Under the Gardiner: ‘We check in on each other, that’s kind of the reason to be here’

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Richard Smith pokes his head out of his green and grey tent as his dog Pixie sleeps inside beside him.

The tent is draped in sleeping bags — improvised insulation in freezing temperatures that on this day feels like -12 C. Scattered around it are propane tanks he uses to cook, and empty water bottles. A frying pan, pot and dishtowel rest on a small wooden platform next to a large cooler.

Richard Smith looks out from his tent with his dog, Pixie. Smith has lived under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. for about two years.
Richard Smith looks out from his tent with his dog, Pixie. Smith has lived under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. for about two years.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Nearby, one of his neighbours collects wood for a stove that feeds into a tiny chimney poking out of the top of his own tent, where a single light bulb glows behind the nylon.

“A lot of people don’t even realize there’s people in them,” says Smith of their makeshift homes.

“We’re pretty tight, pretty good people. We check in on each other, that’s kind of the reason to be here.”

Smith is one of about a half dozen men, he says, who have set up camp under the Gardiner near Spadina Ave. in the shadow of some of the most expensive condos in the country. He says they’re staking out a sliver of privacy and protection from the elements in a city with a dwindling housing supply and a packed shelter system.

The city handed out eight notices to people like Smith, although he says he didn’t personally receive one, starting last Thursday. Officials told them to get out in 14 days, citing public safety issues. But as temperatures drop, amidst three homeless deaths in less than two weeks, advocates, and some of the men themselves, say there’s simply nowhere for them to go.

“It’s a Catch-22,” says Smith, who’s been camping here on and off for about two years after losing his apartment and job following an arrest.

“They say there’s places for us,” he adds. But he’d like to see them.

The city’s chief communications officer Brad Ross said notices were issued because of public safety issues with right of way, debris and reports of open flames and propane.

As of Thursday, according to a daily count posted on the city’s website, shelters hovered between 97 and 100 per cent occupied, except for family shelters in motels which were at 84 per cent.

“Yes shelters are crowded but there’s still capacity,” says Ross, adding the real goal is to help people find permanent housing, with the help of the city’s Streets to Homes staff.

“Whether it’s a room or an apartment, yeah it’s challenging but they continue to work through that and there are solutions out there,” he says.

“We can’t allow people to be sleeping in makeshift shelters and tents and shanties on sidewalks.”

A number of homeless people who have been living under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St. have been given eviction notices by the city.
A number of homeless people who have been living under the Gardiner Expressway near Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St. have been given eviction notices by the city.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Smith says he’s been assigned a Streets to Homes worker, who’s been tasked with helping him out of the tent and into something with four walls. He says he’s been trying to follow up but hasn’t been able to reach them.

In the meantime he’s heard the shelters are packed, and prefers the camp, where the underbelly of the expressway and the soaring concrete pillars that support it provide some shelter from the wind and snow.

Garbage is strewn around this stretch of land just south of CityPlace — a heart-shaped baking pan lying facedown, old suitcases, needles. A giant yellow stuffed Pikachu rests on a brown couch beside an overturned desk chair, and half of a blue bike frame pokes out from the frozen dirt.

Aside from the woosh of cars, it’s quiet and still. Most of the men are inside their tents taking refuge from the cold.

On one of the pillars someone has written in black bold letters, “Take me Home?”

Smith says he stays as he also doesn’t want to be separated from Pixie, who he credits with helping him get through some addiction issues. Some, but not all, shelters allow pets.

“She keeps me alive,” he says with a smile, of the lab-mix.

“We just feel in love.”

Terence Campos lives in a tent under the Gardiner. He's been here for six years.
Terence Campos lives in a tent under the Gardiner. He’s been here for six years.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Ross said he can’t speak to Smith’s particular situation, but said encampments are regularly visited by Streets to Homes outreach workers and anyone having trouble reaching them should call 311, the city’s non-emergency hotline.

After a harsh winter last year, and criticism from the ombudsman that the city gave incorrect information about capacity on at least two occasions, officials pledged to do better this year with a winter plan that included opening three new 24-hour respite sites in huge dome-like structures.

