Trucking in meth: How smugglers sneak the destructive drug into Winnipeg

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Allan Rodney was never alone on the open road, police allege — bags of illicit drugs were treated like his passengers.

Court records say Rodney, a 72-year-old long-haul trucker from Surrey, B.C., made frequent trips into Winnipeg over a period of months to unload the legal freight he was supposed to ship — and the illicit drugs he wasn’t.

Police believe such trips are a snapshot of how the methamphetamine infiltrating Winnipeg’s streets has arrived here — a problem one former gang investigator says is akin to a flood police are trying to stop with a finger in a dike.

Rodney, along with fellow driver Shontal Vaupotic, 32, would travel more than 2,000 kilometres each way, like a team, the court records allege. They usually travelled to the Prairie city once a week, sometimes twice.

On rare occasions, they’d visit Winnipeg using the semi-trailer of their legitimate employer with nothing but illicit drugs to deliver, the documents say.

Before their arrest last October after a 10-month investigation dubbed Project Riverbank, police allege Rodney and Vaupotic were smugglers — part of what investigators say was a major western Canadian drug-trafficking operation shipping a cheap, highly addictive drug that’s being brought into Winnipeg in disturbing quantities.

A semi-trailer police seized as part of Project Riverbank, a months-long investigation into an alleged drug-smuggling ring. The truck sported the logo of a family-run company based in Langley, B.C. The owner of the business says it belonged to an independent contractor and was operated by two of the people charged as part of the Project Riverbank investigation. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The drug’s proliferation has been tied to a disturbing spike in crime and violence that underscores the strain police and emergency services are facing.

Unlike a decade ago, when the drug’s presence in the city was comparatively small, the meth now sold in Winnipeg is mostly manufactured elsewhere, which means it’s being brought into the city — somehow.

You name the mode of transportation and it’s probably being used, says Insp. Max Waddell of the Winnipeg Police Service’s organized crime unit.

« That’s to elude detection, » he said. « If they’re always changing their game, it makes it very difficult for us to just focus or concentrate on one particular method. »

He previously called the dismantling of what police say was a sophisticated smuggling ring through Project Riverbank a major blow to the city’s drug supply.

The operation resulted in the seizure of nearly $3 million worth of drugs and other property, including a semi. Eleven people were arrested and face more than 160 charges.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Mexican cartels

Police believe much of the city’s methamphetamine is concocted by Mexican drug cartels, Waddell said. The product is shipped along the West Coast toward the United States, and then enters British Columbia by land, sea or air. It is then transported east toward centres like Winnipeg.

The United States has tracked the production of meth in that country, and the Drug Enforcement Administration notes that while most of the U.S. supply is smuggled in through Mexico, domestic production last year reached its lowest level since 2000

It’s like trying to put your finger on a hole in a dam. There’s just so many ways they can get it in.– Former gang investigator Doug Spencer

In Canada, meth is being imported and distributed by networks of organized criminals who know what they’re doing, police say.

« They have channels and they’ve established themselves, no different than a company that is across Western Canada, » Waddell said. « It’s the same principle. »

« From our sources and our intelligence, the majority comes from British Columbia and then comes east to Manitoba, » Waddell said, but some makes its way through Ontario from the east.

Doug Spencer, a former gang investigator with the Vancouver Police Department, said his city is a hotspot for the distribution of drugs. He said trying to impede that flow is an onerous task.

« It’s like trying to put your finger on a hole in a dam. There’s just so many ways they can get it in, right? They smuggle it inside human beings as well. »

He said Vancouver gangsters have to look elsewhere to sell because the city is oversaturated with opioids. That could explain the ring Project Riverbank busted, Spencer said.

The alleged ringleader, Mohammad Khan, has ties with the Independent Soldiers street gang in B.C. and the Wolfpack — an alliance of the Independent Soldiers, Hells Angels and Red Scorpions, court records say.

Insp. Max Waddell, commander of the Winnipeg Police Service’s organized crime unit, shows some of the drugs seized as part of Project Riverbank to media on Nov. 1, 2018. (Warren Kay/CBC )

Spencer said police in the Prairies have thankfully established interdiction units to catch drug smugglers en route. 

« A single young male by himself from Vancouver, driving a motorhome out to Manitoba a couple of times a month — you don’t have to be a policeman to figure out something’s going on, » he said.

