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All B.C. schools must provide free menstrual products for students, government orders

All B.C. schools must provide free menstrual products for students, government orders


All B.C. public schools are now required to provide free menstrual products for students in school bathrooms, the provincial government has announced.

Under a ministerial order issued Friday, schools must make the products available by the end of 2019. 

“This is a common-sense step forward that is, frankly, long overdue,” Education Minister Rob Fleming said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with school districts and communities to make sure students get the access they need, with no stigma and no barriers.”

A statement from the ministry said B.C. is the first province in Canada to mandate free menstrual products in all bathrooms.

The ministerial order comes with $300,000 in provincial startup funding. A statement said the education ministry will be working with school districts in the coming months to ensure they have funding to meet the new requirements.

In February, the New Westminster school district passed a motion to provide free menstrual products in all its schools. The board said it hoped the move would inspire other districts in B.C. — or the provincial government — to do the same.

The move in New Westminster follows a United Way campaign called Period Promise, which advocates for access to free menstrual products.

Members of the New Westminster school district backed calls by Period Promise to provide free menstrual products in schools in February. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Rebecca Ballard, a Grade 11 student in New Westminster, applauded the government’s decision.

“In my own experience, I know that many young women feel awkward asking for menstrual products at a school office, especially if there isn’t an adult there with whom they feel comfortable,” she said at a news conference on Friday.

“I believe the decision to provide this free service also symbolizes a progression towards eliminating the taboo nature of menstruation. This is something all young women go through and should never feel bad about, or ashamed.”

Rebecca Ballard, left, a Grade 11 student in New Westminster, B.C., said young women should never feel ashamed about having their period. (CBC)

Fleming said the stigma-free aspect of providing menstrual products in bathrooms is important for students, who would sometimes need to ask school staff for tampons or pads.

“Administrative leaders … they understand that students don’t want to talk about everything that’s going on with them,” the education minister said Friday.

“This is something that will help students not only have access to a product they can’t afford, that sometimes isn’t available in the school systems, but [now] principals, vice-principals, teachers and support staff won’t necessarily have to know what your business is on a particular day.”

Susanne Skidmore, co-chair of the Period Promise campaign, said she and her colleagues have been working toward this goal — and other, national goals — for 10 years.

“This a fundamental shift to improve accessibility of menstrual products and reduce period poverty across British Columbia.”

The province also announced Friday that it’s providing a one-time grant of $95,000 to support the United Way Period Promise research project. The money will pay for menstrual products at up to 10 non-profit agencies and for research into how best to provide services and products.



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Saudi retaliation against Canada during feud detailed in government memo

Saudi retaliation against Canada during feud detailed in government memo


The fallout from Saudi Arabia’s move to punish Canadian companies was felt within a month of the countries’ sudden diplomatic feud last summer, leading to visa rejections, a government ban on food from Canada and a blockage of shipments at the kingdom’s ports.

A newly released federal document provides a close look at Saudi Arabia’s retaliation against Canada, following criticism by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Twitter of the regime’s arrest of women’s rights activists.

Angered by the public condemnation, Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic ties with Canada last August, expelled the Canadian ambassador and recalled its own envoy from Ottawa.

The kingdom also stopped future trade and investment deals, cancelled grain imports and said it would shut down lucrative scholarships for its citizens to study in Canada. The Saudi central bank and state pension funds started selling their Canadian holdings.

A briefing note to International Trade Minister Jim Carr offers more detail on how events were unfolding on the ground about a month after the start of the dispute.

“It is important to note that over the last few days Global Affairs Canada has been learning of concrete actions taken by Saudi Arabia against Canadian companies across various sectors,” reads the memo, released this week to The Canadian Press under access-to-information law.

The document went on to list numerous measures, including:

  • Requests for existing contracts to be replaced by new contracts with non-Canadian suppliers.
  • Denial of access to military bases.Payment delays.
  • Re-routing of flights for product supplies.
  • Prevention of a Canadian company from importing and selling medication.
  • Government ministries issuing orders to ban food and medication from Canada.
  • Various shipments from Canada being completely stopped at Saudi ports.