So far, only one of the centres — a 100-bed facility in Liberty Village run by the St. Felix Centre — is open. Ross says the city anticipates the opening of other two in March and April.

On Tuesday, asked about the evictions, Mayor John Tory said the notice is meant to be “more compassionate,” rather than clearing people out immediately.

“Even in instances where we’ve had quite large encampments in the past all of those people, I think, without exception have been found alternate places to to live,” he said.

“But make no mistake, we have to take these encampments out because it is just not a viable proposition to have people deciding they’re going to set up tents or other kinds of structures like this anywhere they so choose to do so.”

On Thursday, advocates marched downtown, calling for the city to declare an emergency and add 2,000 shelter beds. The rally comes after the deaths of a woman sleeping in an ally near St. Andrew Subway station, who was run over by a garbage truck on Tuesday, and Crystal Papineau, who got stuck in a clothing donation bin last week near Dovercourt and Bloor.

Chris, who did not give his last name, looks around for anything useable among the gargabe strewn under the Gardiner.
Chris, who did not give his last name, looks around for anything useable among the gargabe strewn under the Gardiner.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Homeless advocate and street nurse Cathy Crowe told the Star there’s actually been three deaths — an Indigenous man also died in an ally last week.

Crowe says the city’s capacity numbers don’t tell the whole story. Practically all alternatives — not only the shelters, but the Out of the Cold programs, run by faith based organizations where people can sleep and get a meal during the winter — are full.

“Essentially there might be three spots at this respite or two spots left on the floor at an Out of the Cold, but even the Out of the Colds are now reporting that the majority of their sites are running over capacity and that’s never, ever happened.”

The situation, with “mats on the floor, approximately a foot and a half away from the next person,” is “ just inhumane and it’s unworkable,” she says.

Instead of evicting the people under the Gardiner and others like them across the city who are trying to “create a nook of comfort and safety in very visible places,” the city should work with them around fire safety and increase their street outreach, Crowe says.

Greg Cook, who works at downtown drop-in centre Sanctuary, says the industrial land along the Gardiner, not just at the Spadina overpass, has long been home to scattered tents, but he’s seen more spring up in recent years as the housing crisis intensifies.

“By and large historically the city hasn’t cared as much and there hasn’t been the kind of complaints there are now just because people aren’t living right next to it,” he says, noting things changed with the construction of nearby condos.

Back at the camp, Smith says he’d like to stay, at least for now.

“I’m getting pretty comfortable,” he says.

But he’s not sure how long he’ll be there, or where he’d go next if he had to leave.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“I can’t really answer that question.”

Raymond Sackaney drops in and out of the area under Gardiner between Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.
Raymond Sackaney drops in and out of the area under Gardiner between Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

They’re just doing whatever they have to do to survive

Raymond Sackaney, who describes himself as being “semi-homeless” since Christmas, doesn’t have a tent at the camp but comes down from time to time.

“I just ended up walking down this way and I seen all these tents and I wanted to see if I’d recognize anybody, and there’s some people I’d seen on the street before,” he says.

“I just thought maybe there’d be some people down here that I could keep in contact with.”

He sometimes goes to Seaton House shelter but mostly sleeps in a 24-hour McDonald’s or Tim Hortons.

The shelters are “basically all packed and full and there’s no available space to actually sleep and rest,” he says, looking around at the camp.

“I don’t know what else they’d do with this so-called area you know? They’re just doing whatever they have to do to survive.”

Terence Campos, 40, is originally from Eglinton and Keele area but says he’s been living in a tent in the encampment for maybe six years.

He has many friends in the camp and even shares a birthday with Sackaney.

“I did the parking lot stuff, sleeping in staircases,” he says.

“You get in trouble so you come outside.”

Chris, who did not give his last name, says he doesn’t have a tent here but has been coming to the camp to stay with friends “off and on” for three years.

He often picks through the garbage where he finds useful things, such as the red sweatshirt and toque he’s wearing.

“They don’t appreciate stuff, they just throw stuff out,” he says of the residents of nearby CityPlace condos.

“It’s worth a lot of money.”

