Calls for drug decriminalization, "Squid Game" concerns : In The News for Oct. 21

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In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Oct. 21 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Almost 70 organizations from across the country have written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to decriminalize the possession and use of illicit drugs in an effort to fight the opioid crisis that has resulted in thousands of deaths in Canada.

The HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law are among the signatories on the letter asking Trudeau to make drug policy reform a priority for his newly re-elected Liberal government.

They're calling for drug possession to be immediately decriminalized and all criminal sanctions and penalties related to drug use to be eliminated, along with federal funding to ensure ``low-barrier access'' to a safe supply of drugs.

Between January 2016 and March 2021, nearly 23,000 Canadians died from an opioid overdose. The groups say those deaths were fuelled by ``a contaminated drug supply and the stigma associated with drug use'' which is only reinforced by criminalizing drugs and drug users.

Trudeau has so far rejected wholesale decriminalization of simple drug possession and consumption, although a resolution to that effect was approved by Liberals at the party's convention in 2018.

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Also this ...

South Korea's megahit "Squid Game" quickly became Netflix's most-watched show over the last month, but Quebec parents and school boards are worried the violence is being mimicked on playgrounds.

Several school boards in the province have recently issued statements warning parents about students imitating the games.

The series depicts desperate adults fighting to the death in a tournament featuring twisted versions of children's games, all for a huge cash prize.

The series is rated for mature audiences only, but Quebec teachers say they are noticing themes from "Squid Game" showing up in student artwork and during recess play.

A Montreal psychologist says stopping children from watching "Squid Game" isn't enough; parents should discuss the phenomenon as a way to reassure children and build trust.

Schools in Australia and the United Kingdom are also reportedly warning parents against allowing their children to watch the series after similar reports of copycat behaviour.

And this ...

As he described the current situation in Saskatchewan's hospitals and intensive care units during a teleconference on COVID-19 modelling yesterday, the province's chief medical health officer broke down in tears.

An emotional Dr. Saqib Shahab said it's upsetting to see very young, unvaccinated people ending up in ICU and dying.

``All the evidence is out there. To see young lives lost through a vaccine-preventable disease _ how can we see this in a country where we've had vaccines available since July?''

Saskatchewan continues to have the highest weekly death rate among the provinces and has started transferring patients to Ontario as hospitals run out of beds and staff. Modelling based on current data shows hospitalizations continuing to increase until December unless restrictions like a limit on gathering sizes are reintroduced.

Calling it a challenging time, Shahab said Saskatchewan could have more than 225 intensive care admissions by January and health care might not return to sustainable levels until next March, meaning surgeries, the province's organ donation program, and therapies for children wouldn't be available until then.

He later apologized for not being professional, although his colleagues were quick to offer support.

"Hearing Dr. Shahab break down today ... led me to break down, too, in the privacy of my office," tweeted Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious disease physician and clinician-researcher with the health authority.

A spokesperson for the premier's office issued a statement that said: "Premier (Scott) Moe continues to hold the highest regard for Dr. Shahab and the tireless work he continues to do for the people of Saskatchewan."

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

SCRANTON, Pa. — President Joe Biden returned to his birthplace Wednesday for the first time since taking office, pushing his $2 trillion domestic spending package and $1 trillion infrastructure package as the way to restore an America starving for investments in its workers, families and the environment.

His proposal represents an unprecedented federal investment to expand social services for millions of middle-income Americans and tackle climate change, and includes child tax credits, paid family leave, health care, free pre-kindergarten and some $500 billion in clean energy tax credits, loans and grants.

“This has been declared dead on arrival from the moment I introduced it, but I think we’re going to surprise them because I think people are beginning to figure out what’s at stake," Biden said.

“These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency" in the world, he said.

Democrats were upbeat as they raced to coalesce around the plan, which could still see items like tuition-free community college, a path to permanent legal status for certain immigrants in the U.S. and a clean energy plan eliminated or scaled back.

“Nothing is decided until everything is decided," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus after a morning meeting of House Democrats. “We’re just trying to get it done."

The Democrats appear ready to abandon what had been a loftier package in favour of a smaller, more workable proposal the party can unite around — all to be funded by tax hikes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, those earning more than $400,000 a year though those details are still being negotiated.

