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- Although increasingly affected from afar by the fight against the cartels, Canada is curiously detached from the Mexican war on drugs
- Canada has numerous economic and political involvements in the Mexican status quo and multilateral and bilateral initiatives could be eyed for their implementation
- Canadian "me-tooism" towards the U.S. eliminates drug de-criminalization as a credible alternative for Ottawa even though 56 percent of Canadian respondents to a poll favor the legalization of marijuana.
Somewhat after the fact, Mexico's other northern neighbor, Canada, is also starting to suffer from the ramifications of the Mexican war on drugs. Vancouver, the city host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and once one of the safest places in Canada, has been dubbed the Canadian gang capital. So far in 2009, more than 30 shootings - which is unprecedented - have taken place in British Columbia's largest city, compared to 48 shootings in all of 2008.
There is, in fact, an increasingly ominous connection between the fight against the cartels in Mexico and the growing insecurity in a number of areas in Canada. Recent gang-related violence in British Columbia and elsewhere in the country is "directly related to this Mexican war," said Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) superintendent Pat Fogarty in a televised interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The war on drugs in Mexico has only made things worse in Canada. "When the supply of cocaine is hampered by crackdowns in Mexico or in the United States and the price goes up", says Fogarty, "competition for the remaining kilos gets tense in Canada." As in any market, when the offer is lower than the demand, the prices go up. According to the RCMP, the price of cocaine on the Canadian market has doubled in the last six months, skyrocketing to $50 000 per kilo. Consequently, suppliers will go to great lengths to get their hands on the product. This in turn can lead to increased violence, with gangs currently competing amongst themselves to find scarce sources of cocaine and other illegal drugs.
While the U.S. has designated Mexico as the venue of one of its top security threats, just behind Iran and Pakistan, and certainly among the top security priority in the hemisphere, the situation is not as grave in Canada. Presently, Canadian officials have been very discreet about expressing such concerns towards Mexico, unlike the United States, Canada has not put out an official travel warning its nationals traveling to Mexico and they certainly respect U.S. sensibilities by refraining from even any mention of the strategy of the decriminalization of drugs, which would take the violence and crime out of the drug trade. Ottawa's timorous is rather curious given the fact that a poll indicates that 56 percent of all Canadians support the legalization of marijuana. On its official website, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the Ottawa agency responsible for such determining, simply stated that "Canadians should be particularly vigilant in northern Mexico and all cities bordering the United States, particularly when traveling to the cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, as firefights between the military and drug cartels can occur without warning at any time."
Canada presently is facing similar problems as is the United States in its relation with Mexico. Although the two countries are not geographically as close, the Mexican plight, including the fight against the cartels, is becoming a Canadian problem, as well. Interrelated issues such as drug trafficking, gun smuggling, border security and illegal immigration all have had an impact on North America as a whole. For instance, although illegal immigration from Mexico is not a ranking issue in Canada, immigration still constitutes an important complication of the Mexican crisis. Mexico has been Canada's number one source for asylum seekers coming north during the past three years, some applicants now claim that they have to leave their country because their security is threatened by the drug cartels.
During the past year alone, a record 9,456 Mexican refugee claimants have arrived in Canada, a third of the total 36,895 for all of Canada's refugee claimants for 2008. According to Ottawa officials, it is clear that this number is somehow linked to the Mexican cartels' bloody war. This sharp rise in refugee claims from Mexico coincides with the intensification of the drug-related violence in that country. In 2008, 5,300 people were murdered as a result of the war on drugs in Mexico. So far, in 2009, more than a 1000 deaths related to drug violence occurred, which means that the flow of asylum seekers from Mexico is not about to soon dry up.
Canada, however, is reacting very slowly to the worsening situation in Mexico. Strangely enough, it seems to be apathetic, or at least complacent, when it comes to the problems Mexico is now facing. There is obviously a lack of involvement, even though the problem is there to be vividly seen. Those alert to the severity of the situation strongly feel that Canada needs to engage in President Felipe Calderon's struggle to win the war against drugs. Not only because the precarious conditions in Mexico could be about to have a dire spillover effects on certain areas in Canada but, perhaps more importantly, because Canada should also be willing to put its words into action. Since Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, was elected in 2006, he has vowed to make the Americas a foreign policy priority within a framework of strengthened multilateralism and cooperation. One of the three key objectives of the Harper government's "Americas strategy" is to meet new security challenges in the hemisphere. Despite this allegedly concrete strategy for engagement, little has been done by Ottawa to alleviate the migrant situation in Mexico.
