Law coming in fall to create safe zones around Ontario abortion clinics

Ontario Attorney General and Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi plans to propose a bill this fall that would create safe zones around abortion clinics in the province, citing reports of harassment by a small group of protesters outside a clinic in his riding.

Naqvi made the announcement Monday morning alongside Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Catherine McKenney, saying laws like this are more important than ever in an increasingly polarized society.

“These zones around abortion clinics will ensure that women across Ontario have safe access to healthcare services, and that their privacy and dignity are protected when doing so,” Naqvi said.

He said he will consult on the issue over the summer, including looking at similar laws already in place in British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

He wouldn’t offer details on the measures that could be in that bill, but said the legislation will need to stand up to any court challenges based on the rights of protesters.

“We [have to ensure] that we protect the right to free speech,” he said.

“Because we are talking about two competing rights — in our view, one is paramount, which is a woman’s right to choose — we need to make sure this legislation strikes the right balance.”

Harassment ‘getting worse,’ Watson claims

Last week Watson asked the province to create a law to protect women’s access to abortion services, citing reports of patients and staff being confronted while trying to access the Morgentaler Clinic on Bank Street.

“We’ve seen harassment over the years on Bank Street at the clinic but it was starting in many ways to get worse,” he said.

Watson’s request came after a recommendation from city solicitor Rick O’Connor, who said municipal bylaws would be difficult to enforce, and the penalties aren’t harsh enough.

The executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, a partner of the downtown Ottawa clinic, said she’s really excited about Naqvi’s proposal.

“In a perfect world it would happen tomorrow but realistically, the idea something so significant, something that’s been happening for decades could be resolved or addressed within a matter of months, we certainly can celebrate that today,” said Catherine Macnab.

“That doesn’t change the fact there are people that are going to need protection today, tomorrow and every day between now and then.”

Catherine Macnab Planned Parenthood Otttawa

Planned Parenthood Ottawa’s executive director Catherine Macnab says harassment outside the downrown Ottawa clinic is reportedly escalating and people ask if it’s safe to go when they’re referred there. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

While a 1994 court injunction keeps protesters at least 150 metres away from three abortion clinics in Toronto, Ottawa’s downtown clinic isn’t covered because it wasn’t open at the time.

Macnab said she isn’t focused on how far protesters should be kept away from Ottawa clinics, but on making a law that’s enforceable by police and the courts.

Police have ‘difficult job’

Ottawa’s Morgentaler Clinic provides abortion care and related services including counselling, contraceptive education and testing for sexually transmitted infections, according to its website.

Watson urged anyone who feels they’re being harassed should call police.

In April, Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau issued a statement saying police monitoring protests and demonstrations outside the clinic “have the difficult job of ensuring the safety and security of all those involved or impacted by a demonstration.”

He said officers had also been accused of not respecting the rights of protesters gathered outside the clinic.  

Bordeleau said if the clinic wanted a protected “bubble” zone that demonstrators would not be allowed to enter, it would have to pursue the issue with the courts as the police service does not have the authority to grant one.

Attorney General plans bill for safe zones around Ontario abortion clinics

Ontario Attorney General and Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi plans to propose a bill that would create safe zones around abortion clinics.

Naqvi made the announcement Monday morning alongside Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney, saying policies like this are more important than ever in a polarized society.

He said he will consult on the issue over the summer.

Last week, Watson asked the province to create a law to protect women’s access to abortion services after recent reports of patients and staff being confronted while trying to access the Morgentaler Clinic on Bank Street.

Similar laws already exist in other provinces, including B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Watson’s request came after a recommendation from city solicitor Rick O’Connor, who said municipal bylaws would be difficult to enforce.

Patients, staff confronted outside clinic

The Morgentaler Clinic provides abortion care and related services, including counselling, contraceptive education and testing for sexually transmitted infections, according to its website.

There have been reports of patients and staff being repeatedly confronted by protesters trying to prevent them from accessing the clinic.

Naqvi said Monday he’s heard that harassment is getting worse.

