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No federal party will turn back the clock on the legalization of marijuana



OTTAWA—It is not a drill. When legal cannabis hits the shelves in Canada on Wednesday, it will be there to stay.

Come next year’s federal election, no party will be committing to turn back the clock on Justin Trudeau’s signature policy; not even the Conservatives who spent the last campaign painting nightmare scenarios about the legal sale of marijuana and who would have no qualms about doing away with other major parts of the Liberal legacy.

Marijuana plants are shown at a cultivation facility in Olds, Alta., on Oct. 10, 2018. Considering the amount of money and labour that has gone into the new market for marijuana, it was never a political policy that could or would be reversed on a dime, Chantal Hébert writes.
Marijuana plants are shown at a cultivation facility in Olds, Alta., on Oct. 10, 2018. Considering the amount of money and labour that has gone into the new market for marijuana, it was never a political policy that could or would be reversed on a dime, Chantal Hébert writes.  (Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

If Andrew Scheer became prime minister, he would waste no time in dismantling the Liberal climate change infrastructure. A Conservative federal government would turn its back on carbon pricing and lighten the regulatory burden on pipeline owners.

It would reverse the bid to make the Senate more independent and resume appointing partisan members committed to supporting the government agenda to the Upper House.

But Scheer would not kill the nascent legal cannabis market..

It would of course be hard for the Conservatives to continue to prosecute the legalization of cannabis with a minimum of credibility when some of those who toiled on their front bench or in their government’s backrooms have now become poster people for the cannabis industry.

Given the significant amount of money and labour that has gone into the opening and the operation of this new market, this was never a policy that could or would be reversed on a dime.

When the Liberals first adopted a resolution in support of the legalization of cannabis at the party’s 2012 convention, few believed it had the potential to become a fait accompli a mere half-a-dozen years later.

The party was leaderless and languishing in third place in the House of Commons. The best some Liberal strategists could think of saying about the cannabis resolution was that it sent a signal that there was still some policy life on their political planet. The worst was that it could lead scores of voters to dismiss their party as too irresponsible to be returned to government.

Yet support for the legalization of marijuana among the Liberal delegates cut right across the age spectrum. That was a rare clue that the proposal might turn out to be more than a one-convention wonder.

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about the need for governments to acquire a so-called social licence for the projects and the policies they support.

But in the case of the legalization of cannabis — as in that of assisted dying — the federal government of the day did not so much create the circumstances for social acceptability as take advantage of its existence.

An Abacus poll published on Monday reported little public resistance to the new status of cannabis. Most Canadians will not be dancing in the streets when marijuana stores open for business on Wednesday, nor will they be rushing to the barricades to protest.

Read more:

Opinion | Walkom: Legalizing pot is about politics — and big business

Investing in cannabis will be hazy in the short run

I was 14 when I first realized how readily available cannabis was. The fact that it was an illegal substance did not factor in my decision to take a pass on trying it. By all accounts, my experience is par for the course for most adult Canadians.

It won’t be easier to purchase cannabis under the new regime; at first in fact it will often be harder. The main change is that it will no longer be illegal. And as a result, scores of people, many of them young, will no longer risk being saddled with a criminal record. Over time, smoking weed may become as uncool as smoking tobacco.

That is not to say that the politics of marijuana will fall right off the radar. But much of the action — at least over the first few years — will be taking place in the provinces.

As it is now configured, the legal cannabis market is really a patchwork system featuring almost as many approaches as there are provinces.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. At some point, best practices will surface and — in an ideal world — be replicated.

For instance, Quebec — under its incoming CAQ government — is planning to take as close to a prohibitionist approach as possible. Premier-elect François Legault would raise the legal age to buy cannabis from 18 to 21 and make it illegal to smoke weed in public places. Ontario is taking a more liberal approach.

The next few years will tell which of the two comes closest to meeting the policy objectives of eradicating the black market and ensuring that less cannabis finds its way into the hands of Canadian teenagers.

But under any scenario, getting an informed take on the big post-legalization picture will take longer than the 10 or so months between now and the next federal election.