“Here’s the deal: If you spent $3 on your coffee this morning, that’s more than what 55 major corporations paid in taxes in recent years," Biden tweeted. "It’s wrong — and it’s got to change.”

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

NEW DELHI _ India has administered one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Thursday, passing a milestone for the South Asian country where the delta variant fueled its first crushing surge earlier this year.

About 75 per cent of India's total eligible adult population have received at least one dose, while around 30 per cent are fully immunized.

The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is the second to exceed a billion cumulative doses after the most populous country China did so in June.

Coronavirus cases have fallen sharply in India since the devastating months at the start of the year when the highly transmissible delta variant, first detected in the country a year ago, was infecting hundreds of thousands daily, sending COVID-19 patients into overwhelmed hospitals and filling cremation grounds.

Officials have bolstered the vaccination campaign in recent months, which experts say have helped control the outbreak since the country began its drive in January.

Still, there remains a worrying gap between those who have received one shot and those fully immunized.

India had earlier said it aimed to vaccinate all eligible adults by the end of the year, but experts say the current pace of the vaccination drive will need to increase to meet this goal.

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On this day in 2004 ...

The Royal Canadian Mint unveiled the world's first coloured circulation coin, a quarter that featured a red poppy embedded in the centre of a Maple Leaf, in homage to the 117,000 Canadians who had died serving the nation.

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In entertainment ...

TORONTO — Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve turned to fellow Canadians he has worked with in the past when he was building "Dune" for the big screen.

Among those joining him was production designer Patrice Vermette. The two had already worked together on several films, including the 2016 alien-invasion drama "Arrival," which earned both Vermette and Villeneuve Oscar nominations.

The good friends immediately aligned on their vision for the sprawling feature adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 sci-fi novel, says Villeneuve.

"It's a very dynamic way of working where it's like multiplying myself," the writer-director said in a video interview during last month's Toronto International Film Festival, where "Dune" had its Imax premiere.

"He becomes like suddenly another me and we walk together in the same direction. It's just a lot of firepower when I work with Patrice."

Vermette is among several Canadians who helped Villeneuve on "Dune," which hits theatres on Friday in Canada and the United States, where it will also land on the HBO Max streaming service the same day.

Toronto storyboard artist Sam Hudecki, who's worked with Villeneuve on films including "Arrival" and "Blade Runner 2049," tackled "Dune" in the early stages.

Villeneuve also went to another frequent collaborator, Montreal concept artist Deak Ferrand of Rodeo FX Los Angeles, to craft the final visual language of the movie — from the architecture to the vehicles to atmosphere.

Vermette used that material to develop the full desert planet world of giant sandworms and spacecraft resembling fireflies.

"It was the first time he was doing a movie of that scale but I knew that he was ready to do it and what he did is very impressive," said Villeneuve.

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ICYMI ...

Geoff Waszek was wary of another pandemic-related lockdown this fall just in time for Halloween, so the owner of Candy's Costume Shop in Toronto decided to take a cautious approach to ordering this year.

But with COVID-19 cases having stabilized, Waszek was left scrambling to stock his shelves in time.

"We had to do a lot of scrounging this year, going through companies and finding what’s available," he said.

Waszek is one of many Halloween store owners who say supply chain issues, shuttered suppliers and uncertainty have hampered their recovery from a dismal 2020.

In the end, Candy's Costume Shop was able to stock about 90 per cent of its shelves, but without certain items. Licensed products like superhero and movie costumes were nearly impossible to find, so his shop has more generic items like capes and masks this year.

U.S.-based HalloweenCostumes.com, which ships directly to Canadian consumers, said many retailers are struggling as they see a roughly 50 per cent increase in year-over-year demand compared with last year, when many didn't celebrate Halloween. Spokeswoman Ashley Theis said much of the stock the company ordered won't arrive until after Halloween.

The picture isn't as scary in all parts of the country, however. In Calgary, Don's Costume and Make Up Shop said they weren't heavily affected by the pandemic. This year, they had to work harder to find stock and pay more for rush shipping, but were largely able to stock their shelves as they normally would.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021

The Canadian Press

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