In April, Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau issued a statement saying police monitoring the protests “have the difficult job of ensuring the safety and security of all those involved or impacted by a demonstration.”

He said officers had also been accused of not respecting the rights of protesters gathered outside the clinic.  

Bordeleau said if the clinic wanted a protected “bubble” zone that demonstrators would not be allowed to enter, it would have to pursue the issue with the courts as the police service does not have have the authority to grant one. 

Attorney General to propose safe zones around Ontario abortion clinics

Ontario Attorney General and Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi plans to propose a bill that would create safe zones around abortion clinics.

Naqvi made the announcement Monday morning alongside Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney, saying policies like this are more important than ever in a polarized society.

He said he will consult on the issue over the summer.

Last week, Watson asked the province to create a law to protect women’s access to abortion services after recent reports of patients and staff being confronted while trying to access the Morgentaler Clinic on Bank Street.

Similar laws already exist in other provinces, including B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Watson’s request came after a recommendation from city solicitor Rick O’Connor, who said municipal bylaws would be difficult to enforce.

Patients, staff confronted outside clinic

The Morgentaler Clinic provides abortion care and related services, including counselling, contraceptive education and testing for sexually transmitted infections, according to its website.

There have been reports of patients and staff being repeatedly confronted by protesters trying to prevent them from accessing the clinic.

Naqvi said Monday he’s heard that harassment is getting worse.

In April, Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau issued a statement saying police monitoring the protests “have the difficult job of ensuring the safety and security of all those involved or impacted by a demonstration.”

He said officers had also been accused of not respecting the rights of protesters gathered outside the clinic.  

Bordeleau said if the clinic wanted a protected “bubble” zone that demonstrators would not be allowed to enter, it would have to pursue the issue with the courts as the police service does not have have the authority to grant one. 

Milos Raonic starts French Open with easy win

Fifth-seeded Milos Raonic is safely through to the second round of the French Open after sweeping past Steve Darcis of Belgium in straight sets on Monday.

The Canadian took just 92 minutes to beat the 38th-ranked Darcis 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 — taking the final game to love.

Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., will next play either Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil or Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

In the women’s tournament, Montreal’s Francoise Abanda was to make her main-draw debut at Roland Garros on Monday in a first-round match against Tessah Andrianjafitrimo of France.

Montreal’s Eugenie Bouchard was set to open against No. 72 Risa Ozaki of Japan on Tuesday.

Champ advances

Defending women’s champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain went through to the second round with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Italian Francesca Schiavone.

Schiavone, the 2010 champion, showed her usual fighting spirit and saved three match points before going down when she sent a forehand volley wide.

The fourth-seeded Muguruza won 15 points in a row from being up 3-2 in the first set and broke her Italian opponent five times.

Wozniacki survives

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark survived a second-set scare to beat Australian wild card Jaimee Fourlis and reach the second round.

The 17-year-old Fourlis, who is ranked 337th in the world and was appearing in only her second ever Grand Slam, lost the first set but raced into a 4-1 lead in the second against the 11th-seeded Wozniacki.

Fourlis managed to save two of three match points on her serve before Wozniacki triumphed 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

Despite the defeat, Fourlis walked off to a standing ovation.

‘A great honour’: Delilah Saunders earns Amnesty International human rights award

Delilah Saunders and five other leaders of the Indigenous rights movement in Canada have been honoured with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2017.

Saunders, the sister of the late Loretta Saunders, is an advocate for the rights of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

‘I do not want anyone to have to go to that extreme of experiencing it firsthand to understand that it is a real problem.’ – Delilah Saunders

In an interview with CBC News on Sunday, she said it’s wonderful to be in such great company.

“It is a great honour to be recognized alongside very inspirational and incredible people who fight so passionately for Indigenous rights,” said Saunders.

Sister’s death pushed involvement

Saunders became involved in the movement following the murder of her sister in 2014.

Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman from Labrador, was writing her honours thesis at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S., on missing and murdered Indigenous women when she was murdered.

