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B.C.’s drug decriminalization threshold based on police input: Bennett

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OTTAWA — The federal government’s decision on British Columbia’s drug decriminalization threshold was based on police input, says Canada’s minister of mental health and addictions.

Drug users in B.C. who possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of illicit drugs for personal use will not be arrested or charged starting next year.

The threshold falls short of the 4.5 grams requested by the province and has been criticized as too low by some advocates who say entrenched drug users typically carry more.

The government received input from law enforcement across the country, including in B.C. and from the RCMP, Carolyn Bennett said in an interview.

Law enforcement showed that about 85 per cent of drug confiscations are of quantities less than two grams, she said.

The minister said the government will be watching closely to see whether people will continue to be charged or have their drugs confiscated if they are carrying over 2.5 grams.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday the federal government has taken a science-based approach to moving drug addictions out of the criminal system and into the health system, but had to make sure the conditions were right before moving forward on decriminalization in B.C.

“How do you make sure police officers and the justice system is ready for this change? How do you make sure that organized crime doesn’t make a windfall off of this change?” Trudeau said.

Ben Perrin, criminal law professor at the University of British Columbia, said the federal government was told to take one approach to the threshold by people who use drugs and experts, and told another by police.

“They chose to go with what the police told them. I think that’s problematic,” said Perrin, who also wrote a recent book on Canada’s opioid crisis.

More accurate data to properly set a threshold would not be the average amount of drugs confiscated from people for personal use, but the average amount of drugs confiscated by people who are drug traffickers, he said.

Perrin also cautioned against accepting police data at face value, which was echoed by M-J Milloy, a research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use.

“We don’t know if those numbers are correct because, in fact, the police never share their data. And to be frank, the police have a long history of not being open and transparent with respect to their operations or the data that they collect,” said Milloy.

Perrin said he had requested data on the number of people that were charged with drug trafficking from the Vancouver Police Department.

While the department cited 899 drug trafficking charges between 2015-16, only 31 were what would be called mid- and high-level traffickers, he said. “Even when you talk about drug traffickers, you have got to be super careful with who they’re even talking about.”

Asked what the discrepancy in the numbers means, he said, “If you want to show that you’re cracking down on drug trafficking, you better be rounding up a lot of street-level dealers to get your numbers up.”

Vancouver Police Department data on drug confiscations by quantity for 2019-20 was analyzed by Erica McAdam, another researcher at the BC Centre on Substance Use.

McAdam found that 75 per cent of opioid seizures by Vancouver police were from people carrying about 7.37 grams.

Her analysis was based on data obtained through an access-to-information request.

Milloy said even if the data Bennett cited getting from police is correct, that still leaves about 15 per cent of people who are arrested carrying more than 2.5 grams.

“These are the people who are particularly vulnerable to being marginalized and criminalized, because they’re carrying more weight, they’re carrying more drugs, probably because their addiction is more intense, and they are using more at a given time,” he said.

Trudeau said Edmonton and Toronto have expressed interest in moving forward on decriminalization, but the federal government working with the cities will be a challenge “to be entirely honest, without some support from provincial governments that are in charge of policing and health care.”

The British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police was not immediately available for comment.

Police reported almost 67,000 drug-related offences across the country in 2020, according to Statistics Canada.

During that year, there were about 3,400 violations related to personal possession of opioids, and more than 6,300 violations related to personal possession of cocaine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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Crime

Author Salman Rushdie attacked on lecture stage in New York

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CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked and apparently stabbed in the neck Friday by a man who rushed the stage as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and punch or stab him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.

State police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck and was flown to a hospital. His condition wasn’t immediately known. The moderator at the event was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.

The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

Another spectator, Kathleen Jones, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.

A bloodied Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest.

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

Rushdie “has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” she added.

His 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. Often-violent protests against Rushdie erupted around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.

The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack.

A bounty of over $3 million has also been offered for anyone who kills Rushdie.

The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a round-the-clock armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

He has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, saying in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. The Index on Censorship, an organization promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for his killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa for his death still stands.

In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while in hiding.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”

The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. Most people leave the doors to their century-old cottages unlocked at night.

Police said a state trooper was assigned to Rushdie’s lecture.

The Chautauqua center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before. Speakers address a different topic each week. Rushdie and moderator Henry Reese were set to discuss “the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”

___

Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Jennifer Peltz in New York City contributed to this report.

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Crime

Wanted man cut through fence to cross U.S. border with children: Border Patrol

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United States Border Patrol says a convicted Canadian sex offender drove through a barbed wire fence to cross the intentional border with two children and their mother.

U.S. border patrol says agents found a cut fence near the Turner Port of Entry between Saskatchewan and Montana.

Mounties in Saskatchewan issued an Amber Alert for the boy and girl Monday and it was extended into South Dakota Wednesday.

Benjamin Martin Moore, who is 50, was taken into custody in South Dakota soon after.

The seven-year-old girl and eight-year-old boy, as well as their mother, were with Moore.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirm that Moore, as well as the mother, remain in custody.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

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