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Postcards to my grandmother

I love writing.  Besides having two daughters, nothing has impacted my life more.  I write all the time.  I think-write. While doing everything else, my stream of consciousness writes.  Occasionally, when stars align and time allows, I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, shoulder to grindstone, and there is rapture.

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl, a musical comedy, I wrote, enjoyed success in Hamilton, our hometown, recently.  In his review, Julian Nicholson, a well-regarded theatre veteran said, “There’s not much else I can say about this farrago except that it is the most inventive and enjoyable musical I’ve seen since Spamalot.”   

My writing farrago started with postcards to my grandmother, three decades ago, on a magical journey.  From postcards, to a musical comedy, writing has taken me on another magical journey.  

After finishing university, in 1986, I worked for a while, then hit the road.  With a working-holiday visa, backpack, and $1200, I flew to London, England.  I didn’t have a credit card or clue, and no one had cell phone, back then.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone, or where, or what I’d do, but made one commitment: to write my grandmother, who was housebound.

“A few months in Europe” became a six and a half year global odyssey.  Adventures included working in London, hitchhiking through Europe and Southeast Asia, working in Australia, sailing a homemade, cement boat to New Zealand and Tonga, working in Hawaii, sailing a small fishing boat to Alaska, working on a tugboat, staying with a friend in Victoria, living by the beach in Newport, California, teaching English in Japan, and riding a bike from Victoria, B.C., to Hamilton.

Each time I called, or got a letter from home, I was implored to keep writing Granny.  She loved the missives, I was told, and kept them in a box beside her.  She read them, repeatedly, and made guests enjoy /endure the communication, as well.

My grandmother was from Glasgow, originally.  She had a terrific accent and a great sense of humour, despite a hard life.  Janet Lindsey left a Glasgow slum at 17, sailed across the Atlantic, then travelled on trains, for just as long, to meet her older husband, on a dirt poor homestead, in the middle of Saskatchewan.  They had seven kids.  When my father, the second youngest, was seven, their father died. Then, things got bad.

All seven children grew to be honest, hard working, productive citizens.   

I tried to keep the postcards to my grandmother worthy of the high regard in which I held her.  After picking the perfect card, I’d plot for days before committing ink.  When I realized how quickly I’d forget “unforgettable” ideas, I started jotting them down and still do.  Writing, or getting lost in the thought of it, enhanced experiences and assuaged loneliness.  Like most travellers, I loved reading. Reading was one thing; writing another.

The lessons learned writing postcards to my Grandmother still apply: respect your audience; love your audience, be interesting; don’t be vulgar;  rhyme sometime; brevity is wit; levity’s a hit; don’t quit; have fun, son.  Go, girl.

My grandmother died, while I was on the road, and I stopped writing, temporarily.  I didn’t come back to Canada for the funeral, but, the next time I was home, I was given the box of postcards.  

In 1992, I was living in Nagoya, Japan, with a friend, talking about books, when he said, “You should write.”

There were two of us in the room.  I said, “Me?”  (Some people thought I was illiterate.)

“Yes,” he said.  “You see the world in an interesting way and have a funny way of expressing it.”  His comment changed my life.  A switch was turned on and hasn’t gone off, since. I thought of Granny’s postcards and the accompanying bliss.  

A week after my friend’s suggestion, I was cruising, on my beach cruiser, through a narrow Nagoya alley-street, when I said to myself, “I’m going to write a book,” and stood up, on my pedals, to accommodate the epiphany.

I knew one thing about writing: it required a pen and paper, which I bought, at a lush Japanese department store.  That was easy.  The next requirement was an idea, which couldn’t be purchased in the consumer economy.

“Write what you know” is a sound principal.  I was reading spy novels, at the time, but couldn’t write one.  All I knew was growing up, a caucasian male, in the suburbs of Ottawa: a blueprint for dull.

Nevertheless, that’s what my book is about.  It took me 14 years and hundreds of rewrites before I published it.   The first few versions were scrawled, with pens, into notebooks.  At various stages in its development, I’d send out waves of submissions and have received over 200 rejection letters.  

The Internet changed everything, and, in 2006, I self-published I’m Gretzky, You’re Gretzky, which some friends and family like.  Some love.

One of the publishing houses, which rejected my manuscript, was Insomniac Press.  Mike O’Connor, the proprietor, included a nice, personal note, so I called him and asked for advice.  He said, “Get published in newspapers and magazines to establish your name and credibility.”

