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  • Anti-prohibition pot protesters hit Parliament Hill on 4/20

    OTTAWA - Frisbees, hula hoops, reggae and the slightly skunky aroma of burning bud masked a serious policy dispute Sunday afternoon on Parliament Hill.

    The annual day of celebrating cannabis culture has ramped up into mainstream political activism as the pot-smoking 4/20 movement took on marijuana prohibition with rallies across Canada.

    "I think the policy edge has always been there. It's just more and more people are getting fed up with the status quo," said John Albert, a former Marijuana Party candidate, as he sat amidst a crowd that police estimated was more than 2,000 on the front lawn under the Peace Tower.

    Recent legalization in Colorado and Washington State has opened the eyes of governments and businesses to the financial possibilities of a legal trade in marijuana, a commodity that's too often linked to either organized crime or glass-eyed slackers.

    "We would like a choice," said Albert. "I think what is happening in Colorado and Washington has kind of crystallized it in people's eyes. They see that it's a real thing, that legalization can work, and be a benefit to not just people who smoke cannabis but to just regular taxpayers."

    After years of glacially slow movement on the decriminalization or legalization policy fronts, pot activist Jodie Emery says there's been a huge spike in interest as the American state experiment plays out.

    "I can tell you from my spot as being a pot activist for 10 years in Vancouver, the last year has been insane — even in Canada — with respect to licensed providers and all these companies trying to be the next big thing," Emery said in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

    "We've won over the Man and the establishment. You know, they're on our side. And it is definitely financially motivated."

    The 4/20 moniker dates back to the pot culture of California in the early 1970s, but it became formally attached to April 20 when a group of Vancouver activists held the first day-long rally in 1995.

    Rallies have been held every April 20th for 20 straight years since then and have spread across Canada and across the globe.

    Local 4/20 organizers were advertising events from Whitehorse to Halifax, Iqaluit to Windsor, Ont., in Dallas, Texas, and Birmingham, Ala., London, Belfast, Reykjavik, Aukland, Lima and Cape Town, South Africa, to name just a few.

    Hundreds turned out at rallies in Vancouver and Toronto.

    Ray Turmel, 62, wandered Parliament Hill holding a large plastic freezer bag filled with enough marijuana buds to warrant a trafficking charge, in other circumstances.

    Turmel is among those medical pot users who are fighting in Federal Court to retain the right to grow their own, a practice the Conservative government wants to end under a new medical marijuana policy that would license, regulate and industrialize all growers.

    "I'm one of the old guys. We're fighting for the right to keep using it and keep growing it ourselves," said Turmel, before lifting his bag of homegrown out of the reach of someone asking for tester.

    Good-humoured RCMP officers watched the sedate scene with apparent bemusement as clouds of marijuana smoke drifted down the wind.

    "This is an annual event that has always been held in a peaceful manner," said spokeswoman Cpl. Lucy Shorey.

    "Usually at about 4:20 p.m. protesters will be exercising their right to, uh, light up, if you want," she said. "The RCMP respects the rights of individuals to protest on Parliament Hill and that's what we're here for today."

    Shorey would not venture into policy territory, or comment on the juxtaposition of thousands of people openly committing a Criminal Code offence while sandwiched between RCMP cruisers and the House of Commons that legislates the law.

    But Albert, the former Marijuana Party candidate, said it highlights political hypocrisy.

    "It's a credit to the cannabis community in a way that, even though we're persecuted, we're put in jail, we're constantly demonized by society, we can gather here on the front lawn of the highest parliament in the land and openly defy the law with no fear — because we know that we have truth on our side," he said.

    "We're not dangerous criminals. We're just regular law-abiding citizens otherwise who just enjoy cannabis."

    To give you an idea what these rallies are like, check out a video from last year's 4/20 event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

  • Renowned Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod dead at 77

    Alistair MacLeod, the Prairie-born author who won one of the world's most lucrative literary prizes with his only novel, has died. He was 77.

    MacLeod was known for his short stories and his novel "No Great Mischief," winner of the 2001 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, then worth $172,000.

    MacLeod's former publisher, Doug Gibson, confirmed the death on Sunday.

    He said MacLeod had been in hospital ever since suffering a stroke in January.

    Gibson said MacLeod was "that rare combination of great writer and a great man."

    Born in North Battleford, Sask., on July 20, 1936, MacLeod moved with his family back to a farm on Cape Breton Island at the age of 10. It was there that the images and themes that informed his work took hold.

    "When I sit down to write, the images and the details and the issues that come to my mind are those of Cape Breton," he said in May 2009 in a conversation with fellow writer Nino Ricci at the University of Toronto.

    "I think (for) some writers, associations with their material and maybe their place is something like maybe love."

    "No Great Mischief," published in 1999, became an immediate critical success, winning the IMPAC as well as Ontario's Trillium Prize. Ten years later it was recognized as Atlantic Canada's best book in the 2009 survey "Atlantic Canada's 100 Greatest Books."

