British Colombia experiments with decriminalizing hard drugs
British Columbia is starting a first-in-the-nation trial decriminalizing small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
From Tuesday, adults can possess up to 2.5g of such drugs, as well as methamphetamine, fentanyl and morphine.
Canada’s federal government granted the request by the west coast province to try out the three-year experiment.
Ahead of the pilot’s launch, British Columbia and federal officials outlined the rules under the federally approved exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
While those substances will remain illegal, adults found in possession of a combined total of less than 2.5g of the drugs will not be arrested, charged or have their substances seized. Instead, they will be offered information on available health and social services.
Federal minister of mental health and addictions Carolyn Bennett on Monday called the move “a monumental shift in drug policy that favours fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalisation”.
Some 10,000 residents have died from drug overdoses since British Columbia declared drugs to be a public health emergency in 2016, officials said.
“Decriminalising people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports,” said Jennifer Whiteside, the British Columbia minister for mental health and addictions.
Thousands of police officers in the province have been offered training on the rule change, including those in Vancouver, the largest city in the province.
The programme will run from 31 January 2023 until 31 January 2026, unless it is revoked by the federal government.
Some experts have questioned the 2.5g limit, saying that it is not enough to account for the habits of many addicts.
There are some exemptions to the scheme.
The sale of drugs remains illegal. It is also illegal to possess drugs on the grounds of schools, childcare facilities and airports.
Canada legalised the use of recreational cannabis for adults nationwide in 2018.
But the four drugs now allowed in small quantities remain prohibited, meaning there are no plans to sell them in stores, unlike marijuana. Trafficking them across borders also remains illegal.
Canada extends emergency travel program for Ukrainians fleeing war
The federal government is extending a program that temporarily resettles Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia in Canada.
Ukrainians will now have until July 15, 2023, to apply to the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. The program was set to expire on March 31.
It’s a special measure that allows Ukrainians, and their family members of any nationality, to settle in Canada for up to three years. CUAET allows successful applicants to apply for work and study permits free of charge.
Russia and Ukraine have been at war since 2014, but Russia stepped up its invasion significantly in February 2022. The federal government has provided military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and has slapped sanctions on thousands of Russians and Russian entities.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser made the announcement Wednesday.
“We’re going to closely monitor the ongoing needs of Ukrainians and Ukraine, to see how we can continue to lend our support and help win this war,” Fraser told a news conference.
The government has received just under a million applications to the program since it began in March 2022, and has approved 616,429 of them. Over 133,000 people have arrived in Canada through the program.
Fraser said the temporary nature of the program aligns with what Ukrainians want.
“When I speak to the vast majority of Ukrainians who’ve arrived here, their hope is that Ukraine is going to win this war. They want to go home one day,” Fraser said.
“To create a program that allows them to have temporary safe haven in Canada, while we await the circumstances on the ground becoming safe one day for people to return, has allowed us to help tens of thousands of people more than what otherwise would have been the case under a traditional refugee resettlement model.”
Fraser did not say whether the government would extend the program if the war continues beyond July 15. He said it will monitor the situation.
Ukrainians in Canada welcome extension
Kseniia Chystiakova, who is from a suburb of Kyiv, applied to CUAET just days after it launched in March 2022. She now lives in Winnipeg with her husband, son and mother.
Chystiakova’s father is in Germany because his application hasn’t been approved yet, and Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) hasn’t offered an explanation. Her mother, who did get approved, initially stayed with her husband but came to Canada last week as the March 31 deadline came closer.
But Chystiakova said she’s happy about the extension because it gives her father some time to get approved.
“I want them to be near us and to see their grandchild, but still we have hope that everything will be okay,” she said.
Chystiakova works at a staffing agency helping other Ukrainians find work. Her husband, who is not a Ukrainian citizen, is taking language classes and her son is enrolled in a local school.
“It’s a really great opportunity for him and for his future,” Chystiakova said.
“I think that we will stay here.”
Fraser made the announcement at Café Ukraine in Ottawa. The community cafe provides services, including language classes, to newcomer Ukrainians and host families.
“We’re only able to provide the support for Ukrainians because the government of Canada has generously opened the door for Ukrainians to come and find safe harbour here,” Yaroslav Baran, Café Ukraine’s co-founder, said at the announcement.
“The announcement that you’ve made today is a continuation of a long tradition, 130 years, of generous opening of doors by Canada to Ukrainians.”
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) welcomed the government’s announcement.
“Our community is also grateful to the thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have opened their hearts and their homes to Ukrainians, the volunteers who work tirelessly to welcome Ukrainians in cities and towns across Canada, and the settlement services which deliver essential programs and supports,” Alexandra Chyczij, the UCC’s national president, said in a media statement.