Why Canada Should Care
Canada has to come to understand that relations with Mexico are very important to the country, and thus that the nation has a real and tangible interest in any solution to Mexico's present crisis of recurring crime, violence, poverty and corruption. For instance, economic ties are growing stronger between the two countries, not only within the NAFTA framework, but also increasingly so, bilaterally. Trade between Canada and Mexico has increased steadily during the past decade, amounting to $21 billion in 2007. This figure is admittedly small in comparison to the $166 billion of trade between Canada and the U.S., but it is not insignificant by any means. Furthermore, over 2,000 Canadian companies are operating in Mexico. Bombardier opened an aerospace factory in Queretaro in 2007, while Scotiabank is Mexico's seventh-biggest bank, employing almost 10,000 of its nationals.
Moreover, Canada is seen throughout the Americas, and particularly in the United States and Mexico, as a reliable friend and ally. Failure to get involved in Mexico's current concerns would undermine Canada's credibility as a hemispheric actor. Those persuaded by the argument maintain that Canada should stay true to the spirit of multilateralism and to its honest-broker's tradition and get involved with its North American neighbors to tackle Mexico's extremely delicate present situation.
In an interview with the Toronto newspaper, The National Post, Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, underlined the importance for Canada to get involved in the fight against the cartels: "I think we all share that concern within North America. We are quite familiar with the fact that Mexico is a transshipment spot to Canada. There is a direct impact from the level of organized crime there to the level of organized crime here."
Multilateral and Bilateral Cooperation Possibilities
So far, little, if anything, has been undertaken by Canada to put into force existing resources that could be described as representing a serious act of North-American cooperation regarding the Mexican drug issue. One important tool at Canada's disposal would be a decision by Ottawa to play a meaningful role in aiding Mexico's fight against the cartels. This would be by means of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), responsible for strengthening the human and institutional capabilities of the hemisphere in order to reduce the production, trafficking and abuse of drugs in the Americas. Oddly enough, the Commission has not been addressing the Mexican war on drugs, with some calling on Canada to add this issue to CICAD's agenda in order to deal, on an emergency basis, with the worsening Mexican situation.
A Bilateral Approach
Also, bilateral initiatives cannot be ignored. One of the first steps would be to enhance collaboration among all of the police forces of North America. On March 23, the Attorney General of British Columbia, Wally Oppal, and his Mexican counterpart from Baja California, signed a statement of intent concerning an information-sharing agreement regarding transnational organized crime groups. Critics suggest that this approach should have been taken years ago and that it is far from being sufficient to unilaterally tackle the growing drug-related problems faced by British Columbia. However, technical assistance programs coming from local Canadian police forces and the RCMP, should be implemented shortly.
According to the U.S. State Department, Canada has strong anti-corruption controls in place and holds its officials and law enforcement personnel to a high standard of conduct. This valuable expertise could well be put to good use in the training of Mexican police forces and in the reforming of Mexican institutions. At the moment, paradoxically, Canadian security and intelligence agencies are not involved in Mexico at all. Canadian officers are beginning to argue that the time has now arrived for Canada to provide financial assistance and training expertise to Mexico's struggle against organized crime. Compared to the U.S. and its admittedly meager Merida Initiative ($400 million), Canada looks like an indifferent neighbor, unable or unwilling to help.
Two other very important aspects of bilateral cooperation on the drug issue are to slash the demand for drugs and to halt arms trafficking. Canada has to work with the U.S. on reducing domestic drug demand, because although the U.S. is by far the largest market for drugs transiting through Mexico, Canada is not exactly a negligible actor. Canadian officials say that more than 90% of all the drugs consumed in Canada originates from, or are transported through Mexico. Additionally, Canada has a serious stake in working with the U.S. to reduce illegal arms traffic. Toronto police reported that over half of the guns involved in homicides in Canada's largest city come from the U.S.
Canada is sure to come to play a bigger role in the Mexican war on drugs. As an ally and trade partner to Mexico, Canada has to realize the gravity of the situation now being faced by Mexico City and that it cannot content itself by merely watching from the sidelines while the rest of North America faces a serious crisis. Some would argue that it is not only a question of Canada's own security, which is increasingly being jeopardized by the events going on in the south, but also of being able to retain its credibility as a major hemispheric factor, which perhaps is bilaterally prepared to do its part to advance the well-being of its own region.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Mylene Bruneau
Founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.
"If S. 474 is not blocked, South Carolinians will be robbed of the freedom to control their own lives, bodies, and futures," said Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood.
To stop Republican lawmakers in South Carolina from dealing a "catastrophic blow to abortion access across the South," reproductive healthcare providers on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the state to block the six-week abortion ban that went into effect immediately after Gov. Henry McMaster signed it.
