LE JOURNAL DE QUEBEC
Le Journal De Québec is a french-language daily newspaper in distribution primarily around the Quebec region of Canada. "Miscellaneous, judicial, political and world news."
Weird
Anne Sophie Goninet

In Quebec, 'Hot Mic' Gaffe Reveals What Judge Really Thinks

The truth, the whole truth ... and exactly what he thinks — but should never say out loud.

We all know the risks of teleworking and what can happen when someone accidentally forgets to turn off a camera or mute a microphone. Just last week a Canadian member of Parliament was caught naked during a Zoom conference when his laptop camera switched on as he was changing into his work clothes.

Doh!

Turns out the exposed lawmaker isn't the only high-profile Canuck to make a faux pas in the daunting new world of digital workplaces. This week, a Superior Court judge in Joliette, Quebec had an embarrassing "technical incident" of his own, one that would end up costing him the high-stakes bankruptcy case he'd been handling.

As the daily Journal de Québec reports, Judge Michel A. Pinsonnault was presiding over the $1.7 million case when, on April 20, he was heard saying during videoconference proceedings: "They lie, they lie, they lie."

The far-too-candid comments were in reference to a pair of witnesses who are under investigation for alleged fraud in a parallel case. The judge had forgotten, it turns out, to mute his microphone during his lunch break.

So much for impartiality.

A lawyer for the witnesses told the newspaper that it was "quite a deep shock" for his clients, especially since it was only the second day of the hearings.

The embarrassed judge said his microphone was left on without his knowledge because of a "malfunction." He then apologized for his "unfortunate comments' and recused himself from the case, which is being delayed pending Judge Pinsonnault's replacement by another magistrate.

Coronavirus
Anne Sophie Goninet

What COVID-19 Means For Worldwide Push To Legalize Marijuana

New Zealand's referendum last month to legalize recreational marijuana use was the first time a country put the controversial topic to a popular vote. Initial results point to a narrow defeat of the measure, which would still leave Uruguay and Canada as the only countries to fully legalize cannabis at a national level.

Still, in normal times, such a vote would have made worldwide headlines. But with COVID-19 dominating the news, it's mostly wafted under the radar.

• And yet ... In other countries, the pandemic is itself leading to an increase in demand, creating new (and old) questions about the burgeoning cannabis industry as well as the question of its legalization.

Locked down and lighting up: Recreational use of cannabis is banned in all European countries, though some have legalized it for medical use. But according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, cannabis is Europe's most commonly used illicit drug, with an estimated 24.7 million users in 2019.

• The EMCDDA issued a report this summer that found that during the lockdown, occasional cannabis users had reduced their consumption but frequent users had increased it, citing reasons such as "boredom" and "anxiety."

• During the lockdown, users faced a shortage as the availability of marijuana "significantly decreased" because of the pandemic, leading to an increase of home growing of cannabis as well an increase in online searches for terms relating to domestic cultivation in various European countries.

A worker harvests cannabis in the U.S. — Photo: Jim West/ZUMA

In Germany, where the use of marijuana has been legal for treating diseases since 2017, the number of patients applying for cannabis-based treatments has been growing steadily.

• Total sales increased to €120 million in 2019, compared with €73 million the previous year, and more than 50 companies now own an import permit, Deutsche Welle reports.

• And while the country relies mostly on imports from the Netherlands and Canada, it is now looking towards ensuring domestic supply via its first local cannabis harvest at the end of 2020 — a crucial question especially since the lockdowns in Europe have taken a toll on Germany's logistics operations.

Boon for the lawyers: It's been two years since Canada legalized recreational marijuana, but the pandemic has provided an unexpected opportunity for the industry to thrive and truly compete against the black market for the first time.

• Compared with the same period last year, Canadians spent 74% more money on licensed cannabis from April to June, while spending on the black market has decreased by 5%, according to data from Statistics Canada.

• Legal sales have also generated more than $231 in July, a 15% increase compared with the previous month and the biggest monthly increase since the country legalized cannabis, Le Journal de Québec reports.

• "There's been a downturn in the black market because people are much more reluctant to go out and meet their regular cannabis dealer in the way that they were prior to the pandemic," retail marketing expert David Soberman told Global News.

An employee arranging cannabis products at the HOBO Cannabis Company during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto — Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/ZUMA

Pushing for legalization: In the United States, 11 states have already legalized recreational marijuana and the pandemic seems to be pushing others to follow their lead, whether it be for economic reasons or to curb the anxiety caused by the lockdown.

• Cannabis in Hawaii is only authorized for medical use, but a new law was signed on Aug. 27 to legalize the growth of hemp in the state through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Domestic Hemp Production Program.

