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Ottawa asks U.S. to note cannabis pardons to ensure accurate picture

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Ottawa is encouraging Washington to take careful note of criminal pardons granted to Canadians for pot possession so that U.S. officers have the most accurate information when deciding whether to let people cross the border.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he made the point to a receptive Kevin McAleenan, the acting U.S. secretary of homeland security, during a meeting in Washington this week.

“It is important for the records that are kept on the American side to reflect the accurate legal status of Canadians,” Goodale said in an interview.

Parliament is studying a government bill that would ease the process of obtaining a pardon for possessing a small amount of cannabis now that recreational use of the drug is legal in Canada.

Under the legislation, which is before the Senate, Canadians convicted of simple pot possession over the decades before legalization could apply for a pardon, also known as a record suspension, without the usual fee or waiting period.

The RCMP cautions that Canadians convicted of cannabis-related offences could be refused entry to the U.S., even if they have been granted pardons in Canada.

Goodale said while U.S. officials have the right to decide who enters their country, Canada wants to ensure the Americans make decisions based on comprehensive data.

“There may be old information, or it could be conflicting information,” he said. “And we just want to make sure that it’s as complete and accurate and current as it can be, so that people are not unduly or improperly impeded at the border.”

Goodale said the U.S. agreed to work with Canada on the issue.

When possession and sharing of small amounts of marijuana became legal in Canada last October, it sparked concerns that more Canadians would be questioned at the border about pot, or even turned away.

Many U.S. states allow medical or recreational use of marijuana. But it means nothing when crossing the border because cultivation, possession and distribution of the drug remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The border falls under federal jurisdiction, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers can deny Canadians and other non-citizens entry on a number of marijuana-related grounds.

These include a pot conviction in the U.S. or abroad, an admission of use without a conviction, or reason to believe someone is a drug addict or involved in trafficking.

A traveller could also be turned away if the federal officer believes they will violate the Controlled Substances Act by smoking pot, even in a state like Colorado or Washington where it’s legal.

Once ruled inadmissible, a traveller might require a special waiver to enter the U.S.

Goodale said the Americans acknowledged this week that the border procedures “have worked pretty well” to date. 

“There haven’t been the lineups and the disruption that some people had expected might happen after the law was changed,” he said. “And that’s a tribute to the good work of border officials on both sides.”

—Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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Blair says more gun-control action needed, signals no new steps before election

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OTTAWA — Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair says more must be done to address gun violence, but is also signalling that no new measures will be taken before the fall election.

Steps could — and should — be taken to prevent the theft, illegal diversion and cross-border smuggling of handguns, Blair said Tuesday. 

As he entered a cabinet meeting, Blair emphasized the importance of secure storage of firearms to prevent them from being stolen and ending up in the wrong hands.

The government is also open to working with municipalities to allow them to decide exactly where, or even if, firearms can be stored within their boundaries, he said.

However, the parliamentary sitting is expected to conclude shortly and the government is scrambling to tie up loose ends before the summer recess and an election campaign likely to begin in September.  

“Some of this would require regulatory and legislative change,” Blair said. “And I think it’s important not only to do the right thing, but to take the time to do it right.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Blair last August to study the possibility of a ban on handguns and assault-style rifles after a shooting spree in Toronto.

A recently released summary of a federal consultation said Canadians were divided on the idea.

Still, Blair’s office said late last month that no options had been ruled out to clamp down on guns “designed to hunt people” as it weighed new measures.

Rumours of a federal ban on the popular AR-15 semi-automatic rifle began to circulate.

While Blair reiterated Tuesday there are firearms the government considers “so dangerous that there really is no place in a safe and civil society for them,” he made no firm commitment to ban or buy back such guns from owners.

Blair stressed a need for measures to ensure secure storage, prevent people from buying firearms on behalf of criminals and deter smuggling into Canada from the United States, which he called “the largest handgun arsenal in the world.”

“There are a number of very effective measures that I believe that we can and must take to create a safer environment.”

The law already requires safe storage of firearms, but there has been a “significant increase” in the theft of large numbers of handguns from homes and retailers, with the guns ending up on the street in the wrong hands, he said.

Blair acknowledged there are responsible handgun owners who obey all the rules. “We may ask them to undertake additional measures to secure their weapons to make sure that they’re not vulnerable to being stolen.”

Allowing municipalities to enact additional restrictions on handguns would not only be “wholly inadequate,” it would also be inefficient, said Heidi Rathjen, co-ordinator of PolySeSouvient, which wants an overhaul of the gun classification system with the ultimate aim of banning weapons specifically designed to kill people.

“All one has to do is consider the glaring disaster resulting from a patchwork of state and local gun laws south of the border,” she said Tuesday.

“And one has to ask: why would stricter controls on handguns be justified in cities and not in rural areas? It seems more like the Liberals chose not to deal with the highly politicized issue of banning handguns and instead decided to pass the buck to municipalities.”

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


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Prevention key focus of dementia strategy released by federal government

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OTTAWA — The cornerstone philosophy behind the federal government’s long-awaited strategy for confronting dementia is a simple one: prevent Canadians from developing the condition in the first place.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who unveiled the strategy Monday at an event in Toronto, said she has an intimate understanding of the difficulty that comes with dealing with a family member who’s in cognitive decline.

“Being the daughter of a mother who lives with dementia, it is certainly near and dear to my heart,” Petitpas Taylor said in an interview.

“When I see many family members that have had to deal with the challenges, I know, because I’ve been there and we certainly want to make sure that we do all that we can to alleviate the stress that’s involved.”

The government’s dementia plan, which focuses primarily on prevention, advancing therapies and helping patients and caregivers, includes $50 million over five years to support the strategy, money that was announced in the federal budget earlier this year.

It defines dementia as a collection of symptoms affecting the brain that include a decline in cognitive abilities such as memory, language, basic math skills, judgment and planning. Mood and behaviour can also change as a result, the document notes.

The report says more than 419,000 Canadian seniors have been diagnosed with some form of dementia, and they rely on an average of 26 hours a week of help from relatives and friends. Some 78,600 new cases of dementia are diagnosed every year among those aged 65 years and older, with 63 per cent of those being women.

At its current rate, the condition will cost caregivers and the health care system a staggering $16.6 billion a year by 2031.

“As this number does not include those under age 65 who may have a young onset diagnosis, nor those that have not been diagnosed, the true picture of dementia in Canada may be somewhat larger,” it says.

“While dementia is not an inevitable part of aging, age is the most important risk factor. As a result, with a growing and aging population, the number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to increase in future decades.”

Canadians can stave off the danger as they get older by getting more exercise, adopting healthier eating habits and avoiding tobacco, all of which can increase the risk of stroke, a common cause of dementia.

“There is growing persuasive scientific evidence that healthy living from an early age may prevent or delay the onset of dementia.”

Petitpas Taylor also announced $46 million over five years for the second phase of Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, a hub for research on dementia created in 2014.

The federal government plans to contribute $31.6 million through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, with an additional $14.4 million being provided by partners, including the Alzheimer Society.

Alzheimer Society of Canada CEO Pauline Tardif sent out a email Monday urging supporters to keep up the pressure on the government through this fall’s election campaign, in order to ensure dementia remains “top of mind for our politicians.”

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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