« It’s investigating, it’s being a police officer, being sharp and picking that stuff off. But … you’re not even barely scratching the surface. »

Few ways to stop drug’s entry

Drug mules often cross provincial boundaries without any impediment, Spencer says.

« There’s nobody there. There’s no checks there. »

The transformation of big-rig drivers into smugglers brings disrepute to the trucking industry, said Manan Gupta, who runs Road Today — a national trucking publication primarily catering to the South Asian community.

I don’t believe anyone is fully forced to be carriers of these illicit drugs. They’re doing it likely for the same reason that drug dealers are in business: it’s to make profits.– Winnipeg police Insp. Max Waddell

He isn’t surprised that criminals have infiltrated the trucking industry. Sometimes, drivers are unwittingly drawn into smuggling, but often greed, money troubles or their own naivety are to blame, he said.

« Many scenarios, you know, people know what they’re doing, » he said. « They just get caught at the wrong time and the wrong place. »

Gupta said newcomers to the country are more susceptible to the charms of experienced drug traffickers. Before long, they’re doing the bidding of criminals and they’re trapped. 

As a result of a 10-month investigation that involved five police forces, police say they busted a complex drug network that was operating across the western provinces, resulting in the seizure of $2.7 million in drugs, cash, and vehicles. (Warren Kay/CBC)

In a number of Canadian court cases involving drug importation, however, defence attorneys have maintained their clients were blind to the illicit cargo discreetly stored in their freight.

Waddell finds that explanation hard to believe.

« I don’t believe anyone is fully forced to be carriers of these illicit drugs. They’re doing it likely for the same reason that drug dealers are in business: it’s to make profits. »

And money is directly behind the rise in meth use in Winnipeg, he said, with the price of the drug cratering from $60,000 per kilogram in 2016 to around $17,000 today.

Priced to sell

Since it’s so cheap, local dealers don’t bother with homemade recipes. 

« You avoid less detection if you can just purchase the product at such a low cost than to try and elude police and try [to] figure out how to manufacture this product, » Waddell said.

Even the odd time that the vehicles are intercepted, it’s a small fraction of probably what’s coming and going.– Mitch Bourbonniere

​Mitch Bourbonniere runs a program called Ogijita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin, which works to help at-risk Winnipeggers stay out of gangs. He says dealers are following the principle they can sell in volume by selling cheap.

« If you just lower your prices and make the money off of volume, you’re going to make it, » he said.

Like Waddell, the social worker says there are many lone agents doling out meth who aren’t otherwise engaged in the drug trade. They’ve found an opening in the industry because the demand is so high, Bourbonniere said.

He’s frustrated there are few means to prevent meth from entering Winnipeg. If he had his way, the justice system would mete out stronger penalties against convicted smugglers and dealers. 

« So much traffic comes in and out of our province, it would be impossible to track all of that for law enforcement, » he said.

« Even the odd time that the vehicles are intercepted, it’s a small fraction of probably what’s coming and going. » 

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Family doctors can no longer claim ritzy drug dinners as professional training

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Canadian family doctors can no longer earn educational credits for attending swanky drug dinners, where pharmaceutical companies wine and dine physicians at some of the country’s most upscale restaurants.

The change, part of larger efforts to protect the integrity of the continuing medical education doctors are obligated to take, is outlined in a new report released by the College of Family Physicians of Canada to its more than 38,000 members.

Although doctors can still choose to attend the dinners, they will not receive credits.

“Our view is that (the dinners) are basically marketing evenings,” said Dr. Jeff Sisler, who oversees medical education programming for the College.

“We’re trying in that decision to discourage members from that kind of learning, and remind them that it is not viewed by the College as appropriate continuing professional development.”

In Ontario, physicians are required to attend continuing medical education to keep their licence in good standing.

Read more:

Drug companies wine and dine family physicians

Critics have long said that in providing professional development, pharmaceutical companies are disguising a sales pitch as education, and doctors are encouraged to prescribe a sponsoring drug maker’s product over other options.

A 2016 Star investigation exposed questionable practices at some of these dinners, where everything from the speaker to the food and wine was bankrolled by the drug company. In Toronto, the soirees included a three-course meal at Sassafraz in Yorkville.

At more than one dinner, the Star found the speaker recommended a medication to treat certain conditions — the medication made by the same company that funded the event. In the days following a company-sponsored dinner lecture on managing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a rep from the pharmaceutical company visited the clinic of one of the doctors who attended with samples of its latest product.