Later, when the first edition of The Hamilton Examiner arrived at our door, I felt divine intervention.  It was January 1998 and the periodical was monthly.  Terrified, I vowed to write a submission, nevertheless.  In February, of that year, Team Canada was eliminated from the Nagano Olympics, in Japan, and Wayne Gretzky watched the final shootout, from the bench.  

I was crushed.  Such is my reverence for the man, I wanted to call my daughters Wayne and Gretzky.  My wife said, “No,” so I called my book, my other baby, Gretzky.  

After the Nagano loss, I wrote a piece called “Chasing The Dragon No More,” articulating my need to stop having Canadian hockey players determine the quality of my life.  I would find my own happiness, I wrote, through lottery tickets.  I printed the article and hand delivered it to Sarah Thomson (nee Whatmough,) the publisher of The Hamilton Examiner and later the Women’t Post. Sarah liked the submission and published it, which was the start of a long, wonderful relationship.  

Once a month, for the next 12 years, I’d write a 1000 word piece for Sarah.  I wrote about my kids, pets, gardening, traveling, writing…  It was perfect.  I worked hard to produce a piece decent enough to be published. I stumbled and fell, a lot, but there was always a hand to help up.  I started finding a voice and confidence.  

After five years, in 2003, Sarah asked me to write about art; once a month, 1000 words, which was another life changer.  The request came from nowhere: I knew little about art.  For three years, I would immerse myself in millions of words, hundreds of pictures, hours of thought, and countless rewrites to distill an article, worthy of the subject.  It was a surreal education, which honed writing skills, sharpened focus, and taught me about art, artists, fraud, and fraudsters.

Dr. Barry Allen, a guide on my artisan safari, said it best, “Art is an accomplishment.”

I interviewed Fred Eaglesmith, also in 2003, for The Women’s Post and ended up making two fan magazines for him.  Fred had an idea for movie, and he asked if I’d write the screenplay.  I never say, “No,” and tried to put Fred’s vision into a manuscript.  The script, Billy Rocker, about a aging, failing, murderous rockabilly star was well-received, but quickly buried.

The exercise was far from futile, because I discovered a love of writing dialogue, so acute, I wrote a play, Unethical.  When it was finished, I shared Unethical with a friend, who encouraged me to send it “somewhere.”  (Thank you, Pascale.)

I didn’t know what to do with a play, so mailed a copy to Luke Brown, at Theatre Aquarius, in Hamilton.  Expecting another letter for the rejection file, I was, joyously, surprised, when I got an email from Luke, wanting to meet.  Life changer.

In 2012, Luke invited me into the Theatre Aquarius Playwright’s Unit, which has been another surreal education.  The world of theatre is a howling, joyous one.  In 2013, I wrote a comedy, Jack And Jill Beiber Fever, and brought it to the Playwright’s Unit.  It was dissected and vetted beautifully, by Luke and the other playwrights.  

Ryan Sero, a member of the unit, brought the play to The Hamilton Fringe Festival.  Ryan, who directed and starred, assembled a great cast and they put on a terrific show.  Watching was delightful and instructive.  There is a quantum leap from page to stage and seeing actors take words from my script and make them dance and sing, was exhilarating.  

Playwriting is a gas.

In 2005, a friend suggested I write for a Hamilton blog, Raise The Hammer, a website dedicated to making Hamilton a better place.  Free, easy, and limitless, I fell in love with writing on the Internet and have been publishing articles, reviews, poems, short stories… on RTH, since. 

My earliest memory is my mother reading me Dr. Seuss.  I love rhyme and poetry.  In 1996, my oldest daughter was born and I started writing poems, all of which rhyme. 

Along the way, I started a series called 50, which are poems of exactly fifty words.  A play, poem, or article take forever, so when there’s a need to finish something, a 50 is ideal.

Life Write Life

Family, job, pets… sleep, read, write…

And hope that life, somehow, works out

If life didn’t get in the way so such

There’d be much more time to write, no doubt

But, if not for life and all its business

There’d be nothing much to write about

Right, Life?

Right

Combining a love of poetry and playwriting lends itself to musicals, so I wrote one.  I’ve blessed to collaborate with Becky Jackson, who writes beautiful music to accompany the lyrics.  

