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Quebec man convicted in Mafia-linked drug bust to be deported to Italy

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  • MONTREAL — Michele Torre, a Quebec man convicted in 1996 for his role in a Mafia-linked conspiracy, appears to have run out of options to stay in Canada and is scheduled to be deported to his native Italy Friday night, his lawyer said.

    Stephane Handfield said his client arrived at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport around 5 p.m., and barring a last-minute intervention by the federal public safety minister, he will be on a flight to Europe in a few hours.

    Canada’s public safety minister has intervened at least four times in Torre’s case to stop his deportation, Handfield said. But he has received no indication Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale will be issuing a stay this time, Handfield said in an interview.

    Handfield said he emailed Goodale’s office Friday morning but “received no response” from the minister or his aides.

    Torre, 66, received his permanent residency to Canada in 1967. He was convicted in 1996 in a cocaine-importation conspiracy linked to the Cotroni crime family and served part of a nearly nine-year prison sentence.

    In 2006, Torre again found himself swept up by police during a massive operation aimed at dismantling Montreal’s powerful Mafia. He spent nearly three years in custody but was ultimately acquitted. Since 2013, federal authorities have sought to remove Torre for “serious criminality and organized criminality.”

    Torre and his family claim it is unfair to deport him so long after his last conviction, which now dates back 23 years. They argue he should be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds since he has lived in Canada so long and his wife, children and grandchildren are here.

    He was on the verge of being deported in 2016 before a ministerial reprieve arrived 90 minutes before his flight. He was then given a two-year temporary residence permit. After that expired, the Canada Border Services Agency scheduled a deportation date, this time for Feb. 28, but Goodale’s office intervened again — on the morning of his scheduled flight — and granted a reprieve.

    Handfield said that on March 11 the CBSA gave Torre another deportation date, scheduled for March 22.

    The lawyer decried the plan to have his client accompanied by three CBSA agents on the flight to Italy, which he claims will single him out for interrogation by authorities upon arrival.

    “When you see someone escorted by three people when he arrives in his country of origin, what do you think?” Handfield said. “We worry about his arrival. What will be the attitude of the Italian customs officials?”

    A spokesman for Goodale’s office said the minister cannot comment on an individual case.

    Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press


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    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick

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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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