With files from David Rider

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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‘We are trying to explain … we don’t make this kind of money,’ says couple who won, then lost, a housing lottery

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Sarah Bankuti was eight months pregnant and had been hospitalized for a health scare when she got news that should have changed her growing family’s life for the better: they had been randomly selected out of thousands of people to apply to move into a new affordable rental building in Regent Park.

Toronto Community Housing, they were told by email, had pulled their names in a housing lottery of sorts and if they cleared the next round of paperwork they would move out of their cramped one bedroom in the east end and into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in March and pay just $1,358 a month.

It was welcome news during a frightening time. They were in Michael Garron Hospital and she had been hooked to multiple monitors because their baby girl hadn’t moved for two days. Then they read the Oct. 26 email.

“The baby started kicking right away,” says Bankuti, 33. “We were so happy, because we couldn’t believe we got picked.”

This wasn’t their only reason to celebrate. Her husband, John Bankuti, 36, started a new job with Canada Post in August. His last job was as a dog-walker. He is now a full-time relief letter carrier. Training started in mid-August and in the fall he received a minor bump in overtime pay as well as hundreds in bonus pay for delivering flyers and Christmas catalogues.

They’d entered the lottery on a whim in September, filling out a simple one page form that outlined the maximum gross income to be considered. After winning, they filled out detailed paperwork, attached pay stubs from September and October and planned for the future.

But that elation didn’t last. Bankuti got another email from TCH early in December informing them the pay stubs they submitted showed their combined gross income was roughly $15,000 above the $65,184 threshold for a 3-bedroom unit and they were being pulled from the list. There is no option to appeal.

The couple insists that even with his new job their combined annual gross income, particularly because she was going on maternity leave, is not guaranteed to exceed the threshold. They believe their gross income will actually be less, they told the Star.

“We would be fine with it if they denied us for a valid reason. We are not unreasonable people,” says Bankuti, who works as a nanny and spoke with the Star on Wednesday, two days before a scheduled C-section. “I find it impossible that there is no appeal process,” for people whose income is not guaranteed, or who could have a sudden surge in income at different times of the year, she says.

“If I knew that I would have told my husband to not get this job.”

A full-time relief carrier, Canada Post confirmed, at that early salary level makes at least roughly $42,500 gross each year. The slips Bankuti submitted also included an inflated gross of several hundred dollars from the extra hours and flyer delivery. Her pay slips showed she made a gross income of about $27,060 by the end of November. Together, even without his extra pay, that still puts them over the threshold, but her salary is never guaranteed, she says, and on maternity leave she’ll take in about 55 per cent of whatever her weekly income is.

They reached out to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s office and a representative from that office contacted TCH to find out if appeals were an option. They were told it was not but that housing staff considered everything they were sent.

Toronto Community Housing, who had reviewed their pay stubs multiple times including additional ones they were sent in November, says people are judged on what they are making at the time of the application and those slips clearly show they do not qualify.

The couple have offered to provide TCH with past and future tax returns, additional payslips and letters of employment to defend their case — but those offers have been rejected.

A spokesperson for the housing corporation told the Star that there is no formal appeal process and overtime and bonuses are factored into the equation.

“All applicants are assessed for eligibility and must meet the income criteria for the program at the time of application; past and future earning potential is not considered,” says Daniele Gauvin, a senior communications adviser with the housing corporation in an email. “The documents submitted by the Bankuti household showed that their household income exceeded the eligibility limit for a three-bedroom unit at 110 River Street.”

Bankuti met with the Star in her narrow one-bedroom apartment near Gerrard St. E. and Greewood Ave. She and her husband pay $1,350 a month and share the space with his 4-year-old daughter Gwendolyn, who lives with them part time, and a mini-dachshund cross named Tiberius.

When the little girl stays with them she sleeps on a pullout couch in the living room. Tiberius and his bed are small but the narrow layout means he, the bed and the stuffed shark he sleeps with are underfoot. The baby will sleep in the bedroom, currently packed with a bassinet, a double bed and a chest of drawers from Ikea that serves as a changing table.

Bankuti bought it after Googling “how to have a baby in a small area.”

What would have been their new home was 110 River St., a brand new 29-storey building in the heart of the largely redeveloped neighbourhood of Regent Park.

