• 'A race against time': Toronto family tries to raise $3M to treat son's rare genetic disorder
    News
    CBC

    'A race against time': Toronto family tries to raise $3M to treat son's rare genetic disorder

    It's a desperate race against time and a race toward hope. Terry and Georgia Pirovolakis are trying to save their son's life, trying to find a cure that doesn't exist. They're determined to raise at least $3 million to fund an experimental trial in the U.S. Michael is 18 months old and his doctors say he is the only child in Canada diagnosed with SPG50, a rare genetic disorder that threatens the toddler's ability to speak, walk or even breathe, all in a few short years. Michael's mother Georgia Pirovolakis said he was a healthy, happy baby but she and her husband started to notice he wasn't meeting his milestones, wasn't developing at the same rate his siblings had. The energetic toddler can't walk despite an obvious desire to move around. He smiles and laughs and babbles, but hasn't said his first word. He's healthy, until he gets a fever and has a seizure, which sometimes takes hours for hospital staff to address. Genetic testing at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital revealed the devastating diagnosis in April. "They said to us you know he will never reach the level that you want him to reach, like he will probably never speak," Georgia Pirovolakis said, choking back tears. "He will probably never develop normally mentally. He will probably be in a wheelchair." 'We just cried'Michael's father said it was the darkest moment of his life."Once they told us and it was like a fog was over our eyes," said Terry Pirovolakis. "It was like you were wearing sunglasses with the tint on them that you couldn't even see out of it. We just came home and just curled into balls and just cried."Watch as parents refuse to give up: The culprit is a missing gene. The only hope: gene therapy that in theory could replace it. But there is no proven treatment for Michael's disease. There are only 57 known cases in the world, including Michael, according to pediatric neurologists at Boston Children's Hospital.The disorder is so rare there is little financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies or governments to fund research to find a treatment.After scouring the internet for any shred of hope, it became clear it was up to Michael's parents to create their own."I said, 'There's no way we're going to accept this,'" said Terry Pirovolakis, his red-rimmed eyes brimming with tears. "There was no sit back and watch him degrade. There was just go forward and give him the best chance at life that we could." The clock is tickingThe clock is ticking and the disease isn't waiting. Fuelled by fear, Michael's parents called hundreds of doctors, sent thousands of emails and they didn't stop until they found a team of researchers in Dallas willing to try to create a treatment that would replace Michael's missing gene. Gene therapy that may halt, maybe even reverse the degeneration that has already set in.Dr. Berge Minassian is leading the team at UT Southwestern Medical Centre in Texas, one of a handful of research facilities in the world creating customized treatments for rare genetic disorders.A pediatric neurologist, Dr. Minassian left Toronto's Sick Kids hospital so he could devote the rest of his career to helping kids like Michael."I think losing one's child is probably the worst thing that can happen to anyone," Minassian said. "And so these parents have hope that we can make things better that we can stabilize the condition, in some cases that we could even cure them."In Michael's case, gene therapy sounds simple and Minassian believes it holds real promise. He and his team can potentially produce a virus that would transport the missing gene through Michael's spinal fluid and into his brain. It would be the first treatment of its kind in the world.Watch as Dr. Minassian discusses gene therapy: "Replacing that one gene and whatever percentage of his brain cells, we hope will improve some of these aspects, maybe he'll be able to walk, have less seizures, and not degenerate as he is doing," said Dr. Minassian. "The real answer is we do not know. He will be one of the first, if not the first, persons, who have ever had this disease to have the gene replaced." It's not a guarantee, but it's hope at a staggering cost. A clinical trial in the U.S. would cost at least $3 million, money the family has to raise itself. They've already cashed in their savings and remortgaged their home to finance the first phase of the trial. But they need so much more.Community fundraisingThey've started a GoFundMe page and their local communities are organizing fundraisers on Michael's behalf. One neighbour even came knocking on their door with a jar of coins.The Pirovolakis are grateful for every cent."I'm blown away," said Terry Pirovolakis. "We never expected anybody to help us. We thought we were going to be alone in this journey ...[then] one person talks to another and now we have all these amazing people helping us. I can't even express our gratitude. It's unbelievable."It is about saving one child's life and yet it could potentially help others. The assistance the community is providing won't just be for a treatment for Michael's disorder. The research has the potential to make strides in helping other genetic disorders in children, and even in advancing research for more complex brain diseases in adults, including Alzheimers, said Minassian.All the work in gene therapy for children builds on potential future treatments, he said."Imagine a time when someone has Alzheimer's disease, and we can kind of predict that and we know that let's say these 12 genes are responsible and if we break that set of 12 and fixed three of them they won't have Alzheimer's anymore," he said."What we are learning now with these little children with their horrible diseases is to reach a point where we can get into adult patients and help them."In the end, the real enemy is time. Even if they raise all the money, it will be at least 18 months before a treatment is approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration. Michael's parents are holding on to the hope that it won't be too late."It's extremely urgent," said Terry Pirovolakis. "If we don't get the funds all that's going to mean is that Michael will start losing more of his legs. He will become paralyzed. It will reach up to his arms and further on. So it's really, it's a race against time."

  • THC slushies, pirate radio and the cannabis-driven boom in a Mohawk community
    News
    CBC

