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Ethics boss Dion’s professional lifetime spent trying to make government work


Mario Dion

OTTAWA — Mario Dion’s appointment as ethics commissioner in 2017 was slammed by opposition MPs as “just ragingly incompetent and frustrating and cynical.”

How can we trust you, they thundered. We weren’t consulted before you were hired. Your history in the civil service is checkered.

“Are you tough, are you fair, are you a dog with a bone?” NDP MP Nathan Cullen asked Dion at a hastily-convened committee to review the appointment.

While opposition parties may not have trusted the appointment, they certainly didn’t hesitate this week to trust the damning report Dion has now released on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In a withering review released Wednesday, Dion concluded the prime minister broke ethics law when he pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was attorney general at the time, to halt the criminal prosecution of Montreal firm SNC-Lavalin. The firm is facing bribery charges related to its overseas work.

Dion is not granting interviews at this time, his office said, noting the report speaks for itself.

Speak it does. Sixty-three pages ripping apart the way Trudeau and his team went to bat for the engineering giant in a bid to protect it from prosecution and in turn potential financial and political fallout.

Trudeau has said he disagrees with some of the findings, but accepts responsibility.

It’s a response that may or may not resonate with the 62-year-old Dion, who described his view of the relationship between his office and elected officials in a speech at York University last year.

“Public officials and ethics commissioners are not adversaries,” he said.

“They must work together to uphold the highest standards of integrity in support of the effective functioning of democracy in Canada.”

Dion joined the civil service in the 1980s in the Justice department, moving up to a succession of top jobs in three arms-length government agencies: the Parole Board, the Commissioner of Public Integrity and the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Those appointments came from both Liberal and Conservative governments, a fact he took pains to point out when his appointment to the ethics job was questioned.

The Liberals had promised to consult before filling the post, but instead just informed the other parties that Dion was going to be the one.

That, coupled with an auditor general’s report finding “gross mismanagement” in the handling of two files under Dion’s watch as the Commissioner of Public Integrity, saw some MPs question whether he was the right fit for the ethics post.

There were also concerns he wouldn’t follow through with investigations already underway when he took over. He was non-committal about them when asked, saying he wanted to review the work himself. He later said he would continue them all.

That response may have reflected his earliest education: he was trained as a lawyer in Quebec, where codified laws guide decision making, not past decisions as in the common law system. So, he told the York University audience in 2018, he tends to focus first on what the law says, not how it was applied in the past.

“I believe that rigour on the part of my office is very important,” he said.

“We expect rigour from public office holders and members in meeting their obligations, and we exercise rigour in reviewing how they are meeting their obligations.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot



VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.

The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.

The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.

“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.

He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.

An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.

A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.

James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.

Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.

“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.

James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.

“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”

James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.

Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.

The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.

“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”

James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.









Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar



A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.

Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.

The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.

The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.

The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.

“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.

Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.

The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.

The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.

The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.

Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.

“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.

Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.

“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”






Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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