The new report reveals that the College’s professional development department received nearly $80,000 from the pharmaceutical industry in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The money came from fees drug companies paid to have their educational programs reviewed and certified.

Since tightening the rules last year to no longer certify educational events put on by drug companies, the College expects that amount of direct revenue from industry to drop to zero, the report said.

“That’s been a big change for us,” one prompted by concerns of a “high risk (of bias),” Dr. Sisler said.

But that change does not mean medical education will be completely free of industry money.

Pharmaceutical companies can still give money to groups putting on the educational events, though new restrictions put in place by the College and other doctor organizations bar the sponsoring drug makers from participating in choosing a speaker or developing the presentation.

In 2017-2018, 31 per cent of the applications to have an event certified by the College declared some kind of funding support from drug companies, the new report said.

Dr. Sheryl Spithoff, a family physician at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, said the College needs to go further and not accredit any educational event put on by a group funded by industry.

“We know that when the pharmaceutical industry funds physician education, it leads physicians to prescribe drugs more often, and prescribe less appropriately,” Dr. Spithoff said

“What we really want to stop is to stop the influence,” she said. “The only way to change that appears to be stopping the funding.”

Dr. Sisler said the College, however, continues to support “a mixed model” of funding for professional development.

“There is no direction or intent at the moment to move to a time when pharma support is not permitted period. That isn’t the way things are moving at the moment,” he said.

Jesse McLean is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. He can be reached at jmclean@thestar.ca. Follow him on Twitter: @jesse_mclean

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Costco pharmacies hit with $7.25M fine after probe of money the chain collected from drug companies

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Costco pharmacies have been fined $7.25 million for violating an Ontario kickback regulation designed to keep down the cost of prescription medications.

The fine, quietly posted Friday on a government website, follows a three-year investigation into “advertising services” Costco was alleged to have charged its drug suppliers to get their medications stocked at the retail chain’s stores.

Costco pharmacies have been fined $7.25 million for violating an Ontario kickback regulation designed to keep down the cost of prescription medications.
Costco pharmacies have been fined $7.25 million for violating an Ontario kickback regulation designed to keep down the cost of prescription medications.  (Toronto Star)

It’s illegal in Ontario for drug companies to give direct or indirect incentives — known as rebates — to induce a pharmacy to stock their products. The province has said these kickbacks artificially inflate the price of drugs.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care determined that Costco’s acceptance of millions of dollars for advertising services from 2013 to 2015 “violated the prohibition on rebates.”

“The Ministry takes non-compliance with the prohibition on rebates seriously and will continue to assess compliance with the prohibition by manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies,” read a notice from the executive officer of Ontario’s public drug programs, who is in charge of enforcing anti-rebate legislation.

In a statement, a Costco spokesperson said its pharmacies “honestly believed at the time that the advertising programs” did not break Ontario’s rebate rules, adding that the company used the money “to reduce dispensing fees and drug mark-ups” for its customers.

“(Costco pharmacies) would never knowingly or intentionally act in a manner which was inconsistent with the laws of Ontario,” the statement said.

The Star first revealed in March 2016 that Costco had been accused of squeezing nearly $1.3 million in unlawful rebates from Ranbaxy, a generic drug company.

At the heart of the allegations was a secretly recorded 2014 phone conversation in which a Costco pharmacy director explains to a Ranbaxy drug sales representative how much the company would have to pay to “greatly reduce the likelihood of somebody eating your business.”

That rep, Tony Gagliese, complained to Ontario’s ministry of health and the pharmacists’ regulatory college, alleging Costco was requiring Ranbaxy to pay “renamed” rebates on its Ontario sales through pricey advertising services in order to circumvent the law. The advertising services included Ranbaxy’s logo being printed in clinic handouts and the Wellness Connection, a magazine published by Costco.

Costco approached the ministry in the summer of 2015 for clarity on whether the payments were appropriate, and suspended charging for its advertising services while it awaited feedback.

In its Friday statement, Costco said it co-operated fully with the government’s investigation and is “pleased” the fine “provides further guidance on the issue of rebates.”

The government’s action is not the first time Costco has been sanctioned for the payments.

At a January 2018 hearing before the Ontario College of Pharmacists, two Costco pharmacy directors — Joseph Hanna and Lawrence Varga — admitted to professional misconduct for soliciting more than $1.2 million in improper advertising services from Ranbaxy. Neither Hanna nor Varga personally pocketed any of the money, Costco said in a statement at the time.