With close to 2,780 people eligible to apply for 75 units they never thought they had a chance at winning and, they say, honestly believed that even with his new job they were not guaranteed to exceed $65,184.

In a city facing a severe lack of affordable housing the lottery the couple entered was framed as one way that people trying to survive on lower incomes could get ahead, which in Toronto means skipping the centralized wait list.

The current wait list for subsidized housing in Toronto — which includes Toronto Community Housing, co-operatives and private non-profit housing — is close to 99,000 households and about one-third of those waiting are seniors.

The River St. building is close to a new recreation centre and the TTC, and the rent is fixed. Three-bedroom units are $1,358, two-bedrooms are $1,141 and one-bedroom units cost $962. Utilities are included.

Average market rents for a three-bedroom purpose-built rentals in the Census Metropolitan Area is $1,633, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Those figures use occupied units — landlords can charge what they want for newly empty units — and don’t factor in pricier options like condominiums. Research firm Urbanation recently published a report showing that the average cost of renting a studio condominium averaged $1,800 and a two-bedroom condominium went for about $2,700.

The Bankuti family has been on a wait list for a two-bedroom in co-operative housing for about a year but has been told they could be waiting anywhere from two to five years.

He says they haven’t given up entirely on pleading their case to get into an affordable home. “We are trying to explain in an open way that we don’t make this kind of money.”

For now he is looking forward to meeting their new daughter and working for a company he respects. She is deeply concerned about whether she will be able to take on work after the baby is born. Two children she regularly cared for are moving, upsetting her plans to bring her new baby along when she’s caring for them, she says.

Both know they can’t afford to move.

“Two bedrooms are so expensive now and especially because I am going to be on maternity leave we literally can’t afford anything else,” she says.

With files from Donovan Vincent

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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Baltimore orioles love this American elm in Scarborough, one of the last of its kind in the city

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Tree of the Week is a new feature that will showcase some of the biggest and most beautiful trees in the GTA, as told to Megan Ogilvie. This week, Ellen Armstrong of Scarborough’s West Rouge neighbourhood tells us about her mammoth American elm tree, one of the few remaining large American elms in the city. The native species, once common in the area, was almost completely wiped out in the 1960s by Dutch elm disease.

This American elm is a focal point in our backyard, to say the least.

We’ve been in our home for more than 25 years but I still remember the first time I saw this tree on the day we came to look at the house. We loved the tree right away; it has so much character.

The house’s previous owners knew it was an American elm and were very proud of the tree. A few years after we moved in, we had an arborist come look at the tree and he explained to us how rare it is. We’ve done our best to take care of it, but it can get expensive.

This tree is 17 feet (about 5 m) around, measured at chest height, and I think it’s about six storeys high. It’s so tall that you can see its canopy from all around the neighbourhood.

A few times, we’ve been home and heard a knock on the door and arborists who have been working in the area have seen its canopy and wanted to come see the tree up close. They are astonished that it is still here.

During the big ice storm in 2013 we were really concerned that all the ice would take a toll on our tree. But it didn’t mind it at all; maybe it did well because of the way its branches arch and hang. As you can imagine, it was absolutely beautiful all covered in that shimmering ice.

It’s also beautiful at night, with its branches hanging down. It can also be spooky, too; you can hear it creaking, its limbs moving in the wind.

Other than being a beautiful focal point in our yard, this tree provides our house and yard with shade all summer long. Baltimore orioles make their nests in the hanging branches and every spring we watch mother raccoon and her babies make the very long climbs up and down the trunk.

We’re so happy this tree is still here. We feel very privileged to see it every day.

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Montreal sportscaster Randy Tieman dies at 64, remembered as ‘warm and kind’ – Montreal

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Randy Tieman, a popular Montreal sportscaster, passed away unexpectedly at his home on Friday. He was 64.

Tieman worked for CTV Montreal for 34 years as a reporter and anchor until 2017.

Former colleague and Global News sports analyst Brian Wilde remembers Tieman as more than just a colleague.


READ MORE:
Hundreds gather to remember local sports broadcasting legend Gary Dalliday

“Twenty-tree years Randy and I were friends,” he said. “The first time I met him, I think he called me Bud before he even used my name. That’s how Randy was — warm and kind.”