Loretta Saunders

Loretta Saunders died in February 2014 at age 26. (Facebook)

“I think the reality of how vulnerable Indigenous women and girls are … didn’t set in, until I was personally affected,” she said.

“That’s really what set me off on this work. I do not want anyone to have to go to that extreme of experiencing it firsthand to understand that it is a real problem.”

Last year, Saunders was also heavily invested in the push for Indigenous land rights in Labrador.

She participated in the Make Muskrat Right protests and alongside two other activists, embarked on a hunger strike to protest planned flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir.

Billy Gauthier

Delilah Saunders, Jerry Kohlmeister, and Billy Gauthier participated in a lengthy hunger strike in 2016 to protest planned flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir amid fears of methylmercury contamination. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Going forward, Saunders said she’s focused on two things: continuing her mission to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, fighting with land rights activists, and helping to form policy as part of a new job with the Congress of Indigenous People.

“I feel like especially with Muskrat Falls, everyone coming together — the Inuit, the Innu, settlers, people just coming together — that’s huge. That’s amazing progress. So I’m very satisfied with the way things are unfolding and continuing to develop.”

The award, which also went out to singer Alicia Keys, was given to Saunders, Cindy Blackstock, Melanie Morrison, Senator Murray Sinclair, Melissa Mollen Dupuis and Widia Larivière on Saturday in Montreal.

One thing Saunders said she’s learned, is that activists must savour all victories, big or small.

“I had someone tell me that they’ve never seen any radical change in their lifetime,” said Saunders.

“But me as an Indigenous woman, I have seen radical change even within myself. Becoming aware of the issues around me that affect me and how I can help change them, that is a small but a very very big victory.”

Unequal treatment: First Nations woman denied medical coverage readily available to non-Aboriginals

A woman from Alberta has been denied coverage for dental implants to fill gaps in her mouth resulting from a cleft palate, something her doctor says is the result of her being Indigenous. 

“I think everyone deserves the same treatment no matter what,” said Summer Dawn White Eagle, who was born with a cleft lip and palate more than 20 years ago on the Siksika First Nation east of Calgary.

Children born with cleft palates in Alberta are referred to the Pediatric Cleft Palate Clinic at either the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary or the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.

Summer Dawn White Eagle

Summer Dawn White Eagle was born with a cleft palate. After more than a dozen medical procedures she is nearing the end of what she calls “a long journey.” (South family)

Almost all of the costs for dental procedures are covered under the Alberta Cleft Palate Dental Indemnity Program, established in 1974 and believed to be the first publicly funded program of its kind in Canada.

To be eligible for coverage you must be under 24 and a resident of Alberta.

‘All other children are getting covered’

White Eagle’s prosthodontist says he’s never encountered a problem getting compensated for dental implants for his non-Aboriginal patients. 

“All the other children are getting covered by Alberta Health,” said Lim. “It doesn’t matter whether these other kids, whatever race or religion they are, as long as they’re a child, they get covered.”

The fees for First Nations Albertans are supposed to be split equally between the federal and provincial governments, but the federal program that covers the costs has denied payment to Lim.

Dr. Terry Lim

Dr. Terry Lim is a prosthodontist who has a number of cleft palate patients in Calgary. He’s frustrated he hasn’t been paid for the work he’s done with one of his First Nations patients. He says aboriginal children are being put at an ‘extreme disadvantage.’ (Bryan Labby/CBC News)

According to the Health Canada website, “all dentally related costs associated with the treatment of a functionally handicapping malocclusion, such as cleft palate, are covered under the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Program.” However, it says implants are excluded from coverage, and that exclusion can’t be appealed.

Multiple surgeries

“I think everyone deserves the same treatment no matter what,” White Eagle said.

Her mother agrees.

“All children deserve to have the treatment,” said Anita South.

“If you have to go through life with big gaping holes in your mouth, that does something to how someone feels about themselves and how society feels about you.”

