In the news today: Ottawa and AI in the spotlight, B.C.’s safer supply studied

Here is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to
bring you up to speed on what you need to know today…

Ottawa used AI in hundreds of initiatives

Canada’s federal government has used artificial intelligence in nearly 300 projects and initiatives, new research has found — including to help predict the outcome of tax cases, sort temporary visa applications and promote diversity in hiring. 

Joanna Redden, an associate professor at Western University, pieced together the database using news reports, documents tabled in Parliament and access-to-information requests. 

Of the 303 automated tools in the register as of Wednesday, 95 per cent were used by federal government agencies.

“There needs to be far more public debate about what kinds of systems should be in use, and there needs to be more public information available about how these systems are being used,” Redden said in an interview.

She argued the data exposes a problem with the Liberal government’s proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act, the first federal bill specifically aimed at AI.

Scientific studies of B.C.’s safer supply emerge

Peer-reviewed research is emerging about the possible impacts of British Columbia’s safer supply program, which provides prescription alternatives to toxic illicit drugs, with two studies in international medical journals casting the strategy in a different light.

One found the program was associated with a reduced risk of death from overdose and other causes among opioid-using participants, while the other concluded the strategy was associated with a significant increase in opioid overdose hospitalizations across the community.

The authors of the studies say the two sets of results aren’t contradictory; instead, they ask different questions about the policy introduced in 2020.

The safer supply policy has since become a lightning rod for critics, including federal Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre, who has pledged to shut it down if he becomes prime minister.

Man accused of killing cop to continue testimony

A man accused of running over a Toronto police officer nearly three years ago is expected to continue testifying at his trial today.

Umar Zameer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup, who died after he was hit by a vehicle in an underground parking garage on July 2, 2021.

When he first took the stand Tuesday, Zameer described the events that led up to his encounter with police that night.

He recalled coming to downtown Toronto with his pregnant wife and young son because they wanted to take part in Canada Day festivities.

Court has previously heard that Northrup and his partner — both dressed in plain clothes — were investigating a stabbing when they went into the garage underneath Toronto City Hall. Zameer was not involved in the stabbing.

Stranded whale calf grips heart of tiny B.C. town

It’s just after 10 a.m., and Yvonne Malanfant has finished brewing a fresh pot of coffee and placing a plate of homemade quesadillas with a side dish of spicy mayonnaise on a table for everybody to share.

A little bell above her door rings to announce the arrival of another local to pick up their mail and catch up on recent events.

Customer traffic at the small Canada Post outlet at Zeballos, B.C., has been extra busy over the past two weeks as residents gather to talk about the drama unfolding in a nearby tidal lagoon where efforts are underway to rescue a stranded killer whale calf that tragically lost its mother.

“This is incredible,” says Malanfant, the postmistress for the community of about 200 residents. “It’s pretty incredible what’s going on. It’s made the news every night.”

Hunters, loggers, fishing guides and the area’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents all say they are deeply concerned about the plight of the two-year-old orca calf, left alone without its mother in Little Espinosa Inlet since March, and a rescue attempt can’t come soon enough.

Walmart Canada outfitting warehouses with robots

In a Calgary warehouse almost as big as eight football fields, an army of robots whirr about, carrying massive quantities of merchandise bound for Walmart Canada customers.

Some of the robots zip around the hulking facility transporting pallets of merchandise fresh off delivery trucks. Another resembling a giant arm moves the pallets onto conveyor belts. A third group are labellers.

Together, they shave down the time it takes to get products from trailers into the facility by 90 per cent — and their overlord, Walmart Canada, hopes this is just the start. It plans to bring robots to Mississauga and Cornwall, Ont., distribution centres over the next five years.

“We’re super excited about what we’ve done in Calgary, and we’re super excited to scale that and get it into our other sites,” said Matt Kelly, Walmart Canada’s vice-president of supply chain.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024

The Canadian Press

<!– Photo: 20240411000436-661769680a1ce195d828631ejpeg.jpg, Caption:

People walk past an AI sign at the All In artificial intelligence conference Thursday, September 28, 2023  in Montreal. Canada’s federal government has used artificial intelligence in nearly 300 projects and initiatives, new research has found — including to help predict the outcome of tax cases, sort temporary visa applications and promote diversity in hiring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz