European Commission voiced concerns.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas, addiotnal reporting by Myriam Rivet and Julie Carriat and Doug Busvine in Munich; Editing by Keith Weir