• For former State Senator Will Espero, talking to local network KITV, if the state was hesitant to legalize recreational marijuana until then, the pandemic and its impact on unemployment and the state's economy have "changed the game." Marijuana tax revenue could indeed help diversify Hawaii's tourism-heavy economy.

With New Jersey set to vote in a state-wide referendum to legalize recreational marijuana for those over 21, the pandemic seems to have changed the mind of some.

• A recent poll from Brach Eichler's Cannabis Law Practice showed that 13.5% of those surveyed said the pandemic caused them to now favor legalization and that in total, 65% of the state's residents strongly supported or somewhat supported the ballot question.

• Some may have realized that cannabis could be used to treat anxiety, something many experienced during the lockdown, as the state also allowed medical cannabis dispensaries to remain open.

• For Charles Gormally, co-chair of the firm's Cannabis Law Practice, talking to local news website NJ.com, people are beginning to "accept the concept that cannabis isn't harmful ... and that it actually has a positive impact in many circumstances."

Coronavirus
Anne Sophie Goninet

The Pandemic And The Perilous Return Of Plastic

In normal times, we might be writing this month about the annual momentum gathering for the Plastic Free July challenge. Launched in 2011 by the Australia-based Plastic Free Foundation, the idea is simple: refusing single-use plastics, from bags to packaging, for 31 days.

But in 2020, that simple desire to go fully plastic-free for at least a month has suddenly gotten complicated. Facing the coronavirus pandemic, masks, gloves, visors, medical gowns, hand sanitizer bottles, screens in shops and supermarkets are multiplying, as short-term safety has taken precedence over the longer-term destiny of the planet. And it doesn't seem that it will abate any time soon: The World Health Organization has estimated that 89 million masks and 76 million gloves are required each month around the world to face the pandemic.

These plastic items are already finding their way into nature, and especially in the sea: the first signs of an alarming new pollution that can only get worse. As early as February 2020, OceansAsia found masks on the shores of uninhabited islands near Hong Kong. In June, the French association Opération Mer Propre released pictures and videos of dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitizer on the Mediterranean floor.

For Laurent Lombard, who's part of the association, "we'll soon run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean", especially since the French government ordered 3.7 billion masks last month to face a potential second wave, Le Figaro reports.

It's somehow even more frustrating as progress had been made in recent years to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics, with the ban of items such as straws, plastic bags or the increasing use of reusable glass bottles. But with the fear of catching the virus through contaminated surfaces, plastic items that can be thrown away after use now feel safer for many than their washable or cloth counterparts.

In the United Kingdom, a survey conducted by the organization City to Sea found that 36% of British people felt pushed into using more single-use plastic at the moment. In Canada, the Journal de Québec found that since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of customers bringing their own reusable bags in shops have decreased by more than 40%, while packaging manufacturers increased their production by 20%.

Food deliveries have become increasingly popular in Thailand — Photo: Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/ZUMA

With restaurants closed, food deliveries have also experienced significant growth — and with them, knives, forks and plastic containers big and small. In Thailand, urban waste nearly doubled between January and March compared with 2019 because of soaring demand for home food deliveries, the president of the Thailand Environment Institute told Asia Times.

The benefits of plastic as a protector against coronavirus can actually be questioned. There have been numerous studies to measure how long the virus could live on different surfaces; and while it is true that the virus can be found on objects after several days, recent researches found that the risk of transmission through surfaces is actually quite small and has been "exaggerated".

As for masks, an analysis led by scientists at University College London suggests that "reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream." So the least we could do is use ecological alternatives for masks, whether they are made of washable cloth, biodegradable natural fibers, or even, ironically, from old fish nets or recycled ocean plastic waste.

The urgency right now is to find a way to simultaneously raise (and balance) consciousness of the risks of pollution and the pandemic. And we can start this month, by taking the "Reusable Mask July" challenge.

Geopolitics

Quebec To Cairo, The Pandemic's Heavy Toll On Migrant Workers

The COVID-19 crisis has been particularly disruptive for people who earn a living by moving from one place to the next. But companies who depend on those workers also struggle.

In El Rocio, Spain, workers wearing disposable face masks pile onto overcrowded buses each morning to pick raspberries in plastic greenhouses, where temperatures can reach up to 40 °C. From there, they return to shared temporary housing in the village, where roughly 50 workers are split between 10 rooms.

The living and working conditions are less than ideal for stopping the spread of the coronavirus in a country that was strongly hit by the virus and where cases continue to rise. Still, for migrant workers like 19-year-old Emeka of Nigeria and his housemates, ages ranging from 19-21, the pandemic has provided a rare opportunity.

Just months ago, Emeka had no job, let alone a work permit, but after a labor shortage caused by the pandemic, the Spanish government granted migrant workers temporary visas. With a smile, he tells Spanish daily El Pais, "This is the first time I've had the opportunity to earn a declared salary."