Anita South

Anita South, is Summer Dawn’s foster mother. She’s frustrated a federal program is denying payment to Dr. Terry Lim, a Calgary prosthodontist. (Bryan Labby/CBC News)

‘Unusual situation’

In a statement to CBC News, Health Canada said it has contacted Dr. Lim and is trying to find a solution.

“This case represents an unusual situation and Health Canada is actively working with its partners to determine a fair and timely solution,” the statement read.

“We have been in contact with the claimant’s prosthodontist to discuss the case in detail. Furthermore, we have reached out to our counterparts in the Government of Alberta in an effort to resolve the situation.”

Lim submitted the claim in April, 2016 and is still owed several thousand dollars for the implants.

“I think there’s a hole in the system that unfortunately puts First Nations people at an extreme disadvantage,” he said. 

White Eagle’s journey has included more than 10 surgeries and procedures, including two jaw surgeries, bone and skin grafts to fill in her upper lip and palate. She’s also had surgeries to her eyes, nose and ears.  

Advocating for the doctor

She now finds herself advocating for Lim to try and get his payment. 

“It’s not fair, it’s not right,” said White Eagle of the situation. 

She wrote to Alberta’s minister of Indigenous Relations in January, outlining the procedures she’s gone through and pointed out that she, like all other cleft palate patients, are entitled to the treatment and the people who provide it should be paid.

She hasn’t heard back.

Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment, but instead referred the matter to Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

“We appreciate Dr. Lim bringing this situation to the Alberta government’s attention. Alberta Health staff have been in contact with the Cleft Palate program at Alberta Health Services and the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits program. The department will be working with AHS and federal government toward a solution for this patient and her family,” read Hoffman’s statement.

Lim says he will cover the costs of the implants for White Eagle, but fears some practitioners will opt out of treating Aboriginal children because they won’t get paid.

More work needed

South says Summer Dawn may require more plastic surgery for her upper lip and her daughter is having hearing problems that will need to be checked.   

She says it pains her to see that Dr. Lim will not get paid for the work he’s done to help Summer Dawn.

“He’s done an amazing job with Summer; he has a heart for these kids, he needs to be paid,” said South. 

White Eagle, who her mother describes as a “miracle child” for getting to where she is, is studying to become a professional make-up artist and is expected to graduate from her Vancouver-based program next month.

Dental claim denied

A copy of a letter sent to Dr. Terry Lim, a Calgary prosthodontist, who was denied payment for two implants for Summer Dawn White Eagle, who was born with a cleft palate.

  • Bryan Labby is an investigative reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

Ontario regaining status as economic engine for Canada

Ontario’s economy is surging after years of lagging behind the oil-producing provinces.

Don’t believe it? There’s plenty of evidence.

Canada’s big banks are forecasting that Ontario will lead the country in economic growth this year or be within a hair of the top of the pack. Unemployment sits at its lowest level in 16 years. And that economic success is being felt across a range of sectors, including manufacturing, real estate, finance and technology.

Corporate profits in Ontario are up significantly. You can tell by the province’s corporate tax revenue, which jumped a whopping 16.8 per cent last year, and 19.6 per cent in 2015. 

Ontario businesses surveyed by the Bank of Canada say sales are up and they’re looking to invest in new equipment and hire additional staff. 

The boom is centred on the Greater Toronto Area, forecast this week by the Conference Board of Canada to lead the country’s metropolitan areas in 2017 with a 2.6 per cent increase in the gross domestic product. Other parts of the province are doing well too, particularly Windsor, the Ottawa region and the Kitchener-Cambridge-Guelph triangle. 

employment-392-RTXCEFB

Ontario’s unemployment rate is now sitting at 5.8 per cent, its lowest level since January 2001, Statistics Canada reported this month. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

“Through 2019, Ontario households will reap the benefits of a robust business sector,” the conference board’s latest report says. “With the labour market looking good, healthy consumer spending across all spending categories is expected over the near term.”

RBC senior economist Robert Hogue described this province as having “quite a vibrant” economy.

“The Ontario economy has been, I think, quite impressive at adapting, at adjusting, and at continuing to generate jobs,” Hogue said in an interview with CBC Toronto last week.  