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl takes the idea of stage parents, who live vicariously through their children, and blows it up.  Eli, who’s been pushed since conception, has lost touch with reality and sees life as a big musical.  Eli sings and dances all the time. Similarly, Pearl lives as if she’s in a Shakespearean drama, and always speaks the Bard’s tongue.  

It was fun to write, but more enjoyable watching the talented cast bring the loveable nuts to life.  Now, I’m writing a children’s musical comedy, Singerella.  It’s Cinderella meets American Idol and it is a pleasure to write.  Becky is writing great music, again.  

Someday, I hope, a large cast of children light it up and Singerella is a smash hit. If it is or isn’t, I’ll keep writing.  I hope to die with a pen in my hand.

The greatest joy I get from writing is sharing the love.  I’ve run a Writers’ Club for children, aged 8 – 13, for the last dozen years.  When we perform, I tell the audience they’re about to see a magic show, because students, using only pens and paper, make art, where there was none and everyone has fun.  My (writer) friend, Peter Gruner, wrote of his experience, watching children craft killer, rhyming poems, on the spot.

 Writing is a wonderful hobby: it’s free, fun, liberating, empowering, fun, therapeutic, fun, challenging, rewarding, disappointing, and fun.  You can do it, anywhere, anytime; think about it.  If you’ve, ever, considered picking up a pen or pecking away on a keyboard, I can’t recommend it enough.  

 

Like a Dr. Seuss character setting off with a backpack and a one-way ticket, you never know the places you’ll go.  If you’re not sure where to begin your writing journey, start with something small, like a postcard to your grandmother.  She’ll love it.  You’ll love it, too, Writer.

Write on.

Weed supply low following post-legalization in Canada

Canada is quickly becoming one of the top underrated places to travel. After the recent legalization of marijuana, there is a whole new industry that has cropped up related to weed. Everything from herbal remedies to baked goods have emerged as secondary markets in the region. There is even a prolific market for weed based dog treats to cure pet-anxiety. The traditional dispensary is quickly evolving to keep up with market demand.

Vancouver is an interesting example of this scenario. There are currently more illegal dispensaries than there are Starbucks outlets in the city. You can buy a coconut-chocolate-weed infusion just as easily as you would a ChocoMocca latte here.

The government is trying its best to curb the black market in the space, which is estimated to be close to 5 Billion CAD. That market is a large one to disrupt, leading many to believe that supply needs to outgrow demand for the product.

Canada’s doing all it can to curb the market, empowering hundreds of unarmed inspectors to shut down dispensaries on the spot. This can rapidly change the black market and make it redundant in the future.

The real problem is the lack of quality supply to keep up with rising demand. That’s why customers opt for tax-free (and often cheaper) black market alternatives. With increased regulation, the black market may possibly shrink over time.

Toronto saw 5 illegal dispensaries being shut down a few days after the law went into effect. Many other cities are following suit. The flip-side of the picture is the irregularity with which licenses are being provided. For growers who were generating income illegally, there are few ways of applying for a legal license.

This opens up the market for outside growers to enter Canada and create a legal brand in the growing economy. The problem for the residents lies in the habit of calling up your local dealer. It’s simpler than having to visit a dispensary and not knowing whether it is legal or not. Since you already have a relationship established with the dealer, you won’t want to experiment outside of that network.

What are the dispensaries doing about it? Not much as it turns out.  Only $180,000 of the $3 Million worth of fines issued was paid so far. Dispensaries are waiting for consumer trends to evolve and for government to relax these rules. Legislation was only the first step. Now comes a host of new challenges which involve increased investment in inspections.

Finally, the licensing fees can range anywhere between $500 to $30,000 depending on the state and the type of operation you’re running. This is also indicative of how each state wants to manage the industry from within. That’s another impediment for black market dealers to turn towards the legal route.

With decreased red tape, increased accessibility and assistance, the industry can grow many times over. With Canada running out of legal marijuana this year, next year seems brighter than before. In conclusion, there is a market out there ready to expand but it needs legal clarification and assistance across the board.

Contract between Saudi Arabia and Canada ‘frustrating’

With the revelation of the killing of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in Saudi Arabia’s consulate, Turkey, there is increasing pressure for Canada to cancel its contract for sale of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while Canada has condemned the killing of the journalist and is not afraid to freeze permits on arms exports, the contracts that bind them to supply LAVs to Saudi Arabia are very difficult to break.

Speaking to Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Tuesday, Trudeau explained that the way the previous Conservative government negotiated the contract made it very frustratingly difficult to suspend and prevented disclosure of conditions.