    The novel's narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells of a family's life beginning in 18th-century Scotland and ending in 20th-century Nova Scotia.

    In "Alistair MacLeod, Essays on his Works," Irene Guilford notes that while intense in his devotion to locale, the author's treatment of human questions was universal.

    "This is writing that nudges one towards that most complex and wondrous state of being -- an individual rooted in personal history and locale, connected to the past but also a citizen of the world, a person who would try to understand why Zulus dance," she writes in her introduction.

    "Where do we come from? Alistair MacLeod's birthplace is Canadian, his emotional heartland is Cape Breton, his heritage Scottish, but his writing is of the world."

    MacLeod taught English and creative writing at the University of Windsor, where he also edited the University of Windsor Review. He and his wife, Anita, raised six children in Windsor.

    But each summer, he returned to Cape Breton and the cliff-top cabin where he did much of his writing.

    He was the subject of a National Film Board documentary in 2005, "Reading Alistair MacLeod," and in 2008 was made an officer of the Order of Canada.

    MacLeod received his PhD from the University of Notre Dame but did his undergraduate degree closer to home at St. Francis Xavier University and his MA at the University of New Brunswick.

    He wrote his first short story, "The Boat," in 1968.

    MacLeod's published works include the short story collections "The Lost Salt Gift of Blood" (1976), "As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories" (1986), and "Island" (2000), which combined the first two collections with other stories.

  • Rubin "Hurricane" Carter dead at 76

    TORONTO - Rubin "Hurricane'' Carter, the former American boxer who spent almost 20 years in jail after twice being convicted of a triple murder he denied committing, has died at his home in Toronto.

    He was 76.

    His long-time friend and co-accused John Artis says Carter died in his sleep Sunday morning after a battle with prostate cancer.

    Carter was convicted along with Artis of murdering three people in a New Jersey bar in 1966.

    Their convictions were overturned in 1975, but both were found guilty a second time in 1976.

    Lesra Martin, now a lawyer in Kamloops, was one of the original "Canadians," a group which fought for the fighter's freedom.

    Martin tells the Globe and Mail in an interview that he never doubted Carter’s innocence, ever since the first time he met him in 1980, standing in the intimidating visitor room at a maximum security prison at just 16 years old.

    “I am petrified as I am standing there waiting for him to come, and all of a sudden, he comes up and he realizes that I am shaking and I am scared and he begins to embrace me, and hug me, and whisper in my ear and tell me not to be afraid,” Martin said. “My heart told me, unequivocally, at that point, that is not the heart of someone that could murder three people.”

    After serving 19 years, Carter was freed in 1985 when a federal judge overturned the second convictions.

     

    Carter's fight was turned into a song by Bob Dyan.

  • Crowd overflows from St. Peter's Square for Pope's Easter Mass

    VATICAN CITY - Marking Christianity's most hopeful day, Pope Francis made an Easter Sunday plea for peace and dialogue in Ukraine and Syria, for an end to terrorist attacks against Christians in Nigeria and for more attention to the hungry and neediest close to home.

    Well over 150,000 tourists — Romans and pilgrims, young and old — turned out for the Mass that Francis celebrated at an altar set up under a canopy on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

    So great were their numbers that they overflowed from sprawling St. Peter's Square, which was bedecked with row after row of potted daffodils, sprays of blue hyacinths and bunches of white roses. Waving flags from the pope's native Argentina as well as from Brazil, Mexico, Britain, Poland and many other countries, they also filled the broad boulevard leading from the square to the Tiber River.

    Easter is the culmination of Holy Week and marks Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.

    Francis noted that this year the Catholic church's celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine.

    Francis prayed that God would "enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence."

    In eastern Ukraine, the holiday was marred by a deadly shooting Sunday fueled by tensions between pro-Russian supporters in the east and those loyal to an interim government in Kyiv. The clash appeared to defy an international agreement reached last week in hopes of ending months of unrest.

    Francis also prayed that all sides in Syria will be moved to "boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue." Syria has been wracked by a three-year civil war that has cost 150,000 lives and forced millions to flee the country.

    Christians make up about 5 per cent of Syria's population. In comments to mark Easter there, the Greek Orthodox patriarch vowed that Christians there "will not submit" to extremists who attack "our people and holy places."

    Francis makes a pilgrimage to Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel next month, so on Easter he prayed that hopes sparked by the resumption of Mideast peace negotiations will be sustained.

    Thousands of pilgrims from around the world flocked to the celebrate Easter in the Holy Land, where Christian communities, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East, have been declining as the faithful flee regional turmoil.

    Francis also spoke of those suffering in Africa from an epidemic of deadly Ebola and urged a halt to "brutal terrorist attacks" in parts of Nigeria.