    THC slushies, pirate radio and the cannabis-driven boom in a Mohawk community

    Driving down Highway 401 in southern Ontario, with the FM dial tuned to 87.9, the 1990s-era rap music fades into an ad, offering a free joint with every purchase over $20 between midnight and 4:20 a.m. at the Pot Shoppe.A second ad then promotes a "car show for Jeeps" in the parking lot of the Pot Shoppe every Tuesday night."Don't forget, we have free coffee for the driver and our famous Pot Shoppe slushies at half-price for the passenger," the ad says. "THC-infused slushies — just a little more brain freeze."The transmission tower for the station — Real Peoples Radio — stands over a small shack that was once the second cannabis store to open in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, located about 200 kilometres east of Toronto. That shack is now the broadcasting studio for a pirate radio station that lives on the edge of the radio dial, and also streams online.Behind the microphone is Joseph Owl, from Serpent River First Nation, Ont., a full-time DJ at the station who hosts the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. show.Owl was offered the job through friends and started working at the station at the start of June."This is the best [employment] opportunity I've come across," he said.The station is one of many offshoots from a cannabis-infused economic boom in this Mohawk community of 2,100, nestled on the shores of the Bay of Quinte, between Belleville and Kingston, and just a short drive from Prince Edward County, a growing tourism hotspot.There are dozens of cannabis stores here — some estimates place the number between 40 and 50 — with names like Smoke Signals, Better Buds, Legacy 420, Peacemaker 420, Buddy's Dispensary, Fiddler's Green and Cannabis Convenience.Cannabis plants sprout outside the front doors of some homes and hundreds more line the surrounding back lots and fields, for harvesting in late summer or early fall.The community is dotted with renovation and construction projects, including several new gas stations and at least one new franchise restaurant.Much of it is attributed to the influx of cash coming from sales at local cannabis stores, then spreading throughout the community."It's a straight up economic boom," said Jamie Kunkel, who owns one of the local shops, Smoke Signals.'Thousands of cars on a daily basis'Money was already coming into the community from outside customers looking for cheaper gas and cigarettes, Kunkel said. But the increased traffic from cannabis stores has meant more revenue for existing businesses."All the stores that existed prior to cannabis were all running busy all day long, making good money," said Kunkel. "You get the big rush coming in from the cannabis, thousands of extra cars on a daily basis.... Now there's lineups for cigarettes, lineups for gas."Kunkel said his own cannabis business has grown exponentially since he began a little over three years ago. He was involved with a business partner and then branched out on his own, opening a store out of his home before constructing a separate shop and eventually franchising out to four other First Nations in Ontario.He also bought the land adjacent to his storefront to run an annual Indigenous "Cannabis Cup" event; hip-hop group Naughty by Nature performed this year.The opening of Ontario's licensed cannabis shops in nearby cities like Kingston, Toronto and Ottawa — places where Tyendinaga draws the majority of its customers — has had some impact, Kunkel said. But overall, business is steady."Our traffic went down, but our sales stayed the same or increased, because the traffic that we did keep were the bigger ones," said Kunkel. "They are coming in, they are buying ounces ... half-ounces, plus whatever else it is they want."Kunkel said his prices are sometimes $10 less a gram for the same strain of marijuana sold at Ontario's regulated stores. "[Customers] don't want to go to those stores, they don't want to pay that much tax," he said.Susan and John Lovecchio, senior citizens from Brighton, Ont., about 60 kilometres west of Tyendinaga, said they shop at the Pot Shoppe because of the service."They've been super ... they are a pleasure to work with," said Susan Lovecchio, who received a senior's discount of $24 and spent about $130 on cannabis products.Lovecchio said she shops in Tyendinaga because there are no marijuana shops near her home. "I think it's great. The Natives are wonderful and they're making the most of this. And I say, 'Yeah, go for it.'"Only regulated cannabis is legal, Ottawa saysA cannabis economy began to bloom in Tyendinaga after the Liberal government first announced it would legalize cannabis. By Oct.17, 2018 — the date of legalization — the roots of the cannabis industry had already sunk deep into the community.It's all unfolded outside of the federal, provincial and territorial regulatory framework.Ottawa has said that federal and provincial cannabis laws would apply on reserves, but individual provinces and territories can make room for agreements with First Nations.According to the office of federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, legal cannabis can only be sold through government-regulated stores. "The only legal quality-controlled source of cannabis in Canada is through provincially or territorially authorized distributors and retailers or federally licensed sellers that have the authorization of their health care practitioner to access cannabis for medical purposes," said Bill Blair's spokesperson, Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux.Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General said in a statement that the province continues to "engage First Nations" who want to explore their own models for on-reserve cannabis sales. But, it said, "selling outside of Ontario's authorized retail system is illegal under federal and provincial law."Ontario recently announced it will soon allocate 50 new cannabis retail licences — including eight for First Nations on a first-come, first-served basis — up from the 25 licences handed out by the province earlier this year.According to Kunkel, there is little appetite in Tyendinaga to fall under federal and provincial rules and pay taxes, even if a deal were struck with the band. The cannabis industry in the community is also a political statement, Kunkel said, a display of sovereignty from a people who never surrendered their rights to self-governance.The Tyendinaga band council, known as the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte council, passed an interim cannabis bylaw on Oct. 16, 2018, and began community consultations on a permanent bylaw, which are still ongoing. Band survey revealed concernsThe council released the results of an online survey in April that was completed by 147 on-reserve band members. It revealed divided opinions on the issue, with many leaning toward stronger band control over the cannabis industry. Some of the participants, though, questioned the survey's accuracy, noting that it could be filled out multiple times by the same person and said that the questions were skewed.Some voiced concern over the rise in prices driven by the booming cannabis economy, along with complaints over the increased traffic and safety concerns."The pot market has driven up the price of property, making the housing situation worse," said one respondent."There does not appear to be any control over who sells cannabis or where shops are set up. I can think of a thousand things I would like our reserve to be noted for, but one is not for having a cannabis shop on every corner," said another respondent.Others said the industry was having a positive impact."The majority of these shops are employing a lot of community members that, without these shops, may be unemployed due to lack of transportation and job opportunities within our community," said a respondent. "With a few minor changes, I believe that the cannabis industry within our community can become something that will allow for our community to succeed," said another.The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte band council did not respond to an interview request.Tess Brant, a manager at the Pot Shoppe, said her job in the cannabis field "has made a huge improvement" in her life, beyond just her finances. "It's kept me on the straight and narrow," she said.Brant, a mother of four, is a recovering addict and took the job a little over a year ago after completing rehab."Being here, coming here, gave me a purpose," said Brant, noting she no longer smokes marijuana and instead uses CBD oil, a non-intoxicating extract derived from the cannabis plant.Brant works from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., running the store and handling the back end of the business, dealing with products and choosing what to sell or what take a pass on. "I can afford a house, I can afford a car, I can afford for my kids," said Brant, whose 24-year-old son also works at the store. "It's improved my life, 1,000 per cent."Brant said most customers come from Belleville, Kingston, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal; they even had a couple from Finland who stayed for a week to check out all the shops in the territory.Back at the studio of Real Peoples Radio, the speakers are thumping with hip-hop beats that fade as Owl breaks in with the weather — in his own pirate-radio style. "It's gonna be hot, high of 28, humidex out the roof. And all the crazy numbers they give you, just know that this is hot," said Owl. "And what are you doing out there on this hot day? Are you going on an adventure? Are you sending your kids off to camp so you can sit back and have your own at-home adventure?"Another ad then kicks in: "Want a free pre-roll?"