“The contract signed by the previous government, by Stephen Harper, makes it very difficult to suspend or leave that contract,” Trudeau said. “We are looking at a number of things, but it is a difficult contract.

“I actually can’t go into it, because part of the deal on this contract is not talking about this contract, and it’s one of the binds that we are left in because of the way that the contract was negotiated.”

Germany  has already stopping its arms sales in light of the incident and other countries, and  are working to figure out what kind of diplomatic and economic pressure could be applied to Saudi Arabia to make it clear that the apparent murder of the once Saudi royal family insider within the walls of the Saudi embassy in Turkey is unacceptable.

The world has of course noticed that Canada, which has had a very serious rift with the kingdom, beginning earlier this year, when the government publicly criticized the arrests of women’s rights activities, is still sanctioning the military deal.

While Trudeau said the government was not afraid to suspend military export permits like they had in the past, he explained that this contract could have more of a back lash on Canada and they were doing their due diligence with looking into the matter.

“I do not want to leave Canadians holding a billion dollar bill because we’re trying to move forward on doing the right thing. So we are navigating this very carefully and that’s pretty much all I can say on that.” said Trudeau.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has made it very clear that Canada condemns the killing of the journalist and that the Saudis’ “explanations” of the killing of Khashoggi “lack consistency and credibility.”

She has also agreed with the federal government’s call for a thorough investigation in collaboration with Turkish officials, demanding a full and transparent investigation.

“We are gravely concerned by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” she said. “We do not find the explanations that have been offered to date to be credible or consistent. That is a serious problem for Canada.” She said.

However, while the Opposition is calling for government to invoke the new Magnitsky law  which gives the government the authority to freeze Canadian assets of foreign individuals who have violated human rights, to sanction those responsible for Khashoggi’s death, there is as yet no concrete word on whether that is the course Canada will take.

 

Barbados Journal Oct 2018

I have spent the past month learning a great deal about Barbados, and myself. This month I discovered that selecting “allow dirt roads” on your GPS is a big mistake in Barbados.

It all came about on a beautiful sunny morning. I was driving the kids to school and a house fire on the main road had traffic backed up for miles. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the island and I’d grown fond of discovering new sights around every turn.

On a small island like Barbados one would think it hard to get lost… but the island is filled with roads and cart paths that run over all kinds of terrain. And in the wet season (September to November) they fill with mud and clay. The problem is that the cart paths show up on GPS apps as dirt roads, even when they are little more than tractor paths through banana fields. Combine this with a glorious sunny morning, an open road in front of you, and the kids singing “Country Roads” in the back seat and it’s easy to feel invincible.

As I drove along the heavily pot-holed pavement, the road turned into a dirt cart path, and I didn’t listen to that small voice in my head whispering – ‘STOP!’. The view was amazing; we were driving along the edge of a mountain with a steep cliff edge to our left and the mountain rising up on our right.

It had rained the night before and I began to worry when the car started sliding. The road was narrow and the drop steep. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the wheel. The car rounded a corner and I could see that a few meters ahead the steep cliff turned into a gently sloping hill, but the car starting sliding towards the edge of the cliff just as I rounded the corner, and I nervously gunned it along the path praying we’d make it to the hill. Luckily we got there and I thought about turning around but didn’t want to face that slippery corner again. So I kept going and drove the car straight into almost 3 feet of clay that had filled a dip in the cart path.

I looked down at my silk pants, white top and high heels and realized I might not make it to my morning meeting and the kids would miss school.

My son and I put sticks and branches under the tires and after about an hour of trying we rocked the car out of the big mud pit (with half of it all over us). I found a small promontory to turn the car around and slowly headed back to the main road. Getting out of the mud was satisfying, but I was taking it too slow and became stuck again. This time we were on an upward slope and there was no way that my son and I could rock the car out. Luckily some men had arrived to work in the fields and immediately offered to help. They easily pushed the car out and around the corner to the paved road.

The whole time this fiasco was going on my daughter was sitting in the back seat, taking picture and pointing out how beautiful the view was. When finally arrived back at the main road she commented “Mum you always find a way to make a perfectly ordinary day turn into an adventure.” And that is how I hope they view every stupid thing that I do!