“The Ontario economy has been quite strong over the last couple of years,” said Dina Ignjatovic of TD Economics in another interview. “We expect to see another very strong year in 2017.” 

It’s guaranteed the Kathleen Wynne government will point to these trends on Tuesday when it announces its plans to protect vulnerable workers and hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour (as revealed by CBC News this month). 

Personal economic growth still lagging

Dina Ignjatovic

‘The Ontario economy has been quite strong over the last couple of years,’ says Dina Ignjatovic of TD Economics.

But if you’re a typical Ontario worker, you’re not necessarily feeling as rosy about your own personal economy as the provincial economic figures would indicate.

That’s because wages aren’t growing at anywhere near the pace of the gross domestic product (GDP). Statistics Canada figures show the average weekly earnings of Ontarians grew just 1.1 per cent in 2016. That’s below inflation so, on average, the typical person took a pay cut last year.

“There’s a collision between the psychology of consumer confidence and the reality of the economic numbers,” said Nik Nanos, executive chair of Nanos Research. “When people don’t feel that real wages are significantly increasing, when they’re unsure about their level of job security, it creates a psychological chill on consumer confidence.”

Despite that chill, there are signs that Ontarians’ consumer confidence is on the upswing. Nanos’s polling firm tracks our mood about the economy using the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index and it suggests this province is feeling more upbeat than the rest of the country.

“We saw this trend emerge with the drop in the price of oil,” Nanos said in an interview with CBC News.

There remain, of course, economic uncertainties for Ontario. 

Manufacturing Dutch Disease 20130116

Despite better than expected economic growth in Ontario in 2016, the average weekly earnings of workers in this province grew just 1.1 per cent last year, according to Statistics Canada. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Export-oriented industries in particular are worried about growing protectionist sentiment in the U.S. and what President Donald Trump will try to do to the North American Free Trade Agreement. They’re also vulnerable to any significant jump in the value of the Canadian dollar.

The crazy housing market is making many people worried they’ll never be able to afford a home, while recent changes bring doubts about where house prices will go next. Real estate now accounts for a bigger portion of Ontario’s GDP — at 13.2 per cent — than manufacturing, at 12.1 per cent.

Businesses complain that hydro prices are making them uncompetitive. And jobs can always go south, as nearly 500 workers in Brockville found out last week.  

Yet Ontario has its advantages, including a corporate tax rate (11.5 per cent) that’s lower than every other province except B.C., physical proximity to tens of millions of American consumers, and a diversified economy that isn’t reliant on one volatile commodity as its lifeline.  

The 2008-09 recession left Ontario battered and bruised. Manufacturing took a hammering. The hangover took a long time to clear. Part-time and contract work is the reality for a new generation of workers and those with full-time jobs struggle to shake off the worry they could be out of work tomorrow.

There is no single economic engine for Canada. But Ontario’s economy is, at last, firing on all cylinders, so perhaps this province is ready to reclaim its place as a driving force for the country. 

Grandmothers form alliance against drug trade on Manitoulin

Marion Peltier has been a mother for two generations.

The grandmother from Wikwemikong First Nation, Ont., says she is raising her grandchildren to keep them safe.

“Us grandmothers don’t really have freedom to live our own lives because there’s fear for our grandchildren,” says Peltier. 

“They’re scared and we have to support our children.”

Peltier is part of Wikwemikong Grandmothers, a group first formed in 2012, after the members realized people were coming from outside the community, supplying drugs and getting locals to sell them.

At that time, the grandmothers held demonstrations at the Wikwemikong/Assiginack border, kept an eye on community members and asked a private security company to help Wikwemikong Tribal Police.

Their actions worked — for a while. But Peltier says a violent incident earlier this month was the last straw.

“I see the stuff that’s going on,” she says. “The suppliers are back.”

Now, Wikwemikong Grandmothers is getting organized.

Peltier says the group will be holding a community meeting on Monday, asking residents and band members to voice concerns and brainstorm possible solutions.