Essential skills

While Emeka's story has a positive outcome — at least for now — it also highlights a jarring juxtaposition between the crucial role migrants play in keeping food supplies and economies running smoothly, particularly in times of crisis, and the heightened xenophobia and restrictions they face as a result of the pandemic.

An asparagus farm in Quebec, Canada offers a particularly stark example, as Le Journal De Québec reporter Maude Ouellet discovered last month in the province's Lanaudière region. Due to border closures and travel restrictions, the pandemic cut off many temporary migrant workers who enter the country, seasonally or annually. The result is an acute labor shortage, and for places like the Primera farm, where Ouellet spent three days, there are real costs to bear.

The government responded to the labor shortage by calling on the people of Quebec to carry out certain essential jobs, especially in agriculture. More than 8,000 Canadians volunteered, the article explains. But as Marcel Groleau, head of the agricultural producers union (UPA), argues, they lack the skills of the more experienced migrants. For Primera, in particular, this loss of trained hands resulted in half the amount of asparagus crops picked this season and an estimated loss of nearly $150,000.

Migrant workers protesting for documents and regulation in Spain — Photo: Matthias Oesterle/ZUMA

Lost in the fray

On the other side of the world, in India, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on internal migrant workers, an already marginalized population that has been swept even further under the rug, PhD candidate Aman Abhishek argues in a recent piece for the Indian daily The Wire.

Over the past several months, he explains, public discourse in India has been focused primarily on the spread of the virus and on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's public displays meant to evoke collective sympathy and mourning, such as showering hospitals with flower petals from army helicopters.

In the meantime, however, thousands of migrant workers found themselves stranded by the nationwide lockdown, writes Abhishek, a media studies student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the United States. Many attempted to cross thousands of kilometers by any means they could find, including by foot, while others died of hunger.

The country is now reopening after its impromptu lockdown. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, however, and many migrants still find themselves in the same situation they were in before and during the lockdown: stranded somewhere along their journey home to another part of the country, and with an even higher chance of catching and spreading the virus.

A raw deal

Elsewhere, workers have been stranded between countries. Such is the case for a large number of Egyptians, including many with high skill levels, who work in the oil-rich Gulf states but are now bearing the brunt of a sudden economic downturn.

The Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr reports that with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Gulf countries took precautionary measures to control the pandemic. That, in turn, put economic pressure on companies, and those companies "offloaded it onto expatriates' by forcing them to accept new, watered down contracts with reduced salaries and benefits. Others have lost their jobs completely and are seeking to return to Egypt, which isn't in a position economically to absorb them, the news site explains.

Everywhere, migrant workers are among the first to suffer the economic consequences of the crisis. Nowhere, however, do they exist in a bubble. Ultimately, their struggles impact others down the line. Such laborers may be at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid, but for that very reason they also make up a foundation on which everyone else depends.

Geopolitics

The Latest: Jerusalem Clashes, Russia Pulls Back Troops, Brexit Ponies

Welcome to Friday, where tensions between far-right Jewish activists and Palestinians escalate in Jerusalem, Russia withdraws troops from Ukraine border and four ponies jump over Brexit obstacle. German conservative daily Die Welt also tells us why the country's political parties should keep a close eye on the Greens' candidate in the upcoming chancellor election.

• Hundreds injured in East Jerusalem clashes: Clashes in East Jerusalem between far-right Jewish activists, Palestinians and Israeli police have left over 100 people injured. Tensions have escalated between Palestinians and Jewish extremists since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on April 13.

• Indian hospital fire kills 13: At least 13 persons have died after a fire ravaged the intensive care unit of an hospital treating COVID patients near Mumbai. This incident comes as India is facing its highest number of cases and oxygen shortages.

• Russia to withdraw from Ukraine border: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Thursday that Russia will pull back its troops near Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Western countries had criticized what they viewed as a show of force.

• UK calls out China in Uyghur genocide: The House of Commons has stated for the first time that a genocide against Uyghurs is taking place in the north-west China's Xinjiang region. MPs are asking the British government to take action, while Beijing condemned the declaration.

• SpaceX rocket launch: NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide have successfully lifted-off on a SpaceX rocket heading to the International Space Station. The launch, originally planned for last Thursday, was delayed because of poor weather conditions.

• State funeral for Chad's slain president: Thousands of people have gathered to pay tribute to Chad's late President Idriss Deby, who died in clashes with rebels on Monday. French President Emmanuel Macron and several African leaders are expected to attend the funeral, in the capital N'Djamena.

• Ponies overcome Brexit hurdle: Four ponies, bought as a birthday gift and detained for a month at Belfast Port over incorrect post-Brexit paperwork, are now to be released, but may face a 30-day quarantine upon arrival in Britain.

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