I have noticed that I am beginning to lose some of the terribly selfish driving habits I picked up in Toronto. Here ‘Bajans’ drive slow and easy, if they see a car wanting to cross the highway, they will stop to let them pass. They are kind. It’s unsettling if you’re from Toronto and driving far too quickly behind them, but over time you slow down and start to realize that being kind, and offering that public gesture, is important. I used to think that people are drawn to Barbados because of the slow pace, but I realize there is much more to it. The people here have grace and they cherish it. I hope a little of that grace rubs off on me.

Barbados is a beautiful country but it is the people that make it a terrific place to live.

Legal cannabis in Canada has wild reactions

On Wednesday, Canada did what it said it would and became the largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace, joining Uruguay to become the second country in the world to nationally legalise cannabis.

To the surprise of no one, sales began early Wednesday in Newfoundland with hundreds of customers lined up around the block at St. John’s by the time the clock struck midnight.

The atmosphere could only be described as ‘festive’  with some of the customers too excited to wait until they returned home, lighting up on the sidewalk and motorists honking their horns in support and they drove by the happy crowd.

Ian Power will go down in history as one of the first in line in the private store on Water Street to buy the newly legal national marijuana in Canada however, he told reporters that he has no plans on smoking it, instead he will frame it and hang it on his wall to be saved forever.

“Prohibition has ended right now. We just made history,” said the 46-year-old Power, who bought a gram. “I can’t believe we did it. All the years of activism paid off. Cannabis is legal in Canada and everyone should come to Canada and enjoy our cannabis.”

There was even more good news for cannabis aficionados, as hours before any retail outlets were opened, it was revealed that Canada would be pardoning all those with convictions for possessing small amounts of the drug up to 30 grams.

News of Canada’s firm decision to begin a national experiment that will alter their cultural, economic and social fabric in was met with calls for other countries to follow suit, expression of envy over Twitter and some backlash from other countries who are not willing to decriminalize the drug.

“Canada shows the way. When will the UK end the catastrophic prohibition of cannabis?” tweeted British MP Norman Lamb.

“Now that our neighbor to the north is opening its legal cannabis market, the longer we delay, the longer we miss out on potentially significant economic opportunities for Oregon and other states across the country,” said  Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon in a statement, urging the U.S Government to follow Canada’s lead.

However just as there were thousands of excited tweets coming in, there were those who expressed their distaste with the legislation.

One such instance came from the citizen group the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which said Canada had declared a winner in the war on drugs, tweeting,  “Congratulations Drugs. Better luck next time public health and saftey [sic]”.

The U.S has set up its own wall against the legalisaiton of the plant based drug by revealing that those who use marijuana legally in Canada could be banned from entering the country for smoking a single joint.

On the eve of Canada’s big day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection executive assistant commissioner Todd Owen told journalists, “Admission of illegal drug use are grounds to be found inadmissible into the United States.”

“It’s now legal in Canada, so a lot of it comes down to … whether the officer believes they may engage in the same activity while in the United States,” he said. “If somebody admits to smoking marijuana frequently in Canada, then that will play into the officer’s admissibility decision on whether they think on this specific trip they are also likely to engage in smoking marijuana in the United States as well.”

There are still many things that have to be resolved around the national legalization of the drug, including health and public safety as well as the threat of addiction and the effects it will all have on young people, including social pressure similar to what many already experienced with alcohol use.

 

Woman of the Week: Eva Wong

 

When I first started giving some thought as to possible profiles of women of excellence to feature in the Woman of the Week section, I decided I wanted to write about women working in the technology space in Canada, namely Eva Wong. This is a very vibrant and growing sector, with the Toronto-Kitchener-Waterloo corridor nicknamed the “Silicon Valley of the North,” including innovation, AI, and fintech startups.

Eva Wong, is one of the co-founders and COO at Borrowell, a financial technology (fintech) company whose mandate is to help Canadians make great decisions about credit. Their service offering includes free credit scores and credit reports, advice and recommendations to improve customers’ financial well-being and personal loans.

Founded in 2014, Borrowell has grown to a 50-employee firm with 700,000 users to date, making it one of the largest fintech companies in Canada.

Eva’s professional background in business and years spent working for a non-profit prepared her for the creation of her present venture. Being a woman who was told that she did not have the ‘right’ background, she faced the prejudices of those who thought she was not qualified enough. However, thanks to her growth mindset, and memories of how she had faced challenges in the past and overcame them, she kept going to achieve her current success.