  • 'I've come a long way': A year on, Danforth shooting survivor Danielle Kane hopeful through pain
    News
    CBC

    'I've come a long way': A year on, Danforth shooting survivor Danielle Kane hopeful through pain

    Danielle Kane and her boyfriend, Jerry Pinksen, were out for a friend's birthday at a busy restaurant in Toronto's Greektown neighbourhood on a summer Sunday. It was the evening of July 22, 2018.Outside 7Numbers, commotion broke out on Danforth Avenue; a frantic woman burst in saying someone had been shot.Pinksen, a emergency room nurse, and Kane, a nursing student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, immediately got up to help.They hardly made it out the door when they came face-to-face with Faisal Hussain, who fired at least eight bullets in their direction.One of them tore through Kane's stomach and diaphragm before shattering her T11 vertebra, near the base of her spine.In that moment, Kane became one of the 13 people injured in the mass shooting that also claimed the lives of 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis.Hussain, 29, died of a self-inflicted shot to the head after a gunfight with police. Kane, 32, who spent 11 days in a medically induced coma and underwent multiple surgeries, survived.The National first spoke to Kane last summer, just a month after the shooting, at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, where she was immersed in intensive physical therapy.A year later, this time in the lobby of the downtown apartment building she and Pinksen share, Kane appears effervescent. She spoke to us on what she calls a "good pain day."Pain the new normal"It's been a really tough year. I'm really surprised about how long the rehabilitation process is taking, especially regarding the chronic pain that I'm experiencing," Kane told The National's Andrew Chang. "It's like an intense pins-and-needles feeling from my waist down. It's quite all encompassing. Like half your body is trapped in concrete."Kane's pain management regimen includes a variety of medications, including pregabalin (Lyrica) in addition to CBD oil and medical marijuana, which helps her from feeling overwhelmed by constant, nagging pain. Kane says the pain, more than the inability to walk, is the most debilitating aspect of her recovery."We knew that the disability, the paraplegia ― she will never walk again ― was an issue and we were preparing for that. But this new element of pain, it's been difficult," Pinksen said. "The pain management takes up all of her day and there's nothing I can do to take her pain away."A year ago, the question of regaining some mobility in her legs remained open. Now she, and Pinksen, have moved beyond that hope."Honestly, it's hard for me to see all all the other able-bodied young people and just seeing how freely they move through the world. And it just it reminds me of what was taken away from me.… It's hard," Kane said."When I have those thoughts, I kind of need to, like, go home and into a private space where I can kind of digest those thoughts, and, I guess, focus on the fact that I'm so lucky to be here still."Mental health and the shooterIn her first interview with The National in September 2018, Kane expressed sympathy for Hussain. At the time, she avoided using his name. Now she doesn't hesitate."Faisal clearly had these issues for a long time and he fell through the cracks," she said. "The investigation showed just how long he had been dealing with mental health issues and clearly he needed help and he didn't get it."WATCH: Danforth shooting survivor Danielle Kane on why she feels sorry for gunmanIn the days following the shooting, Hussain's family put out a statement detailing their son's long history of mental illness, including depression and psychosis.For Kane, she says her sense of compassion is rooted in her own battles with depression. "I've been in really dark places where I felt like I was on the outside, or that my life wasn't going as I expected and, you know, I felt like maybe it would be better if I wasn't around," she said."I understand how someone who is alone would have trouble getting out of that negative spiral. I know it's hard for other people to believe, but we need to bring in people like Faisal and love them. None of us are perfect."After a nearly yearlong investigation, investigators said they were unable to pinpoint a motive for the shooting spree.Returning to the sceneThe couple doesn't talk much about that night ― Pinksen says it can hinder their recovery and their ability to move forward ― but they have been back to the Danforth since the shooting. It happened by accident, and instead of fear or hatred, Kane said she felt stronger being back at the scene.Kane and Pinksen were dropping friends off at home after stopping at a pub on St. Patrick's Day, when they happened to pass by Bowden Street — where Kane was shot. WATCH: Danielle Kane reflects on returning to the Danforth after mass shooting"Just to see it again, how narrow the street is and how close the shooter was to me, I'm again reminded of how lucky I am to be alive, because I could not have been closer to him," she said."It was surprising to me. I thought I might feel afraid. But instead I feel stronger because I've come a long way since the last time I was there. I was bleeding and broken and now I've been put back together and I'm on the path to recovery."Plans for the futureKane had planned to return to nursing school in January, but the challenges of her recovery have pushed that goal down the road."I expect to be able to get back to some kind of normal adult life. Working, going back to school. But I'm just realizing that the timeframe I need to move on to those steps is going to be a little bit farther away than I want it to be," she said."It's hard to know how many days of clarity, of concentration I'll be able to string together. I don't want to go back before I'm ready."The pair does have plans to relocate to Oshawa, Ont., into a home they plan to make fully accessible with the help of financial support from donors.Their new home is also a short walk from the Abilities Centre, where Kane plans to continue her physical rehabilitation, as well as the Ontario Institute of Technology, where Kane one day plans to continue studying to become a nurse."I just think about other people around the world who have been victims of violent crime or who've been victims of war, and I think of how lucky we are to live in Canada," she said."We have health care. We have insurance. So we're set up nicely to handle this and to overcome it. For that, we're so grateful."

  • Expedia customer fights for $1,000 refund after being mistakenly told his flight was cancelled
    News
    CBC

    Expedia customer fights for $1,000 refund after being mistakenly told his flight was cancelled