Tieman was known for his boisterous laugh and fun-loving nature, but he took his job seriously.

“He was a great friend and he was terrific at his job. For 23 years, I never had to worry whether ‘T’ was up to speed on something,” Wilde said.


READ MORE:
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Other media personalities took to Twitter to share their memories.

News reporter Cindy Sherwin, noted his “generosity” and called him a “gigantic presence”.

Tieman is also being remembered as a family man.

In a tweet, Sean Coleman recounts how Tieman used to call his son Harry after each show. Coleman goes on to explain how Tieman taught him not only about broadcasting, but about fatherhood as well.

WATCH: Hundreds gather for funeral of longtime CHEX sportscaster Gary Dalliday






Tieman leaves behind his wife Liane and his four children, Gabrielle, Jesse, Dennis and Harry.

Wilde expressed his sadness at a life cut short.

“My greatest wish was for Randy [to] enjoy a decade or two with Liane, who I must have heard him say ‘love you lots’ to [in] the thousands of times.”

In lieu of flowers, the Tieman family is asking for memorial donations to be made to the Jewish General Hospital Foundation-Cancer Treatment.

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

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What Is Coconut Milk? And Are You Using the Right Kind?

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This we know: You can’t milk a coconut. So what is coconut milk, exactly? Well, it’s not milk in the dairy sense, but close to its level of creaminess. It is basically just shredded coconut flesh that is pureed with water and strained to create a rich, shock-white liquid that can lend body, flavor, and richness to soups, curries, wilted greens, and much more. The kind for cooking typically comes in a can, and differs a lot from the cartons of non-dairy « milk substitute » that people use for smoothies and cereal. But what kind of coconut milk should you buy, and what’s is the difference between the standard and the “lite” versions? And what about coconut cream?! We’ve got answers for you.

Coconut-Curry Braised Chicken Thighs

Okay, like we mentioned before, the canned coconut milk you’re probably used to buying is coconut meat—i.e., the white stuff inside a coconut—that has been mixed with some water and blended until smooth, sometimes with the addition of a stabilizer like guar gum. When you crack open a can, there’s often a layer of solid white stuff at the top, which is what’s known as « coconut cream, » and is the richest part of the equation, containing more fat and protein than the milky-looking liquid it is sitting on top of. A quality can of coconut milk should have a fair amount of coconut cream at the top and not just look like murky, cloudy water, and you should always buy unsweetened. Our go-to brand is Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk, because it has the most clean, pure coconut flavor of all the brands we’ve tried and a nice amount of fat. You can shake the can up to combine the cream and the milk, or just dump it into a pot and stir—it will come together in the cooking process.

So when we’re talking about coconut milk, that’s what we’re normally talking about. But there are a few other products that you might come across while shopping that are worth knowing about. For one, you will sometimes be able to find cans labeled « coconut cream, » which, as you might guess, is richer and fattier than your standard issue coconut milk—it’s just a whole can filled with the extra-rich stuff that floats to the top of a normal can of coconut milk. It’s pretty decadent, and can sometimes be used in the place of regular coconut milk, but be careful: It is a lot thicker and contains less water, so it might screw up the hydration level in a baking recipe.

And then, confusingly, there’s cream of coconut, which is a different thing entirely. Cream of coconut is also made from pureed coconut meat, but is blended with a ton of sugar, and is normally used for sweet, rather than savory, applications—think blended drinks like piña coladas. There’s nothing wrong with cream of coconut per se, but you definitely do not want to accidentally use it in the place of regular coconut milk in, say, a curry dish, unless you want it to taste like dessert.

basically coconut chicken 2

Photo by Caleb Adams

Coconut-Curry Braised Chicken Thighs, anyone?

Finally, there’s also something out there called “lite coconut milk,” which is essentially the two-percent milk of coconut milk. It’s pretty much the opposite of coconut cream—it has less fat than regular coconut milk, and tends to be more watery-looking in the can. Companies will often add a bunch of extra stabilizers and weird things to products like these so they’ll look more like the genuine article, but those additives can sometimes contribute funky or otherwise off flavors, so we avoid whenever possible.