One of the things that she acknowledged as being a great help when she first started was not being afraid of asking questions, which in turn allowed her to build confidence over time and considers herself very fortunate to have  had of a strong co-founding team. She has had the opportunity to work in a team of people committed to the project and bringing different experiences and insights to the process. The founding team, embedded in the tech community, were part of an accelerator at Ryerson DMZ as well as the One Eleven scale-up hub. Therefore, “there were many people to connect to and talk to with similar experiences,” Eva said.

A lot of lessons were learned along the way, one of them being that success results from continual testing and trying new things.  “There are a hundred small things you have to do as opposed to one big thing. We were data driven in everything we have done, organizing, collecting data and making decisions.” said Eva.

Although Eva stresses the importance that a great team of people makes a huge difference in the level of productivity, and that great people are great people no matter the gender, she also emphasizes that one of her company’s goals is to reach gender balance. “Currently 40 percent of our team identifies as female.  It’s important to build diversity.”

Many startups have a reputation of being male-centric, Borrowell is an exception, striving to create a more inclusive culture and a more appealing environment for women and other under-represented groups to work in.

Eva acknowledges that it is a great moment to be part of the technology community in Canada. She continues, “We are on the cusp of something that can be really big. The community is still small enough that people want to be helpful and a sense of collaboration pervades the community. It’s very exciting!”

In her youth, Eva used to keep a scrapbook where she collected articles and photos of people who inspired her while growing up. She always wanted to make a difference. She recalls ,“I remember reading an article about some high schoolers belonging to the Junior Achievers group who had started their own business. Years later, I went to university with one of the people featured in the article.”

Being a young industry, technology holds a lot of young talent who are very helpful if you want to stay current and up to date. Eva said, “I am fortunate to work with people who are much younger than I am. Also, there is a news media company I’m subscriber to and found that it’s a really good source of information providing in-depth knowledge .”

As a woman and as a woman of colour, she believes that this is the best time for women to break through in executive roles and in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Not only a co-founder and senior executive, but also a mother and wife, Eva’s hardworking attitude and strong work ethics may have led to spending too many hours at work. However, the pull of the family is strong and drawing a line between professional and private has become an imperative. With so many hours in a day, she wishes she “didn’t need to sleep to have more time to do things” and that is the superpower she wishes she had. In the absence of a real superpower, she is quite content with exercising the daily power of making things: she enjoys cooking and baking. Lately, she has experimented making sourdough bread and pizza.

Eva warns against a misconception that revolves around technology that a career in this sector is impossible without the necessary background. Just like any other sector, there are a lot of jobs within tech companies that are waiting for smart people to do them. She said, “I would encourage people who are interested in a career in tech, whether it’s founding a company or joining a startup. It’s been the most exciting time of my career. There are great opportunities, meaningful work, and a real chance to make a difference.”

Cannabis to be legalised nationally in Canada

Canada is poised to become the largest country to legalise cannabis in the world and the second after Uruguay to have a legal national marijuana market place.

After years of planning and research, Uruguay launched their legal sales last year, however for Canada; October 17 becomes a very historic day for marijuana producers within the country.

This social shift promised by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is one that Hannah Hetzer, who tracks international marijuana policy for the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance called ‘extremely significant’, especially as there are at least 25 other countries who have already legalized the medical use of marijuana or have decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug, while a few others, including Mexico have expressed interest in regulating recreational use.

dried kush cannabis on a table

“It’s going to change the global debate on drug policy,” she said. “There’s no other country immediately considering legalizing the non-medical use of cannabis, but I think Canada will provide almost the permission for other countries to move forward.”

Last year, Trudeau’s government introduced legalization to allow recreational use of marijuana after a poll by Forum Research Inc., found that 53% of Canadians agreed that they would like the plant to be legalized.

There is of course a long list of federal, provincial and municipal regulations that dictate to stores selling now legal marijuana. These include the requirement of frosted windows and product vaults; sales staffs are not allowed to promote products as having medical benefits or inducing certain feelings. Small jars of cannabis will be permitted for customers to sniff, but then the contents must be properly disposed of, to discourage anyone willing to dig the samples out of the trash and smoke them.

For many who are afraid that legalization will mean easier access to the plant by their youths, Canada has placed strict regulations on packaging to avoid appealing to the youth and there is a ban on various marijuana advertising, especially any that could be viewed by the youth or includes depictions of celebrities. Also some of the licensed producers are in fact huge companies and the Canadian federal government will be regulating the producers which so far have 120 licensed growers.

