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Nerve-agent victim Yulia Skripal out of hospital, tensions build over where she'll go next

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal, is seen in an undated photo from social media. She was released from hospital Tuesday, and officials say she'll continue her recovery from nerve-agent poisoning at a 'secure location.' (Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

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TODAY:

  • Yulia Skripal is out of hospital in an undisclosed "secure location" to continue her recovery, but questions are swirling about where she'll go after that, with Canada listed among the possible destinations
  • Cape Town is making progress in its efforts to stop city water reservoirs from running dry, and the so-called "Day Zero" when water is expected to run out has been pushed into 2019
  • Canadians are the world's biggest TV watchers, according to a new global survey
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


Coming into the cold?

Yulia Skripal has been discharged from a British hospital and taken to an undisclosed "secure location" to continue her recovery, U.K. authorities announced this morning. But questions are swirling about where she'll go after that — with Canada listed among the possible destinations.

The 33-year-old and her father Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer-turned-double-agent, were poisoned with a nerve agent on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury.  

Yulia Skripal, right, was released from hospital Tuesday. Her father Sergei, left, continues to recover in a Salisbury, U.K., hospital. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)
Doctors had initially held out little hope of their recovery, saying tests suggested their mental capacity might have been "compromised" by their exposure to Novichok, a military-grade chemical weapon. But both father and daughter have since made remarkable progress.

Sergei Skripal, who was upgraded from critical to stable condition late last week, may also soon be released.  

"Although he is recovering more slowly than Yulia, we hope that he too will be able to leave hospital in due course," Dr. Christine Blanshard, medical director of the Salisbury District Hospital, told reporters.

The former Russian agent had lived quietly in Salisbury since 2010, when he came to the U.K. as part of a swap that saw 10 Kremlin "sleeper" spies exchanged for four people who had been convicted of feeding information to Western intelligence services.

Dr. Christine Blanshard, right, medical director of the District Hospital in Salisbury, England, and director of nursing Lorna Wilkinson, told media outside the hospital Tuesday that Yulia Skripal had been discharged. 'This is not the end of her treatment but marks a significant milestone,' Dr. Blanshard said. (Ben Mitchell/Associated Press)
Now the search is on for a new home for both Skripal and his daughter, who had remained behind in Russia.

This past weekend, the Sunday Times reported that the U.K. government is considering moving the Skripals abroad and furnishing them with new identities.

MI6, the British intelligence service, is said to be looking at a "five-eyes" partner — the U.S., Canada, New Zealand or Australia — to take on the job of protecting the pair from further attacks.

The Russians, who maintain that they had nothing to do with the poisoning, are calling the plan a "gross violation of international law."

A police notice is seen Tuesday outside The Mill pub, which remains closed amid continuing investigations into the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal. (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
"With a secret resettlement of Mr. and Ms. Skripal, all opportunities to hear their version of the events of 4 March will highly likely be lost forever," a spokesman for Russia's London embassy said yesterday. "The world, while having no opportunity to interact with them, will have every reason to see this as an abduction of the two Russian nationals or at least as their isolation."

And there was a follow-up tweet today — albeit with a cheeky photo of Sergei Skripal at his 2006 trial for high treason.

Canada has been a haven for Russian defectors in the past.

Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa who switched sides in 1945, was given a new identity and lived out the rest of his life in Canada, dying in 1982.

In 1992, the government of Brian Mulroney approved a high-stakes operation to smuggle a double-agent for Canada out of Moscow and set him up with a new life. Yevgeni Brik had been sent to Montreal as a Soviet spy in the early 1950s, but was eventually turned. He worked for Canadian intelligence for years until he was betrayed by an RCMP officer who was secretly working for the Russians.

Arrested during a trip back home, Brik was convicted of treason and served 15 years in jail. After being spirited back to Canada by CSIS agents, Brik lived in Ottawa until his death in 2011.

When former Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko appeared in public after his defection in Ottawa in 1945, he wore a pillowcase to shield his face. (Associated Press, Libraries and Archives Canada)
Such moves don't always work out, however.

Aleksey Artamonov, a former Russian intelligence agent, defected to the West along with his wife in 2008, providing detailed information about the Kremlin's money-laundering activities.  

He hoped to go to Sweden, Denmark or Switzerland, but the CIA suggested Canada.

And even that didn't happen. After stops in Philadelphia and Salt Lake City, Artamonov and his wife ended up in Portland, Ore., living under new identities.

"This is not at all what we imagined when we went to the Americans. We don't have jobs, we don't have documents. We live in a place we never even heard of before we got here," he told the Guardian newspaper in a 2015 interview.

"Do not trust anything to do with the U.S. government, because they will lie to you. They promise but they don't deliver. There is no sense in cooperating."


Cape Town discovers cost of conserving water

Cape Town is making progress in its efforts to stop city water reservoirs from running dry.

Water usage by the South African city's four million residents has been steadily dropping, with the target of 450 million litres a day now in sight.

A move by municipal authorities to reduce water pressure in the system is saving an additional 50 million litres a day, and last week the city's collective usage was 516 million litres.

People collect drinking water from pipes fed by an underground spring in St. James, about 25 kilometres from the Capetown city centre, in late January as the city clamped down on water use from regular taps. (Roger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)
"Day Zero," the envisioned date when household taps will be shut off and water distributed only at public collection points, has now been pushed back to early 2019.

And as the rainy season approaches, there are hopes that the three-year drought might be lessening.

But even if the immediate crisis is solved, Capetonians are in for some lasting sticker shock, with water rates set to rise by 27 per cent under the city's proposed new budget.