    When Expedia told Ian McGrath that his March 13 return flight from Ghana to Senegal was cancelled — two days before take-off — the Canadian immigration officer scrambled to make alternate travel plans. But his real troubles began when he discovered that his flight actually wasn't cancelled. To make matters worse, neither McGrath's online travel agency, Expedia, nor his carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, automatically refunded the $1,047 he spent — on a flight he never took.McGrath spent close to four months trying to get his money back from Expedia. A week after CBC News contacted the company on July 2, it finally reimbursed him."That I have to go to such lengths to get a refund is kind of incredible," said McGrath who flew to Ghana to interview refugee claimants who want to come to Canada. "I feel like if I hadn't gone to media … I never would have seen the end of this."When passengers have a dispute with their airline, the rules are pretty clear. Canada's new federal air passenger protection regulations lay out standards of treatment for airlines, and dissatisfied passengers can file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. But when customers have a gripe with their travel agency, the route to a resolution gets more complicated. That's because travel agencies fall under provincial jurisdiction, so the regulations — and a customer's options — vary by province. "That seems to be what we have in this country, it's a patchwork," said Heather Craig-Peddie, vice-president of member relations with the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies. "It is very confusing for consumers."'No end to this'After months of trying to collect his refund, McGrath decided contacting the media was his best option. He first realized something was amiss after arriving at the airport in Accra, Ghana, to take his rebooked flight — which cost him an added $989. When McGrath checked the departure board, he discovered that his original flight — which Expedia had told him was cancelled — had actually just departed. "Smoke came out of my ears," he said. "I was just so upset."According to online correspondence with Expedia, on March 15, McGrath began to inquire about his $1,047 refund for the flight. Expedia responded that a "specialized department" was working on the case. McGrath continued to pester the agency both online and by phone over the next three months, and even threatened legal action.Meanwhile, Expedia repeatedly told him that Ethiopian Airlines must cough up the refund and that it was still looking into the matter. McGrath also emailed Ethiopian Airlines several times and got no reply. "I just was feeling a bit like banging my head against the wall," he said. "There just was no end to this."Who's to blame?After CBC News reached out, Expedia told McGrath he was getting a full refund. As for who's to blame, the agency said that, according to its records, Ethiopian Airlines had cancelled McGrath's return flight because he was mistakenly marked as a "no-show" for his initial flight to Ghana — even though he had boarded the plane. Meanwhile, Ethiopian Airlines told CBC News that it hadn't cancelled any flights. It suggested that Expedia had triggered the cancellation by misreading an airline code, so it appeared that McGrath was booked on the now-defunct KIWI International Air Lines. Expedia's cancellation notice to McGrath did incorrectly indicate he was booked with KIWI International for part of his flight. "The misinformation seemed to have emanated from Expedia," said Ethiopian Airlines spokesperson Hailu Woldekidan in an email. "We kindly advise … our customer to take up the issue with whoever released the false cancellation notification."Despite Ethiopian's response, Expedia denied any responsibility. "We will continue to work with the airline to make sure our travellers have the best possible experience, and as part of that commitment we processed the refund," Expedia spokesperson Mary Zajac said in an email.Who can I turn to?Besides the media, where can travellers turn when they have a gripe with their travel agency?Because McGrath booked his trip using Expedia.ca — which is based in Ontario — he could have filed a complaint with The Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), which administers the Ontario Travel Industry Act."We would look at it and go, 'OK, was there a contravention of the Act, did something happen here and is there a way we can find a resolution?'" said Dorian Werda, TICO's vice-president of operations.Currently, only Ontario, B.C. and Quebec have set regulations governing travel retailers and a provincial regulator that consumers can complain to if they have an unresolved dispute. Customers dealing with travel agencies in the rest of Canada can turn to other consumer complaints bodies such as the Better Business Bureau. They can also complain to the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies — but only if their agency has opted to become a member — which is voluntary. Werda said Canadians would be better served if there were a national protection scheme for all travel industry customers."We would love to see something across Canada. That would be wonderful."But even national rules wouldn't protect a customer who uses a travel agency not registered in Canada. In those cases, consumers have no domestic recourse.So when booking online where an agency's location is less obvious, Werda recommends that consumers check before they click and purchase. "Look at the URL, look where you are, who you booking with? Who are you giving your money to?"

  • News
    The Canadian Press

    Ceremony planned today to commemorate victims of the Danforth shooting

    TORONTO — A ceremony commemorating the victims of last summer's shooting in Toronto's Greektown is scheduled to take place today.The ceremony is set to be held in a park near the stretch of Danforth Avenue where a devastating shooting rampage happened on July 22 last year.The attack killed 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and left 13 people injured.The names of the victims will be read aloud followed by a moment of silence as a sign of remembrance.The ceremony is also expected to include a choir performance and the reading of an original poem.Monday marks the one-year anniversary of when Faisal Hussain opened fire along the bustling street before shooting and killing himself.Last month, Toronto police detailed its nearly year-long investigation into the attack.They said while 29-year-old Hussain had a long history of mental health issues, investigators couldn't pinpoint a motive for the shooting.Police have said Hussain had no criminal record and there was no evidence he had been radicalized as police found he had no affiliation with hate or terror groups.Families and those who were injured in the shooting continue to grapple with the physical and emotional effects of the attack one year later.A vigil is planned tomorrow at 8:51 p.m. — the exact time of the shooting — at a parkette on Danforth Avenue where the community intends to gather with candles and photos of the victims.The Canadian Press

