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Canada's cannabis policy makes it an international rebel on drug treaties – CBC.ca

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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.”

Bolivian manoeuvres

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.

A woman takes part in the “gran acullico,” or “the great chewing of coca,” in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Juan Karita/The Associated Press)

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.”

Legalization spreads

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.

Two women smoke cannabis vape pens at a party in Los Angeles on June 8, 2019. (Richard Vogel/The Associated Press)

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.”

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Canada confirms 873 more coronavirus infections as cases continue to surge – Global News

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Canada has diagnosed 873 more people with the novel coronavirus, bringing the country’s surging case count to 143,527 on Sunday.

Provincial and territorial health authorities reported six more people had died from the virus, although those numbers are incomplete as British Columbia, Alberta, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon and Northwest Territories did not report updates over the weekend.

Since the pandemic began, 9,217 people have died from COVID-19 in Canada, while 124,691 have recovered from the virus after falling ill. So far, more than 7.8 million tests have been administered across the country.

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Twenty new cases and no new deaths were reported in Saskatchewan. A total of 1,807 infections have been diagnosed there since the pandemic began. Of those, 24 patients have died and 1,643 have recovered.

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Health officials have administered 171,945 tests so far.

In Manitoba, provincial health authorities detected 29 new confirmed cases of the virus, though one previously announced diagnosis was removed from the total. Overall, the province has recorded 1,586 cases.

As of Sunday, the province had administered 164,177 tests in total, while 1,216 people had recovered after becoming infected and 16 people had died.

Ontario has diagnosed 46,849 people with the the virus, including 365 announced Sunday along with one more death.

To date, 2,827 people have died throughout the province while more than 3.5 million tests for COVID-19 have been conducted and 40,968 people have recovered.

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In Quebec, the province hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials confirmed 462 new cases of the virus, bringing the provincial tally to 67,542.

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In total, the province has confirmed 5,802 people have died from the virus, including five deaths on Sunday. One of those deaths occurred within the last 24 hours, while the other four occurred earlier this month. So far, more than 2 million people in Quebec have been tested for the virus, while 58,796 have recovered.






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New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 or deaths relating to the virus, and only one case remains active. The provincial tally remains at 194 confirmed diagnoses and two deaths.

There have been 69,791 tests for the virus administered by the province.

Nova Scotia’s provincial cases numbers remained at 1,086 after health authorities detected no new infections or deaths. In total, 88,514 people have been tested, 65 have died and 1,021 are in recovery.

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Newfoundland and Labrador saw no new cases of COVID-19 reported Sunday. The provincial total remains at 272, while health authorities said a total of three people had previously died from the virus.

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N.L. has conducted more than 37,738 tests for COVID-19, while 268 people have recovered from the virus.

Nunavut confirmed its first two cases of the virus on Saturday. However, a spokesperson from the territory said the cases will not be counted in Nunavut as the individuals who contracted COVID-19 were not residents.

“[The cases] will be counted in the jurisdiction where they contracted the virus,” they said.

So far, 2,593 tests have been administered in Nunavut.

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In British Columbia, provincial health officials reported a total of 7,720 cases on Friday and 223 deaths.

In Alberta provincial health officials recorded 107 new infections Friday for a cumulative total of 16,381 infections and 255 deaths.






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No new cases were diagnosed in Prince Edward Island during its most recent update on Wednesday, keeping the provincial tally at 57. The province has yet to see its first COVID-19-related death.

To date, 56 in the province have recovered from the virus.

All 15 confirmed cases in the Yukon have recovered. Nobody in the territory has died from the virus.

All five confirmed cases in the Northwest Territories have also recovered.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canadians are still flocking to parks and businesses as country braces for second wave – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Even though the back-to-school season has coincided with a steady rise in Canada’s active COVID-19 case count and fears that a second wave may soon be upon us, Canadians do not seem to be meaningfully adjusting their behaviour when it comes to leaving the house.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said Sunday that a lot of Canadians seem to be taking a “we can do whatever we want” approach to their life in recent weeks.

