While many Canadians have focused on the supply problems and overly optimistic business projections that have marred Ottawa’s marijuana legalization project, it’s also left behind some international loose ends that still haven’t been tied up.
Not all other countries have accepted Canada’s right to forge a new path on cannabis law. And the ending of Canada’s 95-year ban on cannabis appears to have accelerated the demise of a worldwide consensus and treaty regime that, for decades, underpinned the global war on drugs.
A year after legalization, Canada remains in flagrant violation of UN drug treaties that it signed — an uncomfortable situation for a country that likes to see itself as a stickler for international laws and treaties.
“The Government of Canada has contributed to weakening the international legal drug control framework and undermining the rules-based international order,” says the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
On Dec. 13, INCB President Cornelis de Joncheere reminded nations that the UN “has repeatedly and publicly spoken out that these (legalization laws) are in violation of the obligations under the conventions.”
A heavily-redacted memo that appears to have been signed by Ian Shugart as deputy minister of Foreign Affairs in March — just a month before cannabis became legal — discusses “withdrawing Canada’s objections to treaty actions by Bolivia under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, in advance of the entry into force of the Cannabis Act.”
When Bolivia tried to join the convention in the 1980s, it faced a dilemma. Those were the boom days of the cocaine trade and the coca plantations of South America were seen as the source of the scourge. But the people of the Andean nations had been chewing coca leaves for generations, so Bolivia negotiated a 25-year exemption for coca leaf.
As the 25 year deadline loomed, the government of former coca farmer Evo Morales tried to persuade other countries to change the treaty.
Other signatories weren’t willing to change the convention, and the Bolivians weren’t willing to ban coca leaf, so in 2012 they decided on a bold stroke: Bolivia would crash out of the three international drug treaties and then apply to re-enter with its own permanent exemption for coca leaf, now enshrined in a new Bolivian constitution as part of the nation’s Indigenous heritage.
Canada says no
The move was opposed by the US, already deeply suspicious of the leftist president who had banned the Drug Enforcement Administration from his country four years earlier. But objections also came from some of the world’s most progressive countries on drug policy — such as Portugal and the Netherlands — who saw it as a bad-faith way to get around the treaty that would set a dangerous precedent.
“Canada was among a group of 18 states parties to that convention that did not support Bolivia’s proposal at that time,” said Guillaume Berubé of Global Affairs Canada.
But Bolivia had studied the UN rules carefully, and knew its opponents would be unlikely to get one-third of treaty members to raise a protest. Without that, the objections would not stand. And so, by 2013, Bolivia was back in the treaties, now with a permanent exemption for coca leaf.
Today, Canada finds itself in much the same position Bolivia did in 2012 — openly violating the treaties it signed. Its Bolivian objection now looks like hypocrisy.
In the end, said Berubé, Ottawa never formally withdrew its objection.
Bolivia “was successful in re-acceding with a reservation to certain obligations to permit traditional coca leaf practices in its territory. With that step by Bolivia, no further action has been required by states parties with respect to the matter.”
And yet, as the redacted memo shows, Canada was still debating at the highest levels whether to formally withdraw that objection years after Bolivia’s actions.
John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America testified as an expert before the Senate committee that examined the international effects of Canada’s legalization plan.
“They’re interested in finding a solution that reconciles their domestic policy changes — from which they’re not retreating — with their international treaty obligations,” he said. “Getting to that point is the not-easy part.”
Russians lead the charge
Walsh said Canada is facing steady pressure from other signatories to the drug treaties, particularly Russia.
“”For Russia, it’s a tantalizing opportunity not just to bash Canada but to call the West on its hypocrisy on the rules-based international order, and sow divisions among the West, which it sees as antagonistic and oppressive of its interests,” Walsh told CBC News.
“I think they take some glee in being able to point to Canada and say, ‘The West seeks to impose this rules-based order on us, but when it comes to following their own obligations, they’re à la carte, which is contrary to what international law requires.'”
Russia and Japan led the objections earlier this year when Canada and Uruguay joined a World Health Organization-supported initiative to downgrade cannabis from its Schedule IV classification.
“Because the US has sidelined itself on this issue, Russia sees itself as stepping into the void and has been able to rally a lot of like-minded prohibitionist countries in Africa and Asia,” Walsh said.
