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In today's Morning Brief, we look at a Canadian firm called Hatebase and its online repository of hate speech. We also have stories on new research into vaping-related lung illness, the expansion of export pipeline capacity, and the latest developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
Hatebase's automated social media monitoring engine digs through the internet every few minutes to spot potentially hateful language. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

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Words that mean trouble: Canadian company builds hate speech database

Timothy Quinn and his team have a mission.  Their goal? To identify hateful messages and vile words found on the internet.

Quinn's Toronto-based firm, Hatebase, uses software that sifts through online content. "It's a horrible job for a human being to do," Quinn said. "You need some degree of automation to handle the worst of the worst."

The company's multilingual lexicon of hateful terms has attracted big-name partners around the world. But there are questions emerging about censorship and whether software can decipher what is hateful within complex text.

Hatebase's automated social media monitoring engine isn't designed to single out users, but Quinn said a noticeable spike in online hate speech can sometimes precede targeted violence. "We're not looking for the one active shooter," he said. "We're looking for raw trends around language being used to discriminate against groups of people online."

Hatebase only provides the data; it's up to clients to decide how to use it. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said it's concerned about the way the data is used, and whether it can form the basis for excluding some points of view from online discussion. Read more from CBC's Thomas Daigle about tracking hateful words online.


Mourning in Bolivia

(Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Virginia Ticona mourns during the funeral of her son, Antonio Quispe, yesterday in El Alto, Bolivia. Quispe was among at least eight people killed the previous day when security forces escorting gasoline tankers from a fuel plant clashed with supporters of former president Evo Morales who had been blockading the plant for five days. Read more here about the ongoing unrest in Bolivia.


In brief

An Ontario teen put on life-support after being diagnosed with a severe vaping-related illness may be the first documented case of a different form of damage linked to e-cigarettes, according to a study published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The study suggests the teen's condition is more like "popcorn lung" — named for the disease factory workers developed after breathing in heated flavouring — than other illnesses typically seen in cases involving vaping. Read more about the puzzling case of respiratory illness here.

As the fight over new pipelines drags on, operators in Western Canada are finding ways to move more oil through pipes that are running at capacity.  As planned projects such TC Energy's Keystone XL, Enbridge's Line 3, and the federal government's Trans Mountain Expansion face delays, the expanded capacity could provide significant relief for a struggling industry. Read more from CBC's Kyle Bakx about the growth in pipeline capacity here.

The impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump will hear today from two more key witnesses who grew alarmed by how Trump and others in his orbit were conducting foreign policy in Ukraine. Yesterday, Ambassador Gordon Sondland declared that Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani explicitly sought a "quid pro quo" with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. Read more about today's impeachment proceedings here.

John Mann, who was best known as the frontman of the folk-rock band Spirit of the West, died yesterday in Vancouver at the age of 57. He had battled early-onset Alzheimer's disease since 2014. A four-time Juno nominee for his work with the group, Mann and his band became underground heroes for their politically savvy, musically diverse songwriting that fused Celtic and alt-rock. Read more about Mann's passing here.

A Pablo Picasso portrait sold yesterday for $9.1 million, making it the most valuable work by a non-Canadian artist to sell at auction in the country. The 1941 painting, called Femme au chapeau, depicts photographer Dora Maar, who during her relationship with Picasso served as the principal subject of his Weeping Woman series. Read more about the record-breaking sale here.

Now here's some good news to start your Thursday: Have an extra $1.38 million sitting around? You could own a piece of hockey history. Long Pond in Windsor, N.S., where many believe ice hockey in Canada was born, is up for sale. It comes with roughly six hectares of land — plus the bragging rights that come with being the "cradle of hockey." The town has backed its claim by citing historians who described a game called hurley ("playing ball on ice") as far back as the 1800s. Read more about the sale of the pond here.


Today in history

1902: Hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt is born in Toronto. Hewitt, who coined the phrase, "He shoots, he scores," called the first game from Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens when it opened in 1931.

1979: Pierre Trudeau resigns as Liberal leader. He later postponed his retirement when Joe Clark's minority Tory government was defeated on Dec. 13 on a non-confidence motion against its first budget, forcing an election. Trudeau returned and led the Liberals to a majority government in the election in February 1980.

1981: An estimated 100,000 people gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest high interest rates. The demonstration, initiated by Canadian Labour Congress president Dennis McDermott, is the largest demonstration ever held on Parliament Hill.

1988: The Tories under Brian Mulroney defeat the Liberals under John Turner and Ed Broadbent's NDP in a federal election. The key issue was the Conservatives' free trade agreement with the United States.

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