  • From Brussels to Brexit: The improbable rise of Boris Johnson
    News
    CBC

    From Brussels to Brexit: The improbable rise of Boris Johnson

    "Ohmygodboris."That was the subject line of a recent email from a Finnish colleague who used to cover the European Union from Brussels back in the early 1990s. "Boris Johnson as Prime Minister!" the note continued. "Certainly the end of Britain as all the old Brussels correspondents can witness."It is true that few of us Euro-hacks as we called ourselves back then would ever have imagined that Johnson, Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph from 1989 to 1994, would one day be poised to don the mantle of Britain's premiership. He seemed far too busy playing the part of a clown. He was easy to spot in the European Commission media briefings with his shock of messy blond hair and a dishevelled appearance at odds with his tony British accent. But he was also unforgettable. And unless all the pundits, polls and predictions combined are wrong, that is what will happen next week after the results of an internal leadership contest being decided by 160,000 Conservative Party members in a postal ballot are announced on July 23.What's more, he'll have done it by relying on the Euro-skeptic roots he managed to give life to as a journalist all those years ago in Brussels, whether he believed in them or not. Remarkably, that's still an open question, as is Johnson himself.To some he is a chancer who has managed to harness a surface charm in order to sell whatever tale might be convenient in the pursuit of personal ambition. To others, he is a refreshing and charismatic politician who manages to connect to both the man on the street and the upper echelons of society like few others.'Not a very ideological figure'"He's not a very ideological figure. He never really thought the European Union was this terrible imposition," said the British journalist and writer Simon Kuper, who started at Oxford University a year after Johnson graduated with a degree in classics in 1988. Kuper believes Johnson thought EU membership was "probably good for the British economy" but decided in the leadup to the 2016 Brexit referendum that his best chance of becoming prime minister would be to capitalize on splits within the Conservative Party by backing the Leave campaign. "And he expected Leave to lose by a small margin, but then in the turmoil afterwards he would be rewarded for leading the Leave campaign by a political boost," Kuper said.In other words, it was calculation, rather than conviction, that motivated him, according to Kuper. "He pretends to be a very jovial, bumbling figure but in fact he's a very cold-hearted, ambitious person who always wanted statues of himself built and in each situation seeks personal advantage. He's not this vague figure that he presents himself as." In Brussels, Johnson became a great purveyor of the "Euro-myth," penning stories about EU regulations that were long on hyperbole and for the most part short on truth.That the commission was planning to regulate one-size-fits-all condoms was a particular favourite. Another was that the EU planned to ban the prawn-flavoured crisp or potato chip.Good-humoured exchangesJohnson clearly enjoyed sparring with Jacques Delors, the European Commission president at the time and anathema to Euro-skeptics as an ardent Euro-federalist.But they were usually good-humoured exchanges, Johnson adopting a kind of Columbo-like form of interrogation, scratching his head and asking the inscrutable Delors if he could just help him out on one point or another. More poisonous stuff was reserved for his newspaper articles and columns in the Daily Telegraph, which has been drip-feeding the British public anti-Brussels sentiment for decades now.While Johnson's writings were often outlandish, they were also amusing, a key point in a country that values both humour and rhetoric, according to Kuper, who calls him "the most entertaining writer of our time in British journalism."And while many in the continental media corps were dismissing him as a buffoon, members of the anti-EU crowd already taking up more and more room in British Prime Minister John Major's governing Conservative Party at the time were not, taking up his words as weapons. "He will never be a reflective, cautious kind of Obama intellectual figure," British historian Anthony Seldon said in a recent CBC interview. "He will always be an outspoken, jovial presence, so in that sense he'll never be grown up if by that we mean being deadly serious and rather dull." Turning heads like a rock starThere's no denying the pull of Johnson's personality, at least the face he presents to the public. His career has included two stints as a Conservative MP, with eight years as the mayor of London sandwiched in between. Out campaigning, he has a rock-star like ability to turn heads. People will shout his name, calling him over for a chat and he'll usually amble over, seemingly capable of pulling out a warm, easy charm at the drop of the hat.    Johnson started to think about politics more seriously after Brussels, apparently even considering standing as a member of the European Parliament. His own father, Stanley Johnson, had been an MEP and a European Commission employee.It is, perhaps, another reason why his decision to jump on the Leave bandwagon so wholeheartedly still remained a surprise to some.But that's what he did in the end, handing the Leave campaign a valuable strategic asset as he boarded the Brexit bus, quite literally. Who can forget the big red double-decker emblazoned with the erroneous campaign claim that Britain sent 350 million pounds to the European Union coffers every week. Of all the contemporary actors on the public stage in the United Kingdom, it's hard to think of one who has managed to survive so many gaffes, missteps and public scandals and still emerge as unscathed as Johnson has over his career.   He was fired from his first job as a journalist at the Times newspaper for fabricating a quote and from a shadow cabinet position by his party leader at the time for lying about an extramarital affair. Johnson has been married twice and has, it's believed, six children: four with his ex-wife and two more with other women. No comments on personal lifeLast month, police were called to the home of his current girlfriend after neighbours reported a loud argument and a women shouting at someone to "get off me."  Johnson has historically refused to comment on his personal life.Female assembly members complained of a dismissive and patronising attitude towards them while Johnson was mayor. And critics accused him of misspending large sums of public money on vanity projects, including plans for a Thames garden bridge that never came to fruition.In 2002, Johnson wrote a newspaper article in which he described black people as "piccaninnies," later saying his words were taken out of context.More recently, he said women wearing burkas looked like letter boxes.  And in 2016, he suggested that former U.S. president Barack Obama had an "ancestral dislike of the British empire" based on his "part-Kenyan" heritage. When Johnson was appointed foreign secretary by Prime Minister Theresa May after the Brexit referendum in 2016, Jean Quatremer, a former correspondent for the French journal Libération who overlapped with Johnson in Brussels, wrote a scathing article for the Guardian newspaper."It's not every day that a country appoints as its global representative a known liar, a character for whom gross exaggeration, insult and racist innuendo seem utterly untroubling, a man apparently devoid of deep conviction about anything other than his own importance." Johnson was widely criticized for an off-the-cuff remark about a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran on spying charges during his tenure as foreign minister. Comments that she was "teaching people journalism" were seized upon by the regime as proof that allegations against her were true even though her relatives insist she was merely visiting her family. "A demagogue not a statesman," was the verdict of the Economist magazine in an article at the end of 2018, saying Johnson had "failed miserably" in the job as foreign secretary. "He is the most irresponsible politician the country has seen for many years," it wrote.Extraordinary circumstancesSo how then to explain his current position? Certainly in part through the extraordinary circumstances Britain finds itself in because of the implosion within the Conservative Party over Brexit. May's failure to sell her negotiated exit agreement with the EU to either Parliament or her own party spelled her own demise and paved the way for the current leadership contest that will see the Conservative Party alone choose Britain's next prime minister.Many of those Conservative voters also happen to be Daily Telegraph readers."As a columnist, you build up a personal relationship with readers. They come to feel they know you and voters feel they know Johnson personally," said Kuper. "They read him at breakfast most days." Kuper insists the real roots of Johnson's trajectory lie not in Brussels, but at Oxford and at the private boys school Eton before that. Six of the seven candidates who made it through the first round of voting in the party leadership race went to Oxford. "I think Brexit was sold to voters by politicians with deceits and that includes this generation of politicians who were at Oxford in the 1980s more or less at the same time as me," said Kuper, "Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt." Hunt, the current foreign secretary, is the last man standing against Johnson in the race for the crown while Gove, the environment secretary, was knocked out in an earlier round. Whether Johnson or Hunt wins the leadership contest next week, it will bring to 11 the number of post-war prime ministers educated at Oxford.  'More entertaining than Jeremy'"Populism rewards the bounder," said Kuper, who assumes like everyone else that Johnson will beat Hunt. "Because you know this is an age where also the most entertaining politician wins, as in the Trump-versus-Hilary election. And he's just a lot more entertaining than Jeremy Hunt." For many Conservatives, Johnson is also the only one they feel will be able to keep Tory voters from abandoning ship in favour of another populist on the scene: Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party. The Conservative MP Esther McVey, who was eliminated from the Tory leadership contest after the first ballot, threw her support behind Johnson, she said, because she believed him to be "a dynamic leader."  "Our country is crying out for strong, optimistic leadership and Boris is the man best equipped to take us out of the EU, transform our country into an outward-looking, confident, self-governing nation and to bring back the voters we have lost," she wrote in a an editorial for the Sunday Telegraph.         A recent YouGov survey found that in terms of the general population, more Britons think Hunt would make a good prime minister than Johnson. But a majority also found Johnson to have the more likable personalityThe historian Anthony Seldon says Britain is now entering the age of identity politics. "The biggest polarizing force in Britain at the moment is 'Are you in favour of leaving the European Union or not?' People identify as a Leaver or a Remainer."Loudest warning of allAside from Farage, perhaps, there is not another politician in the United Kingdom so associated with the decision to break away from the European Union. And there lies the loudest warning of all for Johnson, who insists he can unite not only his own party, but the rest of the country as well. The deep divisions unleashed by the Brexit referendum and its narrow result have grown even deeper during this leadership contest, as those who voted to remain watch helplessly on the sidelines while a single party chooses the next prime minister, and so the manner of Britain's exit from the European Union.Johnson has said he'll take Britain out of the EU by Oct. 31 whether it means crashing out without an agreement or not. There's even been talk of proroguing Parliament so it couldn't block a no-deal Brexit. That is not the stuff of healing. And once outside the bubble of Britain's Conservative Party, Johnson will have an entire country to deal with, one polarized like never before in its modern history.No surprise, then, that opinion remains deeply divided on whether or not Johnson has enough reserves left in the charm bank to win over the rest of the country.