The note was created last September for Carr in preparation for his meeting with members of the Canada Arab Business Council, who have interests in the kingdom.

The additional details of the dispute with Saudi Arabia emerge as Canada tries to manage other, bigger trade-related challenges with its two largest partners, the United States and China.

No rapprochement yet for former key partners

Saudi Arabia has previously been a key partner for Canada in the Middle East and, according to a separate internal briefing note, the countries had more than $4 billion worth of trade in 2017. That year, Saudi Arabia had $1.28 billion worth of direct investment in Canada, said the memo prepared for Finance Minister Bill Morneau after the crisis broke out.

Scott Jolliffe, the president of the Canada Arab Business Council, said in an interview that Saudi investment in Canada ground to a halt last August. He also said Canadian firms have been restricted from bidding on new projects in the kingdom.

On the other hand, he said things have mostly carried on as usual for those of his members who already had business in the country. Jolliffe also said he hadn’t heard of any visa refusals.

He said he would like to see the impasse resolved because Saudi Arabia and the region offer billions of dollars’ worth of potential business for Canadian companies — and possible alternatives to the U.S. There’s a deep need there, he added, for the expertise Canada offers in areas like infrastructure, telecommunications and engineering.

“At the moment, it doesn’t appear as if there is much going on to strengthen and rebuild the relationship,” said Jolliffe, who’s had meetings with Carr about the issue.

The feud has had an impact on agriculture. Feed-barley producers, for instance, have been shut out of the Saudi market.

“Any country we lose, even if it’s temporary, hurts us,” said Dave Bishop, a farmer and chair of Alberta Barley.

He said Canada had been shipping about 122,000 tonnes of feed barley to Saudi Arabia every year — amounts that can sometimes reach 10 per cent of all Canadian exports of the product.

This year, the industry has been lucky that feed barley is in short supply worldwide and extra demand from markets like China has helped make up for being shut out of Saudi Arabia, Bishop added.

Human rights, Khashoggi still a concern

The memo to Carr last September said Freeland and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in an effort to resolve the conflict, “have been discussing ideas to de-escalate … including an incremental approach which could include a series of steps.”

Asked about the status of Saudi-Canadian relations now, Carr’s office provided a statement that said he’s still disappointed with the kingdom’s response to Canada’s human-rights concerns.

A few weeks after Carr received the memo, the kingdom’s relationship with Canada came under further strain — as did its relations with many countries — as details emerged about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Adam Austen, a spokesman for Freeland, said Thursday that Saudi Arabia’s explanations for the killing have been inadequate and that Canada has called for a thorough, credible and independent international investigation.



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82% of Canadians urging government action to tackle plastic pollution: CBC poll

82% of Canadians urging government action to tackle plastic pollution: CBC poll


Nine out of 10 respondents to a survey about the impact of plastic waste on the environment say they are concerned or very concerned about the problem, and 82 per cent say they believe that government should be doing more to tackle it.

The Angus Reid Forum conducted a representative online survey of 1,500 Canadians from March 14 to 17 for CBC’s Marketplace about what they thought about plastic pollution, over-packaged products, and the government’s strategy on the issue. (A randomized sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.) 

The results suggest the majority of Canadians are concerned about plastic, believe that individuals and businesses have a responsibility to reduce it, but also feel strongly that not enough is being done by government to address the issue.

Federal strategy promised

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said plastic packaging is on the federal government’s radar.

“Wait till June, that’s when we’re coming out with our strategy with the provinces and territories,” she said in an interview with Marketplace.

“We’ve got to go through a proper process with this, working with industry, working with cities, everyone needs to be part of it.”

A Marketplace poll suggests that more than eight in 10 Canadians believe that government should be doing more to tackle the problem of plastic waste. (David MacIntosh/ CBC News)

While McKenna said that “there’s a role for bans” on certain types of plastics, she stopped short of committing to the types of bans other jurisdictions have introduced. Just last month, the European Union approved a ban on 10 types of single-use plastics, including straws, cutlery and styrofoam cups to come into effect in 2021.

“It’s not just about banning, because I think there’s a lot of focus on banning,” McKenna said.

“I think we need to focus more on the circular economy.”

In a circular economy, the thinking goes, packaging would be reused or repurposed.