The two pharmacists were each fined $20,000 by the regulator.

As part of that settlement, charges that Hanna and Varga allegedly accepted illegal payments from four other generic drug companies were withdrawn.

Costco said in a statement that the regulatory college’s ruling recognized that Costco pharmacies were “operating in an area of legal uncertainty as it related to the payments.”

In the notice announcing the $7.25-million fine, the province said the penalty “will serve as a guide to the pharmaceutical industry regarding compliance with rebate prohibition.”

But the whistleblower who exposed Costco’s rebate demands said the fine does little to deter other pharmacies from collecting rebates.

“It’s weak. The only thing the government is doing is taking the money back that Costco took,” Gagliese said. “If you want to send a strong message to the whole profession, the executive officer should suspend Costco’s ability to bill” Ontario’s public drug plans.

“That would be a strong message. No one would do it again,” he said.

Jesse McLean is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @jesse_mclean

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Drug, vaccine shortages likely to continue, warns N.S. pharmacy association

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An ongoing shortage of common drugs and vaccines is likely to continue and will possibly worsen, warns the head of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

Over the last few months, health providers across the country have been left scrambling to deal with supply gaps in blood pressure medications, antidepressants and vaccines for travellers. 

« It’s a sense of helplessness, » said Curtis Chafe, a pharmacist and the chair of the provincial association.

He said the shortage is the worst he’s seen in a career spanning nearly two decades.

« You want to make the patient healthy and look after them, but your hands are tied in the most part. »

According to a survey conducted last fall for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, one in four adults in the country has either personally been affected by a shortage in the last three years or knows someone who has. 

In the past, pharmacists would have trouble getting lesser-known drugs, said Chafe. Now it’s more commonly used medications that are off the shelves, including those that contain valsartan to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

In that case, certain valsartan products were recalled last year because of a contaminant in the manufacturing process.

Nova Scotia’s International Travel Clinic has been rationing yellow fever vaccines since last summer, dividing what is typically one dose into as many as five. (Robert Short/CBC)

But often, the cause of the shortage is unknown. The lack of answers frustrates front-line workers like Chafe.

« The thing is, there’s not very much transparency when it comes to drug shortages, » he said.

« We have to do a little detective work and even then we don’t know what the root cause is. We don’t know whether or not it’s a quality assurance issue with the raw material … we don’t know if a factory failed an inspection. We don’t know if there was any kind of disaster or flood in the factory. »

The common antidepressant Wellbutrin is also hard to find across the country. And last year, people with severe allergies were left scrambling during an EpiPen shortage.

Travellers are being advised to plan ahead when it comes to getting their vaccines, as Nova Scotia’s International Travel Clinic has faced many shortages. (Robert Short/CBC)

At the International Travel Clinic in Dartmouth, Public Health officials are grappling with a shortage of the vaccines for yellow fever and hepatitis B. The clinic offers consultations and vaccines for people traveling outside of the country.

Its shelves of the common hepatitis A and B vaccine Twinrix have just been restocked, and the shots are being used « judiciously, » said Cara-Leah Hmidan, health protection manager for Public Health.

The clinic, which has seen people come from across the Atlantic region seeking shots, is warning would-be travellers not to wait until the last minute to get vaccinated. 

« We had one client from Newfoundland who is travelling to a high-risk area, » said Hmidan. 

The clinic has been rationing doses of its yellow fever vaccine since last summer because of production issues. That means one vial is now being shared between three to five people who receive it at the same time, said Hmidan.

Cara-Leah Hmidan says people have travelled from Newfoundland and New Brunswick to the travel clinic in Dartmouth in search of hard-to-find vaccines. (Robert Short/CBC)

« There are some logistics around that, » she said. « We have somebody co-ordinating that behind the scenes so we don’t waste anything. »

The change of dose means instead of being protected for life, travellers are now protected for just a year.

While the clinic is facing shortages, Hmidan said there is enough hepatitis B vaccine available for the province’s school immunization program.

Chafe said he doesn’t want people to stress or panic about the shortages. Health professionals will do everything possible to find suitable alternatives, he said.

« We can work to get your blood pressure covered, which is the important thing — not necessarily that you’re on a specific chemical, and work to make sure that you’re not at risk for having bad outcomes, » he said.

