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Small-scale possession of illicit drugs will be decriminalized in B.C. starting next year: Ottawa – CBC News

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Adults in British Columbia will be allowed to possess small amounts of some illicit drugs starting next year, the federal government announced Tuesday — a move that marks a dramatic shift in Canada’s drug policy.

The federal government says Canadians 18 years of age and older will be able to possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA within British Columbia. The announcement is in response to a request from the province for an exemption from the law criminalizing drug possession.

This first-of-its-kind exemption will go into effect on Jan. 31, 2023, and last until Jan. 31, 2026, unless it is revoked or replaced before then. The exemption means there will be no arrests, charges or seizures for personal possession at or below the 2.5 gram threshold.

Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett and her provincial counterpart, Sheila Malcolmson, announced the policy shift together in Vancouver on Tuesday.

The city has been the site of a surge in drug overdose deaths that accelerated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. B.C. saw 2,224 suspected toxic illicit drug overdose deaths in 2021 and more than 9,400 since 2016.

WATCH | Will Ottawa consider decriminalizing small-scale drug possession nationally?: 

Will the government consider decriminalizing small-scale drug possession nationally?

7 hours ago

Duration 8:34

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett joins Power & Politics to discuss the government’s decision to grant a legal exemption to B.C. to decriminalize possession of small amounts of some illicit drugs.

“For far too long, this wave of loss has been a reality in British Columbia and across the country,” Bennett said on Tuesday.

“Today, we take the first steps in the much-needed bold action and significant policy change.”

Bennett said decriminalization doesn’t equal legalization.

Still, the exemption is a dramatic policy shift in favour of what decriminalization advocates say is an approach that treats addiction as a health issue, rather than a criminal one. One of the goals of decriminalization is to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse.

The exemption is a “major step in changing how we view addiction and drug use in British Columbia,” Malcolmson said.

“The fear of being criminalized has led many people to hide their addiction and use drugs alone. And using drugs alone can mean dying alone, particularly in this climate of tragically increased illicit drug toxicity.”

B.C., Vancouver and Toronto Public Health have all separately filed exemption requests to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.

WATCH | New rules for small-scale possession of illicit drugs in B.C.: 

New rules for small-scale possession of illicit drugs in B.C.

9 hours ago

Duration 1:28

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett announced that adults in British Columbia will be allowed to possess small amounts of some illicit drugs starting next year — a move that marks a dramatic shift in Canada’s drug policy.

Under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, the health minister has the authority to grant an exemption if it is “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.” The federal government confirmed that the applications from Vancouver and Toronto Public Health are both still under review.

The principle of decriminalizing possession of a small amount of illicit drugs has been endorsed by the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police. The B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police has also supported the idea, though it recommended decriminalizing possession of just one cumulative gram.

Evidence bags containing fentanyl are displayed during a news conference at Surrey RCMP Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 3, 2020. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

While the federal government has granted an exemption, it’s not giving B.C. exactly what it asked for.

One major difference is the quantity of drugs being decriminalized for personal possession. The province asked for a cumulative 4.5 grams, but the federal exemption allows for just 2.5 grams.

Health Canada said it consulted numerous information sources to set its possession threshold to strike a balance between health and safety. It also acknowledged a lack of evidence to determine what an effective threshold would be. The department said that once the exemption is in place, it will be thoroughly examined by a third party and its details could change as evidence is gathered and analyzed.

Delaying implementation until January 2023 was meant to give governments and agencies time for training, consultation and outreach, and to otherwise prepare for the shift in policy, federal and provincial officials said.

In a statement, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney criticized the move.

“As a neighbouring province, the Government of Alberta is alarmed by this announcement to decriminalize and we will be monitoring the situation very closely,” he said. 

“I want to state in the strongest possible terms to the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia that Alberta will exhaust all options should their actions cause damage to Albertans.”

Bennett also announced an additional $11.78 million in support for substance abuse and addictions programs in British Columbia.

Activities like production, trafficking still illegal

The exemption carries certain other limitations. It does not apply on the premises of elementary or secondary schools, in child-care facilities or airports. It also doesn’t apply to Canadians subject to the military’s disciplinary code.

The B.C. Ministry of Health said that it views decriminalization as only one part of a set of policies meant to address the opioid overdose crisis.

Health Canada said that the exemption does not decriminalize activities such as trafficking, producing, importing or exporting controlled substances.

The exemption comes just a day before a vote is expected on a decriminalization bill put forward by NDP MP Gord Johns.

Speaking before question period on Tuesday, Johns said the exemption is “good news” but that the overdose crisis remains a national issue. He also accused the government of delaying its decision and dragging its feet, costing lives.

“The families of thousands of Canadians are burying loved ones right across Canada right now…. We need a national approach,” he said, adding that the Liberals are taking a “piecemeal, incremental” approach that is “costing lives every day.”

Asked about the NDP bill, Bennett said she would not be voting for it because it does not have sufficient “guardrails” and would have an impact on Canada’s international obligations. She thanked Johns for his work in raising awareness about the issue.

“It has been an important bill, but ‘starting by starting’ when it comes to British Columbia is a prudent way to go,” she said.

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Canada first to sign off on Finland, Sweden joining NATO – CTV News

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Canada became the first country to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession protocols to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday.

The move follows NATO leaders officially inviting the two nations to join the alliance during a summit in Madrid last week, and brings the two countries a step closer to becoming full NATO members.