Canadian law sets a 30 gram limit on how much a person can buy at once or possess in public, however, there is no limit on how much Canadians can possess in the privacy of their own homes. Additionally, the law allows for residents to grow up to four plants at home, however, Quebec and Manitoba are the only two provinces that have opted to forbid home-growing.

This cautious yet bold move in their approach to legalization may ultimately set the course for the rest of the world, who will be observing how this process changes the landscape of the Canadian economy.

“Canada is leading the world on this paradigmatic change, taking this plant away from the bad hombres and putting it in the hands of the good men, the authorities, the regulators.” says former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who sits on the board of Vancouver-based cannabis company Khiron Life Sciences Corp.

 

Honorary citizenship revoked for the first time by Canada

History was made on Tuesday, when Aung San Suu Kyi became the first person to be stripped of honorary Canadian citizenship, following an investigation by the United Nations.

On Tuesday the Canadian Senate unanimously passed a measure revoking the Myanmar’s civilian leader citizenship and declaring the treatment of the Rohingya by Myanmar’s government to be nothing short of genocide. Last week, the upper house also followed a similar unanimous vote in the House of Commons.

These votes were prompted in large part by a United Nations fact finding investigation, which reported in August that the Myanmar military had systematically killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, burned hundreds of their villages, engaged in ethnic cleansing and mass gang rape. It also called for six top generals in Myanmar to be investigated and prosecuted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Sen.Ratna Omidvar, who introduced the motion to revoke Suu Kyi’s citizenship on Tuesday explained that Canada needed to recognize the ‘atrocity for what it is’, which was genocide and to call it as such.

Suu Kyi who had the symbolic honour bestowed on her in 2007 for her pro-democracy work, was stripped for complicity in the atrocities committed against the Myanmar’s Rohingya people.

The reports coming from the United Nations were nothing short of ghastly, and claimed that more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled across the border to Bangladesh since August 2017, when Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority security forces began a violent campaign in Rakhine State, killing around 10,000 people among other heinous crimes.

Suu Kyi who is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and now leads the Myanmar government was accused by the UN of failing to use her ‘moral authority’ to protect civilians.

She has steadfastly denied reports of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar calling such reports ‘fake news’, has restricted access to international investigators and journalists, defended the military and denied humanitarian aid for Rohingya.

In fact it was her response to the Rohingya crisis that has dramatically transformed her global reputation as a democracy icon, with many on Twitter calling for her to be stripped of her honorary citizenship and her Nobel Peace prize.

Senator Ratna Omidvar, said that while the military wields considerable power in Myanmar, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is not without power herself, in fact hers is a post that is comparable to Prime Minister.

“Stripping her of her honorary citizenship may not make a tangible difference to her, but it sends an important symbolic message,” Ms. Omidvar said.

She continued, saying that Suu Kyi was “complicit in stripping the citizenship and the security of thousands of Rohingya, which has led to their flight, their murder, their rapes and their current deplorable situation.”

“We need to send a strong signal here in Canada and around the world that if you’re an accomplice of genocide, you are not welcome here. Certainly not as an honorary Canadian citizen.” stated Omidvar.

While Suu Kyi was stripped of her citizenship, she will retain her Nobel Peace prize award, which she won in 1991, ironically for campaigning for democracy.

Lars Heikensten, the head of the Nobel Foundation, explained that it made no sense to withdraw awards in reaction to things that had occurred after they were given ‘as judges would constantly have to discuss laureates’ merit’.

Canada to discuss rift with Saudi Arabia

Ministers from Canada and Saudi Arabia are hoping to meet this week to discuss the rift between the two countries.

This headline making announcement came from Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who on Tuesday announced her plans to meet and discuss the diplomatic dispute with her Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York.

The goal of this meeting is to begin mending fences between the two powerhouse countries following Canadian criticism of the kingdom’s arrests of human activists, which lead to an explosive dispute over the summer.

The global headline making rift between the two countries began when Ottawa called for the release of activists who were detained for urging more rights for women in the kingdom, including women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi on August 2nd.

Samar Badawi is the sister of well known detainee Raif Badawi who is serving a 10 year prison sentence. His wife and children however are Canadian, thus making Samar the sister-in-law of a Canadian citizen.

“We feel a particular obligation to women who are fighting for their rights around the world, women’s rights are human rights,” said Freeland.