“It feels to me like a lot of people just threw up their hands and said ‘I’m tired of this. I’m hugging, I’m going out, I’m seeing friends,'” he told Sunday on CTV News Channel.

That feeling is backed up by data compiled by Google and Apple, which shows that Canadians are spending more time in parks and at businesses than they were even in the first half of the summer, when the country first emerged from its various pandemic-imposed lockdowns.

Google bases its public mobility reports on information gleaned from users of its services who allow the company to keep track of the destinations they visit.

According to its most recent report for Canada, dated Sept. 11, Canadians are spending 151 per cent more time in parks than they were before the pandemic began.

This can be partially explained by the calendar; of course a park will be busier in September than it was in February. More telling, though, is that based on Google’s data, park usage has steadily increased over the past few months – from 80 per cent above the baseline level in early June to 140 per cent in mid-July to 150 per cent on Sept. 11.

SPENDING LESS TIME AT HOME

Also increasing has been Canadians’ activity in retail and recreation settings – what Google terms “places like restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theatres.”

At the height of the lockdown, in early April, activity at these establishments was as much as 80 per cent below Google’s pre-pandemic baseline. That number has slowly crept back up ever since, even surpassing it on Labour Day weekend before settling in for a longer stay just below the baseline.

Labour Day weekend also represents a peak in Apple’s mass-collected mobility trends report for Canada. Apple found that requests made for driving directions were 88 per cent higher on Sept. 4 than they were on Jan. 13 (their pre-pandemic baseline), while requests for walking directions were up by 80 per cent. Both numbers were at their highest points in 2020. (Requests for public transit directions were about two-thirds of their pre-pandemic levels, or about four times what they were at the height of the pandemic.)

Time spent in grocery stores and pharmacies has been slightly above Google’s baseline for the past month, suggesting Canadians may be doing more supermarket shopping to make up for the decreasing number of meals eaten out.

The amount of time spent at home, meanwhile, has fallen from 20 per cent in early May to 10 per cent in mid-July to eight per cent on Sept. 11.

Taken together, all of this implies Canadians feel safer leaving their homes now than they did not only early on in the pandemic, but also for most of the summer.

That would certainly make sense if the novel coronavirus was still slowing its spread across Canada – but aside from Atlantic Canada and the territories, that’s hardly been the case.

Canada’s active case count has been rising since early August and is more than double what it was one month ago, according to a CTV News tally. Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia have all begun to re-enact some of the restrictions lifted earlier in the summer. All four provinces show similar patterns in the Google data, with their residents spending less time at home and more time out in public than they were even a month or two ago.

“We know what to do; we just aren’t necessarily doing it as well as we could,” Dr. Brian Conway, president and medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said Sunday on CTV News Channel.

“Certain individuals are making decisions … not to follow all of the public health recommendations, and this leads to an increase in cases.”

IS IT QUARANTINE FATIGUE?

Because of the increasing COVID-19 diagnosis numbers and rolling back of reopenings, there is a rising belief that Canada is on the precipice of a second wave of the pandemic.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease specialist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told CTV News Channel on Sunday that she believes “some form of a second wave” is already underway in Ontario and Quebec.

“We don’t know yet if it’s going to be a big wave or one of those smaller waves that we can control. That really, really depends on how people manage themselves,” she said.

Dr. Theresa Tam said this week that “the time to act is now,” noting that the daily new case numbers more accurately reflect how society was responding to the virus two weeks ago than how it is responding today.

Of course, the rising numbers do not come as a surprise to Canada’s chief public health officer. She warned in July that Canada could see a “backslide” if too many Canadians continued to ignore public health advice, and cautioned in August that the fall would be a “period of challenge” due to cooling weather and the back-to-school period.

On the surface, something doesn’t add up. The warnings from authorities have been constant and consistent, and are starting to come true – and yet Canadians are still spending more time in public, where contact with the virus is more likely.

One possible explanation is that quarantine fatigue has set in.

