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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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    Health

    Suspected carbon monoxide leak leads to hospitalization of 43 from Montreal school

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  • MONTREAL — A suspected carbon monoxide leak at a Montreal primary school led to the hospitalization of 35 children and eight adults Monday.

    A spokesman for the ambulance service said students at Ecole des Decouvreurs in the city’s LaSalle neighbourhood reported nausea, dizziness and vomiting. Between 15 and 20 people, including one adult, were initially affected.

    But after the school was evacuated and children were moved to a neighbouring school, another wave of children and teachers complained of symptoms.

    The illness could be related to carbon monoxide poisoning, but the cause has not been confirmed, Stephane Smith of Urgences-Sante said. In a letter to parents published online, the school administration raised the possibility of a problem “related to the heating system.”

    At around 12:30 p.m., Montreal Children’s Hospital declared a code orange, which is used for an emergency situation with multiple victims. Dr. Robert Barnes, the hospital’s associate director of professional services, said the 12 patients received there were in stable condition and under observation in the emergency room.

    He could not confirm whether they would be discharged Monday.

    Ste-Justine Hospital, Montreal’s other pediatric facility, reported that it had received 22 students from the school, none of whom was in serious condition.

    Firefighters inspected the school, but the school administration could not say Monday afternoon whether it would reopen Tuesday.

    The Canadian Press


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    Health

    Sen. Rand Paul scheduled to have hernia surgery in a private Ontario hospital

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  • LOUISVILLE, Ky. — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul plans to undergo hernia surgery at a private hospital in Canada because of injuries he suffered when a neighbour tackled him while he was doing yard work at his Kentucky home.

    The Republican lawmaker is scheduled to cross the border for outpatient surgery scheduled sometime during the week of Jan. 21 at a hospital in Thornhill, Ont., his attorneys said in a recent filing in Paul’s lawsuit against Rene Boucher, who attacked Paul while the senator was doing yard work.

    The surgery is related to the 2017 attack, the court document says. Boucher pleaded guilty to assaulting a member of Congress and was sentenced to 30 days in prison. Federal prosecutors are appealing the sentence, saying 21-months would have been appropriate.

    Paul is scheduled for surgery at Shouldice Hospital, which touts itself as a world leader in “non-mesh hernia repair.”

    “This is a private, world-renowned hospital separate from any system and people come from around the world to pay cash for their services,” Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said in an email Monday.

    In choosing Shouldice, Paul will receive care in a country that offers its citizens a publicly funded, universal health care system that runs counter to Paul’s approach to American health care policy. Paul, who ran for president in 2016, touts private-market approaches for U.S. health care problems.

    Paul’s chief strategist, Doug Stafford, pointed to Shouldice Hospital’s private status in pushing back against media reports about the senator going to Canada for treatment. “It’s literally the opposite of socialized medicine,” he tweeted.

    The hernia procedure is estimated to cost $5,000 to $8,000, the court document said.

    Paul suffered multiple broken ribs in the incident. Boucher has said the attack was triggered by Paul stacking debris near their property line in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and that he “lost his temper.”

    Paul sued Boucher last year seeking damages for physical pain and mental suffering from the attack. A jury trial is scheduled to begin late this month in Bowling Green.

    “After presenting our evidence to the court and jury, we will ask the jury to carefully consider all evidence and to make a fair allowance based upon the entirety of the facts and circumstances related to this attack and plaintiff’s injuries,” Paul’s attorneys said in the filing.

    Paul’s lawyers also said that a biomechanics expert is prepared to testify that Paul’s injuries were similar to those from a 40 km/h car crash.

    Boucher’s attorney, Matt Baker, said Monday that “we’re in the process of getting ready for trial.”

    Baker said that Boucher has made a $30,000 offer of judgment to Paul.

    Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press


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