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Saudi teen who was granted asylum in Canada says she’s a lucky one

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TORONTO — A Saudi teen who shot to international prominence through her dramatic flight from an allegedly abusive family said Tuesday that she will devote her new life in Canada to fighting for the freedom of women around the world.

Rahaf Mohammed said her arrival in Toronto has allowed her to join the ranks of the “lucky ones” who experience independence in their everyday lives, something she contends is denied to women in her home country.

“I know that there are unlucky women who disappeared after trying to escape or who could not do anything to change their reality,” the 18-year-old said in her first public statement since her arrival on Saturday.

“Today, and for years to come, I will work in support of freedom for women around the world….the same freedom I experienced on my first day I arrived in Canada.”

Mohammed won global attention last week when she fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, Thailand. She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a Twitter campaign outlining allegations of abuse against her relatives — accusations her family members have denied.

She landed in Toronto after the Canadian government agreed to resettle her at the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She was personally greeted by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who appeared with her arm around the teen.

Mohammed, who dropped her family name upon arriving in Canada, did not elaborate on her previous allegations during Tuesday’s statement. She said, however, that restrictions in her home country denied her the sort of life she hopes to lead in Canada.

“I want to be independent. Travel. Make my own decisions on education, a career or who or when I should marry,” she said. “I had no say in any of this. Today I can probably say that I am capable of making all of those decisions.”

Mohammed did not share details on plans for her future in Canada, saying only that she hoped to begin establishing her own private life and would refrain from speaking to media in the near future.

COSTI Immigrant Services, a settlement organization under contract with Ottawa and tasked with helping Mohammed adjust to her new life, said the teen is spending her first few days in Canada signing up for a health card and bank account and other necessities before working on her long-term plans.

Getting her a phone was high on the list of errands, along with updating her wardrobe to suit Toronto’s climate, said Mario Calla, the organization’s executive director.

“We did that on Saturday, the first day she was here. She went to the mall and basically got some winter clothes because she thought she was going to go to Australia so she had a short skirt,” he said, noting there was no time for her to buy new clothes in Thailand.

Eventually, Mohammed will need to find more permanent lodging, potentially with a host family, and think about her education and career plans, he said.

“First order of business, she says she wants to learn English,” Calla said. Mohammed has finished high school and wants to go to university, having expressed an interest in civil engineering, he said.

The teen’s safety remains a top concern, particularly in light of threats she has received on social media, he said. The organization has hired private security and ensures she is never alone, he said.

“She says she feels safe and then another time she says she doesn’t feel safe and it’s really whatever she’s seen on social media,” he said. “She sees these threats, because she has left Islam, she has basically broken away from her family and so on and that scares her.”

Mohammed’s case has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws, which have become the source of internal debate.

During the height of last week’s standoff in Bangkok, a Saudi newspaper published an opinion column that openly advocated for the abolishment of guardianship, which subjects Saudi women to the control of men in a host of areas including applying for a passport, travelling and studying abroad and getting married.

However, the head of the country’s state-controlled human rights commission was also quoted in Saudi media on the weekend accusing Canada of meddling in the internal affairs of Mohammed’s family with the intent of vilifying Saudi Arabia.

Mufleh Al-Qahtani, the head of the Saudi National Society for Human Rights, said Canada’s action was “an attack on the rights of the families of these girls, who are severely harmed by the defamation following their daughters’ action that pushes them into the unknown.”

Canada’s decision to grant Mohammed asylum has not yet drawn an official response from the Saudi government, which currently has a fraught relationship with Ottawa after a diplomatic spat that erupted last August.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expelled Canada’s ambassador and withdrew his own envoy after Freeland used Twitter to call for the release of women’s rights activists who had been arrested in the country.

Paola Loriggio and Michelle McQuigge, 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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