  • Laughing through the tears: Lulu Wang navigates contradictions in The Farewell
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    CBC

    Laughing through the tears: Lulu Wang navigates contradictions in The Farewell

    A woman stands between two cultures, juxtaposing Eastern and Western morality. She feels the urge to laugh as a stoic man breaks down in tears. She grapples with whether lying can be the right thing to do.With her new film The Farewell, Lulu Wang explores a sea of contradictory notions by revisiting a very personal experience: her family's decision to keep her grandmother's terminal cancer diagnosis from the matriarch herself.Instead, the far-flung family unites for an expedited wedding to surreptitiously bid farewell to their beloved Nai Nai.Adapting this unusual experience into the feature-length comedic drama, as well as an earlier audio doc for NPR's This American Life, was "like therapy" for the Chinese-American filmmaker."It was my way of exploring my own complicated feelings," Wang revealed during a stop in Toronto this week, as her film gradually rolls out in theatres across North America."When I was experiencing it, I found myself often wanting to laugh through the tears. Actually, what helped me survive was [being] a little bit objective and [saying], 'This is actually kind of crazy and ridiculous.'"In real life, she added, "we are not given a prescription of how you're supposed to react and how you're supposed to feel.… No one tells you, 'This event is going to be a comedy.'"Opening in the middle of the hot, hazy blockbuster season, Wang's quietly uplifting tale has been described as an indie hit of the summer after building up a rare list of kudos in the past six months.The Farewell rides into theatres on a wave of festival circuit acclaim following its much-praised debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was scooped up by indie studio A24. Filmed a year ago in her grandmother's hometown of Changchun, China — including scenes from the cemetery where her grandfather is buried, as well as the banquet hall where her cousin was married — the movie has landed Wang on several of Hollywood's "filmmakers to watch" lists.When The Farewell officially hit cinemas on July 12, opening in four locations, the limited release managed to rack up the highest per-screen box office of any film so far this year (Yes, more than Avengers: Endgame). As it expands to further locations, the film currently holds a 100 per cent positive rating from film critics and a 95 per cent audience score on movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.New side to a comedy starAlong with heaping praise on the film's assured direction and atmospheric cinematography, many have singled out The Farewell's star Awkwafina, the online rapper-turned-comedic darling better known for her raucous, scene-stealing turns in Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians.The actress, born Nora Lum, shows a completely new side in The Farewell as the main character Billi, who must navigate both tragedy and comedy — oftentimes without saying a word."[Her] audition tape convinced me that she was the one. As soon as I watched the tape, I thought she was perfect," Wang said."What I wanted Billi to be was a conduit for the audience: for every Asian-American woman who has been through this experience or a similar experience. For every immigrant American who is caught between worlds. For every woman who feels the pressure from the family to have a partner, so that their dying grandmother can live to see their wedding."Telling an authentic storyThe Farewell arrives at a time when Hollywood has started to open its gates to a wider range of stories and storytellers — including stars and filmmakers of Asian heritage. But it hasn't been an easy road."When I first started pitching the story and I had started writing the script, a lot of producers would ask me if it was an American film or a Chinese film," Wang recounted.When she told U.S. producers she intended to cast all Asians and Asian-Americans for the English- and Mandarin-language film, "the producers would say, 'Well, then it's not an American movie. If there's subtitles, it's a foreign film.'"On the flip side, a Chinese investor she approached balked at the main character, believing that Billi would not resonate with Chinese audiences "as a foreigner or Westerner coming in and being shocked by what the family is doing."Wang was finally able to move forward on making The Farewell only after she recounted a version of the story on This American Life. And after staying true to her desire for cultural specificity and a distinctly Asian-American perspective, Wang's feature has been received warmly by a diverse range of film festival audiences and movie critics.There's been one reaction, for instance, that she's heard from many an audience member, regardless of ethnicity."The thing that moves me the most is whenever people tell me that they saw the film and they immediately called their grandmother," Wang noted."I sort of have this vision of, as the movie releases into the world, that it's like the butterfly effect, where all these grandmas all over the world — their phones are like lighting up.… That just makes my heart happy."And now she's the one being approached to consider new projects."Certainly people are more willing to work with me because they've heard my name being thrown around or maybe they've seen the movie themselves. I definitely get a lot of Asian scripts — like, 'It's just like your film, but a little different.'"However, the challenge going forward for Beijing-born Wang, whose family emigrated to Miami when she was six, is to tell different types of stories and continue working with risk-taking collaborators."My films are a way for me to explore questions — not necessarily with a need to find an answer, but to kind of look at both sides. I need to tell stories that have a lot of nuance, have a lot of grey zones, because I've spent my entire life negotiating between two cultures, two worlds, two languages."

