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How Canada 'politicizes' gun violence

As some Americans scramble to purchase more arms to defend themselves and the media combs through every detail following last week's mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, Toronto is also reeling in the aftermath of the city's largest ever mass shooting which left 2 dead and 23 injured on July 18.

Despite having far stricter gun control laws than their Second Amendment-loving southern neighbors, Canada is not immune from gun violence. And while you would be hard pressed to find a Canadian in public office willing to promote concealed carry as a solution, Canada is certainly not immune from the inevitable politicking that follows such events.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Toronto mayor Rob Ford declared his intention to banish gun offenders from the city -- effectively pushing the problem outside his jurisdiction. According to the CBC:

Critics said the mayor's comments were confusing, and it wasn't clear why he appeared to be zeroing in on immigration as an issue when it comes to gun crime.

Ford didn't specify how he thought he would be able to move residents out of the city by persuading the federal government to change immigration laws.

"A lot of people just said: 'Rob, why are they living in this city?' No matter who they are, I don't care if you're Canadian born, I don't care if you're a Canadian citizen. I don't care if you're an immigrant, I don't care if you're refugee. It doesn't matter to me," he said.

"If you're convicted of a gun crime, I don't want you living in this city. And the only way I can find out whether that's legal or not or whether we can enforce that is through the [Prime Minister's Office], and that's what I'm doing."

Freedom of movement is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government quickly signaled that it was not on board.

"Obviously we can't tell people which city [they] can and can't live in," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

Prime Minister Steven Harper, meanwhile, took the shootings as an opportunity to plug for the mandatory jail sentence minimums his government controversially pushed through as part of an omnibus crime bill earlier this year.  

"I think these events in Toronto underscore why these penalties are essential," he said. "This is not a theoretical problem."

As recently as July 6, an Ontario court struck down the mandatory minimums for gun crimes included in the bill as unconstitutional. Mandatory minimums have been on the books in the U.S. since the 1980s as part of the country's ailing war on drugs. Critics argue that they result in overcrowded prisons and a loss of judicial independence.

Even before the Toronto shootings, the Harper government's approach to violent crime legislation could be characterized as a "lite" version of the American model which combines tougher penalties with lighter arms control. Harper abolished Canada's long-gun registry in April, amidst howls of protest from the left -- particularly out of Quebec.

The registry - which required documenting licensed ownership of all rifles, long-guns and shot guns -- was established largely in reaction to the 1989 Polytechnique shootings, an event which horrified the country as a whole and is still vividly remembered in Quebec. A decade before Columbine, a lone gunman entered a Montreal, Quebec, engineering school and, shouting his hatred for "feminists," shot 14 female students before turning the gun on himself.

So far, it appears that the Canadian response to this spate of violence has been a series of backwards steps.

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Global warming is about to make your burger more expensive

The first six months of this year have been the hottest on record since 1895. In June alone, we smashed more than 3,000 temperature records across the United States. It was the 328th consecutive month in which the average global temperature exceeded the 20th century mean. As Bill McKibben put it, "the odds of [that] occurring by simple chance were [one in] 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."

But if that much is obvious to most people who don't harbor deep suspicions about the value of science, the rate at which global warming is changing life on this planet may still come as a shock. Not only are the 3.7 million Americans living within a few feet of the coastline already experiencing more frequent flooding -- the result of rising sea levels -- but unusual weather patterns are likely to make food more expensive, and fast.

Figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predict substantial increases in food prices as a result of weather patterns in the Midwest -- the worst drought in nearly half a century.

The prices of chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs are all supposed to rise between three and five percentage points this year. Corn futures have already spiked nearly 50 percent over the last month to roughly $8.00 a bushel on fears that crops will be ruined. (The Department of Agriculture estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is in poor or very poor condition as a result of the drought.)

And it's not just the U.S. market that will be affected. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn -- exporting millions of tons every year to countries like Japan, Egypt, and China. In 2000, for example, Egypt imported 76 percent of its corn from the United States.

In 2011, revolutions erupted across the Arab world at least in part because of rising food prices. Recall that protesters in Tunisia wielded loaves of bread and Egypt suffered a spate of "bread riots" when grain prices spiked between 2007 and 2008. Now, more than a year after the uprisings, many Arab economies are struggling to get back on their feet. Significant increases in global food prices might well plunge them back into chaos.

But bad weather and worse crop yields in the U.S. are not the only forces driving grain prices skyward. Southern Europe, which typically supplies 16 percent of global corn exports, is having its own ecological disaster. Temperatures in the band that runs from eastern Italy to the Black Sea averaged about five degrees higher than normal last month, according to Bloomberg, baking corn crops that are in the critical pollination phase. Cedic Weber, whose company advises about 5,000 farmers in Europe, told Bloomberg, "in Europe we'll need to import a lot of wheat and corn...That's just adding to the problems we've got everywhere."

That doesn't bode well for the Egypts and the Tunisias of the world -- or for any other net importer of food, for that matter. As it happens, that's practically all of the Middle East and Africa, and much of Southeast Asia.

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