“With increased support from allies like Canada, this year can be the year that the Russian armies are driven out of Ukraine and peace returns to Europe.”
Iain Reeve, associate director for immigration research at The Conference Board of Canada, said CUAET has brought new workers into Canada at a time when the country is facing a labour shortage.
“The Ukrainians come with a really wide variety of skills that can fit really well into a lot of available positions across Canada,” Reeve said.
“We see the enthusiasm that a lot of communities have had to welcome people, not just for the really obvious humanitarian benefits, but also because they see the potential labour market and economic benefits of welcoming Ukrainians — even if it is only on a temporary basis.”
But Reeve said the government will have to think carefully about the future of those coming in through the program.
“There’s a balance to be struck between not wanting to bring a bunch of people here under very difficult circumstances and maybe rob Ukraine of exactly the people that they’ll want to have back in the country to help rebuild once the conflict is hopefully over,” he said.
“But at the same time, if people want to stay in Canada, maybe we want to try to give them options to do that.”
Liberal MP Han Dong leaving caucus amid foreign interference allegations
Han Dong, the Toronto-area MP at the centre of allegations that his election campaign benefited from Beijing’s meddling, says he is leaving the Liberal caucus and will sit as an Independent.
“I’m taking this extraordinary step because to [sit] in the government caucus is a privilege and my presence there may be seen by some as a conflict of duty and the wrong place to be as an independent investigation pursues the facts in this matter,” he said , reading a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday night.
“I will be sitting as the Independent so that business of government and indeed the bills of Parliament is not interrupted as I work to clear my name and the truth is presented to Parliament and to Canadian people.”
His comments follow a story from Global News, alleging Dong advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that Beijing should hold off on freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — the two Canadians being held by China at the time.
The Global story cited two unnamed national security sources who said Dong made the suggestion because their release would be helpful to the Conservatives. CBC News has not verified the allegations.
Dong confirmed to Global that he had a discussion with Consul General Han Tao, but denied that he advised Beijing to delay releasing Kovrig and Spavor.
“Let me be clear. What has been reported is false, and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims,” said the Don Valley North representative in his remarks to Parliament.
“But let me assure you as a parliamentarian and as a person, I have never and I will never, and would never advocate or support the violation of the basic human rights of any Canadian, of anyone, anywhere, period.”
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said the office “only became aware that a conversation took place after Mr. Dong told us, following recent media questions.”
“I am a proud Liberal,” said Dong, his voice breaking during his remarks.
“Before concluding, I want to assure Mr. Michael Spavor and Mr. Michael Kovrig and their families that I did nothing to cause them any harm.”
“Mr. Speaker, I am in your hands as to what happens next.”
Dong spoke to reporters Tuesday
Alison Murphy, a spokesperson for Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, gave no other comment Wednesday night.
“I’ll refer you to Mr. Dong’s statement in the House tonight,” she wrote in an email.
An earlier Global News story, also citing anonymous sources, alleged national security officials gave an urgent briefing to senior aides from Trudeau’s office in 2019 “warning them that one of their candidates was part of a Chinese foreign interference network.”
Global’s sources allege the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) believed Dong, who was re-elected in 2021, was a “witting affiliate” of China’s election interference networks.
Dong spoke to reporters for the first time Tuesday since that story broke in February.
“I was not offered, I was not told, I was not informed, nor would I accept any help from a foreign country, whether during my nomination or during my election campaign,” he said.
Dong also said Tuesday he had not been contacted by either CSIS, the RCMP or Elections Canada.
A CSIS spokesperson would not comment on whether the lack of contact with Dong was unusual.
“There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss, given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods and sources of intelligence,” Eric Balsam said in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.
“Disclosure could allow our adversaries to interrupt or harm our operations, techniques, methods and sources of intelligence. These limitations are therefore essential to ensure the safety, security and prosperity of Canada.”
Dong’s comments come as opposition MPs try to uncover what the Liberal Party knew, or didn’t know, about Beijing’s alleged attempts to meddle in Canada’s elections.
An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election concluded that foreign meddling did not affect the outcome.
CSIS calls foreign interference activities by China’s government the “greatest strategic threat to national security.”
Biden coming to Canada to visit Trudeau: What we know
U.S. President Joe Biden is coming to Canada Thursday evening, kicking off his short but long-awaited overnight official visit to Canada.
During his stay in the nation’s capital, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and deliver an address to Parliament on Friday. But, he and first lady of the United States Jill Biden have some other events on their itineraries, where key Canada-U.S. issues and shared priorities will be discussed.
With many layers of preparation underway—from major security precautions and an increased presence of police, including U.S. Secret Service, RCMP, and provincial and local officers, as well as military aircraft in the skies,, to extensive road closures—Biden’s brief trip will be a significant event in the cross-border relationship.