  • Ilhan Omar's trial by political firestorm
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    CBC

    Ilhan Omar's trial by political firestorm

    In just six months, Ilhan Omar has gone from freshman congresswoman to national lightning rod. It's the kind of rapid ascent that characterized her career even before she arrived in Washington last January as one of only two Muslim-American women to ever serve in Congress.Omar, 36, has been at the centre of a political firestorm in the U.S. since President Donald Trump singled out the Muslim Somali-American and three of her fellow progressive Democratic congresswomen of colour in a series of tweets widely condemned as racist.She got a taste for politics early as a keen teenager attending caucuses of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, the Minnesota wing of the Democratic Party, with her grandfather and later as a social justice advocate in the immigrant communities of Minneapolis where she was raised.Omar's family came to the U.S. in 1995 when she was 12 by way of a refugee camp in Mombasa, Kenya, having fled the Somali civil war four years earlier. They settled in the Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood of Minneapolis in 1997 after a brief stop in Virginia.They were among the first wave of Somali immigrants who settled in the 1990s in what has since grown to be one of the largest Somali-American communities in the U.S., with a population of more than 50,000.Unfazed But while she was more politically engaged than the average teenager and went on to earn a political science and international studies degree from North Dakota State University, graduating in 2011, her first real election campaign gig was only seven years ago.In 2012 and 2013, she worked on the campaigns of Democratic Minnesota state senator Kari Dziedzic and Minneapolis city councilman Andrew Johnson, who kept her on staff until she made the leap to state politics."In a matter of just a few years, she went from being my senior policy aide to being a household name across the nation," Johnson said in an interview.Johnson, who has watched Omar fend off death threats and offensive comments based on her religion, said he's not surprised to see her unfazed by Trump's attacks."She is somebody who is shockingly at peace with this stuff," he said. "She doesn't just react to things from a very ego-based place. … She's mindful and is able to maintain that composure."Al-Qaeda remarks from 2013 continue to dog OmarIt was while she was working for Johnson that Omar made the remarks that have been seized upon by Trump to paint her as a supporter of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda.Omar was speaking on a PBS program, discussing why certain Arabic words, such as madrassa, which means school, are not translated into English when they are mentioned in the context of terrorism.She recalled how a professor of hers had said al-Qaeda with an emphasis that gave the word a larger meaning, raising his shoulders as he said it."You don't say 'America' with an intensity. You don't say 'England' with an intensity. You don't say, 'the army' with an intensity," she said in the clip (The exchange is here at minute 15:45-18:07.)It's a clip she has had to answer for ever since she stepped onto the national stage in the November 2018 midterms.More recently, comments she made about the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. have been similarly taken out of context, and she's come under scrutiny for her earlier advocacy on behalf of young Somali men in her community who had become radicalized. As a policy aide and a state legislator, she argued they needed stronger social supports and rehabilitation.The attention is not likely to temper her rhetoric, said Johnson, even if she has been, on occasion, tripped up by factual inaccuracies."She's a very passionate person," he said. "She has a very strong values-based, moral-based compass."Unseated 44-year incumbentHer ability to stay focused and energize supporters is what helped her pull off a historic upset in the 2016 election for the Minnesota state legislature, unseating a Democratic incumbent who had held the office for 44 years. She was able to pull together a wide base of support beyond the Somali community through grassroots campaigning on issues such as reducing student debt, expanding environmental protections and raising the minimum wage.Two years later, she emerged from a large field of Democrats, many of them more known than she was, to seize the open seat in the safely Democratic fifth congressional district, which includes Minneapolis and some surrounding suburbs."She did it on the strength of her biography," said Kevin Diaz, political editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which has covered Omar and dug into some of the controversial claims about her personal life.  "She had this compelling narrative to tell — she was a refugee from Somalia, a war-torn country, had done good in the community and was politically active. And that kind of thing resonates with Minnesota Democrats."Early community activismOmar's early interest in politics and social justice led to work as a community nutrition educator at the University of Minnesota and later as a child nutrition outreach co-ordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education and as a policy director with the Women Organizing Women Network.Her grounding in social advocacy has served her well in her first, scrappy session of Congress, said Abdirahman Kahin, 42, a friend who met Omar in 2002 when he filmed her Islamic wedding ceremony."She's a tough woman. I don't know if I would resist that long," he said.She has raised $1.5 million US for her re-election campaign already, rivalling some of the senior members of her party. In the House of Representatives, she scored a spot on the prestigious foreign affairs committee, where she earlier this year grilled veteran diplomat Elliott Abrams on his role in the Iran-Contra affair and U.S. involvement in the 1980s civil war in El Salvador. She has introduced eight and co-sponsored more than 350 bills so far on everything from school lunches to unlawful lobbying and the cancellation of $1.6 trillion in student debt.Although the party has rallied around her in the wake of Trump's attacks, she is seen by some establishment Democrats as too incendiary, impatient and too far left on issues such as health care and immigration.Despite the outsized media attention she's received since taking office, Kahin still sees her as an underdog, thrust into the spotlight as a proxy to discredit the Democrats. "She's dealing with something that's bigger than her," said Kahin, who lives in St. Paul and owns Afro Deli, a restaurant and catering business.Even Somalis in Minnesota who don't share her politics support her in this fight, he said."It's too personal now. People are not even looking at those political differences."WATCH | Trump supporters chant 'Send her back' after he mentions Ilhan Omar:Personal life in spotlightOmar has two daughters — Isra, 16, an environmental activist, and Ilwad, who turned 7 last month — and a teenage son, Adnan.Little has been written about Omar's own siblings, but according to an Associated Press report she is the youngest of seven. Her mother reportedly died when Omar was two years old, and she was raised by her father, who drove a taxi and worked at the post office in Minneapolis, and grandfather. Questions about her personal life — primarily that she may have married a brother for some unspecified immigration benefit — were first raised in a Somali news forum and picked up by conservative media during her 2016 run for the state legislature.Omar has dismissed the claim as preposterous and said she has already revealed more than most politicians are asked to."Insinuations that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi is my brother are absurd and offensive," she said in a 2016 statement.The issue resurfaced in June during an investigation into misappropriation of campaign finances in Omar's state race. She was found to have misspent around $3,500 US and was ordered to repay it and fined $500. The state regulator's investigation also discovered Omar had improperly filed taxes with her first husband in 2014 and 2015 while separated but legally still married to her second husband and tried to keep details of her second marriage out of the press, the Star-Tribune reported. Diaz said that to date no one has presented a credible explanation of the supposed immigration scheme Omar's former husband, who was already in the U.S., would have benefited from. But, he said, there are questions about Omar's living arrangements and divorce proceedings that if she answered them, could quash the rumours."The case is very circumstantial," he said. 'We have had our ups and downs'Omar has explained that she had married a man named Ahmed Hirsi in 2002 at age 19, but they never finalized the marriage licence. The two split in 2008, and a year later, she legally married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, a British citizen who, the Star-Tribune's reporting found, is now living in Kenya.They parted ways in 2011 when she reconciled with Hirsi, with whom she has three children. She officially divorced Elmi in December 2017 and a month later legally married Hirsi, who has worked as a banker and a financial adviser and as a policy aide at city hall, according to the Star-Tribune."We have married in our faith tradition and are raising our family together," Ilhan said of Hirsi in 2016. "Like all families, we have had our ups and downs, but we are proud to have come through it together."For Omar's supporters the questions about her marriage are a smear that will never be disproven to the satisfaction of her critics, who have gone so far as to call for DNA testing of Elmi.Jewish constituents critical of Israel statementsThe other controversy that continues to dog Omar is her stance on Israel, which has prompted Trump and some Republicans to brand her as an anti-Semite.She is an unapologetic defender of the Palestinian cause and the boycott, divest and sanctions movement but has walked back some of her comments, acknowledging she "unknowingly" used offensive anti-Semitic terminology. She has drawn criticism for suggesting supporters of Israel in Congress have been bought off by lobbyists and for referring to the "evil doings of Israel."Those comments angered not only her critics and allies in Washington, who roundaboutly sanctioned her by passing House and Senate resolutions condemning anti-Semitism, but also some of her Jewish constituents in Minneapolis.The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas said it was "dispirited and appalled" when Omar decried those who "push for allegiance to a foreign country," meaning Israel.But when she was targeted this week in the president's tweets and at a Trump rally in North Carolina where supporters chanted "send her back," the Jewish community came to her defence."The president's racist tweets … are unacceptable," said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the council, in a statement.He went on to criticize Trump's liberal use of the term "anti-Semitic." "We are increasingly dismayed by President Trump's abuse of anti-Semitism and the debate over Israel to demonize his political opponents."WATCH | 'This is not about me': Omar responds to Trump rally taunts:No time for politicsWhile much has been made of Omar's support within the Somali community and her status as the country's first Somali-American state legislator and congresswoman, the district she represents is actually about 65 per cent white. "This is a very liberal city," said Diaz. "Yes, it's predominantly white, but less predominantly white all the time. There's a large Somali community here, which helped get her elected. There's a large Hmong population here. There's a lot of Nigerians here."The Somali community in the district is largely first generation, still struggling to break into American society, said Diaz.Hassan Husen knows that all too well. When asked what he and the patrons at Baarakallah, the Somali restaurant in Cedar-Riverside at which he works, think of Omar, he said most people are too busy to give her much thought."People, they don't have time. Most people work — two jobs, three jobs," he said in a phone interview with CBC News."All politicals [politicians], you know how they work. Democrats, Republicans, they talk at each other. It's been this way for years."He said Omar sometimes still comes to the neighbourhood, but the community recognizes she's on a much bigger stage now."She represents all the Minnesotan people, not just Somalis," he said.