The ban (S. 474) was passed Tuesday after five women in the state Senate—the only women in the body, including three Republicans, one Democrat, and one Independent—attempted to filibuster the legislation. They were unable to persuade two other Republicans to vote against the bill, which bans abortion before many people know they are pregnant.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (PPSA) joined two healthcare providers and one clinic in the lawsuit; the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) are representing the plaintiffs.
The groups noted that S. 474 is "nearly identical" to another six-week ban that was struck down by the South Carolina Supreme Court earlier this year. The new ban contains limited exceptions for the life and health of the pregnant person and certain fetal abnormalities, and a provision under which survivors of rape and incest can ostensibly access care until 12 weeks of pregnancy, but only if their provider reports the assault and the patient's name to law enforcement.
The state Supreme Court ruled in January that an earlier six-week ban violated the right to privacy guaranteed by South Carolina's constitution.
\u201cMonths after the state Supreme Court declared a 6-week ban an unconstitutional violation of South Carolinians' rights, lawmakers thought they could enact another, more extreme ban.\n\nThey\u2019re wrong \u2014 and along with @PPSATSC and @ReproRights, we\u2019re taking them to court.\u201d— Planned Parenthood (@Planned Parenthood) 1684882327
"The South Carolina Supreme Court was clear—banning abortion after approximately six weeks was unconstitutional six months ago, and it’s still unconstitutional now," said Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of CRR. "South Carolinians' rights are once again being violated, but we will continue to fight back."
South Carolina's neighboring states, Georgia and North Carolina, have passed bans on abortion care at six weeks and 12 weeks, respectively, with North Carolina's law set to take effect on July 1.
Other states across the South have enacted total bans on abortion, including some that contain no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban earlier this year, but the law is under review by the state Supreme Court.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of PPFA, said that unless the South Carolina Supreme Court acts again, "people across the region who rely on this state for care will suffer."
"Today, we are asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to do its job and protect people's ability to seek basic healthcare, without political interference, by quickly blocking this cruel law," said Johnson. "If S. 474 is not blocked, South Carolinians will be robbed of the freedom to control their own lives, bodies, and futures."
The groups and providers are seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the law from taking effect as well as a judgment declaring the law unconstitutional.
"State lawmakers have once again trampled on our right to make private healthcare decisions, ignoring warnings from healthcare providers and precedent set by the state's highest court just a few months ago," said Jenny Black, president and CEO of PPSA. "We will always fight for our patients' ability to make their own decisions about their bodies and access the healthcare they need. We urge the court to take swift action to block this dangerous ban on abortion."
"By passing this bill, the House has signaled that Congress is entering a new carceral era."
With the support of more than 70 Democrats, the Republican-controlled U.S. House on Thursday passed legislation that would permanently classify fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs and impose mandatory-minimum prison sentences on people found guilty of distributing the substances—an approach that critics slammed as a return to "failed drug war strategies of the past."
"It's sad to see lawmakers revert to over-criminalization once again when we have 50 years of evidence that the war on drugs has been an abject failure," said Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, one of nearly 160 advocacy groups that signed a letter earlier this week imploring Congress to reject the HALT Fentanyl Act.
The bill, led by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), nevertheless passed the House with bipartisan support, with 74 Democrats joining 215 Republicans in voting yes. Just one Republican—Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky—voted no along with 132 Democrats.
One of the bill's Democratic opponents, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), echoed civil rights groups during floor debate over the legislation, warning that the measure represents an attempt to "incarcerate our way out of a public health crisis."
"This war on drugs—mandatory sentencing, incarcerate everybody—has not worked," Pallone said. "It didn't work on other drugs."
The HALT Fentanyl Act aims to cement policy changes first enacted by the Trump administration, which temporarily classified fentanyl-related substances (FRS) as Schedule I drugs in 2018—a designation that lawmakers have since extended with the support of President Joe Biden, even as experts have emphasized that "not all fentanyl analogues are harmful."
Fentanyl itself is classified as a Schedule II drug, and it is sometimes used in medical settings to treat severe pain.
Schedule I drugs carry the most harsh prison sentences. Under current policy, as The Marshall Project's Beth Schwartzapfel has noted, "a five-year mandatory minimum is triggered by 40 grams of drugs laced with fentanyl, but if laced with a scheduled fentanyl analogue, only 10 grams of drugs will trigger that same sentence."
Despite his campaign pledge to end mandatory-minimum sentencing—a practice he helped usher into U.S. law as a senator—Biden has come out in support of the HALT Fentanyl Act, with the White House urging Congress to send the bill to his desk.