Opening Pandora’s box
Russia’s objections may have something to do with scoring points — but they also reflect the country’s very different approach to drug policy.
“The new drug policy of Ottawa contradicts the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties,” Vasily Kutlyshev told CBC News on behalf of Russia’s foreign ministry. Under that convention, he said, “the Canadian side is obliged to perform in good faith its international legal obligations and has no right to invoke its internal legislation as a justification for its failure to perform the international treaty.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has acknowledged that the new cannabis law does selectively violate the treaties, although Berube said the approach “is consistent with the overarching goals of the UN drug conventions, namely to protect the health and safety of citizens.”
The Russians aren’t buying that argument.
“The decision adopted by Canada in fact opens the ‘Pandora box’ by introducing [a] selective approach toward the implementation of the UN drug control conventions,” Kutlyshev said.
“There exists real danger that some other countries may follow the example set by Canada, which would lead to the erosion and even dismantling of the whole international legal foundation of our fight against narcotic drugs.”
That fear seems to be coming true —at least in the Western Hemisphere, where courts and governments are chipping away at the architecture of prohibition.
“Someone has to go first,” Uruguay’s President José Mujica said in 2013, when his country led the way by fully legalizing marijuana.
In the U.S., marijuana is now fully legal in 11 states and fully illegal in only 10, with medical exemptions or decriminalization statutes in the rest.
Several years ago, Walsh said, Canada could have expected intense pressure from Washington not to legalize — but the U.S. has given up its role as world policeman of drug enforcement.
“The International Narcotics Control Board already sees the U.S. as out of compliance,” he said. “Because of the outsized role of the U.S. in insisting on enforcement of the drug treaties, everybody understands the significance of the fact that the U.S. is now sidelined from bludgeoning back against Canada.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of Mexicans are asking why their army continues to uproot plants that are now legal right across the border.
Mexico has not legalized like Uruguay or Canada; it drew the line at decriminalization of personal possession. But it has gone further by applying that decriminalization of personal possession to other drugs, such as cocaine (0.5 grams), heroin (50 milligrams) and methamphetamine (40 mgs).
Colombia was for years the epicentre of the cocaine trade and birthed three of the world’s richest and most powerful drug cartels in the 1980s and 90s.
Today, every Colombian has the right to cultivate up to 20 marijuana plants. In Canada, the limit is four.
Brazil and Ecuador no longer criminally sanction possession of small quantities. Argentina’s Supreme Court has started tossing out convictions for possession of marijuana. Similar court rulings led to Uruguay’s decision to legalize.
Walsh said Ottawa knows “it is a serious matter to be in violation” of the treaties — but “it also knows it faces no immediate material consequences.
“I don’t see Canada backing down, nor do I see Uruguay backing down.”
Problem gambling: 300,000 Canadians at risk, says study – CTV News
While problem gambling affects a small minority of the Canadian population, more than 300,000 are at “severe” or “moderate risk” for gambling-related problems, according to a Statistics Canada study of gambling behaviour.
Findings from the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Gambling Rapid Response, released earlier this week, included interviews with over 26,000 respondents and are designed for longer-term research.
Despite being conducted before the pandemic, study authors note the findings provide “an important baseline” of gambling problems in Canada and make it possible to monitor changes that might occur as a result of new federal legislation that came into force in 2021, allowing single event sports betting. The authors say such studies could help develop more effective education, prevention, and treatment strategies for those who gamble and those who face gambling-related problems.
“While it is hard to predict the future, it is possible that changes after 2018 could lead to higher percentages of Canadians gambling,” Michelle Rotermann, one of the co-authors of the report and a senior analyst in the Health Analysis Division of Statistics Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Friday. She said the findings from the report provide a good baseline for longer-term research and capture any changes after 2018.
According to StatCan, gambling was more prevalent among middle-aged Canadians aged 45 to 64 in comparison to other age groups. This age group was most likely (72.3 per cent) to have gambled in the past year.
Can’t see the graphs below? Click here
When it comes to gambling problems, the study said it was unclear exactly why more males than females developed them —although marketing, stigma, and a lack of social acceptance of gambling by women in the past have kept their participation lower. Another reason for the difference, Rotermann said, was that addictive behavior such as drug and alcohol use, which was more common amongst men than women.