Decrease crime, unemployment rate with more security

The grandmother’s have invited Ronald Wells to the meeting. He is the president of CanCom Security and is a member of the First Nation community. His security company has been assisting local police since 2012.

“The police are doing a magnificent job, but some of the calls have been pretty demanding,” Wells says.

“We observe and report back to leadership and police. The deterrence is huge.”

Wells says back in 2012, he operated with 18 guards, two patrol cars, two guards in each car and bike patrol during the summer.

Budget constraints forced the Wikwemikong band council to cut those numbers in half. Wells says he now operates with six guards and one patrol car.

The plan is to look for more funding from the band council and other provincial programs so security presence can be increased again.

Wells says this would reduce crime and decrease unemployment rates within the First Nation community, since all hires would be band members.

“I actually had a lot of community members come up to me, who were part of that drug trade,” Wells says. “Full grown men who would come down and break down and say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to help my community’.”

Chief wants more preventative measures

Though the grandmother group says the community feels unsafe, Duke Peltier insists the majority of people are not involved in the drug trade.

Peltier, the chief of Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, says he’d like to see the First Nation invest in more community programs, sports teams and after-school groups.

“We need to place more of an emphasis on activities for our children, so that these areas in the future would not necessarily be concerns,” Peltier says.

“The younger minds can be shaped to seek out better choices.”

Peltier says the band council needs to see demand from the community to hire more security.

Even then, he hopes locals do it for the right reasons.

“Sometimes you get into an employment relationship, as opposed to being in it for your community and your family,” says Peltier.

“There should be a vested interest in ensuring community safety.”

The community meeting in Wikwemikong is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, May 29, in the band council chambers.

Medical journal calls for tighter rules on legal pot to protect youth

Marijuana legalization will harm the health of youth unless major changes to the proposed law are made to protect their developing brains, a medical journal editorial says.

Dr. Diane Kelsall, interim editor in chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, says Bill C-45 fails to safeguard vulnerable youth.

“There are a number of things in the legislation that are truly worrisome,” Kelsall said in an interview. “If the intent is truly a public health approach and to protect our youth this legislation is not doing it.”

Canadian youth ranked first for cannabis use in North America and Europe, with one-third saying they tried it at least once by age 15, the Canadian Pediatric Society says. 

Before the federal election, physicians said the right legislation to legalize pot might curb teen toking by restricting access.

The editorial takes issue with several aspects of the bill, which:

  • Sets the minimum age to buy recreational marijuana at 18. Kelsall calls that too young given evidence suggesting that the human brain doesn’t mature until about age 25.
  • Allows people to grow pot at home, which Kelsall said increases the likelihood of diversion to young people.
  • Lacks limits on potency of strains despite increased risk of harmful effects with higher-strength cannabis.

Marijuana as a psychosis trigger

At the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, psychiatrist Romina Mizrah uses PET scanners to study how cannabis use changes brain function in young people with an average age of 20.

In young people who regularly use cannabis, preliminary evidence points to a reduction in an enzyme that regulates the endocannabinoid system that buffers key chemistry within the brain, said Mizrahi.

“There is some understanding at this point from epidemiological studies that certainly marijuana is a trigger,” said Mizrahi, director of the Focus on Youth Psychosis Prevention program. “Marijuana use predates the psychosis. Whether it causes the psychosis, that’s a different question and that we don’t know.”

More potent pot

Mike Stroh, 35, of Toronto says he’s part of a generation who grew up smoking current strains of marijuana, which have been genetically selected to produce a powerful high, with THC levels of about 20 per cent. That’s up from around seven per cent in the 1960s and ’70s.       

From age 13, Stroh got high almost daily until age 30.

“I was into sports,” Stroh recalled. “I wanted to do stuff at school, but I wouldn’t make it to the practice, I wouldn’t make it to the tryouts, because I was either up all night selling drugs, trying to get them, fall asleep in a drug-induced coma, and then wake up in a mess.”