Chantal Hébert is a columnist based in Ottawa covering politics. Follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert

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This Syrian refugee is living the classic Canadian dream. ‘We are so proud of Canada and want to make Canada proud of us’




Three years after Canada opened its doors — and heart — to almost 60,000 Syrian refugees, Yaseen Alshehadt has a job he loves, his wife is learning English and their children are getting “the world’s best education.”

He’s living the classic immigrant’s dream.

Syrian refugee Yaseen Alshehadt, 44, is a manager at an Oakville shawarma shop. “We are so proud of Canada,” he says.
Syrian refugee Yaseen Alshehadt, 44, is a manager at an Oakville shawarma shop. “We are so proud of Canada,” he says.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Although settling in a new country can be difficult, Syrian newcomers who were sponsored by the federal government and community groups are slowly setting down roots in their adopted country, according to a new survey by COSTI, the agency tasked by Ottawa to settle government-sponsored Syrians in the GTA. The survey found many are thriving, with a third having found jobs and some 87 per cent reporting they feel happy.

“I can speak English now and have a job. My kids are in school. We feel 80 per cent Canadian,” said Alshehadt, 44, whose family fled Daraa in 2011 when the Syrian civil war broke out. They spent five years in Jordan before coming to Canada in January 2016 under a government sponsorship.

“We are so proud of Canada and want to make Canada proud of us, but we need some time to grow.”

“As a settlement sector practitioner who has been working at this for 30 years, I believe this particular group, which is (so early) into their settlement, is ahead of the integration process,” said Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI.

“Half have had paid employment and many are still committed to their language training. They have made friends with non-Syrians and are not just retreated to their own community, which slows down their integration. These are all very good signs.”

Millions of Syrians have fled their homeland since the start of the bloody civil war that has left more than 350,000 people dead. Since November 2015, Canada has welcomed 58,650 Syrian refugees, about half sponsored by the Canadian government and others sponsored by community groups who came together in response to the massive humanitarian crisis.

The integration of government-assisted Syrians has always been more difficult because this group faces greater barriers due to lower education, poorer English and larger households. A previous study by the immigration department found a higher proportion of government-assisted refugees relied on food banks and were unemployed compared to their privately-sponsored peers, who have a social support network to ease their integration and settlement.

In the fall, COSTI interviewed 351 families — about 80 per cent of the Syrian refugees it has assisted. They were asked about their language acquisition, employment, housing, health, children’s education and civic engagement. Participants responded to 61 questions in Arabic. The surveyed households represented some 1,755 Syrian adults and children.

Among the findings:

  • 33 per cent of the heads of households are employed, up from 12 per cent in a similar survey done a year after their arrival. Previous research found that six out of 10 government-supported refugees were employed after five years.
  • 63 per cent of adults are enrolled in English classes, down from 86 per cent in the previous survey. Many quit after they felt their language skills had improved and that they were ready to work full-time.
  • 21 per cent have moved from their first homes in Canada, with most wanting to be closer to friends, and others requiring a bigger unit or less expensive housing.
  • 87.3 per cent reported that their family feels happy or very happy in Canada, but 9.4 per cent expressed sadness while 3.4 per cent said they feel depressed, with many citing family separation as the cause.
  • 92 per cent of children participate in sports or after-school activities. About 25 per cent are involved in soccer, 35 per cent in swimming, 10 per cent in hockey, football or gymnastics and 30 per cent in other activities.
  • 100 per cent said they plan to become Canadian citizens in the future.

An experienced chef, Alshehadt, the self-proclaimed “shawarma master,” began working on the serving-line at Adonis, a retail grocery chain, shortly after his family moved to Mississauga in the spring of 2016 from temporary shelter at the Toronto Plaza Hotel. He worked part-time while studying English during the day.

When the one-year government financial support ran out, the family was forced to go on social assistance for about a year while Alshehadt continued to work and improve his English as his wife, Iklhas, stayed home to look after their five kids — a boy and four girls, all under 11.

After the stint at Adonis, Alshehadt worked at two restaurants, including one where he helped develop the menu and train its franchised cooking staff. Earlier this year, he quit his English class and began working full-time, recently landing a job as the manager of a shawarma restaurant in Oakville.

“I finished at level-4 in my English. The classes are good for the grammar and basic, but I needed to go out and practise my English through work,” said Alshehadt, who should make just short of $60,000 a year in his new job.