A nearly empty reservoir on a farm in Piket Bo-berg, north of Cape Town, on March 7. The three-year drought has caused water supplies in the region to reach critically low levels. (Wikus de Wet/AFP/Getty Images)
The price hike is the unintended consequence of conservation efforts. As usage has plummeted, so has revenue, and the local government must now find a way to maintain the system and fund new projects to increase the water supply.

The reduction in water use — almost 400 million litres a day less than a year ago — has translated into a 2 billion rand ($209 million Cdn) budget shortfall, reports the Mail & Guardian.

The rate hike is to take effect July 1. But residents' groups, like Save Cape Town, are campaigning hard against the changes, with a protest rally scheduled for this Friday. The local chamber of commerce has also come out against the increase, warning that it will encourage businesses to seek out private water sources.

A woman paints a placard prior to a January protest against the way the Cape Town city council has dealt with issues around water shortages. Even if the immediate crisis is solved, Capetonians are in for some lasting sticker shock, with water rates set to rise by 27 per cent. (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)
Even if the drought ends, Cape Town is faced with some significant — and expensive — water challenges. The city is supplied by just six dams, and all of them are privately owned.  

Earlier this year, South Africa's government stepped in to stop retailers from hiking the price of bottled water as demand surged.


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Canada rules (the couch)

Canadians are the world's biggest TV watchers, according to a new global survey.

The One Television Year in the World report compiled by Eurodata, an audience measuring service, tracked viewing habits in 110 countries. On average, it says, Canadians watch four hours and three minutes of television a day — the same as Americans.

That's 14 minutes more than European residents and well above the Asian average of two hours and 25 minutes.

Eurodata's 'One Television Year in the World' report says Canadians watch an average of four hours and three minutes of television a day, leading the world. (Shutterstock)
The overall "global individual viewing time" is two hours and 56 minutes.

Despite the growth of streaming services, the study says traditional TV viewing time seems to be holding steady. People are simply watching more content on more screens, and making use of newer options like time-shifting and on-demand services.

The CRTC says that in 2016, 44 per cent of Canadian viewers subscribed to a streaming service like Netflix or CraveTV. (Rasulov/Shutterstock)
The Eurodata numbers for Canada are slightly above those supplied by the CRTC in its latest Communications Monitoring Report, released in November. The federal body said Canadians were watching an average of 26.6 hours of television per week, or 3.8 hours a day, down about two per cent from the previous year.

But the CRTC numbers vary dramatically by age group:

  • Viewers 65 and older watch almost 43 hours a week, or 6.1 hours a day.
  • Those in the 50-to-64 cohort watch 33 hours a week, or 4.7 hours a day.
  • The 35-to-49 year-old group watches a average of 22 hours a week.
  • Those 18-to-34 watch just 18.5 hours a week. Although more tellingly, a full-quarter of that youngest demographic now watches exclusively online.

In 2016, the last full year of data, the CRTC says 44 per cent of Canadian viewers subscribed to a streaming service like Netflix or CraveTV. They watched three hours of streamed content per week on average, up from a half-hour a week in 2010. (The most avid users now average 6.5 hours a week.)

In comparison, 61 per cent of 18-to-29 year-olds in the United States now "primarily" watch streamed content, according to a recent Pew Research Center Study.

A television playing a news report is seen through a window in the West Wing of the White House in Washington. President Donald Trump often begins watching TV as early as 5:30 a.m., according to White House insiders, and follows multiple channels on multiple screens throughout the day. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
And where Americans are watching has changed as well — at work, on planes, and even in the bathroom, according to this survey. More than 60 per cent of all U.S. households now subscribe to a streaming service.

There is, however, one very important viewer who doesn't seem to be changing his habits. President Donald Trump often begins watching TV as early as 5:30 a.m., according to White House insiders, and follows multiple channels on multiple screens throughout the day. The world's most powerful man watches at least four hours a day of cable news, and sometimes double that amount.

That would make the 71-year-old a super-consumer, even among his demographic. The average 65-plus U.S. viewer watches 6.8 hours a day.


Quote of the moment

"If the federal government allows its authority to be challenged, if the national interest is given over to the extremes on the left or the right, and if the voices of the moderate majority of Canadians are forgotten, the reverberations of that will tear at the fabric of confederation for many, many years to come."

- Alberta Premier Rachel Notley ups the pressure on Ottawa to find a solution to the dispute between her province and British Columbia over the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley talks to cabinet members about the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in Edmonton on Monday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

What The National is reading

  • Facebook's Zuckerberg faces congressional inquisition today (CBC)
  • Texas, Arizona, New Mexico pledge hundreds of National Guard troops for border (Fox News)
  • UN says torture is rampant in Libyan prisons (Africanews)
  • Disgruntled Tim Horton's owner has franchise taken away (CBC)
  • Syria 'assassinated' British reporter, family claims (BBC)
  • Yemini rights groups sues Saudi Crown Prince for crimes against humanity (France 24)
  • Trump family hotel business asked Panamanian president for help (Associated Press)
  • DJ jailed for headbutting former Australian PM (Sydney Morning Herald)

Today in history

April 10, 2000: Research In Motion, a Canadian success story

Pairing a keyboard and a pager was paying off big time for Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. The co-founders of Research In Motion (RIM) — soon to be rebranded as BlackBerry — were worth about $1 billion each and their "Canadian high-tech Cinderella story" was all palace ball and no pumpkin. The magic eventually ran out, of course. At its peak in December 2012, there were 79 million BlackBerry users around the globe. By the end of 2016, its share of the global cellphone market was just 0.0481 per cent.

A 2000 profile of the company that brought the BlackBerry device to the world. 3:51

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.