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Legal cannabis holds no special attraction for organized crime: memos

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  • OTTAWA — Federal officials see no reason why organized crime would invest in legal cannabis over any other industry, despite allegations shady money is already tainting the business, an internal government memo says.

    Organized crime has dominated the illegal cannabis industry for decades but public-safety and health officials do not see “strong pull factors” for criminal infiltration of the legal business, the memo says. And they appear confident that existing and planned efforts to ensure corporate transparency will reveal any trouble.

    The documents, disclosed through the Access to Information Act, show officials from nine federal agencies became seized with the issue early this year after media reports said questionable foreign money was supporting legal marijuana enterprises.

    Using offshore bank accounts for investing is not illegal, nor was there evidence such sources were being used by organized crime to profit from the legal cannabis sector, the internal notes say.

    The Trudeau government recently legalized recreational cannabis use with the aim of denying criminals hefty profits from the illicit pot trade. The government has overseen licensing of medicinal marijuana suppliers for years.

    The February memos say the legal industry’s ability to raise capital should be seen as a positive sign, as long as the money comes from legitimate sources.

    “The potential for organized crime to invest in the legal cannabis market through offshore tax havens exists, but does not appear fundamentally different from the potential for such investments in any and all sectors of the economy,” says a memo to the Public Safety Canada deputy minister, the ministry’s senior bureaucrat. “Given the government’s stated objective to strictly regulate the cannabis industry, there does not appear on the surface to be any strong pull factors for organized crime to invest in this sector, as compared to any other sectors.”

    The RCMP had no active high-priority investigation related to organized crime’s suspected financial involvement with licensed pot producers, though the police force continued to monitor the situation, the Feb. 27 memo adds.

    The French-language CBC’s flagship investigative program, Enquete, reported this month that the government had granted marijuana licences to companies and people with links to the criminal underworld.

    Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said Tuesday he has not seen evidence of any criminal enterprise infiltrating a licensed producer. “And should I see any evidence of that I am very confident that the RCMP and Health Canada would take all the steps necessary to protect Canadians,” he said during an appearance at the Senate’s question period.

    The government is being “a little bit naive on the issue” of criminal involvement, Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan said in an interview.

    Earlier this year, the Liberals cited privacy concerns and other challenges in rejecting a legislative amendment backed by Carignan that would have created a public registry of marijuana-company investors.

    Blair said Tuesday the cannabis regulations that did come into effect “provide for significant financial transparency.”

    The internal memos also note various federal efforts to screen foreign investments, fight international tax evasion and make it clearer who owns stakes in Canadian corporations. In addition, federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers have agreed to work together on making ownership data more accessible.

    “This will help law enforcement and other authorities know who owns which companies in Canada, including companies who invest in cannabis production,” say the internal government notes.

    Carignan said he is skeptical the government is actually peeling back the layers of secrecy. “This government is talking about transparency but it is one of the most opaque that we have seen.”

    — Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

    Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press




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    Examine ‘monstrous’ allegations of forced sterilization of Indigenous women: NDP

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  • OTTAWA — The federal government and the provinces must examine “monstrous” allegations of modern-day forced sterilizations of Indigenous women, NDP reconciliation critic Romeo Saganash said Monday before he pressed for answers in the House of Commons.

    Coerced sterilization clearly breaches human-rights standards that Canada must fight to uphold, Saganash in an interview Monday, and said that authorities should very carefully read Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN in 1948.

    That international agreement says that “genocide” includes any acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as by “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

    Canadians should not tolerate allegations of forced sterilization in their country, Saganash said, and Ottawa must address the issue as victims share their stories.

    “I think they have to take this seriously,” said the Cree lawyer and MP from northern Quebec. “Just the fact that it is happening and people are coming out makes it serious enough to look for a solution.”

    The issue of forced sterilizations will also be raised at the UN Committee Against Torture this week, when Amnesty International Canada and a national law firm call for accountability for the practice.

    Maurice Law is leading a proposed class-action lawsuit against the federal government, the government of Saskatchewan, all its health authorities, and individual medical professionals.