Also known as pandemic fatigue, response fatigue and many other terms, quarantine fatigue is essentially the idea that citizens are tired of the pandemic and no longer take the necessary precautions to stop it.

This is why “we can’t let our guard down” is such a common refrain from political and medical leaders – both in Europe, where the World Health Organization is now warning about quarantine fatigue as cases skyrocket, and in Canada, where authorities hope to avoid the same scenario.

Barrett said that Canadians “really need to take to heart” the advice from public health leaders, spending less time outside the home and keeping their social circles to a small number.

“If people are able to do the things that have already been suggested, we may be able to keep a handle on things,” she said.

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Canada adds more than 800 new coronavirus cases, 6 deaths – Global News

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The number of Canadians who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus grew by 865 on Saturday, while the national death toll rose by six.

There have been 142,654 cases since COVID-19 was first diagnosed in Canada in late January and 9,211 deaths overall.

Across the country more than 7.7 million tests have been conducted throughout the pandemic, and 87 per cent of all cases are resolved.

The number of new cases being reported daily has increased by more than 60 per cent in the last two weeks, and demand for testing has increased sharply as well.

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Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on average about 849 cases were reported per day in the last week.

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“I urge all Canadians to take action now to slow the spread of the virus. In addition to strict adherence with personal protective measures (e.g. physical distancing, handwashing and wearing non-medical masks where appropriate), we must all reduce our number of contacts to a minimum,” she said in a statement.

“Most importantly, stay home and isolate yourself from others if you are experiencing any symptoms, even if mild.”

The vast majority of the new cases occurred in Ontario and Quebec, though Saturday’s numbers are incomplete because the territories, Alberta, B.C. and P.E.I. do not release daily statistics on the weekend.






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Quebec announced 427 new infections, bringing its total to 67,080. Five deaths were recorded, three of which occurred earlier this month, officials said.

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Premier François Legault said Saturday he has tested negative for COVID-19 but would remain in isolation until Sept. 28.

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Legault and his wife were tested after meeting with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole — who has since tested positive.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced the province would be extending restrictions on private events to all areas of the province.

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Earlier in the week, new limits on the number of people allowed to gather were announced for virus hotspots such as Toronto and Ottawa.

“Over the past several days, we have seen alarming growth in the number of COVID cases in Ontario,” Ford said.

“The alarm bells are ringing. And too much of it has been tied to people who aren’t following the rules. People who think it’s OK to hold parties, to carry on as if things are back to normal. They aren’t.”






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Ontario added 407 new cases on Saturday and one new death was announced. The province has seen a cumulative total of 46,848 infections.

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Officials in Saskatchewan said they hit a record high in testing on Friday, with 2,873 samples taken. There were 11 cases discovered. Overall, the province has seen 1,787 cases and 24 fatalities.

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In Manitoba, 18 new cases were reported Saturday. The province has the lowest cumulative case total in Western Canada at 1,558, including some cases considered presumptive.

Nunavut reported its first two confirmed cases Saturday. The two people diagnosed are workers at the Hope Bay Mine, located southwest of Cambridge Bay, officials said. They are believed to have been exposed to the virus in their home province.

“Hope Bay Mine is an isolated location, and no Nunavut residents currently work there. The risk of COVID-19 spreading in our communities because of these cases remains very low,” Health Minister George Hickes said in a statement.

There are currently no other active cases in Canada’s North. The infections previously announced in Yukon and Northwest Territories — 20 in total — have long been resolved.

Three out of four provinces in Atlantic Canada provided updates on the pandemic Saturday but no new cases were announced. There are only a handful of active cases remaining in the region.

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On Friday, British Columbia added 179 new cases, though 40 of them dated back to early August, and Alberta reported 107 new positive tests.






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On Saturday, the U.S. coronavirus death toll was poised to reach 200,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Around the world, more than 30 million people have been diagnosed with the illness, and nearly 954,000 people have lost their lives.

—With files from The Canadian Press, Mickey Djuric, Ryan Rocca and David Lao, Global News

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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