  • As Cambodia complains about trash exports, environmentalists urge Canada to ban practice
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    CBC

    As Cambodia complains about trash exports, environmentalists urge Canada to ban practice

    With another country trashing Canada for allegedly sending it its waste, environmental groups are renewing their calls for the federal government to ban the practice outright.Earlier this week, Cambodia followed Malaysia and the Philippines in publicly complaining about shipping containers filled with waste ending up at its ports.At the same time, a collection of environmental groups — including Greenpeace and the Canadian Environmental Law Association — sent a letter to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna asking her to ratify an amendment to the UN pact known as the Basel Convention.The amendment aims to bolster the original convention by barring the dumping of hazardous waste in developing countries."Shipping our wastes halfway around the world, allegedly for recycling, to countries that are already deluged with wastes is, as Canada well knows, a practice that is readily abused. It is a practice that is neither environmentally responsible nor just," reads the letter."We call on you to show the environmental leadership that Prime Minister Trudeau promised and support the ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment at the earliest possible date."Ottawa is 'out of step:' activistKathleen Ruff, director of the human rights advocacy campaign Right On Canada, signed the letter. She said she's hoping it becomes an election issue."We believe that the minister and the government [are] out of step with the wishes of Canadians who are ahead of the government on this issue," she said in an interview, pointing to a recent Nanos poll showing nearly 80 per cent of Canadians believe Canada should manage and dispose of its own waste and recycling."[Just] because we have an affluent consumer lifestyle, that does not give us a free pass to trash the planet ... These countries are already swamped with an unmanageable problem of waste and plastics and we should not be contributing to that problem."McKenna's office did not respond to CBC's request for comment.Canada is a signatory to the original Basel Convention, which sets restrictions on shipping waste, but has come under fire for continuing to send plastic waste to developing countries.In a recent high-profile case, Canada shipped 69 containers of rotting garbage from the Philippines back to Vancouver to end an escalating diplomatic spat with Manila at a cost of more than $1 million.The containers originally were shipped to the Philippines by the now defunct export company Chronic Inc. in 2013.Government looking into Cambodia caseMalaysia also has expressed a desire to return shipments of Canadian trash, with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad calling it "grossly unfair for rich countries to send their waste to poor countries simply because poor countries have no choice."Cambodia says 83 containers weighing 1,400 tonnes — 13 of them allegedly Canadian — were discovered in Sihanoukville, the country's main port."Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country," said government spokesperson Neth Pheaktra.Environment and Climate Change Canada said it is looking into the Cambodia case."We are aware of the concerns raised by the Cambodian government and have reached out to their officials through our embassy in Phnom Penh for further details. We are following this matter closely," said spokesperson Bronwen Jervis in an email to CBC News earlier this week.In 2016, the Canadian government amended its hazardous waste and recyclable laws and has argued that means the shipment sent to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 would be prohibited today.Ottawa also says it hasn't issued permits for Canadian companies to ship trash overseas since the regulations changed three years ago — raising questions about how Canadian waste keeps showing up in other countries.The issue of cross-border disposal has become a growing problem after China, previously a primary destination for trash shipments, banned imports of almost all foreign plastic waste early last year.