Mike Stroh

Mike Stroh started smoking pot almost daily from age 13 until he was 30. He says it’s an ‘illusion’ that pot is a relatively harmless drug. (CBC)

Stroh also lived with depression and anxiety and said he was never able to like himself. “That’s the torment that brought me to my knees.”

He felt robbed of being himself and the opportunity for emotional maturity, cognitive development and professional opportunities.  

“Because marijuana doesn’t bring you to your knees as quickly as other drugs may … there’s this illusion that because you can be high and do things, it’s not bad, so to speak.”

Stroh is now a mental health advocate who draws on his personal and family experiences to educate.

“We need to teach kids how to take care of themselves so when they do feel anxious and do feel depressed, scared or … frustrated with life, because yes, that’s a part of being a teenager, then they learn that there’s so many things they can do to help themselves as opposed to use drugs.”

Medical journal calls for tighter rules on legal pot to protect young

Marijuana legalization will harm the health of youth unless major changes to the proposed law are made to protect their developing brains, a medical journal editorial says.

Dr. Diane Kelsall, interim editor in chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, says Bill C-45 fails to safeguard vulnerable youth.

“There are a number of things in the legislation that are truly worrisome,” Kelsall said in an interview. “If the intent is truly a public health approach and to protect our youth this legislation is not doing it.”

Canadian young people ranked first for cannabis use in North America and Europe, with one-third saying they tried it at least once by age 15, the Canadian Pediatric Society says. 

Before the federal election, physicians said the right legislation to legalize pot might curb teen toking by restricting access.

The editorial takes issue with several aspects of the bill, which:

  • Sets the minimum age to buy recreational marijuana at 18. Kelsall calls that too young given evidence suggesting that the human brain doesn’t mature until about age 25.
  • Allows people to grow pot at home, which Kelsall said increases the likelihood of diversion to young people.
  • Lacks limits on potency of strains despite increased risk of harmful effects with higher-strength cannabis.

Marijuana as a psychosis trigger

At the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, psychiatrist Romina Mizrah uses PET scanners to study how cannabis use changes brain function in young people with an average age of 20.

In young people who regularly use cannabis, preliminary evidence points to a reduction in an enzyme that regulates the endocannabinoid system that buffers key chemistry within the brain, said Mizrahi.

“There is some understanding at this point from epidemiological studies that certainly marijuana is a trigger,” said Mizrahi, director of the Focus on Youth Psychosis Prevention program. “Marijuana use predates the psychosis. Whether it causes the psychosis, that’s a different question and that we don’t know.”

Studies using MRI scanners also show physical and functional changes in the developing brains of regular users that are associated with damage, Kelsall said.

More potent pot

Mike Stroh, 35, of Toronto says he’s part of a generation who grew up smoking current strains of marijuana, which have been genetically selected to produce a powerful high, with THC levels of about 20 per cent. That’s up from around seven per cent in the 1960s and ’70s.       

From age 13, Stroh got high almost daily until age 30.

“I was into sports,” Stroh recalled. “I wanted to do stuff at school, but I wouldn’t make it to the practice, I wouldn’t make it to the tryouts, because I was either up all night selling drugs, trying to get them, fall asleep in a drug-induced coma, and then wake up in a mess.”

Mike Stroh

Mike Stroh started smoking pot almost daily from age 13 until he was 30. He says it’s an ‘illusion’ that pot is a relatively harmless drug. (CBC)

Stroh also lived with depression and anxiety and said he was never able to like himself. “That’s the torment that brought me to my knees.”

He felt robbed of being himself and the opportunity for emotional maturity, cognitive development and professional opportunities.  

“Because marijuana doesn’t bring you to your knees as quickly as other drugs may … there’s this illusion that because you can be high and do things, it’s not bad, so to speak.”

Stroh is now a mental health advocate who draws on his personal and family experiences to educate.

“We need to teach kids how to take care of themselves so when they do feel anxious and do feel depressed, scared or … frustrated with life, because yes, that’s a part of being a teenager, then they learn that there’s so many things they can do to help themselves as opposed to use drugs.”