    Nigerians marked Easter with heightened security against a spreading Islamic uprising, mourning the deaths of 75 bomb blast victims and fearful of the fate of 85 abducted schoolgirls. The homegrown terror network Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for last week's rush-hour explosion in the capital, Abuja, and threatened more attacks.

    In Venezuela, there have been hopes Vatican mediation can help end the country's violent political unrest, and Francis urged that "hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord" there.

    But Francis' Easter message also urged people to pay attention to the needy close to home. He said the "good news" of Easter's joy means "leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life's troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast."

    He denounced the "scourge of hunger," which he said was "aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible."

    Francis has set an austere tone in his papacy, forsaking an ornate apostolic palace apartment for a simple guesthouse on the Vatican grounds and rejecting limousines for regular cars.

    Cheering and applauding, the crowd tried to catch a glimpse of the pontiff as he circled around in his white popemobile before going to the basilica's balcony to deliver his commentary.

    Reflecting the worldwide reach of the Catholic church, faithful read aloud prayers and passages from the Bible in Hindi, French, Chinese, German, Korean, Spanish, Italian and English.

    ___

    Writers Michelle Faul in Lagos, Nigeria; Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Yuras Karmanau in Bybasivka, Ukraine, contributed to this story.

  • Another Bush in the White House?

    EX-AMABASSADOR SAYS JEB COULD BE A CONTENDER

    WASHINGTON - As Jeb Bush weighs a run for the White House, his prospective candidacy is being praised by a well-known Republican who helped organize his brother's successful campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

    David Wilkins, the former ambassador to Canada who co-chaired and then chaired George W. Bush's two campaigns in the key Republican primary state of South Carolina, says the younger sibling has the skills to go the distance.

    "He brings a lot to the table. He would be a serious candidate from Day One," Wilkins said in an interview, touting Bush's track record as Florida governor and his thoughtful stand on immigration and education.

    "If he decides to run, I'm not saying he'd win, but I think he'd be a very viable candidate."

    The former South Carolina legislature speaker, political organizer, and diplomat isn't showing his cards yet about whom he'd support — but he said he'd hope to chat with Bush should he decide to run.

    Wilkins' home state tends to be a make-or-break one for Republican presidential aspirants. South Carolina backed every successful Republican nominee since the modern primary system was introduced in 1980, until 2012 when primary voters in the state broke their winning streak by backing Newt Gingrich.

    The next one could be a classic.

    On one side, party brass are eager to get behind a candidate with mainstream appeal to avoid a repeat of the energy-sapping battle of 2012 and, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie undermined by a bridge scandal, they're reportedly pressing Bush to consider running.

    In the other corner, there's a conservative grassroots fed up with seeing its favourite candidates brushed aside in favour of establishment darlings like John McCain and Mitt Romney, who go on to lose anyway.

    Bush has said he'll take the rest of the year to decide.

    Wilkins said he could be the guy to rally the party base in early 2016 and then win over the general public later in the year.

    "I think Republicans are hungry for a candidate we can get behind," Wilkins said.

    "The trump card will be a candidate who can unite people, who can win in November. I think Republicans are looking for that type of candidate — maybe not one who just appeals to a certain segment of the Republican party but someone who can appeal to the all the Republican party and, most importantly, be a strong candidate to independents and therefore be able to win in November.

    "I think Jeb Bush would be one of those. I'm not saying he'd be the only one."

    The grassroots is far from unanimous on that score.

    The potential blowback has been evident in some of the vitriol in online comment boards, and in the boos when Bush's name was scornfully raised by Donald Trump at a New Hampshire conservative event last week.

    The biggest knocks against him?

    One, he supports federalized education standards. And then there's his support for residency rights for illegal immigrants.

    Party members are fuming over his recent expression of sympathy for parents who sneak across the border in the hope of a better life for their children, which Bush called an "act of love." He has personal ties to the Latin American community, through his Mexican-born wife Columba, and a report this week said she wasn't keen on him re-entering politics.

    Bush has said two factors will guide his decision on whether to run: his family, and whether he believes he could do it "joyfully."

    He appeared determined to drive home that sunny message when speaking to a party grassroots that has come to be defined over the last few years by anger — particularly at the Obama White House.

    "All too often we're associated with being 'anti' everything," Bush told last year's Conservative Political Action Conference.

    "Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party."

    He even expressed concern about inequality: "Here's reality: if you're fortunate enough to count yourself among the privileged, much of the rest of the nation is drowning. In our country today, if you're born poor, if your parents didn't go to college, if you don't know your father, if English isn't spoken at home, then the odds are stacked against you."

    The political odds might also be stacked against him.

    That speech drew polite applause. An aggregate of polls on the RealClearPolitics website suggests Bush would face stiff competition in a wide-open Republican field that lacks a clear front-runner.

    The winner's prize: a daunting encounter with Hillary Clinton. The presumed Democratic favourite appears to have a crushing lead over the entire Republican field.