French far-right leader Marine Le Pen ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation

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  • A French court says far-right leader Marine Le Pen must undergo a psychiatric assessment.
  • The National’s At Issue panel tonight will be taking a close look at Parliament’s return and the looming NAFTA deadline.
  • Peace is proving very prosperous — for Colombia’s drug barons.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Le Pen probe

A French court has ordered far-right leader Marine Le Pen to undergo a psychiatric assessment as it probes her decision to publish graphic images of Islamic State executions on social media.

The 50-year-old head of the National Front — recently rebranded as the National Rally — posted three gruesome photos on Twitter in December 2015 after a journalist told a French television program that her party shared a “community of spirit” with the extremist group.

“ISIS is THIS,” Le Pen wrote in an outraged response to the accusation, attaching pictures of a man being burned alive, another being run over by a tank, and the headless corpse of American journalist James Foley.

Marine Le Pen delivers her comeback speech in Frejus, France, on Sunday. She said today that she would skip the psychological tests ordered by a French court. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)French law prohibits the dissemination of “violent messages that incite terrorism or … seriously harm human dignity.”

Le Pen, a former member of the European Parliament, was only put under formal investigation in March after that body voted to strip her of immunity as part of an unrelated fraud investigation. If convicted, she faces up to three years in jail and a fine of €75,000 ($113,000 Cdn).

Today, Le Pen reacted angrily to the court’s assessment order, posting a photo of the legal papers on her Twitter account and calling the decision “crazy.”

Later, speaking to reporters, she suggested that the evaluation is part of a wider attempt to silence her and the party, and said that she will skip the tests.

“I’d like to see how the judge would try and force me do it,” Le Pen said.

Legal experts were quick to point out that such an assessment is in fact required under the law to establish whether she suffers from any mental illness that might have diminished her capacity to understand what she was doing when she posted the images. The psychiatrist will also determine whether she poses a risk to herself or the public.

Other European populists were quick to leap to her defence.

“A court orders a psychiatric assessment for Marine Le Pen. Words fail me! Solidarity with her and with the French who love freedom!” said Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and leader of the far-right League party, in a statement.

The National Front/Rally and its leader have suffered a number of setbacks since Emmanuel Macron resoundingly defeated Le Pen in the run-off election for France’s presidency in 2017.

The campaign posters of French presidential election candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron are seen in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, in April 2017. Macron resoundingly defeated Le Pen in the run-off election for France’s presidency. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)French banks, which had denied her requests for campaign loans, closed her personal and party accounts last fall. Le Pen denounced the moves as political “persecution.”

And she has been ordered to repay almost 300,000 euros ($455,000 Cdn) to the European Parliament after an internal investigation determined that she improperly used her office budget to pay aides to do non-parliamentary work for the National Front.

Le Pen, who maintains that she did nothing wrong, is appealing the findings and has refused to pay up.

But the EU has been playing hardball, garnishing her salary and obtaining a temporary order from a French court to stop her party from receiving €2.35 million ($3.6 million Cdn) in state subsidies.

“The investigating judges are applying a death sentence by confiscating our public grant,” she complained in July.

A final decision will handed down Sept. 26.

Le Pen has been busy trying to turn all those controversies to her advantage and whip up public sympathy.

“Our political adversaries want us to fail,” she told a rally in the the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont earlier this month. “And when I hear the president of the Republic say that the National Rally is not a political opponent but an enemy, I can only conclude that he is doing everything within his power to break us down, to make us disappear from the country’s political life.”

And Le Pen is already campaigning for next spring’s European elections, trying to form alliances with other far-right parties and tap into “The Movement,” a new Steve Bannon-organized venture to raise funds and support for European populists.

Le Pen and former U.S. President Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon give a joint press conference during the National Rally’s annual congress on March 10 in Lille, north of France. (Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)The strategy may be working.

As Macron’s popularity plummets amidst the scandal over his former bodyguard’s physical assault of anti-government protesters, Le Pen’s fortunes are rising.

A poll last month put the National Rally “coude à coude” with the president’s En Marche party, both with 21 per cent support for the coming European vote.

At Issue: NAFTA

Rosemary Barton hosts The National’s At Issue political panel tonight. Here’s what she’s planning:

Parliamentarians have returned to Ottawa and all is right with the world!

Well, unless you’re the Liberal party, which lost MP Leona Allslev when she crossed the floor to become a Conservative on the first day back.