So yeah: Coconut milk is a very good thing, as long as you get the right stuff. It can add big flavor and richness to braised meats (like these chicken thighs or slow-roasted short ribs), a big pot of dal (made with lentils), or pretty much any soup or stew-y thing that wants a little something-something. Keep a can or two in your pantry and be ready for a flavorful dinner anytime—you’d be coconuts not to.

Go forth and coconut milk!

basically-coconut-chicken-1.jpg

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‘CBD is becoming kind of an ‘it’ word in cannabis’: Expert says demand for low-potency weed rising – National

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As recreational marijuana legalization looms, some industry insiders are predicting a hot niche in the market for less potent products.

At the centre of the shift is an expected influx of new consumers more interested in dabbling than getting blitzed, creating demand for pot products with lower doses of psychoactive ingredients.


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A report by Deloitte forecasts that legalization on Oct. 17 will bring a consumer into the market who is more risk averse, older and less likely to consume the drug as regularly as existing recreational users.

“Today’s consumer is what we describe as a risk taker. They’re young, typically with a high school or college education. In their quest to live life to the fullest, they’re more likely to put their health or safety at risk, even going so far as to skirt or break the law,” it says.

Newer recreational customers will typically be 35 to 54 years old, and three-quarters of them will have some experience with recreational pot but only 41 per cent will have used it in the last five years, it says.

WATCH: What do kids think about marijuana legalization






“This consumer is more of a conservative experimenter – typically middle-aged, with a university or graduate school education. They don’t tend to put their personal interests before family needs or other responsibilities,” the report says.

It says almost half of current consumers say they would move to the legal market if there were more choices in terms of product potency.

Producers are paying attention.

Andrew Pollock, vice-president of marketing for The Green Organic Dutchman said many consumers are asking for products with higher concentrations of non-psychoactive cannabidiol, also know as CBD, rather than tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the main mind-altering ingredient in the plant.

READ MORE: Drinking weed: Here’s everything to know about cannabis-infused drinks

“CBD is becoming kind of an ‘it’ word in cannabis. We see a real trend there,” Pollock said.

CBD and THC are some of the most common compounds found in marijuana.

Plants with high CBD give more clear-headed relief to symptoms of anxiety, pain and inflammation. THC gives users a “high,” an appetite and relieves symptoms like pain and nausea, Pollock said.

“What we’re finding is more and more consumers are just looking for something to help them relax, to take away the stress, maybe to help them sleep. What most consumers are looking for in this day and age is calm,” he said.

The Green Organic Dutchman is building 130,000 square metres of cultivation facilities in Ontario, Quebec and Jamaica.

Ali Wasuk, store manager of WestCanna dispensary in Vancouver, says CBD products are already popular among the company’s medical clients, especially older users without recreational experience who are wary “getting high.”

WATCH: Rules surrounding passengers carrying cannabis at Canadian airports






“That crowd was the main one who kind of wanted to dabble, get their feet wet with the lower dose stuff,” he said. “Generally the medical side of it is mainly lower dose THC.”

South of the border, less potent products have already entered a market once dominated by black market pot that packed a punch.

“Products are now being scored and packaged and marked in low doses,” said Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics in Colorado.

Part of that comes as a result of what industry members refer to as the “Maureen Dowd Effect,” he said. The New York Times columnist wrote a piece detailing her experience sampling a cannabis-infused chocolate from one of Colorado’s newly legal pot shops in 2014 that left her “curled in a hallucinatory state” for eight hours in her Denver hotel room.

Since then, the industry has made a concerted effort to cater lower-dose products to new users and emphasize responsible consumption, especially with edibles.


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“The industry has very much harped on the theme of, ‘Start low, go slow,’ ” Adams said.

There are also regular users in the market who want to take some edge off without getting high.

“(They say) two milligrams or three milligrams just has a mild relaxing effect and doesn’t interfere with you going about your day,” Adams said.

The shift is occurring mostly at the processing level where the plants are used to create concentrates, oils, edibles and other products, he said.

Some companies are banking on recreational consumers having less fluency in dosages or chemical components and who are instead looking for an “experience.”