    The lawsuit was launched in 2017 by two affected women in the Saskatoon Health Region who each claimed $7 million in damages. Now about 60 women are part of the lawsuit.

    An additional 32 women have come forward to report they were sterilized without consent since The Canadian Press first published a story last Sunday, associate Alisa Lombard said Monday, noting the women are mostly from Saskatchewan but elsewhere as well.

    In its submission to the UN committee, Maurice Law said there has been no effort at a comprehensive review to understand the scale of the problem or the conditions that make forced sterilizations possible.

    It also listed a number of solutions, including a proposal to specifically criminalize forced sterilization as the “single most effective, immediate and enduring measure that could be taken” to protect women from this practice.

    The Liberal government has not indicated it is looking at this step.

    During question period on Monday, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said the Liberal government knows coerced sterilization is a gross violation of human rights and of reproductive rights. 

    The federal government is actively working with provinces and faculties of medicine to ensure safe and culturally appropriate health care is available across the country, she added.

    “This is not something that any one order of government can address alone,” Philpott said. “All Canadians have a responsibility to ensure that these practices never happen again.”

    For its part, Amnesty International Canada has recommended the federal government appoint a special representative to examine the prevalence of the practice.

    Yvonne Boyer, a Metis senator for Ontario, has welcomed this recommendation. She’s said that tubal ligations carried out on unwilling Indigenous women constitute one of the “most heinous” practices in health care in Canada.

    Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also wants to see the scope of forced sterilization examined and called the practice wrong, immoral and a gross human-rights violation.

    —Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

    Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press



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    Data suggests violence rising in Winnipeg remand jail; union says meth a factor

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  • WINNIPEG — Newly obtained statistics point to increasing violence at the Winnipeg Remand Centre and the union that represents correctional workers says methamphetamine use is a major factor. 

    “Our members actually believe that some of the incidents are definitely fuelled by drugs such as meth,” said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

    “They know that meth is an issue, that it lingers in the inmate.”

    Records obtained by The Canadian Press under the province’s freedom-of-information law show remand centre guards called for backup 47 times between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 this year. That’s already higher than any full-year numbers reported in the previous five years for which statistics were provided and more than double the number in 2014.

    There were another 20 cases in the first nine months of this year in which a corrections officer issued a more serious call of being in immediate danger. That figure is on track, by the end of 2018, to be the highest in recent years.

    One worker at the remand centre, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss matters inside the jail, said inmates on meth are unpredictable and can become violent suddenly.

    “You’re dealing with zombies, for lack of a better word,” the worker told The Canadian Press.

    “An alcoholic is usually slow. They’re sluggish. But an inmate who’s on meth … in my opinion they have increased strength.”

    The 300-bed remand centre is normally the first stop for people after they are arrested until they are granted bail or transferred to another jail. Because the effects of meth can last much longer than those of other drugs, inmates can be under its influence long after they enter the facility, the worker said.

    The worker said one inmate at the remand centre was on meth and appeared to settle down, but then erupted in violence when cell doors were opened.

    “He came out of his cell and proceeded directly into another cell … and with a (homemade) weapon, started attacking both of the guys who were sleeping.”

    Gawronsky said the union has raised the issue with Justice Minister Cliff Cullen and is hoping to have jail staff receive more training.

    The Justice Department would not comment on security issues inside the remand centre. Cullen, who was out of the province much of last week meeting with other provincial justice ministers, issued a brief written statement.

    “Correctional centres can be volatile environments and Manitoba Justice is committed to working with staff and the (union) to manage offenders with a variety of needs, including addictions to methamphetamine and other substances,” he said in the statement.

    The John Howard Society of Canada, a prisoners rights group, said rising meth problems in jails should come as no surprise, given that police forces in Winnipeg and other cities have noticed an increase in the drug’s use.

    John Hutton, the group’s executive director in Manitoba, said the problem needs to be addressed before people end up behind bars.

    “The facilities weren’t built with detoxification units and it’s a challenge,” Hutton said.

    “I don’t think anyone would disagree we need more resources in the community for people to get treatment for meth addiction before they end up in custody.”

    Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press




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