Canada legalised marijuana last month. On the way home from the optician on legalisation day, I decided to call into the Sunshine Wellness pot shop I’ve been visiting for the past few years to stock up on CBD oil. Pure CBD oil has no THC (the ingredient that makes you high) and is very useful for inflammation, pain, insomnia and dismay.
After Donald Trump’s travel ban went into effect, Justin Trudeau addressed refugees on Twitter: ‘Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.’ The next day a man opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City, murdering six people and injuring 19 just after the evening prayer. According to initial media reports, which later proved mistaken, there were two shooters, one of them Muslim, who allegedly entered the mosque shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ – as if only Muslims could commit this sort of crime. That's presumably why the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, mystifyingly claimed that the Quebec attack justified Trump’s anti-Muslim policies. The Muslim ‘suspect’, it later turned out, was trying to help the victims. The man charged with the crime, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French-Canadian, is a fan of Donald Trump and Marine le Pen. He apparently wanted to signal that, despite Trudeau’s messages, Muslims are as unwelcome in Canada as in the US.
The fentanyl crisis in British Columbia continues unabated. There were 128 overdose deaths in November, the worst month on record until December’s figures were released this week: 142 deaths. There were nine fatal overdoses in Vancouver on the night of 15 December alone. Last year, 914 people died in the province from illicit drug overdoses, an increase of 80 per cent on the previous year. (The problem isn’t restricted to Canada. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘the death rate of synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes drugs such as tramadol and fentanyl, increased by 72.2 per cent’ in the United States between 2014 and 2015. In 2013, more than 2000 people died from opiate overdose in the UK.)
By most measures, Justin Trudeau remains widely popular a year after he was sworn in as Canada’s prime minister. The number of news reports about him has gone up 40 per cent (it usually drops); flattering articles continue to appear in foreign media; voters are still enthused. A recent poll suggests that Trudeau's Liberals would win more than 70 per cent of seats if an election were held now.
Just over a century ago, ‘plucky little Belgium’ stood against the might of the ‘Hun’ by refusing Germany free passage to invade France. Earlier this month, the plucky and even littler Belgian region of Wallonia took a brief stand against the combined might of the EU and Canada, by blocking the CETA trade pact under the federal provisions of Belgium's constitution. Yesterday, however, Wallonia gave in, 'extremely happy that our demands have been heard'. Viewed in the blear light of Brexit, the Walloon impasse, however temporary, suggests it won't be straightforward to get any deal past the 27 EU rump nations. But it also highlights blindspots in both Brexiters' and Remainers' thinking.
Last night, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party took power in the Canadian federal election. It was an astonishing victory. In 2011 the Liberals won only 34 seats, their worst ever performance, which left them trailing both the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party (NDP). This year they took 184 (out of 338). It’s the first time since 1925 that a party has gone from third to first place in a single election cycle. And it’s the first time ever that a third-placed party has gone on to form a majority government in the next election. Two months ago, the Liberals trailed both the NDP and the Conservatives in the polls. Last night, they took 8 per cent more of the popular vote than the Conservatives, and 20 per cent more than the NDP.
At the local fromagerie here in Montreal the other day my meagre store of French quickly exhausted itself, I think while discussing the desired thickness of the jambon about to be sliced. ‘S’il vous plait,’ I said meekly, ‘parlez-vous anglais?’ The proprietor, a tall, sturdily built man in his mid-fifties, gave me a gimlet-eyed, appraising look, then shrugged: ‘Where are you from?’ Had I said Toronto, I don’t know that he would have spat on the floor and thrown me out but I doubt he’d have continued in English. ‘Je viens de San Francisco,’ I said. And we were off to the races, discussing Quebec cheeses, charcuterie, what have you.
Last June the G8 agreed a new plan called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is supposed to ensure poor countries receive the full benefit of their natural resources. Canada is one of EITI's stakeholder countries; 60 per cent of the world’s mining companies are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Yesterday, David Kawapit, Stanley George Jr, Geordie Rupert, Travis George, Johnny Abraham and Raymond Kawapit, along with the 263 other young people who joined them en route from Whapmagoostui, arrived in Ottawa, on foot, having walked 1000 miles in temperatures that hit a low of -58ºC, as part of the Idle No More movement.
This photograph was taken on 16 January by Rachel Kawapit, a member of the Whapmagoostui First Nation, who live in Northern Quebec on the shores of Hudson Bay. It shows David Kawapit, Stanley George Jr, Geordie Rupert, Travis George, Johnny Abraham and Raymond Kawapit, aged between 16 and 19, with their guide Isaac Kawapit (47), setting off to walk a thousand miles from Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuaraapik to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, through temperatures lower than -30ºC, as part of the Idle No More movement, protesting against the violation of Aboriginal Treaty Rights.
The sight of Obama haggling over his own ransom looked especially bizarre from across the northern border. In Canada the debt crisis seems to be happening on another planet. When I went home to visit this summer, oil-rich Albertans appeared hardly to have noticed the carnage unfolding everywhere else. Prudent regulation may have spared the Canadian banking system from the worst of the crash, but there are few signs of restraint at the malls and boat dealerships.
It takes about a year to publish a book now, what with the festivals, the hairdos, the film producers and the jetlag. At the Jaipur Literary Festival earlier this year, I was happy to see the Indian schoolchildren out in force, ready – as nowhere else – with their autograph books and stubby pencils, keen to capture a signature just in case the author turned out to be famous. The children of Jaipur seem to imagine that anyone placed before a microphone is a possible celebrity. But, more than that, they have watched the talent shows over the last few years, and they know the difference between a common clerk and a monster celebrity is merely a matter of time and a little exposure to the public vote. It was nice, though, to see how open they were to the notion that writers stood a chance, as opposed to the average Joe mangling a Whitney Houston song.
I live two blocks away from the temporary detention centre that the Integrated Security Unit has set up on the east side of Toronto for the G20 summit. It’s normally a film studio, but is now fortified with an additional security fence and guarded by police officers. You can see it in this video, made by an alternative media group last Thursday, two days before the summit began. The journalists are approached by two plain-clothes police officers who take their details and then refer them to a police spokesman who insists that the detention centre is at an undisclosed location while gesturing towards the film studio.