Female gamblers were more inclined towards instant win lottery or online games than males. However, lottery or raffle tickets remained a popular gambling activity for both male and female respondents in 2018.
Males were three times as likely to bet on sports and twice as likely to bet at a casino table (including online).
PANDEMIC AND LEGISLATIVE CHANGES
The 2018 data provides what the trend may look like after COVID-19 and the introduction of a new law.
Sports betting, for example, could gain popularity given the recent developments in the gambling industry. “If that is the case, a priority for both research and policy will be determining if greater popularity for such activities is associated with an increase in the prevalence in gambling problems,” the report said.
Valerie Di Gregorio, manager of Counselling and Treatment at CMHA Thames Valley Addiction & Mental Health Services, London, told CTVNews.ca that while sports betting has been around for years –accessibility and modernization mean more exposure and opportunity for gambling.
But there are standards and practices and programs such as self-exclusionary programs that can support one’s gambling recovery and mental health.
Pandemic-induced stress and disruption may have influenced gambling activities, along with alcohol and drug consumption. Even though it was too early to determine, the report said that access to gambling platforms/websites, and an increased amount of time spent online during lockdowns, could have resulted in growing risks of problem gambling—which is recognized as a public health concern.
With lockdowns and casinos closed, some gamblers resorted to online gaming to place their bets and this may result in a shift from the 2018 gambling habits.
During COVID-19, data gathered by Statistics Canada in a separate report in 2021 showed that 90 per cent of younger Canadians aged between 15 and 34 had done more activities online than pre-COVID.
But besides the pandemic, evolving gaming technologies and changes in the legislative framework may also influence gambling habits in the future, the report said.
Laithwaite said legalization makes it more desirable and this could lead to more people indulging in gambling.
Legalization of single-event sports betting in Canada under the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act in late August 2021 allows provinces and territories to offer and regulate the activity as they see fit and led to the launch of Ontario’s igaming market in April 2022.
Nearly two months after a regulated market for online gambling was launched by the Ontario government, traffic for online bets increased sharply. It flooded the market with advertising and promotional messages—encouraging players to sign up on a number of platforms, according to a report by Ipsos.
Laithwaite said betting ads on platforms such as television or streaming channels just make it really easy for someone with pre-existing mental health or anxiety to buy into it.
“We forget that this is actually a business and the business is to make money,” she said.
According to a report by Deloitte, under the new Act, an estimated $14 billion spent annually would move from unauthorized and unregulated controlled markets to legal sectors, where it can be monitored and taxed appropriately. About 84 per cent of ardent bettors, surveyed by Deloitte last year, said that they’ll definitely or probably play other online casino games through sports-betting sites after the legislative changes.
The survey showed that the most popular platform for ardent bettors for sports betting was regular television. This could be partly due to the heavy volume of advertising on sports betting showing up on TV screens.
“As more Canadians become aware of Ontario’s regulated market situation — and are exposed to the heavy volume of advertising spilling over into the rest of Canada —some of these figures may rise,” according to Ipsos.
Most Canadian provinces have set up online gambling venues that are regulated and licensed to provide online gambling in Canada. But other online, unregulated gambling platforms in Canada are also relatively easy to access.
The availability of gambling opportunities in Canada has increased over time and may continue to rise. Due to new gambling technologies such as online poker and sports betting, the need for more regular and detailed monitoring becomes even more critical.
The study showed that populations more vulnerable to gambling problems included males, people from lower-income households, Indigenous people, individuals with fair or poor mental health, daily smokers, and those who participated in multiple forms of gambling activities.
Canada not shifting to stretch supply of monkeypox vaccine yet – CBC News
Canada will not yet shift its approach to administering monkeypox vaccines to allow them to be divided up into much smaller doses, which the U.S. has done in order to vaccinate many more people than the current strategy.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a press conference Friday that Canada has no plans right now to recommend changes to the vaccination strategy to allow for fractional doses to be administered across the country.
“We’ve been connecting, of course, with our U.S. colleagues to look at their strategy and see if we can gather as much information as we can. There’s limited data, but I think it is an important approach to explore,” she said.