WATCH: Cannabis connections may hurt Canadians at U.S. border






Adine Carter, chief marketing officer for High Park, based in a Nanaimo, B.C., said the company is highlighting its recreational products’ effects instead of its medicinal components.

In other words, you can buy “Sun” under its Irisa brand if you want energy or “Earth” for balance and focus.

“It’s a very different approach to product development than the medical products that are geared toward having the patient understand exactly what the potency is for their condition,” Carter said.

“We believe that telling them what the products are designed to do will resonate better with them as consumers.”

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‘I didn’t come here to live this kind of life’: Skilled immigrants on their desperate hunt for jobs in Quebec

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Instead of sparring over how many immigrants Quebec should accept, Abdul Waheed wishes provincial politicians were talking about how to help skilled workers like him get jobs in their field so they could integrate into Quebec society.

Trained as a chemist and armed with two master’s degrees, Waheed abandoned the chance to pursue his PhD studies in Hong Kong to immigrate to Quebec with his wife and three children five years ago.

Originally from Pakistan, Waheed was confident he’d eventually find a job in his field in Quebec — possibly in the pharmaceutical, food or petrochemical industries.

The only job he has found is at a call centre.

Abdul Waheed holds up a certificate he received after completing a seven-week course on how to improve his CV and write a cover letter. The trained chemist has two master’s degrees in science but has gone back to college in the hope of finding a job in his field. (CBC)

He’s scoured countless employment sites and sent out hundreds of CVs, taking almost every job-finding program offered by Emploi Québec and studying French. Nothing has led to a better job.

« I can’t express the feeling of dismay and despair I have because of this, » said Waheed, 39, who lives with his family in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighbourhood.

He says his 11-year-old daughter asks him what’s the point of all his education.

« I feel like a big failure, » said Waheed. « I didn’t come here to live this kind of life. »

Duelling immigration visions

Quebec has an estimated 90,000 unfilled jobs, and municipal leaders, business and employers groups have called on the province to accept more immigrants to fill them.

But immigration has become a political hot potato in this provincial campaign, with Coalition Avenir Québec making cuts to immigration a key plank in its platform.

Both the Liberals and Québec Solidaire say they’d maintain the current quota of immigrants — about 53,000 a year.

The Parti Québécois says it would let the auditor general set the number.

The CAQ wants to slash the number of immigrants by 20 per cent, until Quebec assesses the effectiveness of its programs at retaining and integrating newcomers.

If elected Oct. 1, CAQ Leader François Legault says his party would reduce Quebec’s annual quota of immigrants by 20 per cent. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

CAQ Leader François Legault says far too many immigrants don’t stay in Quebec, citing Immigration Ministry statistics that show 10 years after their arrival, more than a quarter of all immigrants have left.

A more recent Institut du Québec study, released last week, puts the immigration retention rate at 18 per cent, behind Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta but ahead of the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The same study shows that 58 per cent of immigrants arrive without a working knowledge of French, making it difficult for them to integrate into the workforce.

Legault has seized on that point, vowing to compel recent arrivals to take a French exam and a values test within three years of arriving in Quebec — and to refuse to issue those who fail with a Quebec selection certificate, which immigrants need to apply for permanent residency.

The PQ says immigrants should have a sufficient knowledge of French and Quebec values before arriving in the province.

Language, identity politics ‘unsettling’

The political debate is unsettling for many newcomers.

« All of them are fully aware of the importance of French, » says Luis Miguel Cristancho, the director of Bienvenue à Quebec, a welcome centre for new immigrants and refugees in Montreal’s west end.

Bienvenue à NDG helps immigrants integrate with a range of services, including providing French and English courses. (CBC)

As he speaks, two French classes are underway: one for Chinese-speaking seniors, the other for refugees, foreign students and temporary workers who hope to stay in Quebec.

Unfortunately, Cristancho says, some are forced to quit French classes because they have to get jobs to support their families.

He believes the government has to find more ways to offer French-language training beyond the classroom.

« You need to make French accessible in every single corner, » said Cristancho.