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Judge tosses Brampton drug case, slams Crown ‘negligence’ for disclosing ‘mountain’ of evidence on eve of trial

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Another drug case tossed due to delay at the Brampton courthouse, another judge calling out the federal prosecution service for failing to provide timely disclosure of evidence to the defence.

Superior Court Justice David E. Harris went as far as describing what happened in a drug importation case as “Crown negligence,” according to a ruling released on Christmas Eve. He stayed the case against Chanelle Belle, who had been charged in October 2016 with importing seven kilograms of cocaine through Pearson International Airport and was originally supposed to face a trial last June.

“On the eve of trial in Superior Court, the Crown disclosed a mountain of information extracted from the applicant’s cellphone, 12,000 pages in all,” Harris wrote. “This could have and should have been provided many months before. No explanation of any kind has been provided. Nor is any extenuating circumstance imaginable.”

As a result of the late disclosure, the trial was rescheduled for February 2019 — which would have marked 28 months since Belle’s arrest. A landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling known as R v. Jordan set strict timelines to bring accused persons to trial; in Superior Court, that limit is 30 months between a person’s arrest and the anticipated conclusion of their trial. If the ceiling is breached, the case must be tossed unless the Crown can prove there were exceptional circumstances for the delay.

However, the Supreme Court left the door open for cases to also be tossed if they fell below the ceiling but met certain criteria. Harris concluded this was one of those rare cases.

As the Star reported last April, a number of Brampton judges have been criticizing the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the federal agency that handles drug crimes, for disclosure failures leading to cases being stayed for delay.

In one case last year, Brampton judge Paul O’Marra said he was “joining that chorus of condemnation” of the PPSC’s disclosure problems by other judges at the courthouse when he tossed a man’s heroin-related charges.

“The period of time that it took to provide disclosure to counsel in this case was unacceptable,” he said.

Judges at the Brampton courthouse tossed three drug cases, including the Belle case, due to delay in 2018, down from six cases tossed in 2017, according to the PPSC. The number of cases in which prosecutors themselves entered a stay in a case affected by delay, meaning they chose not to proceed with the case, was two last year, down from six in 2017.

“The PPSC remains dedicated to ensuring that disclosure is collected and presented in a timely fashion and consistent with the timelines set by the recent jurisprudence,” PPSC spokeswoman Nathalie Houle told the Star.

The Brampton courthouse is typically recognized as one of the busiest in the country. Harris noted in his Dec. 24 ruling that importation cases are a “staple in this courthouse” because it has jurisdiction over crimes committed at Pearson airport in nearby Mississauga.

While Belle’s cellphone was seized on the day of her arrest in October 2016, a warrant to search it was only sought in June 2017, according to judge Harris’ ruling.

“There was no explanation given for this nine-month lapse,” Harris wrote. He said the defence was then only made aware of the extraction of the phone’s contents nearly a year later, in May 2018, two weeks before Belle’s trial was originally set to begin.

The judge found the case was not complex and that the Crown had not proceeded expeditiously, factors that weighed in favour of tossing the case even though it fell below the 30-month time limit.

“A warrant for extraction is easily obtained. Why it took nine months just to get the warrant in this case is disconcerting,” he said. “But not disclosing the existence of the cellphone extraction until the eve of trial over a year and a half later after the seizure, and the actual contents until even later, is obviously unacceptable.”

Calling the delay in the case “egregious,” Belle’s lawyer, Chris Rudnicki, also acknowledged that it’s rare for a case below the time limit set by the Supreme Court to be stayed.

“They didn’t say anything about it, probably because there was no explanation for it,” he said of the Crown’s disclosure delay.

Harris also concluded that while the defence could have asked for an earlier second trial date or complained about delay in the case when the first trial date was no longer possible, the defence had also taken meaningful steps to move the case along. This is also important criteria to meet if a case that falls below the 30-month limit is to be tossed.

“It is ultimately the Crown’s obligation to bring the accused to trial,” Harris said. “The defence were not dragging their feet or frustrating the Crown’s efforts … The Crown caused the markedly excessive delay and then, having an opportunity to rectify their error, failed to act.”

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant

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Fibroid drug linked to serious liver problems, Health Canada warns

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Health Canada says a safety review of a drug to treat uterine fibroids in women of childbearing age has found a possible link between its use and the risk of a rare but serious liver injury.

Fibroids are non-cancerous tumours that develop within the muscle tissue of the uterus; many women with fibroids have no symptoms, but in others the growths can cause  heavy menstrual bleeding and cramping.