“Canada has full confidence in Finland and Sweden’s ability to integrate quickly and effectively into NATO and contribute to the Alliance’s collective defence,” Trudeau said in a statement.

“Their membership will make NATO stronger and we call on all NATO members to move swiftly to complete their ratification processes to limit opportunities for interference by adversaries.”

According to The Associated Press, all 30 NATO allies signed off on the accession protocols on Tuesday, sending the membership bids to each nation for legislative approval. Both Canada and Denmark were quick to turn around their ratification documents.

“Thank You Canada! Canada is the first country to deliver its instrument of ratification to the United States Department of State, the depository of the North Atlantic Treaty!” tweeted Sweden’s Ambassador to Canada Urban Ahlin.

In Canada, the federal government made moves domestically to move through the ratification quickly, Trudeau said. This included issuing orders-in-council authorizing Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly to “take the actions necessary to ratify, on behalf of Canada.”

Ahead of Parliament adjourning for the summer, the House of Commons debated and voted on a motion signalling their support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

In May, the House Public Safety and National Security Committee adopted a motion expressing “strong support” for the two Scandanavian countries’ membership in the alliance. The motion also called on all NATO members to approve their applications as quickly as possible.

A debate was held on this motion on June 1, and it passed unanimously when put to a vote the following day.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has actualized something that was once only theoretical. An authoritarian state led by an autocrat has attacked a democracy: It has demonstrated that it is willing and able to attack a democracy. It has made clear that democracies that stand alone and are not part of military alliances are most vulnerable,” said Conservative MP and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong during the House debate. “That is why it has become necessary to bring both Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance. This is an urgent matter.”

Also taking part in the debate, NDP MP and foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said she supports Finland and Sweden doing all they can to prevent their countries from being threatened further by Russia.

“Prior to the further invasion of Ukraine, support for NATO membership was around 20 to 30 per cent in Sweden and Finland. Now, 76 per cent of Finnish people support joining NATO. Very simply, Vladimir Putin and the aggression of the Russian Federation are responsible for escalating tensions in the region and leading Sweden and Finland to seek NATO membership,” McPherson said.

With NATO member countries having different processes for completing ratification, it could be some time still before the two nations formally become a part of the longstanding intergovernmental military alliance.

With files from Senior Political Correspondent for CTV News Channel Mike Le Couteur

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Canada Day Ottawa: 12 arrested, 50 charges laid – CTV News Ottawa

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Ottawa police say 50 criminal charges were laid over the Canada Day long weekend and 12 people were arrested.

Last Friday marked the first Canada Day in Ottawa with major in-person events since 2019. Thousands of tourists and residents came downtown to celebrate the holiday. In the mix were several hundred protesters associated with the “Freedom Convoy” movement that paralyzed downtown Ottawa in February.

Ottawa police were out in force starting June 29 with the implementation of the downtown vehicle control zone, which was meant to prevent another vehicle-based occupation of the city.

Police said they arrested a dozen people in downtown Ottawa between June 29 and July 3, including people who were not involved in Canada Day events or protests. On top of the 50 criminal charges, four charges under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were also laid.

One man was arrested on Parliament Hill June 29 for causing a disturbance. He was taken back to Toronto on an outstanding warrant.

On June 30, police charged one person with breach of release orders and Highway Traffic Act offences after a traffic stop on Highway 417 at Anderson Road.

Later that day, three people were arrested following an incident at the National War Memorial in which a police officer was allegedly choked. Charges include assaulting police, resisting arrest, causing a disturbance, and assault by choking. This incident came shortly after Canadian soldier James Topp, who is facing a court martial for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 vaccine rules in uniform, completed his cross-country walk protesting vaccine mandates. Hundreds of people had gathered at the War Memorial to hear Topp speak.

On Canada Day, one man was arrested and charged for allegedly pulling a knife on RCMP officers near LeBreton Flats after officers broke up a fight. Two more people were arrested and face several assault charges after an attack in the ByWard Market.

On July 2, police arrested two people in a vehicle and seized a handgun. Several gun and drug charges were laid. Patrol officers also seized a gun in Sandy Hill that afternoon and charged a man with drug and gun offences.

On July 3, police arrested a woman for public intoxication who allegedly spit in an officer’s face. She now also faces an assault charge.

Ottawa police did not name any of the accused.

Police are also investigating paint on public property in Strathcona Park and on Wellington Street. Protesters painted messages about convoy organizers Pat King and Tamara Lich on Wellington Street on Canada Day. Police also said earlier they laid 19 impaired driving charges over the long weekend.

Ottawa Bylaw towed 121 vehicles from the vehicle control zone between June 29 and July 3 and issued 513 parking tickets. 

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to take part in G20 despite Russia’s presence

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OTTAWA — Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will take part in a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, this week, even though Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also expected to attend.

In March, Joly joined many others in walking out of a United Nations meeting in Geneva when Lavrov, whom Canada had brought sanctions against days earlier, began speaking.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined a walkout of a G20 meeting for finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng joined her counterparts from the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand in leaving an APEC meeting in Bangkok when the Russian representative began to speak.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would take part in the G20 leaders’ meeting in November, even if President Vladimir Putin goes too, saying it is important to counteract the voice that Russia will have at that table.

Joly, who recently said it was unacceptable for a Canadian official to attend a reception hosted by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, is expected to join other foreign ministers at the G20 meeting in opposing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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