“But for now, working together with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), we’re really pushing out the approach of one dose first to reach as many people as possible in our most highly impacted populations, and we will be looking at the interval and the timing and need for that second dose.”
WATCH | U.S. moves to stretch monkeypox vaccine supply with smaller doses:
The U.S. shifted its vaccination strategy earlier this week to allow for the use of just one fifth of a full dose of the vaccine, made by the Danish company Bavarian Nordic, to stretch out supply and cover more people after the approach was deemed safe and effective.
The vaccine will now be delivered into the skin in the U.S. rather than deeper into a muscle, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization that allowed for the use of fractional doses of the vaccine to people aged 18 and older.
Vaccine supply a challenge, virologist says
“Looking at the global picture, our biggest challenge right now is vaccine supply,” said Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
“There’s limited supply worldwide, so we need to find strategies for containing the virus and its outbreaks, and one of those strategies is dose sparing, which is basically the approach the U.S. has taken here.”
Kelvin said that evidence shows intradermal administration of the vaccines just under the skin provide a “very robust response” with the monkeypox vaccine, also known as Imvamune.
“Considering that we want to protect as many people as possible and contain the outbreak, this does seem reasonable in a situation where there’s limited vaccine supply compared to the number of cases or the trajectory of cases,” she said.
“We have a lot less cases than the U.S. So I don’t know how that compares to our vaccine supply.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has repeatedly declined to provide the number of monkeypox vaccines Canada has in the national stockpile, citing security concerns, despite providing that number for other vaccines and other countries sharing that information.
Tam said Canada has so far deployed 99,000 vaccines to provinces and territories.
“What we want to do is watch the communities that are getting the intradermal strategy and see how protective it is, and have cases been able to be curved by this,” Kelvin said.
“And if we’re in that situation where we find that we have not enough vaccines to go around to protect those who need it, then it would be reasonable to look at that as a strategy moving forward.”
More than 1,000 cases in Canada
There are now 1,059 monkeypox cases across Canada, with the bulk of them in Ontario and Quebec, amid a growing global outbreak that has spread to dozens of countries around the world in the past few months.
Tam said Canada will soon move to testing wastewater in different regions of the country to better track the spread of the disease, also known as MPXV, building off the infrastructure developed to monitor COVID-19 in the pandemic.
“Moving forward, it could form part of our monitoring of the disease activity going up and down across the country,” she said, noting that the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg had developed a new method to detect the virus in wastewater. “We’ve now landed on something that can probably be utilized more broadly.”
WATCH | Canada records more than 1,000 monkeypox cases:
In Canada and around the world, the current outbreak of the disease has overwhelmingly affected men who have sex with men and can cause painful lesions that take weeks to heal.
Tam said more than 99 per cent of MPXV cases in Canada are in men and the median age of those infected is 35. Late last month, the PHAC urged gay and bisexual men to practise safe sex and limit the number of sexual partners, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus among sexual networks.
Globally, Tam said there are now more than 31,000 cases reported in more than 91 countries, with a 19 per cent increase in cases this week over the previous week.
Tam said that it was “too soon to tell” if cases were slowing or plateauing in Canada, although there may be “some early signs” that cases are not increasing at the same rate as at the beginning of the outbreak.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus classified the outbreak as a global emergency late last month, calling the rapid spread of the virus worldwide an “extraordinary” situation.
Telus asks CRTC permission to add 1.5% credit card surcharge to customer bills – CBC News
Canadians who pay their cellphone bill with a credit card could soon see an extra fee every month, if Canada’s telecom regulator approves a proposal currently before them.
Telecom company Telus is asking the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for permission to add a 1.5 per cent surcharge to the bills of customers who pay their bill using a credit card. If approved, it would be in place starting as soon as October.
For a theoretical customer in Alberta whose cellphone bill is $100, the charge would bring their bill to $106.66 — $100 for their basic bill, plus $5 for GST, a $1.58 surcharge for the new fee on top of that, plus another eight cents in GST on the surcharge.
“The company plans to provide advance notices of the fee to its existing customers starting in mid-August,” Telus said in its letter to the regulator.
Fee could be in place by October
The company is asking the regulator to decide on the proposal by Sept. 7 and would like to start levying the new charge as of Oct. 17, and while the CRTC must rule on the matter, in a statement to CBC News the telecom company made the plan sound like a done deal.