The federal department initiated its review of Fibristal after receiving four international reports of liver injury leading to liver transplants; it has been working with manufacturer Allergan to update safety information for the drug, including new restrictions for its use.

Fibristal should not be used in women who currently have, or have previously had liver problems, and intermittent use should be restricted to women of childbearing age who are not eligible for fibroid-removal surgery.

Patients taking Fibristal who develop symptoms such as fatigue, yellowing of the skin, darkening of the urine, or nausea and vomiting should stop taking the medication and contact their physician immediately.

Health Canada says doctors should not prescribe Fibristal to women with current or previous liver problems and they should advise patients of the need for monitoring their liver function before, during and after treatment.

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Chinese court orders retrial of Canadian citizen on drug smuggling charges – National

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A Chinese court ordered a retrial of a Canadian citizen on drug smuggling charges on Saturday after prosecutors said his sentence of 15 years was too light — a case that could further test relations between Beijing and Ottawa.

Tensions between the two governments have been high since Canada’s arrest of a high-ranking Chinese executive at the request of the United States this month, followed by China’s detainment of two Canadian citizens on suspicion of endangering state security.

WATCH: China accuses Canadian allies of hypocrisy in Huawei CFO arrest






Robert Lloyd Schellenberg had lodged an appeal after being handed a 15-year sentence on Nov. 20 in the northeastern city of Dalian, the high court for the province of Liaoning said in a statement, adding that he was to have been deported after serving his sentence.

READ MORE: China silent on Canadian awaiting drug smuggling trial, while feds provide ‘consular services’

At the appeal hearing, prosecutors said the sentence was too light and improper, arguing Schellenberg was highly likely to have been part of a international drugs smuggling operation and had played a major role in smuggling the drugs, the statement said.

The court said it accepted this argument and ordered a retrial. It added that Canadian diplomats were in court for the appeal.

WATCH: Federal government ramping up pressure on the Chinese government to release detained Canadians






It was not immediately clear who Schellenberg’s lawyer was or when the retrial may take place.

A Dalian government news portal said this week Schellenberg had smuggled “an enormous amount of drugs” into China.

Canada’s government has said it has been following the case for several years and providing consular assistance but could provide no other details citing privacy concerns.


READ MORE:
Canadian teacher Sarah McIver who was detained in China has been released

Drugs offences are routinely punished severely in China.

China executed a Briton caught smuggling heroin in 2009, prompting a British outcry over what it said was the lack of any mental health assessment.

In one development that could lessen tensions, a Canadian government spokesman said on Friday that a Canadian citizen who was detained in China this month had returned to Canada after being released from custody.

The spokesman did not specify when the Canadian was released or returned to Canada. Earlier in the day, broadcaster CBC identified the citizen as teacher Sarah McIver.

China’s Foreign Ministry said this month that McIver was undergoing “administrative punishment” for working illegally.

WATCH: China questions Canada’s treatment of ‘illegally detained’ Meng Wanzhou






McIver was the third Canadian to be detained by China following the Dec. 1 arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., but a Canadian official said there was no reason to believe that the woman’s detention was linked to the earlier arrests.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland did not mention the woman last week in calling for the release of the other two Canadians detained on suspicion of endangering state security. It is not known where the two are being held. They have each only been allowed to see Canadian diplomats once since being detained.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters that it was aware of reports McIver had been released and referred further questions to the “relevant authority.” It did not elaborate.

Neither China nor Canada has drawn a direct connection between the Meng case and the cases of the two other Canadians.

China has demanded Canada free Meng, who is fighting extradition to the United States, where she would face fraud charges that carry a maximum sentence of 30 years jail for each charge. Meng has said she is innocent.

Her arrest has also heaped uncertainty on efforts by Washington and Beijing to reduce tensions in their trade war.

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3 people hospitalized, 8 arrested on drug charges at electronic dance music party in Edmonton – Edmonton

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Three people were taken to hospital — one in life-threatening condition — from an electronic dance music concert in downtown Edmonton on Thursday while several other people were arrested on drug-related charges at the same event.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Services confirmed Friday that all three people taken to hospital were men in their 20s, however, the reason for their treatment was not disclosed. Two of them were listed in serious condition.

Electronic music fans gathered at the downtown venue for a show called Get Together, which featured a number of performers, including Diplo and Illesium.