U.S. flags have been hung up throughout downtown, manhole covers have been forced shut, and the city is bracing for an influx of high-profile visitors.
“It’s quite a packed schedule for a short trip,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday. “This is a meaningful visit. Canada is one of the United States’ closest allies and friends, and has been now for more than 150 years. This will be the first true in-person bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Canada since 2009.”
Here’s what we’ve confirmed with senior government officials about what will be on the agenda, and what key players are saying about the upcoming visit.
THURSDAY, MARCH 23: BIDEN ARRIVES
The Bidens and the delegation travelling with the president will be landing in Ottawa on Air Force One on Thursday evening, currently scheduled for around 6:25 p.m.
There, Biden will be greeted by a welcoming delegation of Canadian officials:
- Gov. Gen. Mary Simon
- Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman
- Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland
- Treasury Board President Mona Fortier
- Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly
- And, foreign affairs parliamentary secretaries, Liberal MPs Rob Oliphant and Maninder Sidhu
Upon his arrival, Biden will meet with the governor general inside the Canada Reception Centre at the Ottawa Airport. Simon’s husband Whit Fraser and the first lady will be part of this meeting.
Then, Biden will be taken—likely in his infamous armoured limousine known as ‘The Beast’—to Rideau Cottage to meet with Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Rideau Cottage is the prime minister’s current residence, located on the grounds at Rideau Hall, approximately seven kilometres northeast of Parliament Hill.
There, according to a senior Canadian government source, the two couples will “have an informal meeting.” Kirby called this an “intimate gathering.”
FRIDAY, MARCH 24: BIDEN’S BIG DAY
Friday is the main day of Biden’s visit, and it’s largely going to be spent on Parliament Hill.
Before diving into that, just a note: The first lady is going to have her own itinerary on Friday. While she will attend the address to Parliament, she is expected to participate in other events during the day, potentially alongside Gregoire-Trudeau, but the details of what they’ll get up to have yet to be shared.
According to Kirby, the two will use their time together to build on their friendship and “participate in a spousal program that’s focused on our shared cultural connections, and of course empowering young people.”
Kicking off with a welcoming ceremony inside West Block, the temporary home of the House of Commons, Biden will be greeted by a welcoming party that includes the speakers of the House and Senate, and representatives from the opposition parties.
He will then have a bilateral meeting with Trudeau, followed by an extended meeting with ministers, expected to take place in the room where cabinet usually meets.
It’s likely that whomever is travelling with Biden, officials-wise, would likely also take part.
The Canadian ministers accompanying Trudeau on Friday will be Freeland, Joly, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion Mary Ng, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson, and Defence Minister Anita Anand.
All of this will happen in the morning, before Biden’s speech to Parliament, which is expected to begin mid-afternoon. It’s customary for formal addresses from world leaders to include introductory and concluding remarks from parliamentary officials, and for the chamber to be filled with senators, dignitaries, and other key stakeholders or community members with relevant ties to whomever is speaking.
“In his remarks, the president will underscore how the U.S.-Canada partnership benefits not only our two countries, but the entire world. And, that by working together we can address some of the biggest challenges we face,” Kirby said.
Following his address—we’ll see how long it is, Obama’s in 2016 was approximately 50 minutes—Biden and Trudeau will make their way across the street from Parliament Hill, to the Sir John A Macdonald building, for a joint media availability.
There, reporters from the parliamentary press gallery and those travelling from the White House press pool will be able to ask Biden and Trudeau about what was accomplished by the visit and whether there will be any concrete wins or policy moves made as a result.
At some point during his time on the Hill, Biden will have a pull aside meeting with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and will have an opportunity to meet with opposition leaders and exchange pleasantries in some capacity, according to a senior U.S. official briefing reporters.
Rounding out his day, Biden, the first lady and the American delegation will attend a “gala dinner” hosted by Trudeau and his wife, that “a few hundred” guests are set to attend. That’s happening at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, approximately 11 kilometres east of Parliament Hill.
On the invite list: ambassadors past and present, business leaders, members of Parliament, senators, and representatives of Indigenous groups.
“It’ll be a real cross-section of Canada,” said one senior Canadian government official briefing reporters on a not-for-attribution basis about the trip.
So far neither the White House nor the Prime Minister’s Office have confirmed if there will be any impromptu stops during the trip, meaning we’ll all have to wait and see whether there will be another ‘Obama cookie’ moment — when then-U.S. President Barack Obama popped into a bakery in the Byward Market during his 2009 trip.
While the not-quite two-day trip may seem condensed, Trudeau officials told reporters that they are pleased with the amount of time Biden and Trudeau will have together, while noting that on his past trips, Obama did not stay overnight.