A Marketplace viewer sent in an image of plastic wrapped disposable forks and straws from a Subway restaurant. The chain says it’s transitioning to paper straws. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

Marketplace commissioned the poll after hearing from viewers who sent in pictures of plastic packaging that they found to be excessive, including packaging on fresh fruit and vegetables, hardware items, toys and clothing.

Some other examples included plastic-wrapped disposable straws and forks given out at Subway restaurants.

When Marketplace reached out to some of the companies that created or sold the packaged goods, only Subway shared plans to change the packaging, saying that the sandwich chain is in the process of switching to paper straws this year. It did not outline any plans to move away from the plastic-wrapped disposable cutlery.

Cannabis packaging under scrutiny

Some viewers pointed to the large amount of plastic used to distribute small amounts of legal cannabis, just the latest product to come under scrutiny.

Marketplace viewers contacted the show to express their concern about the amount of plastic used to package legal cannabis. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

Marketplace showed some examples of cannabis packaging to Adria Vasil, who wrote the Ecoholic series of books and writes a regular column on green living. The way cannabis is packaged — in non-recyclable plastic plastic bags, clam-shell packages or in plastic bags inside sealed jars or boxes — represents a missed opportunity by the manufacturers and the province of Ontario, she said. 

“They could have designed this from the ground up to be green, to be compatible with the province’s recycling system, and instead, they just completely fell asleep at the switch.” 

The Ontario Cannabis Store pointed out that all cannabis packaging has to be tamper-proof and child-resistant. Even so, Vasil says she’s disappointed more thought wasn’t given to environmentally friendly packaging.

Watch: Marketplace showed some of the examples of cannabis packaging to environmental commentator Adria Vasil.

Author Adria Vasil demonstrates some of the excess and non-recyclable plastic packaging that can be found on products sold online at the Ontario Cannabis Store. 0:59

The results of the survey indicate companies may need to think twice about how much plastic packaging they use in the future or run the risk of losing sales.

More than half of the 1,500 respondents said they would not buy certain products if they felt the packaging was excessive.

McKenna said businesses have a big role to play in tackling plastic pollution.

“We need companies to be more responsible,” she said.

“We have got a huge problem, and we all have to be acting together, right now.”  

Shoppers say few neighbourhood options

Despite widespread use of municipal blue bin programs, just 11 per cent of the plastic used in Canada is actually recycled. The rest is either sent to landfill, incinerated — resulting in harmful emissions — or discarded in the environment.

And although the polling suggests that three-quarters of Canadians accept that it’s their responsibility, too, to reduce plastic, a majority say they find it difficult to do so.

“Zero-waste” or “low-waste” grocery stores have opened in cities such as Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, but just 39 per cent of Canadians polled said they knew of places they could shop for products without much plastic packaging in their neighbourhood.

“It’s a really big concern,” said Michelle Genttner, co-owner of Unboxed Market, a zero-waste grocery store in Toronto that sells produce, meat, bulk groceries, household goods and even has a hot table with ready-to-eat food free from plastic packaging. Consumers bring their own containers. 

“For those people, I would say look to your farmers markets, go to your stores, ask the questions.”



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CMHC looks to raise extra money for housing outside of billions from government

CMHC looks to raise extra money for housing outside of billions from government


The president of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says his agency wants to raise millions more dollars to help Canadians afford places to live, despite the billions already available in government funding.

Evan Siddall says the aim is to raise $100 million more for housing — quickly and likely from private sources — because the tens of billions pledged by federal and provincial governments over the next decade or so isn’t enough to make housing affordable for everyone in the country.

CMHC’s corporate plan released last month set the ambitious goal of providing Canadians with homes they can afford and that meet their needs by 2030.

An estimated 1.6 million Canadian households are considered to be in “core housing need,” meaning they live in places that are too expensive or aren’t really suitable for them.

Siddall admits the goal is a moon-shot, but it’s meant to force his agency and others to achieve more than is already available in a long-term national housing strategy with a price tag of over $40 billion.

The Liberals’ latest budget included extra housing spending the government hopes will help some first-time buyers enter the housing market and expand the stock of rental units.



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