« Learning a language is about living a language. It’s about learning French in your workplace, at school, everywhere. »

Programs ‘fragmented,’ ‘underfunded’

Prof. Marie-Thérèse Chicha agrees. An economist at Université de Montréal’s school of industrial relations, Chicha describes Quebec’s efforts as « fragmented » and « underfunded. »

This year alone, Chicha says, Quebec received nearly half a billion dollars in transfer payments for programs such as PRIIME, a provincial subsidy for employers who hire new immigrants, to offset training and integration costs.

Marie-Thérèse Chicha, a professor of industrial relations at Université de Montréal, describes the province’s integration efforts as ‘fragmented.’ (CBC)

Last year, that program helped fewer than 1,500 immigrants.

« That’s small compared to the number of immigrants who arrive in Quebec and are highly skilled, » said Chicha.

French no job guarantee

The CAQ has pointed out that the unemployment rate is 15.8 per cent among immigrants who have been here for five years or less — nearly 10 points higher than the general population.

However, Chicha points out one of the highest levels of unemployment is among North African immigrants from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, who all speak French fluently.

« There are other obstacles, » she said — namely, discrimination.

Sherbrooke resident Aida Chebbi fears that is what is behind her husband’s struggle to find a job.

Chebbi and her husband, Reffaat Bouzid, immigrated to Quebec from Tunisia with their two young children in 2013.

« Our whole project to come here was based on my husband being able to work as an architect, » said Chebbi.

It took Reffaat Bouzid three years to have his credentials recognized by Quebec’s Order of Architects. Bouzid, seen here with his family, received his permit to practice in June 2017 but still can’t find work as an architect.

Bouzid earned his degree in France and has more than 30 years’ international experience, designing everything from houses to hotels.

But once here, it took three years to have his credentials recognized. 

He finally got his permit to practice in June 2017 but still can’t land a job. 

He’s only had one job interview — where he was told, at 56, he was too old.

« Without a doubt, our origins are behind this refusal, » said Chebbi.

The family has had to borrow money to make ends meet, and Bouzid has taken small jobs as a cleaner. Recently, he’s had health problems which Chebbi blames on stress.

Chebbi is wrapping up a master’s degree in biomechanical engineering and will soon be looking for a job herself, but she’s bracing herself for disappointment.

« I’m prepared to leave Quebec if I’m offered an opportunity elsewhere, » said Chebbi.

« We moved here to have a better life, and that starts with jobs. »

Discrimination an obstacle

Chicha says Quebec’s labour shortage means the province can’t afford to reduce the number of immigrants, and those who frame immigration as a threat are using it as « an excuse not to act. »

She says if the next government wants to avoid more immigrants giving up on Quebec, it has to admit systemic discrimination exists.

One tangible way of tackling it, she said, is by expanding employment equity programs.

All employers should be required, by law, to hire a certain percentage of skilled visible minorities, Chicha said.

Bienvenue à NDG’s director, Luis Miguel Cristancho, says the government needs to do more to promote the benefits of hiring immigrants. (CBC)

That would strengthen their social and professional networks and help them integrate, said Chicha.

Right now, Chicha says, the blame too often falls on immigrants if they have trouble learning French or finding a job in their field.

« In fact, it’s other actors who have a large responsibility — employers and the government, » said Chicha.

Bienvenue à Quebec’s Cristancho agrees.

« It’s this society that really needs to open up to these newcomers, » he said. He’d like to see more awareness programs about the benefits of hiring immigrants.

‘I want them to be proud of me’

Abdul Waheed just wants the chance to prove what he can do as a chemist.

In 2016, seeing no other option, he headed back to school.

He’ll soon graduate with a diploma in laboratory technology and analytical chemistry from Dawson College.

Waheed hopes a CEGEP certificate plus the connections he’s made there are enough to finally get him a job in his field.

« If not, I’ll be left with no other option but to relocate, » said Waheed, although he fervently hopes to stay in Quebec, where his family is now settled.

His daughter and son chatter away in French effortlessly now. Arriving home from school, his daughter shows off an award she got that day.

« Of course, I am proud of my kids, » said Waheed.

« I want them to be proud of me. »

The Pakistani chemist came to Montreal with his wife and three children five years ago, but despite having two master’s degrees, he can only find work in a call centre. 1:58

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