"If mandatory minimums and harsh sentences made communities safer, the overdose crisis would not have occurred."
To spotlight the dangers of mandatory minimums for FRS in particular, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights recently highlighted the case of Todd Coleman, who was "sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 10 years for selling 30 grams of cocaine—about two tablespoons—because a local lab said that they were laced with three illegal fentanyl analogues."
"But none of the substances were illegal fentanyl analogues, and one was a substance called 'Benzyl Fentanyl' that the Drug Enforcement Administration has long known is not dangerous or illegal," the group wrote in a letter to House leaders last week.
While a judge ultimately resentenced Coleman, the Leadership Conference warned that "the HALT Fentanyl Act enshrines mandatory minimums for distribution of FRS under the Controlled Substances Act, which could criminalize inert or harmless substances" and unjustly entangle more people in the U.S. prison system.
Recent history shows that an incarceration-focused approach to the United States' overdose crisis is doomed to fail, the group stressed.
"Between 2015 and 2019, prosecutions for fentanyl-analogue offenses increased by more than 5,000%, with no corresponding decrease in the use of FRS or in overdose deaths," the group wrote in its letter to House leaders. "In 2019, 58.9% of those sentenced in fentanyl-analogue cases were Black. Any further extension of the classwide scheduling policy threatens to repeat past missteps with crack cocaine that policymakers are still working to rectify."
\u201cBREAKING: The House just passed #HR467.\n\nThis bill's provisions would exacerbate pretrial detention, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in the prison system, doubling down on a fear-based, enforcement-first response to a public health challenge. The Senate must reject it.\u201d— The Leadership Conference (@The Leadership Conference) 1685025266
"The federal prison population has been on the rise since the beginning of the Biden administration after seven years of decline," said Komar. "The passage of the HALT Fentanyl Act would deepen that trend by doubling down on failed drug policies that prioritize prisons over drug treatment and overwhelmingly harm Black and Brown communities."
"If mandatory minimums and harsh sentences made communities safer," Komar added, "the overdose crisis would not have occurred. We urge the Senate to reject this bill and all expansions of mandatory minimums and reverse this punitive trend."
Maritza Perez Medina, director of the office of federal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, also urged the Senate to tank the bill, saying, "Our communities deserve real health solutions to the overdose crisis, not political grandstanding that is going to cost us more lives."
"Every single one of us has agency and a responsibility to take action, honor the treaties, and protect Mother Earth," asserted one Oneida Nation leader. "It is the time to be brave and courageous."
Native American women leaders and more than 150 allied advocacy groups from across the United States on Thursday implored the Biden administration to decommission a Canadian-owned oil and gas pipeline that, according to one group, has spilled more than a million gallons of fossil fuels in over 30 incidents during the past 55 years.
In a letter to President Joe Biden, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan, and other administration officials, leaders of the Indigenous Women's Treaty Alliance—which is facilitated by the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN)—called on the president to "immediately revoke the presidential permit for Canada's deteriorating Enbridge Line 5 pipeline before environmental calamity strikes with oil spills into the Great Lakes."
"We write to you as Indigenous grandmothers, mothers, aunties, daughters, sisters, and relatives. We are of the Great Lakes, where our sacred food manoomin (wild rice) grows on water," the letter states. "We hold a responsibility to protect our water, our ecosystems, and our cultural lifeways for the next seven generations."
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 Today, Indigenous Women's Treaty Alliance, WECAN & 150+ groups are sending an urgent message to @POTUS @JoeBiden to respect Indigenous rights, protect the Great Lakes, and #ShutDownLine5 before it is too late!\n\nLearn more \ud83d\udc49https://t.co/ifb6MwCdfa\u201d— WECAN, International (@WECAN, International) 1685020571
Manoomin "is fundamental to the physical, spiritual, and cultural survival of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa," the letter's signers explained. "Our sovereignty and treaty-protected rights to hunt, fish, and gather food and medicine are all at risk. Diverse fish populations spawn in the Bad River Watershed. These fish are economically and culturally vital to the Bad River Band, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the entire region."
Treaty rights and manoomin were at the center of Indigenous-led opposition to replacing Line 3, another Enbridge pipeline running from Canada through the Great Lakes region. Despite fierce resistance from Indigenous, climate, and environmental activists, the Biden administration declined to block Line 3's replacement, which went online in October 2021.