“Starting in October, Telus mobility and home services customers choosing to make a bill payment with a credit card will be charged a 1.5 per cent credit card processing fee,” Telus told CBC News in a statement.
The company also said in the statement that numerous other essential services already charge a fee to pay with credit cards, including the Canada Revenue Agency, the City of Toronto, and electrical and gas providers such as Enbridge, Epcor, B.C. Hydro, FortisBC and Alectra.
“This fee helps us recover a portion of the processing costs we incur to accept credit card payments, and the average cost will be around $2 for most customers,” the company said, noting that it can easily be avoided by paying through a bank, via a debit transaction, or other means.
Although the company did not provide an exact breakdown, Telus says most of its customers currently pay via a method that would not accrue the fee.
Telus’s discount flanker brands including Koodo and Public Mobile will not be subject to the fee, nor will customers in Quebec.
WATCH | Why Canadians pay more for telecom services than many other countries:
Telus’ rationale for the move stems from a development this summer, when credit card firms including Visa and MasterCard agreed to a settlement that will see them refund millions of dollars worth of credit card processing fees that merchants have paid them over the years. Crucially, that settlement also gives businesses permission to start charging customers those fees directly starting in October, which is what Telus is trying to do.
Previously, many merchants weren’t allowed to charge customers directly for the fees that credit companies charge them for processing sales. Such fees can range from less than one per cent of the sale, to more than three per cent for some premium cards.
Because just about every part of its business is regulated by the CRTC, Telus needs the regulator to start charging fees that consumers can expect to start seeing from a variety of merchants soon.
CBC News reached out to Rogers and Bell to see if they have any similar plans in the works, but representatives of both companies did not reply to that request within one business day.
Some customers aren’t happy
Some wireless customers aren’t enthused by the idea. Kenneth Hart of Windsor, Ont., a Telus customer for 15 years, calls the plan “a money grab.”
“It’s a bad business move,” he told CBC News in an interview. “They have some accountants telling them this is good. But then you talk about the PR costs, the reputational cost, and it could create … dissatisfaction for those customers who are already … not satisfied.”
“This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Telus only filed the application on Monday, and the CRTC has already heard from more than 200 Canadians via its website, many of which are opposed to the plan.
Steve Struthers is one of them. The resident of London, Ont., is not a Telus customer but he took the time to give his two cents to the regulator because of how opposed he is to the plan.
“Consumers are already extremely stressed with unaffordable housing, increased food prices, expensive gasoline prices and wages that are not keeping up with any of this,” he told CBC News in an interview.
“I’m quite certain they could afford to absorb a 1.5 per cent credit card fee … It bothers me knowing the cellphone companies aren’t happy with the money they’re making and they still want more in an environment where people are reaching their limit as to what they can pay.”
‘The last thing anyone needs is an additional fee’
Rosa Addario, a spokesperson for telecom watchdog OpenMedia, says the plan is just the latest way for the industry to extract more revenue from cash-strapped Canadian consumers.
“All three of our telecom providers … have reported increased profits, increased revenue and increased customers for 2021,” she told CBC News in an interview. “They are doing better than ever. This is just another way to raise our bills through shady practices and extra fees and adding things on top so that we are paying even more than we already are.”
Suze Morrison, a former Ontario MPP, is urging the CRTC to reject the proposal, noting that it will disproportionately impact people who are already financially vulnerable.
“Working class people, low income people are really struggling to make ends meet right now,” she told CBC News in an interview. “The last thing anyone needs is an additional fee just because of how they pay their telephone bill to keep their phone lines connected.”
WATCH | Canada has 3 major telecom providers. Could that change?
While credit card surcharges are creeping into many businesses, she says it’s different for a telecom utility to charge them because it is a necessity.
“A consumer has a choice to go to a mom and pop restaurant or to cook dinner at home or to go to a restaurant that’s not charging fees for credit card swipes,” she said.
“But we’ve allowed so much consolidation in our telecom industry and there’s such a monopoly in the sector that it’s not like folks can say, ‘OK, well, if you’re going to charge a fee, I’m going to take my business somewhere else.’ I have nowhere else to go.”
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