From the National Post.
A game of khat and mouse
Drug reaches limits of multiculturalism
Stewart Bell, National Post
Published: Saturday, September 29, 2007
TORONTO -The shop was empty. The shelves behind the glass display counter were bare, no one was playing at the pool table. But the storekeeper, a woman in traditional Somali dress, was remarkably busy for someone who looked to have nothing for sale. One after another, customers entered her tiny corner store and left carrying small plastic bags containing foot-long plant stems sprouting dark green leaves.
Another shipment of "khat" had arrived.
Khat is a shrub that grows only in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and it has suddenly joined the ranks of Canada's most problematic illicit drugs.
Seventeen tonnes were seized last year in crackdowns in Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. Police now seize more khat than cocaine, heroin, opium, crack, meth and Ecstasy combined. That's partly because it's a bulky drug. Still, there were almost 900 seizures in 2006.
Khat is also the topic of an emerging debate in Canada, one that touches on thorny issues, from the rights of immigrants to the limits of multiculturalism and the influence of Islamist extremists.
In Somalia, chewing khat is a daily ritual that dates back hundreds of years. Men gather in the baking afternoons to sit, chew and talk. Khat sessions can last all night.
When civil war erupted in the late 1980s, and Somali refugees scattered around the world, khat followed them. Canada responded by banning the plant, formally known as catha edulis, under the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act.
But Canada's khat law is a sore point within the Canadian Somali community, which numbers about 150,000, one of the largest in the world. Khat users complain it has criminalized part of their culture and that it was a result of lobbying by Saudi-educated imams who want to impose their austere codes of conduct on the entire community.
"Khat is part of Somali life," said Toronto lawyer Mohamed Doli. "It is entrenched in the Somali communities. It is the way people come together and express themselves, just like you calling a friend and saying, 'Can you join me for a drink today?' "
The anti-khat law has not stopped Somalis from chewing, only pushed the industry underground, he said. The price also jumped when it was outlawed, from $15 to $20 a bundle to $60 to $80.
"It is coming in at the same rate as it used to, it's only that it's more expensive. So in terms of preventing khat from reaching Canada, we are not successful. But we are successful to enrich those who bring it in the black market."
Moreover, Mr. Doli said he believes the law is unconstitutional.
If these people truly respected Canada, the country that granted them refuge though I suspect most are bogus refugees, then they would forgo such behaviour. But that is not the case. They willingly chose to break our laws.
Are there limits to multiculturalism? Yes there are and khat chewing is crossing the line. It might not be as potent as many other drugs but it is considered a controlled substance regardless and we shouldn't tolerate it. If chewing khat is important to you then don't come to Canada. Immigrants will come to Canada anyways and for the obvious reasons. If there is something about our country that is disagreeable to them then they just call it a human right and change it with the assistance of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Somalis feel their Charter right to get high is being violated and want our laws changed.
Are these the kind of refugees Canada is attracting? Are these the kinds of immigrants Canada wants? Should we tolerate khat chewing? Does Canadian society need another habit forming drug on the market? The answers should be obvious.