"An oil disaster would permanently devastate the exceptional ecology of the watershed, the wild rice, and fish populations," the new letter continued. "At the Bad River Reservation, recent flooding has eroded one riverbank to within 11 feet or less of Line 5's centerline, creating an immediate threat."
\u201cWe've filed final arguments with the Bay Mills Indian Community over the proposed Line 5 tunnel project. Enbridge wants to dig a pipeline tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. This untested project could lead to an explosion & oil in the Great Lakes. https://t.co/ngY5H38Jkc\u201d— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) 1684782060
Last September, U.S. District Judge William Conley found that Enbridge was trespassing on lands belonging to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northwestern Wisconsin, and profiting off Line 5 at the tribe's expense. However, Conley said earlier this month that since the tribe cannot prove that an "emergency" exists along the flooded riverbank, he is unlikely to order Enbridge to shut down the pipeline.
"This is a nearly 70-year-old pipeline running almost two decades past its engineered lifespan," the new letter stresses. "Erosion from receding waters or the next rainfall could cause a 'guillotine rupture'—a vertical break causing oil to gush from both sides, poisoning the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior."
As the Oil & Water Don't Mix coalition explained:
Nearly 23 million gallons of oil daily flow through two aging pipelines in the heart of the Great Lakes, just 1.5 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. Constructed during the Eisenhower administration in 1953, the two 20-inch-in-diameter [pipelines]... lie exposed at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac—a busy shipping channel...
Line 5 has spilled 33 times and at least 1.1 million gallons along its length since 1968.
The pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac cross one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the world. The Great Lakes are home to 21% of the world's fresh surface water. The pristine straits area supports bountiful fisheries, provides drinking water to thousands of people, and anchors a thriving tourism industry with historic and beautiful Mackinac Island right in the center.
In November 2020, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moved to revoke Line 5's easement, with a shutdown order coming the following May. However, Enbridge ignored Whitmer's order and kept running the pipeline.
\u201c#Line5 is only a few yards away from causing catastrophe in #Wisconsin Bad River and @LakeSuperior. #ShutDownLine5 for the ecosystem and all who rely on it! https://t.co/C0GErPs3xB\u201d— Oil & Water Don't Mix (@Oil & Water Don't Mix) 1684358132
"Revoking the presidential permit and forcing Enbridge to cease Line 5's operations is consistent with your administration's directives for climate, nation-to-nation relations, and environmental justice. It is also consistent with the knowledge we share that the Great Lakes—one-fifth of the world's surface freshwater at a time of growing water scarcity—are invaluable treasures that must be protected, regardless of political pressures, special interests, and short-term profits," the new letter argues.
"Water is life," the signers added. "We are... calling on you to protect essential water, as well as wild rice, fisheries, and cultural survival."
Jannan J. Cornstalk, a citizen of Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and director of the Water is Life Festival, said in a statement Thursday that "our very lifeways and cultures hang in the balance as Line 5 continues to operate illegally in Indigenous territories and water."
"These are our lifeways—when that water is healthy enough that rice is growing—that not only benefits our communities, but that benefits everybody up and downstream," Cornstalk added. "Allowing Line 5 to continue to operate is cultural genocide, and the Biden administration must listen and shut down Line 5. That water is our relative, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our water, our sacred relative."
\u201cStanding Up for Water, Land and Climate: Meet 10 Indigenous Women Fighting the Line 5 Pipeline - Ms. Magazine https://t.co/kOKlE6w5JM\u201d— Kelly Sheehan (@Kelly Sheehan) 1665619048
Aurora Conley of the Bad River Ojibwe and Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance said: "I am calling on the Biden administration to shut down Line 5 immediately. Our territories and water are in imminent danger, and we do not want to see irreversible damage to our land, water, and wild rice."
"We do not want our lifeways destroyed," Conley added. "The Ojibwe people are here in Bad River because of the wild rice. A rupture from this oil spill will irreversibly harm the Great Lakes and wild rice beds. This is unacceptable. We will not stand for this. Shut down Line 5 now."
Carrie Chesnik of the Oneida Nation Wisconsin and founder of the Treaty Land Trust, asserted that "we have an opportunity here to shut down the Line 5 pipeline, and protect what we all hold dear."
"We all have the responsibility and agency to act in a good way, to care for the land and waters," she continued. "What our communities have known for a long time is that the water is hurting, Mother Earth is hurting, and pretty soon we won't have clean water for our kids, for future generations."
"As a Haudenosunee woman, an auntie, daughter, and sister, I have an inherent responsibility to the water and our children," Chesnik added. "Every single one of us has agency and a responsibility to take action, honor the treaties, and protect Mother Earth. It is the time to be brave and courageous."