Yaseen Alshehadt, 44, with son Mohammad, 11, and daughters, Lemar, 5, far left, Salsabil, 9, Miral, 4 and Noorseen, 18 months, in the father's arms.
Yaseen Alshehadt, 44, with son Mohammad, 11, and daughters, Lemar, 5, far left, Salsabil, 9, Miral, 4 and Noorseen, 18 months, in the father’s arms.

“We are all happy being here. We all feel safe. We come here for our children and we know they will have a future here.”

Alshehadt said his children are enrolled in sports and other after-school programs, interacting with other kids through soccer, dancing and swimming classes. He says the family loves socializing with their non-Syrian neighbours. His wife restarted English classes in September after they found a daycare space for their 18-month-old Canadian-born daughter, Noorseen.

“The Middle East is a very closed society. In Canada, I get to know how big the world is and I love meeting people with different experience. We meet people from other religions and learn from each other. Everyone lives in peace,” explained Alshehadt, whose family attends a mosque in Mississauga.

“This still feels like a dream. I tell my children they have to work hard and give back to Canada. Everything is possible here. Even if they want to become the prime minister, they can.”

While his immediate goal is to help his family and his wife’s family — still living in limbo in the Middle East — be sponsored to Canada, Alshehadt said he hopes to save enough money and one day open a fusion shawarma restaurant as a tribute to Canada.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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Louis Riel honoured on anniversary of execution, part of Métis Week celebrations




Métis Week was held in Edmonton and across Alberta from Nov. 12 to 17.

The week was commemorated with a ceremony at the Alberta Legislature on Friday, on the anniversary of Métis Leader Louis Riel’s execution, or Louis Riel Day.

Coverage of Métis people on

The ceremony, organized by the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA), paid tribute to the rebel leader who sacrificed his life defending the rights of Métis people.

“He stood for a fair country, is what he stood for. Not only for Métis people, but everyone in Canada. He fought and he died for it, said Audrey Poitras, president of the MNA.

“We think it’s really important that we continue to have people understand. He was a person like all of us.”

The event saw Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, and federal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi in attendance.

Youth performers, dancers and singers were a large part of the ceremony’s itinerary and young people have become an integral part of their events.


“(They are) our future leaders, said Poitras.

“We want to make sure they understand why we do the things we do. Why we believe in what we do. About the history of our people, how we helped build this country, Canada, and this province, Alberta.

“We try to build youth into everything we do now.”

READ MORE: ‘We’re reclaiming our heritage’ — the controversial rise of the Eastern Métis

To explain to the crowd how Riel made his mark on Canadian history, Charles Barner, a grade four student who is part of the Métis Nation of Alberta took to the microphone.

“He formed a provisional government to negotiate the entrance of Manitoba into confederation,” explained Barner.

He spoke about Riel’s monumental achievements, and of his passing.

“Nov. 16, 1885, Louis Riel was hanged in Regina, Saskatchewan.”

Barner also spoke with Global News after the ceremony.

“I think people need to know about our culture and history, the young boy said.

“The Europeans came across to Canada and there was a war. They wanted to take over Canada and Louis Riel said ‘no’.

“He was found guilty and he got hung. He stood up for his country. He didn’t let anything bad happen to it,” said Barner.

READ MORE: New Métis rights tour launches in Winnipeg

The ceremony to honour Louis Riel has grown over the years.

“People and governments are talking to us now. We are moving forward with reconciliation, Poitras said.

“And I think that’s what it takes — more people to stand up and come out.”

Sohi also spoke on behalf of the federal government.

“An essential aspect of overcoming oppression and wrongs of the past, is to learn from and honour our history,” said Minister of Health and Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Learning about and understanding Métis people and their relationship with others is why Métis Week is held in Edmonton, and the province.

“We as Métis people are here to work and live with everyone else in this country, and the more we understand each other- the better we can,” Poitras said.

“While we’re promoting and educating who we are as Métis people — we learn from other people who come out to be part of what we’re doing — and that’s really what it’s all about.”

