Stories that defined the US and Canada in 2022

The year 2022 saw former US President Trump facing legal action, Pope Francis apologising in Canada and several mass shootings.

Roe v Wade
Anti-abortion advocates celebrate outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, following the court's decision to strike down Roe v Wade [File: Steve Helber/The Associated Press]

The year 2022 is coming to an end, and with it, another eventful 365 days in the United States and Canada.

The political drama surrounding former US President Donald Trump continued as the Republican leader faced scrutiny for his business dealings, handling of classified documents and unfounded accusations of fraud during the 2020 presidential elections.

Those claims helped fuel an attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, as Trump supporters attempted to disrupt the certification of the election results.

Throughout 2022, the US Justice Department pursued legal action against hundreds of participants in the attack and a committee in the House of Representatives met to investigate the events leading up to it.

But Trump’s successor, Democratic President Joe Biden, faced hurdles of his own in 2022. Democrats went through a tight midterm race in November, while high-profile court cases challenged Democratic policy on abortion and immigration.

To the north, Canada continued to grapple with a legacy of violence against Indigenous people. Pope Francis visited the country in July in an attempt to address the Catholic Church’s role in that violence.

Here are the stories that defined the last year in the US and Canada:

January 6 panel recommends criminal charges against Trump

Months of investigation and primetime hearings culminated with a Democratic-led Congressional committee formally recommending criminal charges – including for “inciting, assisting or aiding insurrection” – against former President Trump.

While the recommendations are not binding, the announcement capped a tough year for the ex-president, who has been the subject of myriad investigations since leaving the White House.

In August, federal agents recovered more than a hundred documents marked as classified from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

And in early December, a New York court found The Trump Organization guilty of tax fraud, though Trump himself was not charged in the case.

Meanwhile, a probe into potential election interference in Georgia is reportedly reaching its endgame. Members of Trump’s inner circle, including lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have been called on to testify over allegations the former president and his aides attempted to sway the state’s vote tally.

Trump recently announced he intends to run for president again in 2024.

Repeal of Roe v Wade

Recent appointments to the US Supreme Court have left the nine-member bench with a solid conservative majority. And in May, a draft opinion leaked which indicated the court was prepared to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that enshrined abortion as a constitutionally protected right.

Abortion rights advocates braced for the official decision, which finally came in June.

The ruling kicked off a maelstrom of legal challenges and questions, as some states sought to instantly enact bans and others moved to codify protections for abortion access in their constitution.

As of December, according to a Reuters analysis, 10 states had banned abortions outright and another eight had paused bans pending court challenges. Several conservative-controlled state legislatures are expected to seek further restrictions in the new year.

Gun killings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York

High rates of gun violence in the US continued in 2022, with the research nonprofit Gun Violence Archive recording 636 mass shootings, defined as single incidents where four or more victims were shot.

One of the most prominent attacks came on May 14, when a gunman motivated by racist hatred opened fire at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York, killing 10.

Then, 10 days later, 19 children and two teachers were murdered at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, an attack that echoed the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.

In both school shootings, as with the Buffalo attack, the gunman had used a semi-automatic weapon.

Public outcry buoyed the passage of the first substantial federal gun control package in decades, which strengthened some background checks and closed a gun-purchasing loophole.

But the legislation fell short of larger reforms sought by advocates, including banning military-style “assault” weapons and raising the minimum age to buy a firearm.

Midterms ‘red wave’ fails to materialise

Republicans were expecting to trounce Democrats in the US midterm elections in November, supported by economic angst, a seemingly unpopular Democratic president and historic trends.

Instead, the “red wave” turned out to be no more than a ripple, with Democrats keeping their majority in the Senate and Republicans taking a narrower-than-expected majority in the House of Representatives.

Several tight governor races also tilted in the Democrat’s favour, with Democrats flipping control of the state executive branch in Maryland, Massachusetts and Arizona. The incumbent Democratic governor in the swing state of Nevada, however, lost his reelection bid.

The midterm results called into question the viability of Trump-style politicians in the Republican party moving forward, with the former president’s endorsement of some conspiracy theorists and election deniers seen as hurting the party’s overall success.

Pope apologises to Canada’s Indigenous communities

It was an apology decades in the making: In July, Pope Francis arrived in Canada to denounce the “evil” of church-run residential schools that served as institutions of forced assimilation for First Nations, Inuit and Metis children starting in the late 1800s.

“I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” Pope Francis said, following a visit to the former site of the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis, Alberta.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were separated from their families and forced into the residential schools, where they were subjected to widespread physical, psychological and sexual abuse. They were also prevented from speaking Indigenous languages and practising cultural traditions.

Thousands of children are believed to have died while attending the schools. In remarks to reporters, Pope Francis confirmed that he felt the residential schools were part of a “genocide” against Indigenous people.

Elon Musk buys Twitter

As part of a $44bn purchase he could not get out of, tech billionaire Elon Musk took the reins of the social media giant Twitter in October.

His first months as CEO were chaotic. Musk oversaw a mass layoff at the company and enacted controversial policies, including changes to content moderation and a paid-service for accounts to receive blue-check verification.

Facing backlash to his leadership, Musk posted a Twitter poll in December asking users if he should step down. After 57.5 percent of respondents voted in favour, he announced he would step down as soon as he found “someone foolish enough to take the job”.

Brittney Griner released from Russian detention

Arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17, just days before Russia invaded Ukraine, US basketball star Brittney Griner became emblematic of tanking US-Russia relations.

Russian authorities arrested Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star and two-time Olympic gold medallist, after they said they found cannabis oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony on drug charges.

The US State Department denounced her detention as “wrongful”, promising to make Griner’s return to the US a “priority”.

Months of negotiations culminated in December, with Griner freed in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US for “aiding terrorism”.

Critics said the trade was uneven, with the US failing to secure the release of former US Marine Paul Whelan, whom Russia accused of spying, though the US state department said he was “sentenced on false charges”.

Hurricane Ian batters the southeast US

Hurricane Ian, a category-four storm, tore across parts of the southern US, making landfall in Florida in late September before continuing to the Carolinas.

The Florida Medical Examiners Commission attributed 144 deaths to the hurricane as of December 9, making it the deadliest storm to hit the state since 1935.

With its high winds and flooding, the storm was estimated to have caused at least $50bn in damage. Experts warn hurricanes are set to increase in intensity and duration as a result of climate change.

Asylum seekers die in locked tractor trailer in Texas

In an arresting reminder of the desperate journeys taken by migrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the US, 53 people died after they were abandoned inside a sweltering tractor trailer in San Antonio, Texas, in June.

The incident was one of the deadliest human trafficking tragedies along the US-Mexico border in recent history. It came as the administration of Democratic President Biden grappled with an increase in border crossings.

Earlier in the year, the Biden administration announced it would rescind Title 42, a controversial policy that allowed border agents to turn away asylum-seekers as a health measure – against COVID-19.

Invoked in 2020, under then-President Trump, Title 42 has nevertheless remained in effect, with some legislators suing to keep the policy in place.

In November, a US district court judge ruled the Biden administration had five weeks to end Title 42. But in December, with days until the policy’s expiration, the US Supreme Court issued a temporary order to preserve it.

NASA DART spacecraft successfully alters asteroid’s path

It was a historic test of humanity’s’s ability to avert doom and the US space agency passed.

NASA sent the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) smashing into the asteroid Dimorphos on September 26, causing the huge cosmic object to change its orbit.

While that space rock posed no threat, the test was hailed as a proof of concept that, in the event an asteroid was on a collision course with Earth, humanity might have a fighting chance.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies