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National

Border agency watchdog will ‘fill gap’ for disgruntled travellers, Goodale says

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OTTAWA — Travellers, immigration detainees and others who feel mistreated by Canada’s border agency will be able to complain to an independent body under a new measure included in the federal budget.

Border officers can stop travellers for questioning, take blood and breath samples, and search, detain and arrest people without warrants. Some encounters at the border have left travellers frustrated and angry.

The border agency has also come under pressure to be more forthcoming about its role in immigration detentions following people’s deaths in its custody — 14 of them since 2000, according to a compilation of reports by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The Liberal government is planning legislative changes to give the RCMP watchdog the additional responsibility of handling public complaints about the Canada Border Services Agency. The budget allocates $24 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, and $7 million a year after that, to expand the mandate of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday the government wants to move quickly on establishing the revamped agency to “fill a gap” in federal public-safety operations and bolster accountability.

“We’ll obviously provide it with a different name, there’ll be changes in structure, the new money is identified in the budget to move it forward,” Goodale said in an interview. “But the objective here is to have an appropriate review agency that can deal with complaints on one side dealing with the RCMP, and on the other side dealing with CBSA.”

The border agency’s thousands of employees manage the flow of about 100 million travellers — as well as many millions of commercial shipments — entering Canada annually. They collect, analyze and distribute information concerning people and goods at border points, air terminals and seaports.

The agency’s internal recourse directorate handles complaints from the public. Other bodies, including the courts, the federal privacy commissioner and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, examine various concerns about the agency’s work.

The Liberals have taken steps to keep a closer eye on the border agency’s national-security activities by creating a special committee of parliamentarians to review federal security services and proposing a super-watchdog of civilian experts to complement that work.

But the border agency is not overseen by a dedicated, independent review or complaints body, prompting civil libertarians, refugee lawyers and parliamentary committees to call for stronger arm’s-length monitoring.

The model adopted by the government — rolling the duties of the RCMP watchdog into the new body — essentially mirrors a proposal by former Privy Council chief Mel Cappe in a June 2017 report commissioned by Public Safety.

Goodale suggested the new agency would not only process complaints but be able to initiate public-interest reviews on its own, and that complainants would have the same avenues of appeal now open to those who pursue grievances against the RCMP.

“We think by actually using an institution that already exists and building on that platform and expanding it, we’ll be able to move faster and it will actually be more cost-effective than if we started from the ground up with something completely new,” Goodale said.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale, said there will be more to say about legislation to create the new agency in “the near future,” adding the government is confident it can see the changes through in the limited time before a fall election.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Agriculture

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

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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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Education

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

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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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