Métis Week celebrations in Edmonton come to a close with a family day celebration at the Edmonton Inn & Conference Centre on Nov. 17.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Why some killers end up in minimum security and others don’t




A former top justice official says it’s not uncommon for killers like Christopher Cowell to end up in a minimum security institution shortly after being sentenced for first-degree murder. 

There are a great many people serving life sentences in minimum security.– Mary Campbell, former top justice official

Cowell was convicted of first-degree murder by a Woodstock jury in 2002 for handcuffing his estranged wife Shelley in the basement of their Woodstock home before he beat her and stabbed her to death in a crime so bloody, the sentencing judge said the images « stand as mute testimony to the horrific manner of [Shelley’s] death. »

Shelley’s family spoke up after learning last month that Cowell was not only living in a minimum security facility in BC, but he was getting day passes to visit his wife, a former prison worker, and their young daughter. 

Mary Campbell, a former Director General of Criminal Justice at the Ministry of Public Safety told Power and Politics host Vassy Kapelos Thursday that Cowell’s case isn’t unusual, despite the savage nature of his crime. 

« Not at all, » she said. « There are a great many people serving life sentences in minimum security. » 

‘There is a science behind this’

The Fraser Valley Institution is a multi-level facility, from minimum to maximum security and how inmates are placed is based on a number of factors, including escape risk and a prisoner’s tendency towards violence. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Campbell said prison officials look at a number of factors to try and predict the future behaviour of an inmate and that just because a prisoner has committed a terrible crime, it doesn’t necessarily mean they pose a significant risk to commit another one. 

« The type of crime you committed is certainly a major factor, but it’s not the only one, » she said. « There is a science behind this. » 

Some people really want the system to punish.– Mary Campbell, former top justice official

Campbell said in assessing a prisoner’s risk, corrections officials also look at how likely the inmate is to attempt an escape and if they got out, how likely they might commit a violent crime.

Even with many violent killers serving out their sentence in minimum security, there are few escapes, she noted, with only eight out of Canada’s 24,000 prisoners successfully breaking out last year. 

A 2017 Parole Board of Canada report on Cowell’s case obtained by CBC News stated that Cowell does not pose a security risk, that his behaviour as a prisoner was « impeccable throughout his sentence » and that he is « a low risk for general and violent recidivism. »

The report also states that the board « remains concerned about the extreme violence » of his crime and that Cowell is at a « high risk for future violence in the context of an intimate relationship. » 

How you see it comes down to ideology

Former top justice official Mary Campbell said how people see the role of Canada’s prison system often comes down to ideology.

Campbell said it’s natural for people as outsiders to question how the corrections system sorts prisoners in terms of maximum, medium and minimum security and that not everyone will understand or agree.

« I guess it comes down to, in part, a bit of a difference in ideology, » she said. « Some people really want the system to punish and.. ..I understand that. » 

They don’t all need to be in max. – Mary Campbell, former top justice official

Campbell said the mandate of the Corrections Service of Canada is to not only have prisoners serve out their sentence, but try to rehabilitate them through treatment so that when their sentence is over, a convict can become a law abiding member of society. 

« They don’t all need to be in max. It’s like going to the hospital tonight, you don’t put everyone in ICU. You do a triage, you do an assessment based on some science. People who need the most treatment, need the most security are going to be in the highest, most expensive, most intensive setting and others who don’t need that will be cascaded down. » 

Better communication with victims needed

Shelley Cowell’s family wants the federal government to make it mandatory for murder victims’ families to fill out a victim registration form to get updates on their killer, even if it is just to say ‘no.’ (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Still, Shelley’s family wants the federal government to make it mandatory for murder victims’ families to fill out a victim registration form with the Parole Board of Canada because they say they were never told about it when Cowell was imprisoned 17 years ago. 

Campbell agreed that communication « is hugely important, » but noted that the system is the way it is because most people who are related to a homicide victim are unlike Shelley’s family. 

« We talk to a lot of victims and they did not want any further involvement, they did not want to be contacted, » she said. « So can we do a better job of reaching out to the ones who do? Yeah I would say so. » 

A written statement from the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale condemned Cowell’s crime, expressed sympathy with Shelley’s family and said it is committed to giving victims as much information as possible, though it did not address the family’s request directly. 

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