Or unless you’re in the throes of intense NAFTA negotiations and the Republican party whip pens an open letter saying Canada’s negotiation tactics are frustrating and time is running out.

Other than that, though …

Chrystia Freeland returned to Washington this week, donning a t-shirt that read, “Keep calm and negotiate NAFTA.” She went there with all the most powerful people helping with these negotiations, including the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and principal secretary.

Freeland has mastered the art of not revealing anything when scrumming about the state of the negotiations. They have been intense, and Freeland insists Canada remains good at creative compromise.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media as she arrives at the Office Of The United States Trade Representative in Washington on Sept. 11. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)That may be true, but we are now about a week from the deadline needed to have a legal draft for Congress to look at. So if compromise is to happen, creative or otherwise, it needs to happen quickly.

Tonight, Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hebert and the CBC’s poll analyst Eric Grenier will look at whether the government can get it done on At Issue. Plus, what Parliament’s first week back tells us about what to expect in the months ahead.

See you all on your preferred viewing screen later.

– Rosie Barton

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Peace and cocaine in Colombia

Peace is proving very prosperous for Colombia’s drug barons.

The amount of land being used to grow coca plants in the country hit an all time high of 171,000 hectares last year, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a 17 per cent increase from the year before.

The acreage devoted to coca cultivation has been growing by 45 per cent a year, on average, since 2013 — shortly after FARC rebels declared their first ceasefire and peace talks began in earnest.

Not surprisingly, cocaine production is increasing too, up 31 per cent in 2017 to an estimated 1,379 metric tonnes of the white powder, according to the UN report.

In fact, there is so much coke that wholesale prices are falling, with a kilo of leaves now netting farmers the equivalent of 71 cents American, down from 95 cents in 2016. A kilogram of powder is going for $1,508 US, down $122 from the year before.

All this despite a 20 per cent rise in cocaine seizures (up to 435,431 kilograms last year, worth $656.6 million), and the destruction of 4,252 illegal labs.

A member of the Colombian anti-narcotics police stands guard beside a one-ton shipment of cocaine seized in Buenaventura, Colombia’s main port on the Pacific Ocean, on Aug. 10, 2017. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)The UNODC puts the total local value of the cocaine crop at $2.7 billion.

“There are concerns that this capital, derived from the drug economy, could undermine peace-building efforts, weaken the culture of lawfulness, strengthen armed groups and delegitimize democratic institutions through corruption and illicit financial flows,” the report notes.

The country’s 52-year civil war, which officially ended when FARC signed a peace deal in 2016, killed more than 260,000 people and internally displaced 7 million more.

Iván Duque, Colombia’s new president set a goal last week to reduce coca production by 140,000 hectares over his four-year term.

Colombia is currently the world’s largest producer of cocaine, responsible for more than 60 per cent of global supply.

A few words on … 

The perils of “sensual carving” for a dictator.

Quote of the moment

“WADA’s decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history.”

– Jim Walden, the lawyer for Russian-doping whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, reacts to to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s decision this morning to lift its ban on Russia.

Former director of Russia’s antidoping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, in Moscow in June 2007. (European Pressphoto Agency)

What The National is reading

  • Rich investors granted Canadian residency despite fake docs, dubious assets (CBC)
  • Canada seeks tariff protections as Trump treats measures like a ‘toy’: sources (CBC)
  • Legal case builds for trying Duterte at the International Criminal Court (Asia Times)
  • Trump urged Spain to ‘build a wall’ across Sahara, minister says (BBC)
  • U.S. Catholic Church plans hotline to hear complaints about sex abuse by bishops (CBC)
  • ‘Skins’ turn everyday objects into robots (Science Daily)
  • Giant spiderwebs cover Greek beach (Guardian)
  • LeBron James is officially doing ‘Space Jam 2’ (Washington Post)

Today in history

Sept. 20, 1985: Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black lieutenant-governor

“Linc,” as he preferred to be known, had a number of careers — air force wireless operator, lawyer, federal politician, lieutenant-governor, university chancellor — and he was always a trailblazer. The son of a railway porter and a maid, he overcame family turmoil and racial discrimination, ultimately becoming Canada’s first black federal cabinet minister and visible minority vice-regal. During his six years in the Ontario post he visited 672 communities, held 675 receptions, and shook nearly 240,000 hands.

The son of West Indian immigrant parents is sworn in as the Queen’s representative in Ontario. 2:31

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