“One of our primary goals of the visit was hoping to be able to share as much time as possible between the two leaders. And that’s why we are very happy that president Biden is spending a day and half in Ottawa, which allows three different blocks for the prime minister and the president to spend time together… And that’s actually quite a lot of time, several hours where they can cover all the issues they need to cover,” said one senior government official.
Kirby said there is a lot the two leaders have to talk about.
“Canada, as you know, is not only a neighbour to the north, but a NATO ally. The president and prime minister Trudeau have a terrific relationship. He’s looking forward to getting up there. There are a range of issues that you can imagine they’ll talk about, everything from Norad, and modernization of Norad capabilities… military, and national security issues… Migration concerns, climate change. There’ll be certainly issues of trade to discuss. There’s a lot,” Kirby said on Tuesday.
Offering more details during Wednesday’s briefing on the trip, Kirby said that the two leaders will also talk about stepping up to meet “the challenges of our time,” including “driving a global race to the top on clean energy, and building prosperous and inclusive economies.”
WHAT ARE THE BIG ISSUES SET TO COME UP?
Without diving into the nitty gritty of all the outstanding trade, economic, and cross-border irritants that could come up during the visit, the broad stroke topics that Canadian officials say will be discussed during the visit include:
- North American continental and Arctic defence and related spending
- Trade, supply chains, and the state of CUSMA/USMCA
- Irregular migration and modernizing the Safe Third Country Agreement
- Climate change and investing in the clean automotive sector
- Addressing inflation and driving growth to create jobs
- Threats to democracy such as domestic and foreign interference
- Further support for Haiti and Ukraine
It remains to be seen how substantive of progress will be made on these issues, but typically visits of this sort conclude with some form of joint statement outlining any commitments made.
“The Canada-U.S. partnership is forged by shared geography, similar values, common interests, deep personal connections, and powerful economic ties that are critical for so many jobs and businesses in both of our countries,” said a senior Canadian government official.
“Throughout the day, the prime minister will highlight Canada’s partnership as a source of strength to the United States and our commitment to working closely together on the big serious challenges that we both face, as well as the world faces,” the official said.
WHAT ARE KEY PLAYERS SAYING ABOUT THE TRIP?
Ahead of the visit, Trudeau, federal cabinet ministers and the leaders of the opposition parties have been outlining their expectations for the visit, the state of the Canada-U.S. relationship and what hot issues they want to see addressed. Here’s some of what they’ve had to say.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“We’re going to be talking about a lot of things. We will of course be talking about China, but the centre of our conversations will be about jobs and growth, critical minerals and fighting climate change, and continuing to build an economy across our continent that works for all of our citizens… I think the big message is just going to be how we can, and will be working together,” Trudeau said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting.
Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman:
“In some respects, I think [the Canada-U.S. relationship] did require rebuilding. I think that, you know, with the previous administration, as people know, we had some important successes, the renegotiation of NAFTA was, was very good. The early days of pandemic management I think was a real success between Canada and the U.S… But it wasn’t an administration that was that interested in working with allies to solve certain kinds of problems. Climate change wasn’t high on the priority list. They had some skepticism around NATO. And so, there were a lot of these sorts of things that we do together bilaterally, and things that we do together in the world that required a bit of care and attention,” she said in an interview on CTV’s News Channel on Wednesday, speaking about the post-Donald trump era of Canada-U.S. relations.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre:
“We all know that President Biden is coming this week to visit Canada. Our demands as Conservatives are very reasonable…. We want an end to softwood lumber tariffs so that our forestry workers can get bigger, more powerful, inflation-proof paycheques… We want an end to ‘Buy-America’ so that our construction workers get powerful paycheques … We want an end to the illegal border crossings at Roxham Road, and across the country… We will stand with the Americans for a stronger military and stronger continental defense to keep all of our people safe,” Poilievre said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser:
“Our focus right now is trying to solve a problem and provide a lasting solution. Of course, I expect that there is going to be a lot of attention on all issues tied to the Canada-U.S. relationship, but my focus right now is on solving a challenge for the long-term… The precise nature of how we can help address the issue of irregular migration more broadly is something that we still have some work to do to sort out finally,” Fraser said on his way into a Wednesday caucus meeting about the Safe Third Country Agreement and the issues at Roxham Road.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh:
“The number one concern we have is about the approach of the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the ‘buy-American’ provisions… We are deeply concerned that the connection between Canada and America is so – we’re so interlinked that a ‘Buy-American’ provision for infrastructure could mean a serious negative blow to producers in Canada, to workers in Canada. And we want to make sure it’s a North American approach as opposed to a ‘Buy-American’ approach… We also want to see that Canada responds to the Inflation Reduction Act with real incentives in Canada to encourage and create jobs here to reduce our emissions and ensure there’s good paying jobs
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