“And we feel a particular obligation to people who have a personal connection to Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

To this Saudi Arabia responded by freezing new trade with Canada; blocked grain imports; ordered thousands of Saudi students on government scholarships to leave Canadian universities and relocate to other countries or return home; placed a ban on Saudi flights to Canada, along with orders to brokers and bankers to suspend transactions with Canadian entities and finally, expelled Canada’s ambassador from the kingdom.

At the height of the dispute, it was al-Jubeir who appeared to lecture Canada on its responsibility to defuse tensions, saying at a news conference, “Canada knows what it needs to do. Canada started this, and it’s up to Canada to find a way out of it.”

However, Canada has not back down and Freeland has made it clear, prior to the hoped for meeting that the country would not be changing its fundamental position of standing up for human rights.

The Saudi side has relented to some extent, and has quietly dropped at least one of their more extreme measures, where the medical students and interns who were ordered to leave Canada by August 31st, were allowed to continue at their posts for the time being.

However, at least 7,000 non medical Saudi students were forced to interrupt their studies and some have chosen to file asylum claims in Canada instead of returning home.

Leading up to the hoped for meeting, Freeland disclosed that she was in regular touch with al Jubeir who she disclosed was working very hard to also soothe the rift between the countries.

“He is very engaged on the issue … we are hoping to meet in New York this week and I think that’s a good thing,” she told an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Both Canada and Saudi Arabia have chosen to allow their foreign ministers, rather than heads of state or heads of government, to deliver their country’s addresses to the General Assembly.

That means under UN protocol they must wait until later in the week to speak as Freeland will speak on Saturday morning, and  Jubeir will be the final speaker to give his presentation on Saturday afternoon.

Award-winning producer Kat Baulu shares her passion and new project

Meet Kat Baulu, a producer with Quebec/Atlantic Studio at the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada, a public producer, and distributor. In an email interview, Baulu talked about her career and the call for proposals for short films on Reimagining My Quebec.

Reimagining My Quebec is a new initiative for anglophone, allophone, and Indigenous filmmakers from Quebec and Nunavik that will give emerging and established directors a chance to create artful short documentaries with the NFB.

When it comes to what Baulu enjoys most about her work, she said she enjoys those with a clear purpose to their work. “I admire people who lead their lives with mission and purpose. One person who inspires me is legendary Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin,” she said. “With an astonishing career spanning over five decades at National Film Board of Canada, she’s made over 50 films that focus on issues facing Indigenous people in Canada. Alanis embodies what it means to make art for social impact. It’s humbling to witness one person who truly makes a difference every day.”

Baulu’s work as a producer raises social impact, even from her previous documentary work on Gun Runners. Baulu’s role is responsible for supporting creators to tell relevant and meaningful stories about Canada to Canadians and people around the world.

“The best part of my job is accompanying filmmakers in their creative process: from idea to finished film through to impact with audiences,” she said. “I love creating conditions for filmmakers to thrive artistically and express their point of view. I root for their success.”

“Collaborating with artists in the public space is such a privilege. At the NFB, our values are driven by relevance. Every day we ask ourselves, are we raising under-represented voices? Is what we are creating valuable and meaningful?” she added. “I am thrilled to work with filmmakers on their creative interpretation of reimagining their Quebec because I believe we have a chance to surface issues of identity, class, and status for further discussion and raise consciousness about the positive change we dream about for our society, and our world.”

Baulu is excited about the current project – Reimagining My Quebec, which is an opportunity to make a short English documentary in Quebec with the NFB.

“Reimagining My Quebec is the brainchild of my executive producer Annette Clarke. She is a true champion for filmmakers and storytellers of all stripes. She is a Newfoundlander and believes that great stories often emanate from a deep sense of place,” Baulu said. “We hope this call will draw out unique and intimate stories from across Quebec, which surprise and transform us.”

The type of story she’s looking for revolves around something Scottish documentary filmmaker Scott Grierson calls, “creative interpretations of actuality,” which focusses on the human condition through point-of-view documentary storytelling. “If you have a story that you are uniquely positioned to tell, that you have a personal connection with, that you have unique access, this call for proposals is for you. We are excited about powerful, emotional and important social issue-driven stories,” Baulu said. “For us, the process is as important as the outcome. What is your relationship to your participants? How will you treat them at the beginning and the end of the process of making your film? We are enthusiastic when filmmakers are considering their ethics as well as the art and impact.”

The deadline for submissions is August 8.