The Edmonton Police Service confirmed to Global News on Friday that their officers made eight drug-related arrests at the event. Police said their officers seized 400 MDMA pills and “a quantity of cocaine” in connection with the arrests.

It is not clear how many of the people arrested would be charged, however, police confirmed a 20-year-old man was charged with seven drug-related offences, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. Police did not disclose his name and it was not immediately clear why.

“EPS, together with AHS (EMS) and the City of Edmonton, sits on the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) Internal Working Committee, and works with event organizers to improve the safety of electronic dance music events in our city,” police said in an email.

A spokesperson for the Shaw Conference Centre issued a statement to Global News about what transpired on Thursday night, and said its “goal is to provide a safe environment for guests to enjoy electronic dance music events.”

“We work with event promoters to adopt industry-leading, harm-reduction strategies that include proactive and onsite engagement with Indigo Harm Reduction and onsite medical services provided by Alberta Paramedical Services,” the statement said. “We are committed to continued collaboration with our industry partners, harm-reduction agencies, Edmonton Police Service, Alberta Health Services and the City of Edmonton to ensure patrons can safely enjoy EDM events at our venue.”

According to the Shaw Conference Centre, the two-day event was provided with an emergency physician, three registered nurse practitioners, two paramedics, five emergency medical technicians and five emergency medical responders.

Global News has made attempts to contact the organizers of the event. On the Get Together website, organizers say visitors will be searched by security upon entry and people who leave the event are not to be allowed back in. The site lists illegal substances and drug paraphernalia among the items prohibited from the event.

Earlier this year, a city committee voted against a proposed moratorium on electronic dance parties or raves in Edmonton.

READ MORE: Edmonton committee votes against moratorium on raves

Watch below: (From June 2018) Police and city administration recommended a moratorium on raves until safety concerns were addressed but Edmonton councillors instead chose to work with industry to find solutions. Fletcher Kent reports.






A city report had recommended a ban on raves, noting that electronic music parties are linked with “widespread consumption of drugs” and “drug-facilitated sexual assaults” that tie up emergency services. The proposed ban on raves was dismissed by some councillors because it could lead to a loss of income or jobs while others believed such a ban would drive the events underground, making them more dangerous.

In October, six people were taken to hospital, some in life-threatening condition, after attending an electronic dance music party at the World Waterpark at West Edmonton Mall.

READ MORE: 6 taken to hospital from electronic dance music party at Edmonton mall

Watch below: Changes made ahead of the 2018 edition of Calgary’s Chasing Summer Festival are aimed at making the event safer for everyone. Bindu Suri filed this report in August 2018.






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

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Shoppers Drug Mart granted licence to sell medical marijuana online

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Shoppers Drug Mart has been granted a licence to sell medical marijuana online.

Health Canada’s list of authorized cannabis sellers and producers has been updated to reflect that the pharmacy can sell dried and fresh cannabis, as well as plants, seeds and oil.

A website has been set up by the company, which says that patients « with a valid medical document will soon be able to purchase a wide selection of medical cannabis products » from Shoppers.

A spokeswoman for Shoppers’ parent company Loblaw Companies Ltd. said it’s too soon to say when people will be able to start making orders.

She said the company is still working through a « technical issue » with Health Canada.

The company was granted a medical marijuana producer licence in September, after initially applying in October 2016.

Shoppers has said that it has no interest in producing medical cannabis, but the licence is required in order to sell the product to patients.

Under the current Health Canada regulations for medical pot, the only legal distribution method is by mail order from licensed producers direct to patients.

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Regina man and woman face drug trafficking, weapon possession charges – Regina

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A Regina man and woman are facing multiple drug-related charges, including drug trafficking and possession of a weapon.


READ MORE:
Regina police investigating after Montague Street house shot at several times

Dejan Vuckovic, 47, and Meriah Valentine Bellegarde, 27, were arrested during a traffic stop in the area of the 1100 block of Elliot Street Sunday afternoon.

The Regina Police Service found a loaded firearm, ammunition and a large amount of cash, along with meth, cocaine, hydromorphine and ecstasy.

Other charges include careless use of a firearm and failing to comply with probation order.

WATCH: Firearms, drugs, cash seized from Alberta home and storage unit







READ MORE:
Regina police on scene investigating possible shooting on Boswell Crescent

Vuckovic and Bellegarde made their first appearance in court Monday morning

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